Due to my own five-a-side football commitments I only got home in time to watch the last five minutes and then extra time and penalties of the Poland –Portugal match. After an early goal which saw Lewandowski finally get his name on the scoresheet, by all accounts the match was a bit lacking in goalmouth action, although new Bayern Munich signing Renato Sanches equalized with a deflected shot after some neat approach play.
There were a few more chances, notably from Ronaldo, but neither team could take them and the game drifted towards penalties. In the shootout it was Blaszczykowski, who had had a good tournament up until then, who had his effort saved by Patricio and Portugal progressed to their fourth semi-final in the last five European Championships despite not having won a match in 90 minutes. Poland departed the tournament having never been behind.
The general assumption going into Friday’s quarter final between Wales and Belgium was that while Wales had over-achieved and could be proud of their progress, Belgium would be too strong for them and this would be the end of the road. It certainly felt that way 13 minutes in when Nainggolan unleashed a rocket of a shot that Hennessey couldn’t prevent flying into the top corner. However rather than collapse Chris Coleman’s team stayed calm, sticking to their game plan and seemingly knowing that if they just kept doing what they were doing their chances would come.
Then on the half hour mark through a well-worked corner routine Ramsey planted the ball on Williams’ head and the skipper headed home unmarked. Even at the break, despite Wales having been in the ascendancy, it still felt like Belgium would take control in the second half; however Wales never let them. Then ten minutes in Bale found Ramsey on the right wing with a brilliant long pass, the Arsenal midfielder calmly controlled it and played it square for Robson-Kanu who executed a cute ‘Cruyff turn’ in the area fooling three defenders and firing past Courtois.
Taking the lead seemed to strengthen Wales’ belief further and rather than simply holding on they kept playing. It didn’t seem like Belgium had much left and couldn’t raise a response; then when Vokes, on as a substitute for the impressive Robson-Kanu, headed home Gunter’s cross their fate and Wales’ progress was sealed.
It was a brilliant game of football and a night that no Wales fan will ever forget. It was a thoroughly deserved victory and just goes to show what tactical organisation and spirit can achieve in football, England take note. The only sour note was the suspensions of Ramsey and Davies for two yellow cards in five matches, which will have an influence on their semi-final against Portugal.
The eagerly anticipated clash between Italy and Germany saw Joachim Low pay Conte’s side the utmost respect by changing his formation to match the Italians’. The move however resulted in tactical stale mate in the first half, which while interesting from that point of view, lacked much in the way of goal mouth action.
The second half was a bit more lively and Germany seemed to be playing at a higher tempo, Muller was denied by a flying block by Florenzi and then they got the breakthrough they deserved when just past the hour mark Özil turned home a low cross from close range.
However with just over 10 minutes to go and the game seemingly wrapped up, Boateng inexplicably handled the ball in the area and Italy were rightly awarded a spot kick which Bonucci duly converted.
Neither team could find a further breakthrough in extra time and the game headed towards a penalty shootout. Normally with Germany the result of the shootout is pretty much a foregone conclusion with them having not failed to convert any of their penalties since the World Cup semi-final against France in 1982. However this time they were unusually profligate with Muller, Özil (although for any Arsenal fan that was hardly a surprise!) and Schweinsteiger all missing. A combination of a save by Neuer from Bonnuci, who couldn’t beat him a second time, and misses by Zaza and Pelle kept them in the contest. When Darmian missed in sudden-death it gave Hector the chance to send Germany through, which he duly took. It was a hard fought win for Germany but they managed to beat Italy for the first time in a major finals and still look to be the favourites for the competition.
France made sure that they didn’t fall into the same trap as England by underestimating Iceland in the final quarter final. The early opening goal from Giroud helped them but they seem to have re-found their cutting edge and they ruthlessly put Iceland to the sword. 4-0 up at half-time and the game was pretty much dead and buried and the second half was largely a formality; although Iceland did manage to score two consolation goals, it was the end of their adventure. France can now focus on a semi-final against Germany and thoughts will drift to revenge for Seville 82, Guadalajara 86 and maybe Rio 2014. It feels very much as if the winner of that one will probably go onto to win the whole thing.