Having predicted an open and competitive tournament, I could not have imagined just how true this would be !! We now sit on the cusp of the semis and on one side of the draw, the hosts meet up with Germany. This is of no surprise really, as Germany are almost bankers to progress far into tournaments, as I alluded to when tipping them as almost guaranteed semi finalists. Irrespective of the talent available to them, when does this team ever let their country down?
France are a better team on paper,combined with the home support, I think they can progress past this German team but their will be no room for error. In the World Cup they met in the 1/4s and I had high hopes on France prior to the tournament. They played well against Germany but didn’t convert their chances. Germany however, have fewer chances but converted a chance from a set piece, with the ball almost hitting the back of the goal scorer’s head. Not exactly the goal of the tournament but that is what makes Germany successful. They can win even when not playing well. That is why France need to take lessons from that game, as I’m sure they will and come out all guns blazing and take it to Germany. If they play over-cautiously and don’t use their superior skills with the ball, they may live to regret it. If this game goes to penalties it would not suit France. All out attack and getting a goal up yet keep playing and going for the jugular is a successful strategy, I feel. Conversely, Germany will be measured and happy to take on pressure and defend if need be. Taking this to penalties always suits Germany. We know this and saw it in the quarter final against an Italian team, who certainly aren’t ones to crumble under the pressure of penalty kicks. For me France, need to progress by winning in normal time or extra time. Not because I’m biased against Germany, but because I want the hosts to be in the final, in addition to I also think that the result of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil can be rectified. In that scenario, I thought they were very unlucky, but perhaps they were a few years short of gelling as a team, after the shambles that they recovered from in the 2010 World Cup.
On the other side of the draw we see the absolute polar opposite theme. One team that was given almost no chance at the beginning of the tournament is Wales and a team that is yet to win a game in Portugal. With Wales progressing, they have helped to validate my opinion that there is very little difference between them and England. Except that Wales have the benefit of playing under no pressure and have a tremendous team spirit. They have players like Aaron Ramsey from Arsenal, Brown from Leicester and a core of very good EPL players to support their “STAR”, Gareth Bale. I put star in inverted commas because in this team there is no STAR really. They are all for one and one for all. In Portugal, we have a similar dynamic, in that they have good players around their SUPERSTAR in Ronaldo. If there is a difference in this game, I think it will come down to this dynamic . Not in so much as how their stars play, but rather in how the stars effect the team. Bale is a team player although he is a match winner in his own right. Ronaldo is enormously gifted obviously BUT if he isn’t on his game, does his frustration at not being able to be the point of difference and in the lime light, lead to him taking a shot, where a draw and pass to another player leads to a simple tap in?
I’m speaking hypothetically of course. I’m behind Wales, firstly, because I love the underdog and a Cinderella story and secondly, the system and rules in the group stages that allows a team who hasn’t won a single game and is YET to win, is in a semi-final, seems farcical. If Portugal can go on to beat Wales, and then go past giants Germany or France, then I suppose I will have to concede that I am wrong and that it is perhaps destiny for them to win a major tournament. Along with Holland, they are probably, historically, the best nations not to have won a Cup. Tonight I will find out whether my little wager of R200 @ 31/1 on Wales is still alive ! I’m rooting for Wales for obvious reasons tonight and I will be slightly more impartial when Germany and France play next. It should be a cracker-jack match too so let’s hope that these games are sorted out without the need for penalties. Ninety minutes of pure entertainment, and quality over quantity, I always say. May the TWO BEST teams win.