Euro 2016 – Final Review

Portugal 1-0 France (AET) – Eder strike earns Portugal maiden win 

Much to the surprise and disappointment of many, Portugal – without the injured moth-catcher, Cristiano Ronaldo for 95 of the 120 minutes – won their first ever-major tournament thanks to an extra-time winner by Swansea flop, Eder.

The match, like John Major and Edwina Currie, was a dour affair, which became a common theme for games involving Portugal with the Hungary draw the only exception.

Chances were few and far between with Rui Patricio pulling off a couple of fine saves. The tournament’s top scorer, Antoine Griezmann, headed over from close range during the second half while 78th minute substitute, Andre-Pierre Gignac saw his injury-time effort rebound off Patricio’s near post.

But it was Portugal’s 79th minute sub, Eder who scored the winner with just over ten minutes of extra-time remaining. Not bad for a striker without a goal in 13 appearances for Swansea last season.

Eder and Gignac had contrasting fortunes despite spending the same amount of time on the pitch. The now Lille forward not only scored with a great low-drive but also bought his side some time by earning five free-kicks – more than any other player – around the halfway line as he held the ball up well.

Eder v Gignac

Eder played the lone striker role well as he took the pressure off his side’s defence.

One of France’s more disappointing performers was Paul Pogba who struggled to have an impact in the attacking third. This may have been down to his new role as one of the two central midfielders along with Blaise Matuidi. The opening few games saw a midfield three which included N’Golo Kante but following his suspension, Moussa Sissoko came in with Pogba dropping deeper. This move did bring out the best of Griezmann while Sissoko was arguably man of the match against Portugal.

Pogba Por v Ire comp

Pogba sacrificed the attacking side of his game for the benefit of Griezmann and Sissoko.

Sissoko’s performance would have frustrated many a Newcastle fan following his inconsistent outings for the relegated side. He’s likely to get a move away this summer and his value has probably increased by a few million following his efforts in Paris.

The comparison between this final and Newcastle’s last match before they were relegated shows he misplaced more than twice as many passes against Aston Villa and only had two successful take ons compared to his six for France. This is based on normal time to make it a fairer comparison and whilst the argument that he has better players around him is a valid one, the opponents are relative and having weaker players doesn’t justify so many unsuccessful passes or a lack of take ons.

Sissoko Por v Villa comp

It’s understandable why some Newcastle fans were questioning whether it was the same guy playing in the final.

France attempted more than three times as many crosses as Portugal but Pepe and Jose Fonte were more than up to the challenge. The centre-back duo managed 11 out of 12 headed clearances while Portugal blocked nine crosses to France’s zero.

Por v Fra crosses

France attempted 44 crosses but failed to convert any into goals.

In fact, Portugal had an 86.4% success rate with their clearances compared to France’s 64.3%. Furthermore, the vast majority of Portugal’s clearances took place within their penalty area.

Por v Fra clearances

Portugal dealt very well with the pressure on their defence.

In terms of chances created, France had two and a half times that of Portugal’s six with most of the host’s opportunities coming from the left flank, which was the side Dimitri Payet occupied. Meanwhile, a third of Portugal’s chances were the result of corners taken from the right.

Por v Fra chances created

Most of France’s chances came from the left side.

In spite of the statistics, it is only one that matters most and that went Portugal’s way. Their tournament run has been about as inspiring as a stubborn grey cloud but they won’t care as they achieve redemption following the narrow defeat they suffered by Greece when they hosted the 2004 Championships. Let’s just hope Ronaldo doesn’t go on about it…

Euro 2016 – Semi-final Review and Final Preview

Semi-Final Review:
Portugal 2-0 Wales – Ronaldo rises highest

Deemed the battle of the Madrid stars, Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portugal teammates came out on top thanks to two goals in just three second-half minutes.

The first 45 minutes saw few opportunities – much like most of the tournament – but it was Ronaldo who broke the deadlock five minutes into the second period with an unstoppable header as he rose above James Chester to finish Raphael Guerreiro’s cross.

Just a few minutes later, Nani made it two when he slid in to redirect Ronaldo’s scuffed effort. The double blow all but knocked the wind out of Wales as they resorted to long-range efforts – primarily from Gareth Bale – to try and claw themselves back into the tie.

Following the two goals, the game naturally opened up a bit more with Portugal managing just five attempts (none on target) before Ronaldo’s opener but then ten shots (four on target) after Nani’s goal.

Por shots to 49th from 54th

Wales struggled to breakdown the Portuguese defence who were missing Pepe, while Aaron Ramsey’s absence, as expected, proved to be crucial despite the hard running of his replacement, Andy King.

Just comparing the attacking third passes by Wales during this match to their famous victory over Belgium shows how they struggled. Against Belgium, Wales managed to complete 82 of 113 passes (72.6%), which included five chances created. During the Portugal match, the Welsh only managed 54 of 97 passes (55.6%), creating just two chances, one of which came from a corner.

Wales attacking third passes bel v por

Bale and Ronaldo had contrasting games with the former Southampton and Tottenham player heavily involved but struggling to have the desired impact where it mattered. His only shots on target were from 30+ yards while he often misplaced passes in the final third, some of which were fairly simple balls.

Ronaldo, meanwhile, had less of the ball but made the two telling contributions – a fortunate assist included – which ultimately decided the game. He may be unlikeable but he does rise (quite literally) to the big occasion and now shares the European Championship goal scoring record with Michelle Platini.

Bale v Ronaldo

Portugal find themselves in the final having benefitted from the newly organised tournament of 24 teams – Platini’s idea – by finishing third in what appeared to be the weakest group and not winning a single match within 90 minutes until this semi-final. But they’re there on merit (in theory) and could well finish the job they were expected to complete in 2004 against Greece.

 

France 2-0 Germany – Griezmann defeats Germans

Antoine Griezmann’s second brace of the knockout stages ensured France could extend their record of both hosting and winning international tournaments after they defeated Germany in Marseille.

Despite the expected possession domination from the World Champions, it was France/Griezmann who capitalised on mistakes and opportunities to set up a final with Portugal in Paris on Sunday.

For some, the awarding of a penalty for Bastian Schweingsteiger’s handball was soft at best but that didn’t deter Girezmann – who missed a penalty against Real Madrid during normal time of the Champions League final in May.

The Germans had far greater passes in the attacking third compared to their opponents (186 to 46) but could only create the same number of chances (six). Most of Joachim Low’s side’s passes were down either flank as they struggled to penetrate the French core.

Ger v Fra att third passes

Further evidence of a more direct approach from Didier Deschamp’s men was clear from the long balls they attempted. Whilst the amount was similar to Germany (37 to 33) it was the position from which they were taken. Hugo Lloris in the French goal contributed 24 of the 37 attempted long passes while his German counterpart Manuel Neuer played just two of 33.

Lloris v Neuer long balls

Griezmann’s second goal was the result of a high press and ball recovery in Germany’s penalty area. Whilst Germany had 16 more ball recoveries (61 to 45) it was the only one, which took place in the attacking penalty box that made the difference.

Ger v Fra ball recoveries

France’s ball recovery in Germany’s penalty box resulted in the second goal.

Germany rallied after going two down with seven of their 18 attempts at goal (38.9%) coming in the last 20 minutes (22.2% of a match). France on the other hand only attempted four of their 16 (25%) during that same period as they looked to maintain their two-goal advantage.

Ger v Fra shots 73rd min

 

Final Preview:

The hosts have to be favourites given their squad depth, home advantage and the stuttering yet pragmatic performances of Portugal.

In terms of game changes and goal scorers, France clearly have more with players such as, Dimitri Payet, Griezmann, Olivier Giroud, Paul Pogba, Kingsley Coman, Andre-Pierre Gignac and Anthony Martial, although some have performed better than others. Portugal can only really look to Nani, Ronaldo, Ricardo Quaresma and Renato Sanches to provide that spark they’ll need to claim their first ever European Championships.

While France have had easier opposition and their defence is still a little suspect despite the clean sheet against Germany, they have to be fancied for a third successive host and victory tournament to go along with their triumphs in 1984 and 1998.

Expect the French to have more possession and Portugal to look for quick counters. The anticipated deeper defence from Portugal should see Giroud provide an aerial threat, which has seen him score two of his three tournament goals via headers. However, he will be up against Pepe and Jose Fonte who both enjoy an aerial battle.

Prediction to make me look stupid after the event: 2-0 to France with Giroud to score anytime.

Euro 2016 – Quarter-final Review

Portugal 1-1 Poland (Portugal win 5-3 on penalties) – Sanches showing star quality 

Portugal made it to the semi-finals despite not winning a single game within 90 minutes after five attempts.

The victory over a defensive minded Poland – who took an early lead thanks to Robert Lewandowski’s second minute strike – was decided by Ricardo Quaresma’s penalty.

A mark of Poland’s defensive display was the deep positioning of their clearances and the lack of passes in the attacking third. Of the game’s top nine players for passes in the final third, only one player was Polish (Arkadiusz Milik) and he was seventh in the list.

Por v Pol clearances comp

Poland defending deeper than their opponents.

Renato Sanches, meanwhile, gave further credence to the idea that he could be Portugal’s next star. The scorer of their equaliser had an impressive game, which saw him rank first for attacking third passes, top for take ons, second for ball recoveries and fifth for interceptions. At just 18 years of age, the new Bayern Munich signing looks like he could be an influential player at both club and international level for years to come.

Sanches v Pogba comp

Sanches’ best game compared to Pogba’s. Although, Pogba scored against Iceland, he played a slightly different role due to Kante’s suspension.

 

Wales 3-1 Belgium – Dragons’ fire continues to burn 

Wales qualified for a semi-final against Portugal following their best performance of the tournament so far.

Chris Coleman’s team provided a great response to Radja Nainggolan’s 13th minute opener. Captain, Ashley Williams, headed his side level before the break while Hal Robson-Kanu deceived three Belgian defenders with a single Cruyff turn to put Wales in the lead. Sam Vokes’ 85th minute header sealed the famous victory, which came at an unfortunate cost.

Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies received bookings that will rule them out of the next match. The rules for this tournament will need revisiting with players suspended on the back of just two yellows in five games.

Whilst Davies has performed well throughout, replacing him will be less of an issue than Ramsey. The Arsenal midfielder has been one of the players of the tournament so far and his two assists during this match provided further proof.

Davies and Ramsey

Davies and Ramsey had very good games during their win over Belgium and will be sorely missed.

Belgium will reflect on another disappointing tournament that will likely cost Marc Wilmots his job. The Belgians appeared to resort to more crosses after conceding, which was similar to their opening match against Italy. Both that game and the Wales match, Belgium attempted 35 crosses, which works out at an average of 2.6 minutes per cross. After conceding Williams’ equaliser, Belgium increased their rate of crosses from one every 3 minutes to one every 2.4. For all the attacking talent at their disposal, they still seem to resort to more percentage plays when up against organised defences and lack real cohesion.

Bel crosses Wal and Ita comp

The most amount of crosses attempted by Belgium took place in the only games they conceded in and ultimately lost.

 

Germany 1-1 Italy (Germany win 6-5 on penalties) – Germany end Italy hoodoo

As soon as this game went to penalties – largely because Jerome Boateng decided to throw his hands in the air – both outcomes were going to see a run come to an end.

If Germany lost then it would be their first penalty shootout defeat since 1976. But if Germany won, then they would be ending an Italy hoodoo that stretches back to 1962. The latter took place with Simone Zaza and Graziano Pelle making a real mess of their efforts.

Joachim Low showed great respect to Antonio Conte’s Italy by setting his side up to mirror the Italian’s 3-5-2. The similarities didn’t end at the formations either with Germany pressing high on Gianluigi Buffon’s goal-kicks, something Italy did to Spain in the previous round.

Despite Germany implementing a different approach, they still managed to have 61.6% possession. However, that didn’t translate to attacking dominance with both teams level for attempts at goal, on target and chances created.

The biggest difference was in the attacking third where Germany’s possession showed. With 241 to Italy’s 68 passes completed in the final third, Germany should have created more but they were up against a strong defence. Meanwhile, Italy was more efficient in attack and that was largely down to Pelle winning all of his aerial battles and strike partner Eder creating the most opportunities.

Ger v Ita att third passes

Germany had far more passes and many appeared to focus on Italy’s left.

 

France 5-2 Iceland – First half dominance ends Iceland’s run

Storming into a 4-0 half-time lead saw the game and dream all but end for Iceland.

The high line failed to have its intended effect with Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann capitalising for France’s first and fourth goals. As a result, the match was finished with Kari Arnason being replaced at the break after his side of the defence was the most exploited.

There was a clear difference between Iceland’s attacking play during both halves as proven by how busy the French defence was.

Fra defensive 1st v 2nd

France’s defence was busier during the second half where the game was all but won.

The Icelandic defence also had less to deal with defensively than the match against England in terms of clearances with half as many required against the hosts despite the emphatic scoreline.

Ice def clearances Fra v Eng

Iceland had to clear far more balls against England but that may be a result of England’s lack of imagination in attack.

Samuel Umtiti came in for the suspended Adil Rami and whilst both goals came from his side, the recently signed Barcelona centre-back did complete all 76 of his passes, which will be of importance to his new club no doubt.

Despite the comfortable win, France still showed signs of weakness and are unlikely to have such joy against Germany’s defence on Thursday.

Euro 2016 – Last 16 Review

Statszone Key smallPoland 1-1 Switzerland (Poland win 5-4 on penalties) – Xhaka can’t from the spot

Granit Xhaka’s missed penalty handed Poland victory despite Xerdan Shaqiri’s overhead kick during normal time.

The Poles started better and deservedly took the lead when Jakub Blaszczykowsi finished off a quick counter-attack.

Switzerland had earned their equaliser with Lukas Fabianski proving a tough opponent to pass. Poland regressed after half-time and relied on the defence that hadn’t conceded a goal until Shaqiri’s 82nd minute strike – arguably the best of the tournament.

The lack of chances created after half-time by Poland proves how little they offered going forward. In the first 45 minutes, they created eight chances, but only managed five in the following 75 minutes.

Poland chances created

A stark difference between the sides’ defensive dashboards shows Poland having a far more crowded penalty box and defensive third compared to their Swiss counterparts.

Sui v Pol defensive comp

Poland will now fancy their chances of stifling Cristiano Ronaldo and co in the quarter-final with Robert Lewandowski still awaiting his first goal of the tournament.

 

Wales 1-0 Northern Ireland – Cruel own goal sees Wales progress

Wales booked their place in the quarters thanks to a Gareth McAuley’s own goal 15 minutes from full-time.

In a game of few chances, it was a dangerous cross that was too difficult to defend by Gareth Bale, which made the difference. McAuley had to attempt a clearance but couldn’t avoid putting the ball past Michael McGovern in the Northern Ireland goal.

Chris Coleman claimed Northern Ireland were the better side and the lack of chances created by Wales suggests they were restricted in attack. Only seven attempts and one on target came up a great deal shorter than the 19 and 12 on target during their 3-0 win over Russia.

Wales shots comp

James Chester had a strong game as one of the three centre-backs for Wales and while Northern Ireland may have restricted their opponents, Chester kept Kyle Lafferty quiet.

All three of Lafferty’s failed takeons were a result of Chester’s successful tackles. The Northern Ireland forward also saw a number of failed passes take place on Chester’s side of the Welsh defence.

Chester v Lafferty

Up next is Belgium who Wales faced during qualifying for the tournament. Bale’s winner in Cardiff ensured a 1-0 victory while they managed to hold the Belgians to a 0-0 draw in Brussels.

 

Portugal 1-0 Croatia (AET) – Drab, dull and dreadful.

Ricardo Qauresma’s extra-time winner decided one of the most disappointing and abysmal international matches.

Watching a puddle evaporate, reorganizing your desktop and checking the weather on Mondays from the past year would have been more exciting and interesting than this encounter.

The fact they failed to make it to penalties was probably for the best, as they’d only have found a way to make that boring too.

Quaresma’s goal was a rebound from Ronaldo’s parried shot, which was the first attempt on target after 117 rubbish minutes.

Against Austria, Portugal managed 23 attempts and six on target. During this game, they only managed six and two on target, despite having 30 additional minutes.

Portugal shots comp

Portugal doesn’t look convincing and their next opponents Poland have been solid defensively. Fingers-crossed it won’t be further dross.

 

France 2-1 Republic of Ireland – Griezmann the man for Les Bleus

The hosts responded from an early setback to defeat the Republic of Ireland thanks to a brace from Antoine Griezmann.

The Atletico Madrid forward moved more centrally for this game and caused more problems than he had previously during the tournament.

Robbie Brady gave Ireland a second minute lead from the penalty spot but Griezmann’s two goals in three minutes either side of the hour mark proved to be enough for France to claim the win.

From a central position, Griezmann was far more influential as shown below where he lined-up wide of a front three against Romania.

Griezmann comp

No doubt Didier Deschamps will be considering a continuation of the Griezmann and Olivier Giroud partnership, which was also the cause of Shane Duffy’s sending off just moments after France had taken the lead.

 

Germany 3-0 Slovakia – Draxler drives Germany to the quarters

Julian Draxler put in his best performance of the tournament to help Germany comfortably defeat Slovakia.

The Wolfsburg attacking midfielder provided the assist for Mario Gomez’s (Germany’s second) goal before capping off the victory with a well-taken and controlled volley just after an hour’s play.

Draxler was much stronger and influential compared to his performance against Poland earlier in the tournament where he only managed one successful takeon compared to eight against Slovakia.

Draxler attacking comp

Germany dominated this match with three times as many attempts at goal and over 20% more possession. The only disappointment was Mesut Ozil’s missed penalty as the Arsenal playmaker continues to show a lack of conviction in his finishing.

Joachim Low’s side will take on an impressive Italy in arguably the most exciting game from the quarter-final line-up.

 

Belgium 4-0 Hungary – Late flurry of goals seals win

Three goals in the last 15 minutes saw Belgium run out comfortable winners over overachievers Hungary.

Captain Eden Hazard put in another impressive performance, which led to Toby Alderweireld – scorer of the opening goal – to liken the Chelsea playmaker with Real Madrid’s Bale.

Comparing Bale’s best game (Russia) and Hazard’s (Hungary), the number of successful takeons is 12 to eight in favour of Hazard. His ball recoveries are double that of Bale’s five while both players created three chances with one of Hazard’s being converted.

Hazard v Bale attacking

Of course, both players have slightly different roles and styles of play but there is no doubting that their performances in the quarter-final will have a big bearing on which side comes out on top.

 

Italy 2-0 Spain – Italian job continues

Italy and Antonio Conte pulled off another unexpected victory as they defeated double reigning champions, Spain, 2-0.

The victory was deserved and another display of well executed tactics that exploited their opponent’s weaknesses and stifled their strengths.

Tellingly, Sergio Busquets had half as many successful passes against Italy as he did during Spain’s comfortable and dominant victory over Turkey during the group stages. The Barcelona controller is often tasked with recycling possession and providing that pivot from central midfield yet the Italians disrupted his game with Busquets finishing joint-top along with Andres Iniesta for fouls suffered.

Busquets passes

Another noticeable point was the shortage of short passes played out from David De Gea. The Spanish keeper only attempted and completed seven short balls compared to the 12 and 16 he achieved in the previous two fixtures against Croatia and Turkey respectively.

Gianluigi Buffon, meanwhile, reached 20 as Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli often pulled out wide of the areas to receive possession. This is a tactic most commonly associated with Spain and Barcelona yet it was Italy who were the beneficiaries and will take on World champions Germany in the next round.

Buffon v De Gea short pass

 

Iceland 2-1 England – Three Lions freeze

It was the biggest surprise of the tournament and one of if not the worst defeat in England’s history.

Iceland came out on top despite going behind to Wayne Rooney’s fourth minute penalty. Their response was instant as man of the match, Ragnar Sigurdsson equalised from close-range.

Before 20 minutes were up, Iceland had taken the lead with Kolbeinn Sigthorsson squeezing his shot past Joe Hart.

England was shell shocked, petrified and incapable of mounting any sort of comeback. The entire team suffered from a series of brain farts that left all onlookers questioning their ability to maintain composure when not winning against a ‘weaker’ side.

Basic short passes were often behind an onrushing player, simple control went astray while Harry Kane managed to over-hit a standard cross and slice a ludicrously ambitious free-kick.

But nothing should be taken away from Iceland as they continue to defy the odds and face France in the next round. Their resolute and disciplined defending has been a key feature of their success as they dealt admirably with the pressure and attacks.

Iceland headed clearances

The amount and positions of tackles won against England were noticeably different in comparison to the 1-1 draw against Portugal. Iceland won ten more tackles, the vast majority of which were in their own defensive third and central areas.

Iceland tackles

Iceland will need to make full use of their set-pieces and remain stubborn as ever should they continue this unlikely assault on the championships with a win against France.

Euro 2016 – Third Round Review (Groups A-F)

Statszone Key smallGroup A
France 0-0 Switzerland – Woodwork and Sommer deny France

The hosts failed to extend their 100% record after playing out a nil-nil draw with Switzerland.

France struck the woodwork on three occasion with two from Paul Pogba in the first half and a volley by Dimitri Payet late on. 

The Swiss have controlled most of the ball during their games and this match was no different but they appear toothless in attack, which will likely be their undoing in the knockout rounds.

Granit Xhaka performed well again but despite having the top five passes in the game, Switzerland was only able to create less than half of France’s chances.

Didier Deschamps made five changes to his starting line-up following the Albania win with the back five and Kingsley Coman retaining their places.

Paul Pogba returned to the side and put in a better showing than his Romania performance. The Juventus midfielder was unfortunate not to have opened the scoring with a thunderous effort from distance which struck the crossbar while Yann Sommer pulled off a great save to deny him from the angle.

France will face Republic of Ireland in the next round while Switzerland is up against Poland.

Pogba comp

Pogba put in a more rounded performance against Switzerland compared to the Romania match.

Man of the Match: Paul Pogba – Most attempts at goal and second most chances created as well as ball recoveries. The 23-year-old has been burdened with an unfair amount of pressure ahead of the tournament but there is no denying that his performances as part of their well balanced midfield three could be crucial to France’s success.

 

Albania 1-0 Romania – Sadiku’s goal not enough for last 16 spot

Albania’s first ever goal in the European Championships scored by Armando Sadiku wasn’t enough for qualification into the knockout stages.

Ledian Memushaj created seven chances of which six were from set plays and one assisted Sadiku’s goal. He failed to make an appearance in the opening defeat to Switzerland but has been a creative source since, playing just behind the lone striker Sadiku.

Memushaj’s stats compare similarly to Dimitri Payet’s man of the match performance against Romania where the West Ham playmaker created eight chances of which one was converted but only one was from a set play. This is surprising given Payet’s reputation as a dead ball specialist although he’s probably more successful with shots as oppose to crosses.

Romania gave a better account of themselves than most were expecting ahead of the Championships. They were unfortunate to lose in the dying moments against France and drew against Switzerland.

This tie saw them have over 60% possession but only find the target with three of their 16 attempts. They did strike the crossbar but Albania held out for a famous victory.

Memushaj v Payet chances created

Memushaj created six of his seven chances from set plays compared to Payet’s one from eight.

Man of the Match: Ledian Memushaj – Second for attempts at goal, created more than double the second placed player and was joint second for ball recoveries. He’ll be plying his trade in the Serie A next season following Pescara’s promotion.

 

Group B
England 0-0 Slovakia – Three Lions fail to breakdown Slovaks

Roy Hodgson made six changes to his side ahead of their final group game against Slovakia. A win would have guaranteed England qualify top of Group B with a last 16 tie against the best third placed side from Groups A, C or D.

But despite starting on the front foot and looking dangerous during the first half as they did against Russia, England failed to find a breakthrough.

Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge started the match as a rewarded for their goals against Wales after coming on as half-time substitutes. And it was they who came closest to opening the scoring. Sturridge saw his close range effort blocked while Vardy showed his pace before forcing the Slovakian keeper Matus Kozacik into a good save.

Slovakia retreated further in the second half, which limited the space for Vardy to exploit as demonstrated by the graphic below. The Leicester forward had an uneventful second half yet it was Sturridge – who also struggled – that was replaced by Harry Kane in the 76th minute.

Vardy 1st v 2nd

Vardy had a fairly quiet game in general but was almost silent in the second half.

Jack Wilshere came in for Wayne Rooney but looked off the pace as anticipated following a season of very little football. England’s captain replaced the Arsenal player just ten minutes into the second period.

Martin Skrtel and Jan Durica were disciplined and determined in defence, which set the tone for the entire Slovakian team. Milan Skrinar actually managed to match Skrtel’s four blocks despite only coming on with 15 minutes remaining such was their committed approach in search of the point that confirmed their place in the next round.

Having finished second, England will come against Iceland.

Clyne v Walker comp

It would be harsh to drop Walker having been rested against Slovakia and despite Clyne’s performance.

Man of the Match: Nathaniel Clyne – Created at least three chances more than any other player, the Liverpool defender did his best to stake a claim for the impressive Kyle Walker’s position. Clyne also succeeded with all four of his take ons leaving Hodgson spoilt for choice at right-back.

 

Wales 3-0 Russia – Ramsey and Bale send Wales top

An emphatic performance by Wales ensured they qualified on the ‘right side’ of the draw having finished top of Group B.

The Welsh – who were helped by scoring two goals in the opening 20 minutes – ran Russia ragged with notable performances by Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen.

Bale comp

Bale enjoyed a lot more freedom against Russia.

There were gaps all over the pitch as Russia went in search of the win that would see them progress to the knockout stages. That however, allowed Gareth Bale to roam and cause danger throughout the match with the Real Madrid forward having eight attempts at goal, creating three chances and succeeding with eight from ten take ons. In the two previous games combined, Bale only managed five from eight such was the space afforded to him in this final group fixture.

 

Chris Coleman’s side will now fancy their chances of reaching at least the quarter-finals with British rivals Northern Ireland up next.

Ramsey comp

Ramsey was more influential against Russia compared to the Slovakia game.

Man of the Match: Aaron Ramsey – One goal and an assist in addition to the most ball recoveries (15) and chances created (6) in an all-round performance by the Arsenal midfielder.

 

Group C
Poland 1-0 Ukraine – Poland maintain clean sheet record

Despite Ukraine creating more chances and having far more possession, Poland edged out 1-0 winners to book their place in the next round.

It shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise given Ukraine failed to score a single goal all tournament whilst Poland are one of two teams yet to concede – fellow Group C side, Germany being the other.

Arkadiusz Milik continues to be a good foil for Robert Lewandowski having created more chances than any other player during the game. Meanwhile, the Bayern Munich striker continues to search for his first goal of the competition and will hope to end that rut against Switzerland.

Rotan v Sydorchuk

Rotan should have been in the side sooner following this controlling performance in midfield.

Man of the Match: Ruslan Rotan – First appearance and the Dnipro midfielder finished the game top in terms of passes, ball recoveries and tackles while he was joint-second for interceptions and defensive aerial duels.

 

Northern Ireland 0-1 Germany – Plenty of love for the gloves of McGovern

Germany peppered Northern Ireland’s goal but only once got past Michael McGovern to finish top of Group C.

As an indication of Germany’s dominance, Toni Kroos completed more passes (121 from 130) than the whole Northern Ireland team put together (111 from 199). The World champions also had 28 attempts at goal to their opponents two.

Kimmich v Howedes comp

Kimmich had a greater impact on the game than Howedes who he replaced. It’s likely Kimmich will be starting the next game now.

Joshua Kimmich came in for Benedikt Howedes at right back and had a very good game. Granted he wasn’t under much defensive pressure, but the Bayern Munich player managed to create four chances while ranking second for take ons and clearances as well as third for attacking third passes. Joachim Low may be best off sticking with Kimmich with Germany taking on Slovakia in the next round – another side who will defend deep.

Mesut Ozil performed well with his passing success rate particularly impressive. The Arsenal playmaker only misplaced one pass from the 68 he attempted which is six better than what he achieved against Ukraine – his second best of the tournament.

Northern Ireland’s stubborn defending earned them a last 16 tie with Wales.

Ger v Nir shots

A clear indictment of just how one-sided the fixture was.

Man of the Match: Michael McGovern – Saving eight of the nine shots on target to keep his side not only in this game but also in the tournament with goal difference proving crucial for the third placed sides.

 

Group D
Croatia 2-1 Spain – Perisic earns crucial win for Croatia

Croatia scored a late winner to defeat reigning champions Spain and finish top of Group D.

Ivan Perisic’s goal on the counter-attack gave Croatia qualification to the favourable side of the draw. David De Gea will be disappointed having been beaten at his near-post during an unconvincing performance. Spain’s new number one was fortunate not to be punished for a heavy touch during the first half when Ivan Rakitic’s lob struck the crossbar then post before being cleared to safety.

Nikola Kalinic and Perisic combined for both goals with Fiorentina’s Kalinic possibly earning his place in the starting line-up against Portugal on Sunday.

Spain as expected, had the vast majority of possession but they weren’t particularly efficient with it as the Spaniards actually had fewer attempts on target compared to Croatia.

Serigo Ramos’ missed penalty with 20 minutes to go was a pivotal moment and one that undoubtedly shouldn’t have stood with Danijel Subasic miles off his line. Why we have these extra officials is anyone’s guess.

Srna v Juanfran comp

Srna’s overlapping runs, set plays and attacking ability still make him an asset for Croatia despite being 34.

Darijo Srna enjoyed another fine performance as the Croatian captain continues to maraud up and down the right wing despite being 34 years old. He created more chances, had more interceptions, tackles and ball recoveries compared to his Spanish compatriot, Juanfran.

Man of the Match: Milan Badelj – Top passer in the Croatia side, ranked first for ball recoveries and blocks while the Fiorentina midfielder was second for tackles and interceptions.

 

Czech Republic 0-2 Turkey – Turks miss out on goal difference despite win

Czech Republic might have had slightly more possession and chances but Turkey were ruthless with their opportunities.

One big selection change was moving Arda Turan to the centre after Turkey’s best player had produced a couple of abject performances from the left.

Despite this victory, Turkey missed out on a place in the next round due to their poor goal difference having been emphatically beaten by Spain during the second round of matches.

Cze v Tur clearances comp

The concentration of Turkey’s clearances shows that they were defending more and deeper than their opponents.

Turkey defended resolutely with 36 clearances, the vast majority of which were around their penalty spot. Czech Republic on the other hand had fewer clearances to deal with while most were outside the ‘D’.

Neither team had the quality or consistency to have a big impact on the knockout rounds so it’s neither a surprise nor loss that they failed to progress.

Man of the Match: Selcuk Inan – Turkey’s top passer and creator of chances while the Galatasaray midfielder was his side’s second best player for ball recoveries and interceptions.

 

Group E
Italy 0-1 Republic of Ireland – Brady bunch celebrate qualification

The luck of the Irish kicked in when Robbie Brady scored the winning goal in the 85th minute. The three-points ensured Ireland takes on hosts France in the last 16.

Both sides made a number of changes with Italy – who had already qualified as group winners – making eight to Ireland’s four.

Roi line up

O’Neill made several changes following the disappointing defeat against Belgium including both his central defenders.

Martin O’Neill took a risk, which paid off as he replaced both of his centre backs. Like Turan, goal scorer Brady was moved in from the left to play a central midfield role.

The Italians posed little threat and had the air of a side that knew this result didn’t matter. Lorenzo Insigne’s effort, which struck the post, was the closest they came to a goal.

Republic of Ireland will obviously be reminded of the Thierry Henry handball incident from the 2010 World Cup qualifier while Italy are cruelly rewarded for finishing top of Group E with a last 16 match against Spain. Although, Antonio Conte’s tactics and system may be best suited against stronger opposition looking to attack.

Brady attack comp

Brady’s versatility has made him a real asset for O’Neill and Ireland.

Man of the Match: Robbie Brady – Match winning goal aside, the Norwich City player was top for attempts at goal, passes in the final third, chances created, and second for tackles. It was a strong performance by the versatile player who has started every game so far in a different position.

 

Sweden 0-1 Belgium – Nainggolan’s strikes late to send Belgium second

Belgium was fortunate to finish second in their group after defeating Sweden with Radja Nainggolan’s 84th minute deflected strike.

Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne continue to be influential as they benefit from playing alongside the more mobile Yannick Carrasco instead of Marouane Fellaini. Together, Hazard and De Bruyne created 11 of Belgium’s 17 chances with the Chelsea man providing the assist for the game’s only goal.

In Thomas Meunier, Belgium appear to have resolved their right-back issue after Laurent Ciman started the first game against Italy. Club Brugge’s Meunier had the most tackles and second most ball recoveries during the Sweden game and his run in the team is likely to continue with manager Marc Wilmots short of options.

Sweden finally hit the target having gone the first two games without but still couldn’t score in what was probably Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s last international match. They clearly lack the sort of creativity their opponents possess as evident by Belgium creating seven more chances despite having slightly less possession.

Hazard comp

Carrasco replaced Fellaini after the Italy game which seems to get more from Hazard and De Bruyne.

Man of the Match: Eden Hazard – Top for passes including in the attacking third and take ons, while the Belgium captain was second for chances created and ball recoveries.

 

Group F
Portugal 3-3 Hungary – Ronaldo inspires Portugal to triple comeback

Portugal scraped through with their third successive draw in the one of the tournament’s most entertaining matches.

A great strike by Zoltan Gera gave Hungary the lead but Cristiano Ronaldo set-up Nani to equalise just before half-time.

Then there were four goals within 15 minutes of each other at the start of the second half. Hungary took the lead three times during the game but Portugal showed great character to bounce back, particularly from Balazs Dzsudzsak’s two deflected goals.

Ronaldo to his credit stepped up to the plate and saved his team who would have made an early exit from what appeared to be the easiest group in the competition had they failed to at least draw.

The Portuguese had most of the possession and created a lot more opportunities but still looked vulnerable in defence. Hungary’s goalkeeper, Gabor Kiraly, meanwhile, played at least 16 more passes than any other Hungarian player and was fifth overall.

Por v Hun chances created comp

All three of Portugal’s goals were created while none of Hungary’s were.

Hungary – who some expected to be the whipping boys – finished top of Group F but are likely to find Belgium too strong in the next round.

Man of the Match: Cristiano Ronaldo – For all his flaws, which includes having to take 10 shots every game, he is a bloody good footballer and proved it when his team needed him the most. Ronaldo’s assist and two goals helped them qualify for a last 16 encounter with much fancied Croatia.

 

Iceland 2-1 Austria – The Iceland on the cake

Iceland will face England on Monday after finishing second in Group F thanks to Arnor Ingvi Traustason’s 94th minute winner.

Austria – who needed a win to progress – dominated the ball like all of Iceland’s previous opponents (Austria = 70%, Hungary = 71% and Portugal = 72%). But the Austrians were unable to score more than one goal from their 23 attempts.

That included Aleksandar Dragovic’s missed penalty, which reaffirmed his tournament as quite the failure after receiving a red card in the first game and subsequently being suspended for the second.

Ice v Aut clearances comp

Iceland having to clear so many balls in their penalty area is likely to be repeated against England.

The startling difference in terms of clearances goes to show just how defensive Iceland were and how Austria failed to break them down despite showering their penalty box.

Austria have disappointed following a strong qualifying campaign with many expecting more from them, especially given the perceived lack of competition in their group.

Iceland’s fairytale will continue against the Three Lions knowing that a fourth game of little possession and deep defending could prove successful against a side who has so far struggled to break down such teams.

Man of the Match: Kari Arnason – Created the most chances and earned the most free-kicks for his side while ranking top overall for blocks and headed clearances. Iceland relinquish so much possession that their defensive discipline is essential and at the heart of it is Arnason.

Euro 2016 – Second Round Review (Groups D-F)

Statszone Key smallGroup D
Croatia 2-2 Czech Republic – Late penalty earns Czechs unlikely draw

Croatia threw away a two-goal lead despite dominating for long periods of the game.

The telling moment came just after an hour’s play when Luka Modric was substituted with a slight injury. His departure with the score at 2-0 saw a switch in influence and performance from both Ivan Rakitic and Czech Republic.

Rakitic, scorer of the second goal, had far more successful passes and take ons in addition to his strike during the time Modric was on the pitch. His attacking third passes were 12 from 18 while the last half an hour saw the Barcelona player only manage two from six. Clearly Modric’s role as the incisive feeder from midfield will have a big impact on Croatia’s other star man.

Rakitic needs Modric

Rakitic performed better when Modric was on the pitch against Czech Republic.

The Czech’s meanwhile went on to score both their goals after Modric had left the field. The biggest change came in the success rate of their long balls with 20% for the first hour compared to 70.6% for the last 30-minutes. It was a long ball that led Mark Clattenburg to correctly award a penalty, which Tomas Necid emphatically converted with just a minute of normal time remaining.

Czech long balls comp

The last half an hour saw Czech Republic enjoy much more success with their long balls.

Man of the Match: Ivan Rakitic – Top for shots, chances created and take ons. Took his goal very well.

 

Spain 3-0 Turkey – Spainful stuffing of Turkey

Vicente Del Bosque’s Spain controlled proceedings from start to finish in one the tournament’s most one-sided encounters.

The chances created in open play proved not only their dominance but also how well they restricted Turkey’s attack. Of the 13 chances created by Spain, eight were inside the area while Turkey only managed one from their six and that was right on the edge of the box.

Spain v Turkey chances created

It wasn’t the quantity but the quality of the chances Spain were able to create.

One of the key players was Celta Vigo’s Nolito who managed to create four chances including the assist for Alvaro Morata’s opening goal. The Juventus forward actually benefitted from a more clinical performance in front of goal with two goals from his five attempts compared to zero from four against Petr Cech in their first game of the tournament.

Turkey, meanwhile, continued to disappoint with Arda Turan in particular coming in for criticism from his supporters. Over the two games he’s had one attempt at goal, created just one chance and failed to succeed with any of his passes into the oppositions box. The Turkey captain seems isolated and in lack of support as he tries to influence matters from wide areas. Bringing the Barcelona midfielder into a more central position may prove beneficial in their final game against Czech Republic.

Turan comp

Turan has struggled in a below-par Turkish side.

NolitoMan of the Match: Nolito – One goal, one assist, created the most chances and recovered the joint second most balls. All despite looking like a failed pornstar.

 

Group E
Belgium 3-0 Republic of Ireland – Belgium’s trio turn up in comfortable win 

Despite being level at half-time, Belgium outclassed the Irish with a strong second half performance from their key front men.

Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne in particular were influential as both playmakers switched from side to side throughout the game. De Bruyne created more chances (six) whilst Hazard recovered more balls. Both players provided an assist for Romelu Lukaku who proved that he has what it takes to lead the line.

De Bruyne and Hazard

De Bruyne and Hazard clearly had the freedom to roam.

Martin O’Neill was forced into one change from the Sweden draw with Jon Walters out injured. His replacement, Stephen Ward, didn’t have a particularly bad game but all of Belgium’s goals came from his side. The left-back’s Belgian compatriot, Jan Vertonghen, provided a superior defensive performance which included five clearances from inside his box. Ward was more effective with his passes into the box and ball recoveries, but he didn’t have one attempted clearance despite his side facing 25 crosses by Belgium compared to Ireland’s 21.

Vertonghen v Ward

Vertonghen appeared to have been better at carrying out his defensive duties compared to Ward.

Putting Robbie Brady in front of Ward was understandable but Brady may well have been a better option for left-back like he was against Sweden given his pace. Two of Belgium’s three goals were a result of fast counter-attacks down Ireland’s left while only one chance was created from open play on Seamus Coleman’s side compared to Ward’s four – three of which were converted.

Man of the Match: Kevin De Bruyne – Created four more chances than any other player including the assist for Lukaku’s opening goal. The Man City attacked also succeeded with the third most tackles in the Belgium team

 

Sweden 0-1 Italy – Eder scores late winner in drab encounter

A game of few chances was decided by Brazilian born Eder in the 88th minute.

Italy’s qualification to the round of 16 was confirmed thanks to victory over an abject Sweden who failed to benefit from Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s ability. The Swedes are probably the side with the biggest gulf in quality between their star player and the rest of their squad in these championships. Their first two games have certainly proven as such, with Ibrahimovic even struggling for form, failing to hit the target against Italy.

Besides a lack of quality support or service, Ibrahimovic wasn’t allowed to succeed by Italy’s impressive defence with Giorgio Chiellini excelling. The Juventus defender was blocking crosses, clearing danger and intercepting balls while keeping Ibrahimovic at arms length throughout.

Chiellini v Ibrahimovic

Chiellini was a big reason as to why Ibrahimovic was so ineffective.

Italy look best off playing against stronger opposition though their squad depth will likely be on show in their final Group E fixture against Republic of Ireland.

Man of the Match: Giorgio Chiellini – Won the most free-kicks, second for ball recoveries as well as being top for blocked crosses and interceptions. He also showed quick thinking to help assist Eder for his match-winning goal.

 

Group F
Portugal 0-0 Austria – Ronaldo off target in goalless draw

Much to the delight of nearly everyone in Europe outside of Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo failed to score from ten attempts for the second game running, including a 79th minute penalty miss. His record for the tournament stands at 20 attempts, four on target, no goals.

Ronaldo shots comp

Ronaldo’s efforts on goal so far this tournament.

The Real Madrid forward was rightly criticised for his comments after the Iceland draw making him about as likeable as a stubbed toe against a milkless fridge on a rainy Monday.

Portugal’s standout player was William Carvalho who managed to keep David Alaba very quiet during the 65 minutes he was on the pitch. Carvalho was the link between defence and attack whilst the eight of his nine ball recoveries that took place in his half went a long way to explaining why Austria only had four attempts to Portugal’s 23.

Carvalho v Alaba

Carvalho kept Alaba quiet and protected his defence.

The two favourites from Group F now need to win their final games in order to qualify for the next round.

Man of the Match: William Carvalho – Most passes and ball recoveries in a controlling display by the Sporting Lisbon midfielder who deserves to start against Hungary.

 

Iceland 1-1 Hungary – Iceland’s own goal denies first win

A romantic story involving ice could still end happily even if Kate Winslett’s selfishness does try and ruin this one too. But Iceland’s fairytale could have been so much better had they held on for the win against Hungary.

Despite having only 29% possession, Iceland still created two big chances compared to their opponents’ zero. So it was obviously frustrating to see Birkir Saevarsson put the ball into his own net in the 88th minute. Unfortunately for Saevarsson, it couldn’t really be avoided such was the quality of the ball across goal.

Hungary meanwhile had far more attempts at goal (12) but only three were from inside the area, none of which hit the target. In contrast, all but one of Iceland’s eight attempts at goal were from inside the 18-yard box.

Isl v Hun shots

Iceland had fewer attempts but they were closer to goal.

The Hungarians are almost certain to qualify given they now have four points from two games and a plus-two goal difference.

Man of the Match: Tamas Kadar – Heavily involved despite being a left-back. Kadar had the most passes and ball recoveries (five more than second place) as well as winning all four of his defensive aerial duels.

Kadar comp

Kadar was far more influential against Iceland compared to the first game against Austria.

Euro 2016 – Second Round Review (Groups A-C)

Statszone Key smallGroup A
France 2-0 Albania – Late goals save Les Bleus blushes

France qualified for the knockout stages following another late win thanks to goals from substitute Antoine Griezmann and current hero Dimitri Payet.

Didier Deschamps made two big calls by dropping Paul Pogba and Griezmann following their narrow win against Romania in the tournament’s first game. But Pogba’s stint on the sidelines was short lived as Anthony Martial had a poor first half, which included the Man Utd attacker losing possession 11 times from 28 touches.

Pogba’s introduction saw Payet move from the number 10 role to the wing where he seems to be most comfortable and effective. The dashboard comparing the chances Payet created during the first and second half suggests he enjoys the extra space while his delivery is one of his stronger assets. The West Ham playmaker was persistent if nothing else as he attempted 17 crosses in total. But it was centre-back Adil Rami’s only cross that broke the deadlock as Griezmann nodded into the corner having come on in the 68th minute.

Payet 1st v 2nd chances

Payet created double the amount of chances in the second half after Pogba’s introduction for Martial.

Crossing seems the way forward for France against most teams who will defend deep as long as Deschamps continues to opt for a target man as his lone striker (Giroud or Gignac).

The 90th minute goal broke Albania’s hearts having put in a superbly disciplined performance. Deep into injury time, France sealed their victory with a goal that was triggered by Pogba’s brilliant diagonal ball to France’s third substitute Andre-Pierre Gignac – who had replaced the misfiring Olivier Giroud – before he assisted Payet for another emphatic finish.

Deschamps is known to be a lucky manager but to have all three substitutes making an impact in the final third suggests there’s more to it than just a happy coincidence.

Man of the Match: N’Golo Kante – Pushed further up due to Albania’s deep defending yet still protected and controlled from the middle of midfield. The Leicester man provided the most passes, ball recoveries, tackles and interceptions for the host nation.

Kante attack comp

Kante was far more involved in attack against Albania compared to the Romania game.

 

Switzerland 1-1 Romania – Mehmedi ensures Swiss don’t pay penalty

Romania earned the point they should have got against France as another Bogdan Stancu penalty was converted.

Stancu’s 18th minute penalty gave his side the lead but Admir Mehmedi thumped home the equaliser just before the hour mark.

The Romanians played a more direct and defensive game as evident from their lack of possession (33.3%) but greater proportion of long balls compared to Switzerland (19.7% to 7.7%).

Rom v Sui long balls

Romania went for a more direct approach than their opponents who had twice as much possession.

Haris Seferovic continued to struggle in front of goal having had three attempts and one on target during this game. The forward’s total now stands at seven attempts, five on target and no goals over the two games. It’s still better than Xerdan Shaqiri who has also disappointed with just two shots on target from his seven attempts so far.

Romanian was far more efficient with their possession having created nearly three-quarters of Switzerland’s chances with only half of the ball. This naturally saw a proportionate number of fouls with Romania committing 23 offences to Switzerland’s 11.

Man of the Match: Granit Xhaka – Top for passes (91 from 108), ball recoveries (nine), attacking aerial duels (three from three), chances created (three) and passes in the attacking third (21 from 29) whilst the big midfielder suffered as many fouls as he committed (three). Arsenal fans should be excited by the prospect of this guy lining up in their midfield next season!

Xhaka dashboard

Xhaka was a big influence on his side, particularly in terms of ball recoveries.

 

Group B
England 2-1 Wales – From suspect to super subs for Hodgson

England got revenge for Russia’s late equaliser after Daniel Sturridge toe-poked an injury-time winner against a limited Wales.

Roy Hodgson came in for criticism for the timing and choice of his substitutions against Russia. But after Gareth Bale’s freekick – one of only two shots on target by the Welsh, both of which were from 30-plus yards – had given Wales a half-time lead against an unchanged England side, Hodgson took action.

The double substitution of Jamie Vardy and Sturridge for the poor Raheem Sterling and lethargic Harry Kane seemed like a bold move that was necessary.

Vardy repaid his manager’s faith with an opportunistic equaliser from close-range just ten minutes later. The Leicester forward appeared to be offside but the officials correctly spotted that the crucial touch came off Ashley Williams of Wales and not an England player.

Hodgson then surprised most when he introduced Marcus Rashford for Adam Lallana. It felt a little like a guy trying to prove his girlfriend that he is spontaneous by doing some wild things that are completely out of character. But…it worked.

Sturridge scored his winner and probably cemented his place in the starting 11 for the Slovakia game. His half compared favourably to that of Kane’s as the Liverpool forward linked up well and was not afraid to take shots.

Kane v Sturridge

Sturridge is tipped to start against Slovakia having had a far more effective half than teammate Kane

But whilst Hodgson went all out attack, he could perhaps have been better off introducing Jack Wilshere for Eric Dier as Chris Coleman’s team dropped deeper and deeper. It certainly would have made more sense than Wilshere replacing Wayne Rooney against Russia.

Dier showed his limitations in attack, as he was naturally encouraged further up field. The graphic shows how his final third balls were made from a much more advanced position against Wales with all five passes that crossed the 18-yard box failing to meet its target. This would have been an area in which Wilshere would have thrived.

Dier comp

Dier should have been replaced by Wilshere because of the forward positions he was finding himself in.

Coming from behind at half-time – the first England team to do so in a major tournament – and winning with such a late goal will give the players a huge psychological boost ahead of the Slovakia game where the Three Lions will look to finish top of their group with a win.

Man of the Match: Kyle Walker – The Tottenham right back provided a constant outlet on the wing and helped England pin back their opponents. A comparison between him and Chris Gunter – who was supposed to be a right-wing-back – shows just how defensive Wales were.

Walker v Gunter

It seemed like Walker was the wing-back and Gunter the full.

 

Slovakia 2-1 Russia – Hamsik screamer edges out Russians

Slovakia dictated play during a first half in which they finished two goals ahead.

Marek Hamsik was provider then scorer for the Slovaks as he came to the fore in a major tournament. The Napoli midfielder was playing a similar position to Rooney but as the graphic shows, enjoyed a much stronger attacking performance. Whilst the England captain was dictating play in the middle, the Slovakian captain was proving to be more effective in the final third.

Hamsik v Rooney

Hamsik had a greater attacking influence from a similar position to Rooney against the Russians

Hamsik’s assist for Vladimir Weiss could well have been a Rooney-Vardy combination had Hodgson opted for the Leicester forward against Russia. But Weiss’ finish was something that Vardy would have been proud of as the former Man City player cut inside and coolly finished into the far corner.

The lead was doubled when Hamsik thundered in a shot from a difficult angle on the side of the area. His curling shot left Igor Akinfeev in the Russia goal with no chance as it cannoned off the far-post and in.

But something must have been said at half-time because there was a stark improvement in Russia’s performance. Not too difficult given the quality of their opening 45 minutes.

Russia had double the attempts at goal but still displayed a severe lack of quality in the final third, which probably justifies them as the weakest side in Group B. Denis Glushakov’s goal came in the 80th minute but it proved to be too little too late.

Rus 1st and 2nd

The difference between Russia’s first and second half in terms of attempts at goal.

Wales, and particularly Bale with his pace, will fancy their chances against this ageing Russia team while England (Dier) will need to keep an eye on Hamsik.

Man of the Match: Marek Hamsik – One goal and one assist in addition to the 11 recoveries.

 

Group C
Poland 0-0 Germany– Poles stand tall against Germans

The Germans dominated possession but failed to create too many clear-cut chances, which coincided with a disappointing performance by Mesut Ozil.

Despite having nearly 70% of the ball, Joachim Low’s side first hit the target in the second half with a total of three from their 16 attempts on Poland’s goal.

Poland defended resolutely while Germany lacked the necessary quality in the final third to break the deadlock. They were only successful with four of the 31 attempted crosses, of which twenty occurred in the second half.

Ozil only created three chances, just as he had against Ukraine. But the Arsenal playmaker had produced an assist in that game whereas against Poland, he failed to create one big chance, despite having 16 more passes in the final third.

The performance of Grzegorz Krychowiak contributed to Ozil’s struggles. The Sevilla midfielder’s overall performance included a commanding protection of his defenders without a single loss of possession in his own defensive third. In fact, only twice did he lose possession in Poland’s half and both of those were within five yards of the halfway line.

Krychowiak v Ozil

Krychowiak was a shield for Poland’s defence while Ozil failed to create any chances inside the area.

Germany are still favourites to top the group but this setback will only give their next opponents, Northern Ireland, confidence that they too can put on a stubborn display like the Poles.

Man of the Match: Grzegorz Krychowiak – An impressive performance as part of a two-man midfield against the trio of Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos and Ozil. They may have dominated possession but they failed to create any clear chances.

 

Northern Ireland 2-0 Ukraine – Norn Iron earn vital win

Northern Ireland won for the first time in a European Championships thanks to two second half goals.

Michael O’Neill made five changes from the side that disappointed from an attacking perspective against Poland, which included dropping top scorer Kyle Lafferty to the bench.

The gamble paid off when Gareth McAuley scored with a brilliant header from Oliver Norwood’s free-kick. It meant that 59% of Northern Ireland’s goals since the start of qualification for Euro 2016 have been from set-pieces (10 out of 17).

But one of the most telling differences between this game and the Poland defeat was the chances. O’Neill’s side created five times as many chances as they did against Poland, which not only seemed to be an outcome of a more positive approach but also a defence that didn’t drop quite so deep.

N Ire chances comp

Northern Ireland were far more productive in attack compared to the Poland game.

The dashboard below shows that they were more successful with their headed clearances having only failed with one from 17. Also, they were less congested in the penalty box compared to the Poland match, which suggests they were under less pressure from Ukraine.

N Ire headed clearances comp

Northern Ireland had fewer dangerous balls to deal with during their encounter with Ukraine.

Ukraine now look likely to finish bottom of the group having lost their first two games 2-0.

Man of the Match: Gareth McAuley – The joint most clearances and most blocks in the game. His opening goal was his eighth for his country of which six have been headers.

Euro 2016 – First Round Review (Groups D-F)

Luka Modric

Modric was in fine form for Croatia.

Group D
Croatia 1-0 Turkey – Modric magic the difference

Croatia, the popular choice as a dark horse for this tournament, kicked things off with a comfortable 1-0 win against Turkey.

Luka Modric provided a piece of magic when his controlled and dipping volley beat Volkan Babacan. A brilliant piece of technique, worthy of winning most football matches.

While the Real Madrid orchestrator delivered a man of the match performance, his teammates Ivan Rakitic and Milan Badelj were also very good. Fiorentina’s Badelj delivered a composed and assured performance, which allowed Modric the time and space to dictate matters further up field.

The only gripe with Croatia’s performance was their lack of ruthlessness in the final third. Ivan Perisic and Darijo Srna both struck the crossbar in the second half while the former also had a couple of good opportunities. They’ll need to be more clinical if they are to fulfill the predictions of many.

Man of the Match: Luka Modric

 

Andres Iniesta

Iniesta provided the assist for Spain’s winner.

Spain 1-0 Czech Republic – Spain Pique at the death

Reigning champions, Spain needed an 87th minute winner from Gerard Pique to defeat a disciplined Czech Republic.

It was a typical Spain performance, led by a trademark showing by Andres Iniesta, as they tried to suffocate the opposition through controlled possession. The midfielder was the most incisive with his passes but Petr Cech was there to foil Spain’s efforts at goal.

Eventually, it was Iniesta who picked out Barcelona teammate, Pique, with a cross late on, which decided the game. But even then, the Czechs still nearly found an equaliser only to be thwarted by Spain’s confirmed number one, David De Gea.

The Spaniards dominance was proven by the stat that Cech played more passes than any of his teammates during the game. Meanwhile, former Arsenal teammate, Tomas Rosicky managed to play 89 minutes, more than four times the amount he accumulated during his final season with Arsenal.

Some supporters may find it dull to watch Spain play attack v defence like this but many opponents are likely to execute the same approach. Besides, performances like Iniesta’s will be worth the admission fee alone.

Man of the Match: Andres Iniesta

 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Ibrahimovic will need to do more in Sweden’s next match.

Group E
Sweden 1-1 Republic of Ireland – Hoolahandini not quite enough for impressive Irish 

Martin O’Neill’s side produced a positive performance against Sweden on Monday. Unfortunately, they were unable to take all three-points after Ciaran Clark was forced into an own goal by a cross from Zlatan Ibrahimovic who was generally quiet (on the pitch at least).

The first half saw Jeff Hendrick impress as the Derby man twice came close to opening the scoring. Andreas Isaksson saved his first attempt but the Swedish keeper was well beaten on the second, unlike the crossbar.

Wes Hoolahan’s very well-taken half-volley from Seamus Coleman’s cross gave the Irish a deserved 47th minute lead.

Despite the nature of the equaliser and the dropped points, Ireland can take a lot of confidence from their display and carry that momentum into their next match against a wounded Belgium on Saturday.

Sweden meanwhile, will be looking to Ibrahimovic for some much needed inspiration if they’re to stand any chance of progressing from Group E.

Man of the Match: Jeff Hendrick

 

Leonardo Bonucci

Bonucci was equally brilliant in his defending and distribution.

Belgium 0-2 Italy – Pellissimo by Conte’s Italy

God gave both managers lemons. Antonio Conte made the best lemonade he could while Marc Wilmots squeezed his into eyes and open cuts.

The future Chelsea manager arrived in France with an Italian squad that few feared. After this display, many will sit up and take notice of not only their speed and intensity but also the impact a quality coach can have on a side.

German journalist, Rafael Honigstein brilliantly summed up this fixture with, “a team without a coach (Belgium) v a coach without a team (Italy)”. His words were proven right by Italy’s wholehearted and passionate display against a disappointing and disjointed Belgian side.

Emmanuel Giaccherini opened the scoring when he controlled Leonardo Bonucci’s long ball before side footing past Thibaut Courtois after 32-minutes. Bonucci’s assist was the best of the tournament as the Juventus defender produced a defensive master class with his teammates, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and goalkeeping legend, Gianluigi Buffon.

Italy benefitted not only from the Juventus connection at the back – the strongest defence in these championships – but also the shift put in by wing-backs, Matteo Darmian and Marco Parolo.

Conte’s team lined up in a 3-5-2 formation but it almost became a 3-3-4 when they were attacking and more of a 4-4-2 when defending. Those transitions left Darmian understandably knackered after an hour as the Italians focused the majority of their attacks down the left. Darmian and Giaccherini were often doubling up on Laurent Ciman at right-back. The Montreal Impact player isn’t Marc Wilmots’ first choice and Conte exploited this weakness, particularly with the solid Jan Vertonghen on the other side at left-back.

However, Graziano Pelle’s game clinching goal would come from Vertonghen’s side, after Belgium had reverted to a three-man defence in search of an equaliser. Substitute Thiago Motta opened the field with an intelligent pass before Antonio Candreva calmly picked out Pelle to emphatically volley home.

Belgium will look at chances spurned by Romelu Lukaku and his replacement Divock Origi but the manner of both sides’ performances shouldn’t leave them feeling cheated in any way.

This supposed golden generation could come unstuck again if they don’t defeat Ireland in their next game, while Italy – who fielded the oldest starting XI in the history of the European Championships (31 years and 169 days) – take on Sweden.

Man of the Match: Leonard Bonucci

 

Kolbeinn Sigborsson

Kolbeinn Sigthorsson led the line for Iceland.

Group F
Portugal 1-1 Iceland – Supermarket keep Superstar quiet

Little Iceland deservedly avoided defeat against a Portugal side led by big superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

The three-time Ballon d’Or winner was unable to score despite his ten attempts at goal. He typically cut a frustrated figure as he watched Iceland cancel out Nani’s 31st minute opener.

Five-minutes after half-time, Birkir Bjanrnason capitalized on a mix-up between Vieirinha and Pepe in the Portuguese defence triggered by Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s movement. It was what Iceland’s hard work and graft warranted and they can now conceivably qualify as one of the top two from what is arguably the weakest group in the tournament.

Portugal will need to get back on track against Austria if we are to see any more attempts at goal by Ronaldo. The Real Madrid forward acted like a top student who was beaten by a classmate in an exam and pretended not to care. He was quoted after the game as saying:

“I thought they’d won the Euros the way they celebrated at the end. It was unbelievable. We tried hard to win the game and Iceland didn’t try anything. This, in my opinion, shows a small mentality and they are not going to do anything in the competition.”

Clearly he’s wrong. Iceland can’t possibly display a small mentality when the pool of available players (males aged 18-38) is so tiny. In fact, they should have a microscopic mentality given they have less than 50,000 candidates to choose from. It’s actually just over a 1 in 2000 chance of being in their country’s squad for a major international tournament. So to keep one of the world’s best players quiet and not lose to an established footballing nation with around 30 times the population probably deserves a little more respect than those comments and a refusal to shake hands. Perhaps, Ronaldo really is best off teaching his son how to pronounce the names of expensive cars instead of letting us all know how arrogant and narrow-minded he is.

Man of the Match: Kari Arnason

 

David Alaba

Alaba was unfortunate not to have scored within the first minute.

Austria 0-2 Hungary – Hungary break 52-year record

Hipster fancied Austria found themselves on the receiving end of one of the tournament’s bigger surprises.

Hungary were tipped as the whipping boys in Group F but that didn’t materialise here despite David Alaba and Austria deserving to be in front by half-time.

Versatile Alaba struck the post after just 30 seconds while Marko Arnautovic showed a deft touch that should have resulted in a goal not long before the break.

But the second half saw a very different Hungary side turn up and they took the lead just after the hour mark thanks to Adam Szalai. The tall striker linked up nicely with Laszlo Kleinheisler to send the Hungarian supporters delirious.

Just four-minutes later, Austria had a goal disallowed for a foul by Aleksandar Dragovic. The foul may have been correct but the resulting second yellow seemed very harsh.

Down to ten men, Austria tried to salvage a draw but it was Hungary who took advantage of the extra space afforded in the dying moments.

Zoltan Stieber latched onto a through ball to show Lukaku how it’s done as he lifted the ball over the advancing Robert Almer to seal the Hungarians’ first win at a European Championships since 1964.

Man of the Match: Balazs Dzsudzsak

Euro 2016 – First Round Review (Groups A-C)

Patrice Evra

Evra looks like he’ll need extra support

Group A
France 2-1 Romania – It can’t last for Evra

Dimitri Payet quite rightly received all the plaudits for his match winning performance, but Romania exposed what was anticipated as France’s biggest weakness.

Thirty-five-year-old, Patrice Evra, was guilty of conceding an avoidable penalty less than ten-minutes after Olivier Giroud had given France the lead. It was a slow and unnecessary attempt at a tackle by the Juventus left-back who was also caught out on several occasions during the game.

Whilst the French are blessed with attackers that have them as one of the tournament’s favourites, their lack of defensive options could prove telling. Lucas Digne is the only other natural left-back in Didier Deschamps squad but he’s only made 13 appearances for Les Bleus – 60 fewer than Evra.

The loss of Jeremy Mathieu – who can be deployed as a centre or left-back – to injury before the tournament began means Evra has little competition for his place. If France is going to win Euro 2016 and fulfill the predictions of many – myself included – then they’ll have to provide more support on the left or continue to rely on Payet’s magic.

Man of the Match: Dimitri Payet

 

Yann Sommer

Sommer prevented Albania from earning an improbable draw

Switzerland 1-0 Albania – Sommer saves Swiss

It was billed as the battle of the brothers as Granit Xhaka (Switzerland) took on older brother Taulant Xhaka (Albania). But whilst Mama Xhaka wore a half and half t-shirt in the crowd, the real battle was who could miss/save the most chances?

Fabian Schar rose above Marco Wolfi to give the Swiss a fifth-minute lead, which turned out to be the winner despite a number of good opportunities for both sides.

Albania came into the tournament having only scored seven goals in qualifying – three of which were awarded as part of a forfeited win against Serbia. It was no surprise then to see Armando Sadiku squander a couple of presentable openings with Switzerland’s Yann Sommer standing up to the striker’s efforts.

Those chances were all the more precious as Albania had to play with ten-men for nearly an hour of the game following captain and former Sunderland player, Lorik Cana’s sending off.

At the other end, Haris Seferovic showed he too could freeze in front of goal as he failed to put the game beyond reach. The Frankfurt forward found himself taking his frustrations out on a post, probably in an attempt to make the goal bigger.

The lack of conviction in Seferovic’s finishing suggests the raw talents of Basel’s 19-year-old Breel Embolo should be introduced from the start on Wednesday. Born in Cameroon, Embolo could help secure his adopted nation’s qualification to the last 16 with victory over Romania at the Parc des Princes.

Albania, meanwhile, need to take the positives from remaining competitive in the game despite the numerical disadvantage. In fact, the Eagles should have come away with a point when substitute Shkelzen Gashi was clean through in the dying minutes. Fortunately for Switzerland, Sommer was there to produce a very good save and protect his side’s slender lead.

Man of the Match: Yann Sommer

 

Wayne Rooney Eng

Rooney’s best performance at a tournament since Euro 2004 against Croatia

Group B
England 1-1 Russia – Suspect substitutions cost England victory

Russia’s captain Vasili Berezutski earned his side an unlikely and undeserved draw in injury-time to prevent England from finally winning an opening game at a European Championships.

Roy Hodgson’s side played with the sort of attacking intent not seen by England at a tournament since Euro 2004. Despite their performance, they were unable to break the deadlock until Eric Dier swept home a freekick – much to the surprise of many – with 20 minutes remaining.

It was minutes after the goal that Hodgson made his first sub, bringing on Jack Wilshere for man of the match Wayne Rooney. It was unexpected given how well captain Rooney had been playing, but it was what Hodgson didn’t do that drew criticism from a number of fans.

Even before Dier’s goal, England looked like they needed an injection of fresh legs as Russia got more of a foothold in the game. Raheem Sterling’s form has been poor leading up to the Championships but he still found himself starting on the left of a front-three. The Man City winger struggled to have any impact in the second period yet he remained on the field until the 87th minute before being replaced by James Milner.

Chasing a goal, Russia were going to have to push further forwards, which naturally creates more space in their defensive third. A perfect opportunity for a direct and pacey forward like Jamie Vard, particularly when that area of the pitch is marshaled by two centre-backs who in a month’s time will be 34 and 37 years old respectively.

Harry Kane was far from his best so having selected five strikers for the 23-man squad, you’d be forgiven for expecting one of Vardy, Sturridge or Rashford to make an appearance. None of them did and England paid the price for failing to put the game to bed, dropping two-points and adding further pressure to the Wales game on Thursday afternoon.

Man of the Match: Wayne Rooney

 

Gareth Bale Wales

Bale already off and running

Wales 2-1 Slovakia – Bale benefits from bad keeping

Goals ten minutes in and ten minutes from the end ensured Wales won their first ever game in the European Championships.

Gareth Bale’s freekick managed to deceive Matus Kozacik in the Slovakian goal to give the Dragons the lead. Following Romania and Albania, this was the third goalkeeping error from the tournament’s first four games as Kozacik wrong-footed himself to allow Bale’s shot past him.

Ondrej Duda equalised for Slovakia a minute after coming on as a substitute. But the Welsh had their own super sub when Hal Robson-Kanu managed to score the winner ten minutes after replacing Jonny Williams.

Joe Allen, put in a solid and composed performance worthy of earning man of the match. The Liverpool player regularly showcased his ability to anticipate opponents’  misplaced passes or poor control. The diminutive midfielder’s pressing game is key to triggering Wales’ quick counters with Bale leading the line.

Chris Coleman’s side will be full of confidence heading into the England encounter having already earned three-points. The format of this year’s tournament means four of the six third placed sides will progress to the last 16, thus taking the pressure off a Welsh side that appears to be built on a strong team spirit.

Man of the Match: Joe Allen

 

A Milik Poland

Milik celebrates his goal

Group C
Poland 1-0 Northern Ireland – Northern Ireland’s blunt attack exposed

Northern Ireland entered their first major tournament in 30 years with a 12 game unbeaten record. They qualified top of their group through a combination of resolute defending and efficient uses of set-plays. But their opponents, Poland, had Robert Lewandowski, arguably the best out and out striker at the tournament of which there are few.

Michael O’Neill’s starting eleven featured six defenders if you include utility player, Chris Baird. It was clear how the Green and White Army were going to approach this game and in terms of nullifying Lewandowski’s threat, it worked.

Unfortunately for them, as mentioned in the preview, Poland has another handy forward in Arkadiusz Milik. It was the Ajax man who got the only goal of the game but he could have scored more, benefitting from his strike partner occupying more than one defender.

Defeat leads Northern Ireland with a slim chance of qualifying, as they’ll probably need at least three-points from their remaining games against Ukraine and Germany. To do that, they’ll need to provide a far greater threat to the opposition’s goal than the two attempts registered against Poland. It was the joint-lowest total by any side in a European Championships since the finals expanded from four to eight teams in 1980.

Man of the Match: Arkadiusz Milik

 

Yevhen Konoplyanka Ukraine

Konoplyanka caused Germany’s defenders problems

Germany 2-0 Ukraine – Germany eventually Kroos to victory

Germany got their tournament off to a winning start following a two-goal win over Ukraine, but it wasn’t all plain sailing for the World Champions.

Like fellow favourites, France, the Germans have suffered injuries and a lack of options in defence leaving them weak in both full-backs and short in the centre as they await Mats Hummels return from injury.

Ukraine’s two strongest players just so happened to be wingers Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko, which made for an entertaining first half.

Jerome Boateng and goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, ensured Germany maintained the lead Shkodran Mustafi had given them after 20 minutes by producing good saves and acrobatic goal line clearances.

The Ukrainians failed to create similar quality of chances in the second half as Germany displayed their experience by dictating matters, largely due to the impressive performance by Real Mardrid’s Toni Kroos who also set up the first goal.

As the clock ran down, public displays of personal hygiene faux pas enthusiast, Joachim Low watched his side show England how to see out a game. Cult hero, Bastian Schweinsteiger, killed the game when he finished off a counter-attack just a couple of minutes after coming on in injury-time.

But whilst Germany was impressive, they, like every other team in this competition, have clear weaknesses, which only bodes well for the spectators.

Man of the Match: Toni Kroos

Euro 2016 Preview

The now 24-team tournament kicks off in just a few hours when hosts France take on Romania.

Fifty-one matches will take place over the next month as Europe’s best nations compete for the trophy currently held by Spain.

An international tournament often means disappointment and anticlimax for England’s supporters but there is a slightly more optimistic and more importantly, realistic expectation from their young side.

Roy Hodgson

Roy will want more from his boys than two years ago.

Roy Hodgson’s men should progress from Group B and at least reach the quarter-finals. My prediction that they will face Portugal – the team they lost to on penalties in Euro 2004 and the World Cup 2006 – at this stage again doesn’t bode well for the pessimists but I’m hopeful that it will be a case of third time lucky for the Three Lions. Then they’ll lose to Spain in the semis.

I’ve predicted the pathways post-group stage so I can be told how horribly wrong I was on July 11th. I’ve also mentioned some players or teams I think will be successful, trying to avoid the obvious candidates where possible. They still rear their ugly heads despite my best efforts at being a ‘football hipster’.

 

TEAMS TO LOOK OUT FOR:

Wales could find themselves in the quarter-finals if Gareth Bale and co produce the sort of form that got them to France in the first place. For that to happen, Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey will need to provide the service from midfield with Ashley Williams controlling matters in defence.

Croatia has a strong looking side with the likes of Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric in midfield. They may, however, come unstuck in the round of 16 where they could face Belgium and their ‘golden generation’.

Robert Lewandowski

Lewandowski and Poland will be a difficult team to face.

Robert Lewandowski’s Poland side could conceivably end up facing Spain in the quarter-finals if they manage to beat Ukraine to second spot in Group C. The Poles have Grzegorz Krychowiak marshaling the midfield while Piotr Zielinski – regularly linked with Liverpool – might be able to showcase his talents. Bayern Munich’s Lewandowski shouldn’t have to shoulder all the goalscoring responsibility with Arkadiusz Milik alongside him. The Ajax forward scored 21 goals in 31 league appearances this season.

 

PLAYERS TO LOOK OUT FOR:

England’s Dele Alli could very well continue his meteoric rise having been at MK Dons in League One just over a year ago. The Tottenham midfielder had a superb season for his club – who were challenging for the title with three games to go – and is capable of surprising his opponents on the international stage.

Olivier Giroud has his critics at Arsenal but the French forward looks a certainty for the target man role. The supporting attackers and midfielders, including set-piece specialist Dimitri Payet should ensure Giroud gets plenty of chances throughout the tournament. France’s path to the semi-finals is favourable, which adds further credence to Giroud being a serious candidate for the Golden Boot.

Nikola Kalinic

Kalinic could be Croatia’s super sub.

Croatia will be looking to their three Italian based forwards for the goals they need to progress. Juventus’ Mario Mandzukic is likely to start as the lone striker with support on the wing from Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic. Fiorentina’s Nikola Kalinic will probably have to settle for a place on the bench but his impact could also be telling. Blackburn fans might not remember Kalinic too fondly having signed for £6m in 2009 only to score seven league goals in 44 appearances over two seasons. But since leaving Ewood Park, the Croatian has rediscovered his goalscoring touch with 37 goals in 86 games for Dnipro before a move to Florence last summer where he’s scored 12 in 33.

 

 

TOURNAMENT WINNER:

Dimitri Payet France

Payet’s set-pieces will provide a huge threat.

It’s hard to go against the favourites, France. Their squad is packed with attacking talent (Giroud, Martial, Griezmann, Payet, Matuidi, Pogba, Conan and Gignac) that is capable of turning matches on their head. Les Bleus have suffered injuries to their defence and look weak – due to age – in both fullback positions but the home support help compensate that.

Current World champions, Germany, will fancy their chances but their recent form has been stuttering at best. They too have weaknesses in defence but the experience of 2014 and German efficiency in major tournaments means they’ll be a strong outfit.

Current holders of the last two European Championships, Spain, suffered a come down in Brazil two years ago. But they seem to be lining up in a similar way to the side that brought them success from 2008-2012. Diego Costa was horseshoed into the side during the last World Cup and it really didn’t suit both parties. Now a new group of players (De Gea, Bellerin, Koke, Thiago, Morata, 29-year-old Nolito, 32-year-old Soriano and 35-year-old Aduriz) are looking to establish their own history on the international stage.

 

GOLDEN BOOT:

Olivier Giroud France

Giroud is my tip for the Golden Boot.

As mentioned, Giroud (14/1) could be the man to score the most goals due to the service he should receive and the possible run to the final. Aside from the Frenchman, Thomas Muller (7/1) is Miroslav Klose II when it comes to international tournaments and Cristiano Ronaldo (8/1) is the best player at the tournament. Lord knows a lot of Portugal’s play will go through the understated, shy, modest, Real Madrid forward.

For the outsiders, you can pick one of Belgium’s attackers. Romelu Lukaku (20/1), Eden Hazard (40/1) or Michy Batshuayi (100/1) could be worth a punt as they’re likely to at least reach the quarters. Ricardo Quaresma at 175/1 could benefit from his teammate Ronaldo being double-marked. But if you’re feeling really lucky then look no further than Northern Ireland’s Will Grigg who we’re repeatedly informed is on fire and leaving defences terrified. At 500/1 he’s ten times more likely to win the Golden Boot than Leicester were to win the Premier League. Just saying.

Pete's Prediction

My inevitably wrong predictions once we’ve reached the knockout rounds.