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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.