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.
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.
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%).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.