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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.