Euro 2016 Semis – The Cock and the Eagle


State Velodrome, Marseilles, 9pm local time


5418Germany have not really been tested too much at the Euros, and have looked comfortable in almost all their games without impressing too much. Their 1-0 victory over Northern Ireland should have been much more, but they were unimpressive against Poland (0-0) and Ukraine.


In the knock-out rounds, Germany destroyed Slovakia 3-0, and finally overcame their Italian jinx by knocking out the Azzurri on penalties, despite the most un-Teuton penalty shootout i’ve even seen Germany take part in (with Germany missing 3 out of their 5 first penalties after going 22 for 22 in previous shootouts). That would give Germany confidence going into the semis.


For France, they similarly haven’t been faced too much quality opposition on their road to the semis. Nevertheless, they were unconvincing in Group A and were poor in the first half of their Round of 16 clash against the Republic of Ireland but recovered well in the second half.


Against Iceland, they showed their impressive firepower by taking apart the tournament darlings with 4 clinical goals in the first half. With Griezmann, Payet and the oft-criticised Giroud leading the line (and with Coman and Martial in reserve), France may have the most potent attack in the tournament. However, the 2 goals they conceded to Iceland clearly showed their defensive weaknesses, especially from headers and set-pieces, which Germany will no doubt look to exploit. In Germany’s 1-0 win over France at the 2014 World Cup, the winner came from a Mats Hummels header from a Kroos free-kick. Strong omens.


I’ll see you in the treatment room later…

Germany have a slew of injury worries, with their only striker Mario Gomez as well as midfielder Sami Khedira ruled out for the rest of the tournament after picking up injuries against Italy. Replacement (and captain) Bastian Schweinsteiger is also doubtful. Influential defender Mats Hummels is also suspended.


Mario Gotze is expected to take over as a False 9 (a position that he hasn’t impressed in), while Valencia defender Shokodran Mustafi should replace Hummels. However, in defensive midfield there doesn’t seem to be a like-for-like replacement, and Jogi Low may play Liverpool defender Emre Can in that position (he generally plays centre back for Germany).


France have no suspension or injury worries, and will welcome back Leicester City’s N’Golo Kante and Sevilla’s Adli Rami after suspension against Iceland. However, the 2nd centre-back slot (alongside Laurent Koscielny) is up for grabs, and new Barcelona signing Samuel Umtiti may be selected for only his second cap (his first was against Iceland).

KEY QUESTION (GERMANY): Is this team too imbalanced?


This German team is stock full with creative midfielders, good at finding space and creating chances. Players like Ozil, Draxler, Kroos will walk into any team in the tournament.

Ouch, there goes my hamstrings…

Nevertheless, they lack an out-and-out striker to be on the end of those chances. Gomez was literally plucked from semi-retirement and thrust into the role of being Germany’s only striker. He has done well enough, but he is out for the rest of the tournament. Apart from him, Germany’s only other ‘striker’ options are Mario Gotze (whose form has dropped off precipitously, and doesn’t seem to be a false-9) and Leroy Sane (who is technically a winger). Comparing with France (who seem to have plenty of strikers), Germany’s options are meagre.

Even in midfield, Germany’s only so-called ‘holding options’ are Khedira and Schweinsteiger, both of whom are not getting any younger, and are particularly injury-prone. Against a France team that is best on the attack, can Kroos and whoever plays along him hold the dynamic midfield of Pogba, Matuidi and Kante?  

This imbalance is a problem, and against an arguably more balanced France, Germany will need to be on their best to keep them out. A slow, passing game in which Germany have the bulk of possession might be the best game plan. Frustrate the French into giving away stupid free-kicks and corners, and exploit their weaknesses from set pieces.

KEY QUESTION (FRANCE): What is France’s best team?


France has been blessed with an abundance of talent. However, it seems that Deschamps still can’t get the pieces to fit that well.

You rock! At least until we turn on you again…

In attack, Giroud has been under huge (and to me unfair) criticism for his apparent failure to hit the back of the net enough, but he has 3 goals in the tournament and has been an excellent source of knock-downs for Griezmann. As for Griezmann, Deschamps seems to be uncertain whether to play him as a winger, a shadow striker or a proper striker. Griezmann seems to play best up top, but how does he pair with Giroud?

If Deschamps plays with 2 strikers, what does he do with Dimitri Payet, arguably the star of the tournament so far? Play him as a central-attacking midfielder? Against Iceland, Deschamps opted for Payet on the left, Griezmann down the centre and Newcastle’s Moussa Sissoko on the right, which was effective against a tired Iceland, but may not be that effective against a more quality opponent. Should Deschamps abandon the wings and play more centrally?


Even in central midfield, Deschamps has tried playing Kante, Pogba and Matuidi with mixed results. They seem to be very similar players, and Pogba in particular has gotten some criticism for his mixed displays. Should Deschamps go back to 4-3-3 to try to overwhelm a slow German midfield?

Ironically enough, Deschamps has the least worries in defence, particularly because all his choices seem to be crap. Evra and Sagna are in by default, and so is Koscielny as well. Rami seems to be a liability, and anyone who has seen Mangala play for Manchester City will understand why Deschamps doesn’t want to play him. Is Umtiti ready to step up in the biggest game of his young career so far?

France has many questions, and if Deschamps can’t sort it out, they risk getting defeated by a tactically more settled (and astute) Germany.

KEY MATCHUP: Joshua Kimmich v Antoine Griezmann

541947450-0The 21- year old Bayern midfielder/defender has been one of the revelations of the tournament, excelling as a wing-back and defensive midfielder in the quarter-finals against Italy. He might be called upon to replace Khedira in the centre of midfield if necessary. Hardworking and excellent at winning the ball back, he’ll be crucial to Germany’s chances in this game, as well as in the future.

5472Wherever Kimmich plays, you can expect him to be up against Griezmann, who is on hot form and the current leader in the race for the Golden Boot. Griezmann combines pace and a finisher’s touch and instinct, and can score goals from deeper positions as well as your standard poachers’ goal. If you stop Griezmann, you’ll stop France.



This might be the hardest prediction to make in this tournament. If both teams are at full strength, I would pick Germany simply because I trust their ability to win a knock-out game more than France, who haven’t really faced quality opposition so far, and are probably still finding their best team.

However, Germany have injuries and suspensions in critical areas, and it’s not clear that the replacements will be of the quality that is necessary to defeat a France team that is more balanced in all areas.

I do believe that the pressure is higher on France, being the hosts and touted as the best team since the 1998 World Cup winners. As such, they have the greater chance of disappointing, especially since they haven’t played an excellent full 90 minutes yet at this tournament. In particular, I’m not convinced of the French backline, and their ability to cope with the likes of Ozil and Draxler.

As such, since I bet $5 on Germany winning 2-1, i’ll go with Germany. Barely. 



Euro 2016 Semis – FIRE AND BLOOD


Parc OL – Lyon, 9pm local time


CR7 shanks another one…

Portugal have struggled to impress so far, and have failed to win a game in 90 minutes so far in the tournament, with 5 draws out of 5 quite an unwanted achievement for what is supposed to be a top-4 team in Europe. Nevertheless, Portugal have shown themselves to be well-drilled, compact and hard to break down (as Croatia and Poland will attest).

2756In Group F, Portugal were shockingly bad, finishing behind minnows Hungary and Iceland. In the Round of 16, they played out arguably the worst game in European history in their 1-0 (AET) victory over an equally bad Croatia. Against Poland, they conceded early to Lewandowski, equalised before half time, and played out a dreary additional 75 minutes before winning on penalties.


That stands in striking contrast to Wales, who have been excellent throughout the tournament (apart from their late 2-1 defeat to minnows England). Their 3-0 demolition of Russia stands as one of the best team performances at the tournament so far (and their 3-1 upset against Belgium ranks right up there as well).


Against Belgium, Coleman and Wales exploited the tactically naivety of the Belgians, and used the pace of Bale, the creativity of Ramsey and the physical power of Vokes and Robson-Kanu to devastating effect against a squad with better players but vastly inferior teamwork. Flushed with confidence (and the only home nation left in the tournament), Wales will not fear anyone, and certainly not a team that has failed to register a win so far.



For Portugal, centre-midfielder William Carvalho will be missing through suspension after picking up his second yellow card of the tournament against Poland. He is expected to be replaced by Porto midfielder Danilo.


More seriously for Wales, Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies will be suspended as well after picking up their second yellow card against Belgium. Davies should be replaced by West Ham defender James Collins, while Leicester’s Andy King is in line to replace Ramsey in his attacking midfielder role.

KEY QUESTION (PORTUGAL): Have Portugal just been (un)lucky?


Arguably, Portugal were unlucky in the group stages to only score one goal against Iceland and Austria (after peppering the Iceland and Austria goals non-stop), and their 3-3 draw with Hungary was due to two huge deflections for 2 Hungarian goals.

However, they have rode their luck in their two knock-out games, with Poland arguably the better side in the quarter-finals (and the less said about their game with Croatia, the better).

Against Wales, Portugal will be favourites, but this is the sort of team that Portugal doesn’t play well against (i.e. teams with a strong spirit and teamwork , pacy and good in the air). Portugal’s poor defending from crosses cost them the game against Iceland, their failure to defend the pacy Balasz Dzsudzsak cost them the game against Hungary, and Wales have both in abundance. Perhaps they will need a bit of luck against a supremely confident Wales.

KEY QUESTION (WALES): Can Wales replace Aaron Ramsey?


Aaron Ramsey has been one of the players of the tournament, with his intelligent running, positioning and passing key to Wales going forward (as well as creating space for Bale and Robson-Kanu/Vokes). His absence will be keenly felt by Wales, and it makes Bale probably the only major attraction for the Portugese defence (in particular, Pepe’s house of flying kicks and tackles).


Andy King has had an excellent season for Leicester City, but he hasn’t appeared much for Wales at this tournament and, frankly, isn’t on the same level as Ramsey. He has had a knack of chipping in goals this season at Leicester, and a goal against Portugal from a deep position will be hugely significant against a team that doesn’t score that many goals.

KEY MATCHUP: Gareth Bale versus Pepe


It might have been fancy to pick Bale against Ronaldo (after all, Bale apparently pissed Ronaldo off by failing to go to his 30th birthday party after Real’s 4-0 defeat to their cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid), but it’ll probably be more fun to see Bale up against another Real teammate, the Portugese destroyer of limbs and breaker of legs, Pepe.

Apparently Pepe is a really good guy off the pitch (according to Gareth himself), so lets not give him too much stick. 

With Ramsey out, I believe that Bale will be tasked to play a bit more centrally, and that will put him in range of Pepe’s (shall we say) ‘physical’ style of play. On one hand, Bale has pace that will burn Pepe like how Drogon burnt that Astapor slave-master, on the other hand, Pepe might launch flying kicks to bring down his Welsh ‘friend’. Either way, this promises to be an entertaining match-up.

Live pictures of Bale’s pace burning Portugal up



I think if this tournament has shown anything through the rather dull fare of football, is that the collective truly will outshine the individual talents. Teams like Wales, Iceland, Hungary, Italy, both Irelands have shown that despite the lack of individual stars, a strong collective spirit and good tactical organisation can more than make up for it. In contrast, teams that rely on their individual talents without any teamwork or plan haven’t done well (e.g. England, Sweden, Portugal, Austria, and to a certain extent, Spain)

The difference between the minnows and Wales is that Wales has a true star in Cardiff’s own Gareth Bale, who has also bought into the collective team spirit that Coleman has instilled in this Welsh team. Contrast this with Ronaldo, who has consistently moaned and whined at his teammates throughout the tournament, and looks as though he hates playing for Portugal.

Although Wales will miss Ramsey, I believe that the collective spirit will trump Portugal, and I expect every Welsh player to give 110%. I can’t expect that of Portugal, and that’s why I think Wales will edge this game whether in 90 mins, 120 mins or on penalties.

Euro 2016 Round of 16 – Day 3

GAME 7 – ITALY (1E) v. SPAIN (2D)

Stade de France – Saint Denis, 6pm local time


Italy were impressive in their 2-0 victory over Belgium, but were tedious and unimaginative in their scrappy 1-0 victory over Sweden, and with nothing left to play for, Italy lost 1-0 to a Irish team fighting for their tournament lives. Although many have said that Italy have been the most impressive team so far, I was not impressed with their performance against Sweden and Ireland, and the win over Belgium could have been very different if Belgium had their scoring boots on.


Spain were the darlings of the early rounds, with the completely dominant 1-0 victory over the Czechs and their systematic demolition of Turkey. However, both teams were clearly out of their depth at this tournament, and when Spain faced a proper team in Croatia, they were defeated 2-1.

Both teams have had good results, but their performances have been sketchy and leaves something to be desired.

KEY QUESTION: Are either of these teams for real?


Both teams have had good results, but their performances have been sketchy and leaves something to be desired. Italy were the early darlings, but their lack of quality in midfield and upfront were shown in their dull performances against Sweden and Ireland. Thiago Motta looks to be a shadow of his former self, and Eder and Pelle haven’t been convincing as a strike-paring either.

croatiavspaingroupuefaeuro2016najt_wd4vhmxThis Spanish team have tried to replicate the tiki-taka style that was so deadly for previous Spanish teams, but a distinct lack of pace on either wing, and a tendency for smart teams to defend deep and hit them on the break.

And if you put 11 Italians on a football pitch, you know they’ll be able to defend well. 

So, which one of these flawed teams will succeed?

KEY MATCHUP: Giorgio Chellini v Alvaro Morata


The Juventus team-mates (well, soon to be ex-teammates) hold the key to this game. You can expect Chellini to mark Morata tight and intelligently, and use his knowledge of Morata’s game to cut off Spain’s main source of goals.

Morata has disproved some of the doubters, which resulted in Zidane bringing him back to Madrid (but perhaps, as some cynics say, so they can sell him off to Chelsea for a profit). Nevertheless, he has never been seen as a top-class striker in the mould of Lewandowski, Messi etc. This is his chance to prove himself against probably the best back-line in Europe.

PREDICTION: Italy to win

I think Spain’s performances in Group D must be taken with a pinch of salt. Turkey and the Czech Republic were poor opponents (as can be seen by both exiting the tournament), and Italy will benefit their sturdy defense and ability to play on the counter. That might be enough to unsettle the Spanish.



Allianz Riviera, Nice, 9pm local time

wayne-rooney_0England, like in all tournaments, have flattered to deceive in an easy Group B. They probably should have had 9 points out of 9, but a defensive lapse against Russia and a failure to break down an ordinary Slovakia places England in the difficult side of the draw, and England will probably have to go through France and Germany to get to the final.

03403505knnov9qr1466624435124425I don’t think anyone else needs to say more about plucky Iceland, the country that only has 320,000 persons, and which 10% of their population are in France cheering on their team. Many have said that this is the largest Viking invasion of France since 846AD. In short, Iceland are a tough, disciplined team that is well organised with bags of energy. However, they have a tendency to defend too deep, and inevitably they let in goals (they have not kept a clean sheet in Group F).

KEY QUESTION: Can England find their scoring boots?

1466113505928England’s strikers have been decidedly off-colour so far in the Euros. Sturridge and Vardy both had a good game against Wales, but were distinctively off-colour against Slovakia. Kane looks tired after a long season with Spurs, and Rooney seems to be relocated permanently into midfield.

Against an Iceland team that will defend in depth and use their physicality to intimidate English strikers, England will need their strikers to be on fire if they are to progress without any scares

KEY MATCHUP: Roy Hodgson versus Lars Lagerback/Heimir Hallgrimsson


The pressure is really on Hodgson, with rumours swirling from the England camp that his job is on the line, and pressure starting to mount on him after 3 sub-standard performances by England in this tournament. Many in the press are suggesting that a younger manager with newer ideas is needed, and Roy has already told the press that he does not intend to beg for his job. Tense

2016-06-22t195507z_1_lynxnpec5l1i9_rtroptp_3_soccer-euro-ice-hun-800Coming up against Roy will be Swede Lars Lagerback, who has been consistently telling the press that he is unbeaten against England in 6 games (2 wins and 4 draws), and Icelandic Heimir Hallgrimsson, the part-time dentist in a small village from Southern Iceland, who has been informing the world that Iceland players don’t miss penalties. The mind games have indeed started, and Iceland have nothing to lose and all to gain by messing with English minds

PREDICTION: A nervy game that might go into extra-time, but England to prevail in ET.

Whoever is saying that England will destroy plucky Iceland (i’m looking at you Mark Lawrenson) has not watched Iceland play. They have not conceded more than one goal a game in this tournament, and I don’t see misfiring England putting 2 goals away in 90 minutes. Iceland will also be dangerous on the counter-attack and set pieces, and England will need to be play at a quick pace to confuse the Icelandic defences and disrupt their organisation. It will be difficult.


Euro 2016 Round of 16 – Day 2



Parc Olympique Lyonnais – Lyon, 3pm local time

france-v-russiaFor the host nation, they cruise through a weak Group A without much trouble, but failing to impress many neutrals either. 3 of their 4 goals in Group A were scored on 88 minutes or later, and the players seemed to be unable to raise their game against so-called mediocre opponents. Nevertheless, their fans would say that their team has a few more gears to kick into, and going into the knockout rounds would probably make Les Bleus raise their game.


For the Irish, they were unimpressive against Sweden (in a game that they had to win), were awful against Belgium, and narrowly overcame an Italy team that already had qualified as Group E winners and had nothing to prove. A hard-working, plucky team that lacks in true quality, Ireland will be hard-pressed to progress against the hosts.

And don’t forget, there is the small issue of the 2009 World Cup qualifier play-off, also known as the “Thierry Henry incident”

KEY QUESTION: How should Ireland set up?

When Ireland attempted to sit-back, soak up pressure and counter-attack, they were spanked by Belgium who capitalised on nervy French defending and bad individual mistakes.


Ireland looked much better against Italy when they used their high energy levels to press high up the pitch and pressure the Italian defenders into making mistakes (which they did). Perhaps a more aggressive and attacking set-up would help Ireland more. After all, what do they have to lose?

KEY MATCHUP: Dimitri Payet v Robbie Brady


Payet has arguably been the star of the French team so far, with two goals in Group A play, and players like Giroud and Griezmann slightly disappointing so far. A tricky winger with an excellent left foot and deadly from set-pieces, Ireland will do well to mark him tightly and give him no space to shoot.


Robbie Brady is a left-winger who is stuck as left-back, and his natural instincts are to attack and get forward. His goal against Italy was a result of one of his lung-busting runs. However, against Payet, he’ll have to focus on his defensive duties. The longer the score remains 0-0, the better chance Ireland has to nick this.

PREDICTION: France to burst into life.

Ireland’s 1-0 win against Italy must be taken with a pinch of salt, since Italy really had nothing to play for and made a slew of changes. Against a quality French team, I see Ireland’s tendency for individual mistakes to cost them.


State Pierre-Mauroy, Lille, 6pm local time

3227Germany topped their group but didn’t look convincing in any of their 3 games. Key players like Muller and Gotze have been clearly off-colour, and Germany faces the problem (like many others) that they don’t have a proper striker in their team. Nevertheless, Germany is still oozing with quality, and they also have not conceded a goal in their 3 group games.


Slovakia have been hot and cold in all their Group B games. Against Wales, they were poor for most parts until they equalised (against the run of play), and put Wales under pressure until Robson-Kanu’s winner. Against Russia, they were completely dominant, but almost let go a two goal lead after Russia’s consolation by completely freezing and letting Russia launch assault after assault at the Slovakia goal. Against England, they defended well to get a 0-0 draw, but didn’t show anything go forward. Against Germany, which Slovakia will turn up?

KEY QUESTION: How important are friendlies? 


In the build-up to Euro 2016, Slovakia stunned Europe by beating Germany 3-1 in Augsburg, leading to many German fans losing their heads and condemning their team. However, that was just a friendly, and it’s common belief that friendlies mean nothing.

However, the fact that Slovakia did beat Germany recently may (1) show that Slovakia have studied the German team well, and knows their weaknesses, and (2) will give them a lot of confidence going into this tie. Will that be enough? I don’t think Germany will be complacent again and let Slovakia slip through.

KEY MATCHUP: Mario Gomez v Martin Skrtel


Mario Gomez has been in the international wilderness for a while, but Jogi Low drafted him back into the team as Germany’s only out-and-out striker. Although he got the winner against Northern Ireland, Gomez didn’t seem to fit into Germany’s style of play which emphasised movement and passing. However, with Gotze completely out of form, Gomez is probably Germany’s best option going forward.


Skrtel has been shaky throughout Group B games, and looks like he has a mistake or two in him. He did improve his game against England though, and will require all of his experience to shut out Germany.

PREDICTION: A close game, but Germany to win 1-0

Germany have flattered to deceive, but will have enough to scrap past an average and inconsistent Slovakia. However, if Slovakia get the first goal, Germany might not have enough to break down an organised defence, as seen in the games against Northern Ireland and Poland.

Hamsik is key, and if he can rip apart the German defence, it’ll relieve the pressure that Germany will definitely put on the Slovakian backline. Nevertheless, I see Germany edging it.


Stade Municipal, Toulouse, 9pm local time


Despite everyone talking about Iceland as the surprise package of the tournament, this award should properly go to Hungary, a team comprised of players plying their trade in the Hungarian domestic league. They have stormed to the top of Group F with excellent performances against Austria and Portugal in particular. However, their reward for topping their group is a tough fixture against Belgium, which must be kinda unfair.

3832Belgium look like they are finally kicking into gear, with good wins against Belgium and Sweden after the disappointment of the 2-0 defeat to Italy. However, team morale in the Belgium camp has always been fragile, and many have criticised coach Marc Wilmots for being not up to scratch. Can he prove everyone wrong?

KEY QUESTION: How far can Belgium go?

1685Belgium has always had questions posed about their teamwork and morale, and whether this group of talented players can play together. Every time you put them in a Red Belgium jersey, it seems that they can’t play as a team. This is contrasted with a hardworking, bonded Hungarian team that are really enjoying their tournament so far.

Belgium are lucky that their side of the draw is easy, and they are probably the best team on that side. However, there remains many questions about their teamwork, and a good win over Hungary will go some way towards answering those questions.

KEY MATCHUP: Balazs Dzsudzsak versus Jan Vertonghen

3115Dzsudzsak has been excellent for Hungary so far. His wing-play and dead-balls have been Hungary’s most lethal weapon so far, and his leadership (as captain) has been exemplary so far.

jan-vertonghen-jeff-hendrickHe’ll be going up against Vertonghen, an excellent centre-back but out of position as a left-back (which is one of Belgium’s big problems, a lack of wing-backs). Can he twist and turn his way towards a Hungarian upset?

PREDICTION: Don’t underestimate the Magyars

I think out of all the Round of 16 ties, this might be the most likely one for an upset. Hungary will have no fear and will be brimming with confidence, but going a goal down early might torpedo Belgium’s confidence and ability to play as a team. If Hungary can go through the first half without conceding, I fancy their chances of an upset.

Round of 16 Preview – Day 1

Well it has been quite the tournament so far! Although there hasn’t been too many goals, the storylines have been gripping, as most teams had something to play for going into the last round of games. The new format (with 16 progressing out of 24 teams) have kept all teams believing till the very end, which produced some amazing games in the last round of games.

The minnows of the tournament have stole the show, with their gutsy and spirited play and hordes of cheering fans behind them. Although Iceland and Northern Ireland have stolen most of the headlines, but the biggest surprise has probably been Hungary, topping Group F after some inspired performances.

Now, we have reached the knock-out stages, and the tournament really begins now. More thrills and spills are ahead, and I’ll be providing a quick summary of each Round of 16 clash here, together with my predictions.

(When I describe a team as 1A, this means 1st in Group A)


Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Etienne, 3pm local time


Two teams with very different experiences in the group stage. For Switzerland, they have been rather tedious to watch. Good defending but listless going forward, their main winger Shaqiri has been poor (and threatening to play for Kosovo if he doesn’t get the captaincy). Switzerland struggled to a 1-0 win against 10-man Albania, and fell behind to Romania before salvaging a draw. The game against France seemed like a dead rubber, and both teams were satisfied to play out a 0-0 draw.


For Poland, 7 points from 9, with zero goals conceded is a good start. They played well against Germany, and looked completely comfortable against Northern Ireland despite only winning 1-0. They had some nervy moments against eliminated Ukraine, but managed a 1-0 win. Crucially, they have gotten results despite star striker Robert Lewandowski yet to score.

KEY QUESTION: Can Switzerland switch out of neutral? (Pun so intended)

Another miss

Switzerland have been ridiculously bad at finishing, with chance after chance wasted. The Swiss also seem to be cruising too much in game, without a killer instinct or the players to create that killer pass and/or chance.

With a solid backline, Switzerland have the spine to do well, but their inability to find a way to score is worrying. Now in the knock-out rounds, can Switzerland find some inspiration from somewhere to upset Poland?

KEY MATCHUP: Granit Xhaka v Arkadiusz Milik


The Ajax attacking midfielder has impressed for Poland, with a well-taken goal giving Poland victory over Northern Ireland. With Lewandowski taking his time to get going, Milik is crucially both in creating chances for Lewandowski and scoring as well.


Xhaka has worked well for Switzerland as a defensive midfielder, and will be tasked in shutting down the supply to Lewandowski, as well as starting counter-attacks with his range of passing. He is crucial if Switzerland are to spring a surprise.

PREDICTION: Poland to win it by one goal

Pound for pound, Poland have the better form and the better players. I expect a tight game, and Poland to probably nick it 1-0 (with a goal in the 2nd half like in both their wins so far).




Parc de Princes, Paris, 6pm local time

This Battle of Britain will feel more like a FA Cup tie rather than a European Championship knock-out game, and both sides will be extremely familiar with each other.

357e45cc00000578-3650702-image-a-67_1466450761121Wales were excellent in Group B, and fully merited finishing over a slightly underwhelming England. Their 3-0 destruction of Russia was probably the best team performance of the tournament so far, and Gareth Bale has to be considered one of the stars of the tournament so far (in contrast with his Portugese teammate, who seems to be hating playing with players he deems to be beneath him).


Northern Ireland don’t have the flair players that Wales have, but they have been relentlessly well-organised, hard to break down, and a threat from set-pieces. With the ferocious support of the Green and White army, Northern Ireland believe that they can pull off one more upset.

And after facing Germany, Wales should be a piece of cake, right?

KEY QUESTION: Will we finally see Will Grigg, who is apparently still on fire? 




This chant has become so viral, that even opposing managers and players have been asked by their own journalists how they would deal with the Wigan striker, who is apparently on fire. Germany defender Mats Hummels even swapped shirt with Grigg despite him not taking to the field.

Grigg has been in excellent form for Wigan, with 25 goals propelling Wigan to promotion back into the Championship. However, Michael O’Neill has preferred Kyle Lafferty, Conor Washington and Josh Magennis over him, and Grigg has be forced to be ablaze on the bench, with a grand total of zero seconds played so far.

Despite this, the NI fans have adopted the chant as their introduction to the tournament, and in the Germany game, they were singing that song from kick-off until 30 minutes after the game ended. Somehow or another, the tournament would feel a bit lacking if Grigg didn’t even get on the pitch.

Imagine if O’Neill threw Grigg on in the dying moments, and he scored. I think the Green and White Army would literally destroy the Parc de Princes just with their cheering.

Will Grigg’s heat map so far

KEY MATCHUP: Aaron Ramsey v Corry Evans.

10-aaron-ramseyYes, Bale is the main target, and you will expect O’Neill to swamp him with three or four defenders. That plan might leave space for Ramsey to operate, and he can be equally devastating as Bale.


The three midfielders in the centre (Steven Davis, Oliver Norwood and Evans) will be tasked in shutting Ramsey and Joe Allen down, but as the de facto defensive midfielder not entrusted with attacking duties, it will be Corry Evans who will be tasked with sticking tight to Ramsey and to prevent him from getting into space and dictating the pace of the game.

PREDICTION: Wales after extra time

Wales has the better players, but arguably Northern Ireland has been through the fires more at this tournament, and will be battle-hardened against so-called better teams. With both teams so familiar with each other’s style of play, I expect a tight game, but Wales’s quality to shine through eventually, although it might take 120 minutes.

If Northern Ireland want to keep on going, they will first have to get a goal or two. Time for the man who is on fire?


Stade Bollaert-Delelis, Lens, 9pm local time


Croatia have been impressive (apart from their fans who seemingly want their team kicked out because it would discredit the Croatian FA) despite the injury to Modric. Ivan Perisic has been one of the stars of the tournament, and with Rakitic pulling the strings, they are suddenly everyone’s dark horses to win the tournament, and their 2-1 victory of Spain caught everyone’s attention.


Portugal have been both unlucky and poor, with Ronaldo looking increasingly disgusted with his teammates as well as with everyone on earth that isn’t his equal on a football pitch. His comments on Iceland sounded like a spoilt brat throwing his toys out of the pram, and his constant whining at his teammates during the 3-3 draw with Hungary didn’t seem like what a captain should be doing. But the three draws in what appeared to be a weak group showed that without Ronaldo, Portugal is utterly ordinary.

KEY QUESTION: Can someone else step up for Portugal?


Portugal are lucky that they have been drawn in the weaker side of the draw, and will avoid France, Germany, Spain, Italy and/or England until the finals. Croatia will be difficult, but it should be a team that Portugal will view that they can beat. However, this Portugal side that failed to beat minnows Iceland and Hungary don’t inspire the most confidence.Ronaldo seems too eager to do everything himself (perhaps because he thinks his teammates are crap), and everyone else looks lacking in quality.

KEY MATCHUP: Ivan Perisic versus Vierinha


Perisic has been on fire for Croatia, and his runs have caused many wing-backs trouble. With the ability to whip a cross in as well as score himself, Perisic will be a handful for the Wolfsburg, whose concentration and positioning has always been problematic.

In Portugal’s 1-1 draw with Iceland, Vierinha completely lost track of who he was supposed to be marking, allowing Bjarnasson to sneak in and score. Mistakes like this will be punished by Perisic.

PREDICTION: Croatia to capitalise on the lack of teamwork in this Portugal team. 

Ronaldo could take a leaf out of Bale’s book, and start acting like a leader and a teammate (despite the fact that he is miles better than his teammates). If this doesn’t happen so, I don’t see Portugal beating a rampant Croatia team. All their flaws were seen in their 3 group games (lack of leadership, too reliant on Ronaldo, defensively suspect), and I see Croatia punishing them.

Euro 2016 Day 9 – Musings

1. Belgium has finally arrived.


Their 3-0 win against a totally outclassed Ireland was what many neutrals were waiting for Belgium to show. Against an Ireland team that made too many mistakes, Belgium were lethal in taking advantage of them .

2424With the pace of Hazard and Carassco, and the energy of De Bruyne and Dembele, Belgium would actually do well as a counter-attacking team against teams that attack them, as Ireland found out to their detriment. However, most teams that play against Belgium usually sit deep and defend, and Belgium don’t seem to know how to break down teams that defend in numbers against them. If they don’t find a solution, Belgium will never achieve the heights expected of them.

2. Ireland pay the price for a lack of adventure and ideas


Compared to the rest of the Home Nations, Ireland should be competitive enough to get a result or two despite how difficult Group E is. However, Ireland have shown little of the tactical nous that both Wales and Northern Ireland have shown so far. Their tactics against Belgium seem to be one-dimensional (i.e. hit the ball towards Shane Long and show as much guts as possible), and against a big Belgium backline, Shane Long was completely anonymous.

Ireland should effort, but this meant that they pointlessly committed to reckless challenges against Hazard and Carassco, leaving them acres of space to run into. O’Neil and Keane have to take a good look at themselves and come out with a better plan against Italy, who have already won the group and indicated that they will rest their key players.

3. Hungary are no slouches at all


Their 2-0 victory of Austria showed the rest of Europe that this young team has bags of potential and skill. Although attacking midfielder Lazslo Kleinheisler stole the show, against Austria, defensive midfielder Adam Nagy impressed in the 1-1 draw against Iceland, cutting out Icelandic counter-attacks with ease and providing the impetus for Hungary going forward.

Although they are lacking a bit in the goal-scoring department, these Hungarian youngsters look like a good crop, and dominated Iceland (but without threatening too much either). With 4 points, they should be through to the last-16 already.

3. Don’t try to punt crosses into the Iceland box

Beware the power of Thor and Odin!

One of the worst Hungarian ideas during the game was to float cross after cross into the Iceland box. They were cleared without much effort by the big Icelandic defenders. Iceland really defended well, and Hungary had really few chances despite dominated possession for large parts of the game.

Going forward, Iceland’s main (and effective) attack was to launch crosses into the box. Sigthorsson is handy in the air, and his knock-downs provide chances for Gudmundsson and Sigurdsson.

4. Those Icelandic/Hungarian chants sound like they are channeling the spirits of their ancestors

When Iceland fans do this, it sounds like the warcry of the ancient Vikings rowing their longships towards their next looting target.

When Hungarian fans do it, it sounds like the warcry of the Hunnic ancestors riding to pillage the nearest Roman city. Terrifying.

5. The Reykjavik Grapevine Twitter account is a must-follow during this tournament. 

By making Iceland’s Euro 2016 campaign into a Norse saga, this Reykjavik English-language publication has caught the Twitterverse by storm:

Just a small collection of their tweets:

6. Portugal really need a proper centre-forward if they are going to go far


Ronaldo isn’t a striker. He is not someone you should be asking to hold the ball. He should be running into space at all times and taking on defenders.

However, because Portugal has no striker, he is tasked with performing normal centre-forward play, which doesn’t play to his many strengths. As such, he get more and more frustrated as games go along, and tries to do too much on his own.

He misses penalties as well😦

Austria shut Ronaldo down with some ease (and Iceland also scrapped by against them). If Portugal are to go far, they will need a striker to ease the pressure off Ronaldo.

However, their best current striker is still probably the legendary Eusebio, and he’s been dead for 2 years. Would still be better than Quaresma, though. 

Also better than Nani

7. Is the hype about Austria legit?


Many (including myself) tipped Austria to be the surprise packages at this tournament, after storming through their qualification group with ease. However, they have been ordinary in both games so far, and haven’t scored in either game. Their lack of a cutting edge is quite obvious, and players like Alaba and Arnautovic haven’t shone either.

Austria topped a group over Russia (who have probably been the worst team in France) and Sweden (whose name should be spelt Z-L-A-T-A-N). Maybe we just hyped them up a bit too much.


Euro 2016 Day 2 – Thoughts

1. There is a lot for Switzerland to do if they want to go far in this tournament.


Despite scoring an early goal, and despite playing against perceived minnows Albania with a man advantage for almost 60 minutes, Switzerland were desperately poor and stuck in neutral for most of the game. In fact, Albania looked the better team in the second half, and should have probably taken a draw away from that game.

Switzerland’s midfield was industrious enough, but their strikers (in particular Seferovic) were wasteful and their wingers (Shaqiri) in particular looked disinterested. They will have to be a lot better against Romania and France.

2. Albania ain’t half bad


For debutants and minnows, Albania gave a really good account of themselves. Hardworking and disciplined (although a bit lacking in the creativity and scoring department), Albania will be hard to break down. If they can improve their finishing, they could still give France and Romania a nasty surprise.

3. Martin Skrtel should just move to WWE.

5568Slovakia’s captain made three X-rated WWE-worthy assaults on Welsh players during the game, including one on Jonathan Williams that resembled a People’s Elbow. His ill-discipline could have cost Slovakia more than just the yellow card he picked up, and his poor form this season cannot be overcome by sheer physicality.

4. Wales is more than just Gareth Bale

3865Honestly, Bale had a quiet game (apart from his free-kick goal). Wales’ key players on the day were Joe Allen (calming influence in midfield), Ben Davies (what a clearance to deny Hamsik early on) and Jonny Williams (non-stop running and harassing the Slovakia defenders). This proves that although Bale is by far Wales’ best player, everyone in this team plays an important role.

5. This new England plays well, but can’t get results

5472In a weird twist from previously uninspiring and lumbering England teams that usually squeeze out unconvincing 1-0 wins against lower opposition, England played well and were easy on the eye, but defensively lapses cost them against a Russia team which they clearly dominated.

5409Rooney and Dier were outstanding, and who knew that Eric could take a free kick! Lallana was chasing and hounding Russian defenders the entire game as well. But question marks must arise over Harry Kane taking corners (wtf?) and Raheem Sterling’s performance.

6. Hooliganism rears its ugly head again. 

England fans scaling a fence at the Stade Velodrome to escape attacking Russian hooligans

The scenes in the three preceding days in Marseilles, as well as at full time at the Stade Velodrome was an unwelcome throwback to the bad old days. Russian and English football hooligans having at each other and turning Marseilles into a battle-ground, completely unacceptable.

Instances of football hooliganism like this is clearly a result of the nationalist rhetoric emanating from both countries, especially with the Brexit vote in the UK (many England hooligans were singing about how they were voting Out) and the Russian government’s constant nationalist positions.

Football, written in a witty way