Euro 2016 Semi-Finals

Match 1: Portugal V Wales

The battle of the Galacticos as Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal take on Gareth Bale’s Wales. At least, that’s how the game is being billed in the media. However, there is more to both teams than their star players as has been shown. Ronaldo has had an average tournament, missing a penalty in one match and only scoring a couple of goals, both in the same game. Portugal have drawn all their matches over 90 minutes. Bale has had quite a good tournament, but was not involved in any of the three goals when Wales beat Belgium 3-1 in the quarter-final. They kept Belgium’s chances to a minimum and were incisive when attacking. The loss of Aaron Ramsey to suspension is a big one for Wales and I don’t think they will be able to replace his quality in midfield.

Predicted winner: Portugal

Match 2: Germany V France

The world champions take on the hosts in the second semi-final. Both teams have played well at times and looked very dangerous; they have also struggled at times and looked vulnerable when attacked. Germany had a quarter-final victory like this over Italy, looking excellent around the time they got their goal and then struggling when Italy started to control the game towards the end of the 90 minutes. France dominated the first half of their quarter-final against Iceland, but in the second half showed that they remain vulnerable when the ball is crossed into the area. If France get their quick, incisive passing working, they will create plenty of problems, but Germany’s ability to cross well into the box could go a long way to deciding this match.

Predicted winner: France

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Euro 2016 Quarter Finals

Match 1: Poland V Portugal

The first quarter final sees Poland take on Portugal. Poland have played well at times, but struggled at other times. Portugal have been quite subdued and qualified from their group with 3 draws and required a goal deep in stoppage time to win their Last 16 match against Croatia. This is a difficult match to call, as both attacks could cause problems for the other defence, but I think Poland have a more rounded attack, whilst Portugal appear to rely on Portugal

Winner: Poland

Match 2: Wales V Belgium

This appears to be a bit of a mis-match, but the two countries played in qualifying and Wales took 4 points from their games against Belgium. Wales have defended well and Gareth Bale has been a potent weapon for them in attack. Belgium struggled in their opening game against Italy, but have been improving since then and recorded a convincing 4-0 victory over Hungary in the last 16. The Belgium V Hungary game was open and it is difficult to imagine Wales playing an open game against such a strong Belgium attack.

Winner: Belgium

Match 3: Germany V Italy

Germany have looked excellent at times, but struggled in others, especially when pressure has been put on them (Ukraine attacked with purpose for the final 15 minutes of the first half in their group game and Germany seemed to struggle). In contrast, Italy have played well in all their matches (with the possible exception of their final group game against Republic of Ireland when they had already qualified and made plenty of changes) and qualified top from the ‘Group of Death’ (and with a game to spare) and were convincing winners against Spain in the Last 16 – quite an achievement for the worst Italian side ever! This is a difficult match to call and it could go all the way to penalties. The winners of this match will also arguably become favourites for the tournament.

Winner: Italy

Match 4: France V Iceland

Iceland surpassed all expectations in qualifying from their group, never mind beating a lacklustre England in the Last 16 to reach the quarter-finals at their first international tournament. France have impressed at times, particularly against Republic of Ireland in the Last 16 in the second half, where they looked dangerous every time they attacked. The strengths in the French midfield and attack will put a lot of pressure on Iceland’s defence, which has generally played well.

Winner: France

Predicted semi-finals:

Poland V Belgium
Italy V France

Euro 2016: Last 16

With the European Championships having expanded to 24 teams, there is a round of 16 teams.

Game 1: Switzerland V Poland

Switzerland take on Poland in the first knockout game of the tournament. I tipped Poland to be dark horses before the tournament and from what I’ve seen so far, I think Poland will have enough to beat Switzerland and take their place in the quarter finals.

Winner: Poland

Game 2: Wales V Northern Ireland

A local derby in Last 16 is the second knockout match of the tournament. This match is quite a surprise as Wales topped their group (whilst I thought they had a good chance of qualifying, I was surprised that they topped the group) and Northern Ireland qualified from a tough group that included world champions Germany. Both teams seem to have an abundance of team spirit, but I think that the class of Gareth Bale will be enough to separate two quite similar sides.

Winner: Wales

Game 3: Croatia V Portugal

Another surprising match as a result of Croatia beating Spain and topping Group D, whilst Portugal could only manage three draws and finish third in what looked like a reasonably easy group to win. Portugal have an outstanding talent in Cristiano Ronaldo, but he has largely been frustrated in the tournament so far. In contrast, Croatia have an outstanding midfield that can boast Modric and Rakitic and they also have a player who has been one of the best in the tournament so far in my opinion – Perisic. This has the potential to be a close game and I would not be surprised if it went to extra time and possibly even penalties.

Winner: Croatia

Game 4: France V Republic of Ireland

France topped their group as expected, although they required late goals to record their two wins of the tournament so far. Republic of Ireland qualified from ‘The Group of Death’ as one of the best third placed teams following a late goal against Italy. If France do have a weakness, it is their defending of set pieces and if Ireland are to have a chance of progressing, they will need excellent delivery from Brady. Even with excellent set piece delivery, I don’t think it will be enough.

Winner: France

Game 5: Germany V Slovakia

An easy Last 16 tie for Germany? In a Euro 2016 warm-up game, Slovakia beat Germany (in Germany) 3-1 and Germany have only looked good in patches. The German team that will play this match is likely to be stronger than the one fielded in the friendly (Neuer will surely start), but Slovakia have shown they are tough to break down and possess danger when breaking with Hamsik in the side. However, Germany nearly always find a way to progress and I would expect them to do so again.

Winner: Germany

Game 6: Hungary V Belgium

Hungary’s group appeared to be a relatively weak one, but Portugal were expected to top it with Austria in second place, leaving Hungary battling it out with Iceland for third place. However, Hungary were having none of it and not only qualified, but topped the group. This match looks as though it will be a united team in Hungary that is better than the sum of its parts against a team of excellent individual players in Belgium who don’t quite seem to gel as a group. I think a moment of individual brilliance from one of the Belgian forwards will be just enough to see them through.

Winner: Belgium

Game 7: Italy V Spain

The worst Italian team ever (as they were branded before the start of the tournament) qualified top of the ‘Group of Death’ after two games and their reward? Spain, who surprisingly came second in their group after losing their final group game against Croatia. This is a repeat of the Euro 2012 final, which Spain won convincingly (4-0). This Spanish team is not as good as that Spanish team, but they will still have plenty of the ball. However, if there is one team who will not be concerned by this, it is Italy and I think that the Italians will use all of their guile in a game when they will play a counter-attacking style. It will be a tight game, but the Spanish defence has looked weak at times and I think Italy will exploit this with incisive counter attacks.

Winner: Italy

Group 8: England V Iceland

Two surprising runners-up meet in the final knockout match as England surprisingly only came second of their group (despite being unbeaten), whilst Iceland surprisingly qualified automatically from their group (remaining unbeaten in the process). Iceland’s game plan has involved defending resolutely with plenty of men behind the ball, which England have found difficult to play against (as evidenced in the 0-0 draw with Slovakia). England’s pressure is likely to tell in the end, but they will have to ensure that they don’t get careless at the back.

Winner: England

Predicted quarter-finals:

Poland V Croatia
Wales V Belgium
Germany V Italy
France V England

Euro 2016: Group C

Germany, Northern Ireland, Poland and Ukraine make up Group C. As World Cup winners in 2014, Germany will rightly be favourites to win this group, but it will not be easy for them. Germany lost to Poland in qualifying and only took one point against the Republic of Ireland and don’t appear to be as strong a side as when they won the World Cup. However, underestimating a German team at a major tournament is a dangerous thing to do and despite some tough games, I expect them to top the group. It looks difficult for Northern Ireland in this group, but they qualified by topping their group (which featured fellow qualifiers Romania and Hungary) and have good recent results for momentum coming into the tournament. Whilst I can see them getting a shock result in the group, I don’t think that they will do enough to qualify in one of the top two spots; however, with four of the best third-placed teams going through, one shock result could be enough. I think that Poland have a good chance in joining Germany as automatic group qualifiers as Lewandowski is one of the best strikers in Europe and is likely to provide the goals needed.

Predicted final table:

1. Germany
2. Poland
3. Ukraine
4. Northern Ireland

Book review: Ring of Steel

Ring of Steel looks at Germany and Austria-Hungary during World War One. The book primarily focuses on the home fronts and domestic politics as opposed to the Eastern and Western Fronts, although these are looked at along with the U-Boat campaign. The book is very detailed, especially with the decision to go to war. It looks at how badly affected the populations of the Central Powers were, especially the reduction in calories. As well as the populations, it examines how Austria-Hungary fragmented along ethnic group lines and its increasing dependence on Germany and how it was very much the junior partner. An excellent book that is even better due to the fact that it examines the war from a perspective that is very rarely looked at.

Rating (out of 5): *****

Sporting shocks

Following Japan’s 34-32 victory over South Africa in the Rugby World Cup, BBC Sport has been asking about top sporting shocks. I think that Japan’s victory is the biggest shock that I can remember, but here are some others that I can think of:

Lennox Lewis V Hasim Rahman

Lewis was the heavyweight champion of the world going into this fight in April 2001 and was expected to retain his belt against Rahman, a virtual unknown. Rahman was only fighting because Mike Tyson had been suspended and was a way of keeping the champion busy. However, Rahman had not read the script and knocked Lewis out in the fifth round and became the champion. The rematch in November 2001 saw Lewis fully prepared and he regained the title with a knockout victory in the fourth round, but the result in April had definitely been a shock.

Telford Tigers 8-3 Peterborough Phantoms

I think this is the game I am thinking of and it happened in January 2009 (although if I am wrong and anyone knows differently, please let me know). The Tigers team at the time was not the greatest and were losing most weeks. Peterborough started well and were leading 2-0 at the end of the first. The result looked to be certain, with the only question being what the losing margin would be. I can’t remember if the Phantoms made it 3-0 or not, but I do remember the Tigers producing an outstanding 2 periods of hockey to demolish the Phantoms 8-3, with power forward James Knight helping himself to 4 goals. A great and completely unexpected comeback.

The 2012 Ryder Cup

After two days, America were in a 10-6 lead over Europe (they had been leading 10-4 at one point on the Saturday) and only required 4.5 points to win the Ryder Cup. Europe dominated the singles matches on the final day and the final score saw Europe winning 14.5 to 13.5, with the result being known as ‘the Miracle at Medinah’.

Manchester United 0-0 Exeter City

The third round of the FA Cup in the 2004/05 season saw non-league Exeter City travel to Manchester United. Even with Manchester United naming a weakened side, they were still expected to win comfortably against their opponents, especially as they had home advantage. Despite dominating the game, Exeter stuck ruggedly to their task and claimed a memorable draw. For the replay at Exeter, Sir Alex Ferguson named a much stronger side who won 2-0, but the draw at Old Trafford arguably ended the Manchester United careers of several players who started that day.

Liverpool 3-3 AC Milan (Liverpool win 3-2 on penalties)

The final of the Champions League saw Liverpool take on AC Milan in Istanbul. Milan scored in the first minute through the highly unlikely figure of Paolo Maldini and they extended that lead with two further goals in the second half. Convinced the game was over, some Liverpool fans were seen leaving at half time. However, 3 goals in 5 minutes in the second half saw Liverpool level the scores before going on to claim victory in the penalty shoot-out. A shock result, especially after the half time score; also, Italian teams are famed for being defensively sound, so for one of them to blow a 3-0 lead made it an even bigger shock.

Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich

A shock result because of the dramatic way that it happened; Munich were winning 1-0 in the 90th minute following a 6th minute goal by Basler and were moments away from lifting the trophy. However, Manchester United levelled in stoppage time through Sheringham and then took the lead and victory with a further goal in stoppage time from Solskjaer.

Denmark 1992

A complete shock at Euro 92, as Denmark beat Germany 2-0 in the final. Whilst that result was a shock, the bigger shock was that Denmark were there at all; they had not qualified for the tournament and only knew they were competing 11 days before the tournament started, replacing a banned Yugoslavia following the civil war there.

Brazil 1-7 Germany

Germany beating Brazil is perhaps not a shock, but the emphatic nature of the scoreline coupled with it being in the semi-final of a World Cup being hosted in Brazil made it arguably one of the most shocking results in perhaps not only the history of the World Cup but of football history itself.

Greece 2004

A highly unfancied Greek side somehow claimed victory at Euro 2004, managing to grind out results. Greece’s victory was arguably more shocking than the Danish victory of 1992 as the Greek side did not appear to have any standout players, relying instead on a strong, disciplined defensive game. It was rarely pretty, but highly effective.

Germany 1-5 England

Qualifying for the 2002 World Cup saw Germany and England in the same qualifying group. Whilst not the strongest German side ever, they claimed victory in the final match at the old Wembley (which resulted in Kevin Keegan resigning as England manager). The return fixture in Germany saw them take an early lead, before 5 English goals saw a shocking scoreline. I can remember the general sense of disbelief after the game.

I have only included shocks that I can remember seeing or having read about, thus not including other notable sporting shocks from the past.

Germany 0-1 England

A Fara Williams penalty at the start of the second half of stoppage time was enough for England to claim victory in the third/fourth place playoff. Germany started the better side and remained so for most of the game, with Däbritz in particular posing a constant threat, popping up on both flanks. However, strong defending from England kept Germany at bay, with Houghton (who cleared off the line in the opening 10 minutes) and Bassett making plenty of good tackles and blocks; when Germany found a way past them, they found Bardsley in goal in inspired form, with several world-class saves. England’s best chance came in the second half, but Jill Scott was unable to get the ball out of her feet and get a threatening shot on target. Good chances were also at a premium because both sides committed a number of fouls to break up the game and prevent dangerous attacks being built quickly. The key moment occurred when Kemme brought Sanderson down in the area with something close to a rugby tackle; the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Williams sent Angerer the wrong way to give England the victory.