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Friday, 29 July 2016

Deadweight: Who needs to go this summer?

After the departure of Louis van Gaal, the players will all be eager to try and impress new manager, Jose Mourinho. The manager has made it no secret that he will only settle for the best. We are carrying lots of deadweight in our squad at the moment and after our new signings, it is clear that the manager will want to cut down the first team squad. Nobody has a secure place in the squad and everyone will have to work for their place. 

Marcos Rojo – After signing last summer, we are still unsure as to what his best position is; left back or centre back? He has been given the chance to shine in both positions but he has shown that he is not Manchester United material. Always looking uneasy on the ball and backing out of tackles; this is not what we want in a defender. To be perfectly honest, I would much prefer Borthwick-Jackson in left back as Rojo is nothing but a liability. There is only one solution: SELL

Daley Blind – Despite his obvious lack of pace, Daley Blind is arguably our most intelligent footballer. His vision is exceptional and his versatility is priceless. When signing for Manchester United, Blind was thought of as being a defensive midfielder. However, he has proven himself in both full back and centre back. It would be unwise to sell such a versatile and composed player. KEEP

Adnan Januzaj – After making his debut under David Moyes and scoring twice to win us the game against Sunderland, Januzaj hasn’t done much else to show that he deserves to play for Manchester United. After a failed loan move to Borussia Dortmund where he only made 2 starts, Januzaj came back to Manchester United and didn’t offer much more to the squad. There are rumours that the new Sunderland manager, David Moyes wants to bring him to the Stadium of Light. Maybe a short term reunion with Moyes would be the best step to seeing whether he has a bright career ahead of him. LOAN

Andreas Pereira – Whenever I hear this name, I immediately think “Paul Pogba”. We cannot make the same mistake again. It is clear that Pereira has talent and can become a star but he is not getting the chances he deserves. Last season it felt as if every young player was getting their chance apart from Andreas Pereira who is arguably the most talented. Instead, he was left to tear apart the U21 Premier League with his skill and power. It doesn’t seem like there will be much space for him to shine under Mourinho so the best option for his career would be to let him shine elsewhere for the time being. LOAN

Juan Mata – Despite Juan Mata’s tricky history with Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, the pair are insistent that there are no hard feelings between the two. Yet, I find that slightly hard to believe. There is no doubt that Juan is a fan favourite at Old Trafford and if he were to leave, it would weaken our team severely. In the first two games of pre-season, Juan Mata registered an assist in each game and was very influential. There is no doubt, we must hold on to this asset. KEEP

Memphis Depay – The man who was labelled as the flop signing of last season. When the Dutchman joined us, we were expecting magic and for Memphis to be our key player. After an exquisite performance against Club Brugge where Memphis stole the show, things went dramatically downhill. Memphis spent the majority of the season on the bench, if not playing for the U21s. We saw glimpses of his talent but that was not enough for the amount we spent on him. We need consistency. So far in pre-season, he has not impressed in the matches he’s played, seeming almost non-existent on the pitch. Not a very good first impression to make on the new manager. As much as I hope that he will find his form at United, I think it may be sensible to give him a chance to find it elsewhere. LOAN

Phil Jones – When we signed this youngster from Blackburn Rovers, Sir Alex Ferguson expected great things from him in the future. It was predicted that he could be the leader of Manchester United and England. Blighted by injuries, it was clear that this was not going to happen. Making only a handfull appearances per season, Phil Jones is not what we need at United. His proneness to injuries is what is stopping him from becoming a world class defender. It is time for him to move on to another club. SELL

Matteo Darmian – Another player recently signed by Louis van Gaal, Darmian failed to impress in his first season at Manchester United. He has shown himself to be an average player at best and that is not good enough for Manchester United. On the other hand, he has proven to be useful, especially with our injury crisis in the left back position. He has shown glimpses of the full back which he could be but is sometimes frustrating to watch. If we can find a replacement for him, then it would be practical to SELL him.

Ashley Young – The only reason that he is still in our squad is because he managed to bench Di Maria in Louis van Gaal’s first season. His best position is on the left wing. However, our first choice in that position is always going to be Martial and second, Memphis. Young would not get much game time if he were to stay, therefore it seems best for him to leave. SELL

Antonio Valencia – The 30-year-old Ecuadorian captained the team twice in our pre-season fixtures and showed himself to be a solid right back. His transition from becoming a winger to a defender looks to be complete. Despite his lack of a left foot, he looks to be composed as ever. After 7 years at the club, he still looks as fit and fast as ever. KEEP

Bastian Schweinsteiger – The solid midfielder who captained his country to World Cup glory in 2014 recently announced his retirement from International football. The experience which this man carries is irreplaceable. He can dictate an entire football match from the centre of the pitch. Although there are several reports that Mourinho has told him that he needs to find a new club, we cannot afford to let this man leave. KEEP

Marouane Fellaini – Most commonly known for his dangerous elbows, Fellaini will need to prove his worth to the new manager. Nevertheless, he does have some positives, his height in midfield and for set pieces is often useful and his strength and power can be exploited. One thing is for sure, with Paul Pogba around, Fellaini won’t get a look in. In the end, Fellaini is not good enough to win us the league. SELL

Jesse Lingard – Our hero who won us the FA Cup, Lingard was pivotal in the squad last season. By the end of the season, he became our first choice right winger. Now, after the signing of Mkhitaryan, Lingard will be second choice, if not third. He isn’t world class but we know one thing for sure, he is a hard worker and can be useful and can be a squad rotation player. KEEP

James Wilson – After being given his debut by Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs and scoring twice on the occasion, Wilson has failed to get a look in for the first team. Recently dubbed by Lionel Messi to be a world-beater, it is clear that there is lots of potential there. However, with Marcus Rashford recently breaking into the first team and stealing all the headlines, it doesn’t look like he will be given much of a chance at Old Trafford this season. LOAN

Friday, 22 July 2016

Manchester United v Dortmund: What did we learn?

Manchester United succumbed to a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Borussia Dortmund. It was a disappointing performance from Jose Mourinho's team who were second best to a Dortmund team who had already played 5 friendly games prior to this match and were therefore miles ahead of United in their preparation and fitness. For Jose this game was about building up the players' fitness and enabling them to take his methods onto the pitch from the training ground. Jose will have learnt many things about his squad and a lot of those things will deeply concern him and in the case of Phil Jones will scare him deeply. So, what did we learn from this game?

Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo are not good enough:

Despite his new hair colour it is more of the same old rubbish from Phil Jones. His positional play was frankly horrific at times with Pierre Emerick Aubameyang leaving him chasing shadows in the first half. A liability throughout and uncomfortable on the ball Dortmund were swarming all over Phil Jones and he couldn't handle it. Like every Manchester United fan Jose had clearly seen enough of the Phil Jones horror show and subbed him at half time. It was a similar story for Marcos Rojo who replaced Jones for the second half. Like Jones Rojo couldn't cope with the attacking players of Dortmund and was left flat on the floor by 18 year old Osoumane Dembele which led to Dortmund's 3rd goal. One on one defending isn't Marcos Rojo's strong point which is a little bit problematic don't you think. After seeing 45 minutes from both of these players Jose will be wanting Mr Woodward to move these two on.

Eric Bailly looks to be a quality defender:

After todays performance and despite being part of a team that conceded 4 goals Eric Bailly looks to have the attributes to be a fantastic player for Manchester United. The Ivory Coast defender was solid throughout and had the confidence to play the ball out of defence to a really good effect. No fault can be placed with Bailly for any of the goals conceded.He looks like a proper Jose Mourinho player. A very impressive performance from Bailly who looks to be the type of centre back United have missed over the last few years. The only negative for Eric Bailly was that he had to play alongside Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo.

Luke Shaw is like a new signing:

After 10 months out with a leg break it was an anxious wait to see how Luke Shaw recovered. Thankfully the injury appears to have not done any long term damage with Shaw looking like his old self rampaging down the left hand side. Shaw's return has brought balance back to the backline and his attacking attributes bring another diminution to the team with his soaring pace something that caused Dortmund problems. It was brilliant to see Luke get the full 90 minutes as he continues his comeback and will no doubt be a key player this season.

Memphis is in trouble:

After a terrible debut season at Old Trafford impressing Jose Mourinho in pre season was going to be crucial for Memphis to have a chance of remaining at the club. Invisible against Dortmund apart from his ability to be pushed to the floor by players who are smaller than him despite his incredible physique and lacking the work rate Jose demands. Memphis will certainly be hoping Jose is unable to find a replacement for him as that will probably be the only reason he will remain at the club.

Despite the disappointing result the most important thing about this game was building up match practice and for Jose to get a look at the players he his unsure about. One thing for sure is some of the players certainly gave a case for Jose to sell them and may have encouraged the manager to look to his list of secondary transfer targets sooner than expected.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

France vs Portugal - 2016 UEFA European Championship Final

What an occasion, a month ago today I sat in my front room preparing for the opening game of the tournemant against Romania, excited to see what all of the competitors had on offer. What players could light up the Euro's this year, what match defining moment, even career defining would light up our television screens.

Les Blues have grown in the footballing world, whilst unconvincing in the groups, the resilience of their budding stars became ever present. Clinching last minute wins, a great characteristic show for such a young side.

Portugal have been on the other side of the spectrum, quite the opposite in performances having been branded "The Ugly Side" by their home nation media outlets. It is working though, new ruling allowed third place to take an extra shot at progressing and they took it, and here they are.

In their respective semi finals, both picked up on the oppositions mistakes and clinically dealt blows as the both ran out 2-0 victors. Most will say France had the much harder opponents, with Portugal's opponents Wales running out of steam.

In the last 10 match ups between the two sides, it is not good reading for Ronaldo and Co as they crumbled every time, failing to even record a draw. Another worrying statistic for the Portuguese is their three winless run in finals against the French, we are sure Fernando Santos will hope to banish history repeating itself.

Le Blues have no suspended players, everyone back fit and ready they remained unchanged from the side that took on Germany.

France Line-Up: Lloris; Sagna, Koscielny, Umtiti, Evra; Pogba, Matuidi; Sissoko, Griezmann, Payet; Giroud

Portugal will be happy to see the return of centre back Pepe, alongside with defensive midfielder Carvalho it will be sure to bolster the side that beat Wales comfortably.

Porugal Line-Up: Patricio; Cédric, Pepe, Fonte, Guerreiro; Carvalho; Mário, Adrien Silva, Renato Sanches; Ronaldo, Nani

As kick off looms and all fans tune in, we all hope this can top off a fairly average Euro's, without dampening spirits we are yet to be amazed. Stade de France beckons.

Portugal look every bit happy to do what they have been doing in every game so far, constricting play in the centre of the park, leaving Nani or Ronaldo up on the France back line and looking for the threat on the break. France will have a tough time breaking down such a nasty, sturdy defence and one will wonder if this will be decided after 90 minutes.

The highlight of the build up was that of the moth invasion, with myself thinking that it would take over as the key news if the match was to drag. It wasn't far wrong, as Portugal struggled in possession, happy to let France come at them with little to show for as a whole. Key chances go to Griezmann and Sissoko, much was repeated as the pair look the biggest threats.

The talk of the first half, maybe the game if things don't go Portugal's way is the devastating injury to Cristiano Ronaldo, damaging his left knee as he clashed with West Ham play-maker Dimitri Payet. As he was stretchered off, a great deal of the crowd clapped and chanted his name, knowing a great of the game was leaving the pitch. The game deserved a "Ronaldo" and he deserved to play the final.

The change was made and on came Besiktas winger Quaresma, a change in game plan for Portugal as Santos shifted his team into a make shift 4-5-1 formation, leaving Nani as a lone striker and dropping Sanches into a midfield three. This change actually benefited the visitors greatly, with more players in a packed centre of the park they improved and finally settled into the game.
The second half didn't really add much more, and emphasized the tournemant on a whole, unassuming with a real lack of raw ability. Something to put into perspective is that when changes were made, Eder and Gignac were officially the "Number 9's" of the Euro 2016 final from Lille and Tigres. I have found myself in similar positions in other games, struggling to amass anything more than a snore.

In fairness, both did the jobs set by their managers. Eder was using his only talent to good use, holding up the ball to allow Portugal to come further up the pitch. The latter Gignac to link up the play and lead the line in what seemed to escape Giroud. Of the whole second half, Gignac in fairness did come close, partly through a mistake. Turning Cedric on the slide tackle, attempted to roll the ball only to scuff it near post, hitting the bar. Replays would show that if clear connection had been made Patricio had it covered, like most of the French attempts this game.

Sadly, extra time held little more excitement, cat and mouse was in effect, as extra time threw away the safety net, both managers evidently settling for a moment of magic. Clattenburg hurried on the two team huddles both happy to get the team talks out.

"Settling for a moment of magic" I said it myself, and of all the people to pull it out of the hat, Eder. No other way to put it, the French League player bounced off the Blues defenders, before thumping home a low strike into the bottom right of Lloris' goal.
Portugal seemed to find an extra gear from out of nowhere, stumbling up to the end of extra time and the goal just lifted the team. A quote from Santos "to win ugly and be here is better than to lose nicely and be sat at home" added insult to injury for France. The game plan was in motion from the first whistle.

Yes, Portugal played dirty. Yes, France were the better team. But they took their chance, symbolized by Pepe throwing up on the side of the pitch, heart and desire shown in pure animalistic form. Portugal are European champions, despite losing Ronaldo after 25 minutes, despite winning one match in 90 minutes, despite looking like they could lose 4-0 in the first 10 minutes.

As France received their runners up medals, you couldn't help but feel for them losing in their own country, a harsh game. No one remembers second place though, and as Ronaldo and his comrades lift the trophy you can see that this is a team, not just one man. Congratulations Portugal.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Germany v France Match Analysis

Before this mouthwatering clash between two genuine European football heavyweights, most of the speculation amongst the German fans centred on which players would replace the injured Khedira and Gomez, and the suspended Hummels. Also, after switching to a back three against Italy, would Joachim Löw be tempted to stick with that formation in a bid to stifle a very effective Griezmann - Giroud strike partnership?
For the French, Deschamps had a full squad to choose from, so most of the questions from the fans related to whether he would start with the team that looked so impressive against Iceland, or revert to the lacklustre lineup that started the tournament.

With kick off approaching, the teamsheets were in. Germany went with a back four with Höwedes replacing Hummels, Schweinsteiger and Can came into midfield, the former for experience and the latter for his legs. Deschamps bravely stuck with the same 11 that started against Iceland, resisting the temptation to bring Kanté back into midfield.

With the Tour de France in full swing, it was all eyes on the Stade Vélodrome as Germany were saddled with the task of putting the brakes on a French team gearing up towards another huge night in Paris this coming Sunday.

France started the brighter of the two teams, moving the ball freely, especially down the right hand side. Germany actually looked anxious, under hitting passes and mis-timing tackles. Griezmann fired the first warning shot on six minutes after some woeful defending allowed him to get a shot away that was well saved by Neuer.

Germany didn't panic, they grew into the game and started holding onto the ball, using the width of the pitch to stretch the French back four. On 13 minutes it was France's turn to defend nervously, with Emre Can having a fine shot saved by Hugo Lloris after a good spell of German possession. From that point on France barely touched the ball, as the extra man in the Germany's five man midfield had the French players chasing shadows. Apart from a few quick breaks, France struggled to mount any meaningful attacks as Germany turned the screw, it was starting to look like Les Bleus best hope was to hang on until half time and make some tactical changes.

France did show flashes of the attacking brilliance that they displayed in previous games, with Griezmann shooting into the side netting and a Giroud break being snuffed out by an excellent challenge by Höwedes. However, with half time approaching it looked like being only a matter of time before Germany broke the deadlock. Then, in the last minute of the half, France won a corner on the right hand side. Inexplicably, Bastian Schweinsteiger handled the ball when he bungled an attempt at a clearing header, and the referee pointed to the spot. Up stepped Griezmann, who coolly stroked his powerful penalty into Neuer's goal and sent France down the tunnel a goal to the good.

With France a goal up, Deschamps decided not to make any changes, and both teams kicked off the second half without making any substitutions. The goal had clearly lifted the French spirits, so as with the first half they started brightly, although once again Germany began to settle and started to dominate possession. Still though, France defended resolutely and kept Germany from creating any clear cut chances.

Just before the hour mark disaster struck for Germany, when Jérôme Boateng went down with what looked like a torn hamstring, ending his night and probably ending his tournament no matter what the result of this game. With Mustafi coming on, the German centre back pairing was now very inexperienced indeed. Löw's next move was to replace Can with Götze, looking to add another attacking option, as Müller was looking isolated despite Germany spending most of the game camped around the French penalty box.

After 71 minutes the inexperienced German defence crumbled. Under no real pressure, Kimmich failed to deal with a simple pass, Pogba stole the ball then sent over a cross that Neuer tipped into the path of the grateful Griezmann, who slotted home his second of the night.

Would Germany have the belief to come back from a two goal deficit?

Unfortunately for them, the answer was no.

The game opened up, as Germany threw men forward in an attempt to force a goal, yet the French defence refused to yield. It seemed like nothing that Germany could do would change the outcome of this game. To the credit of the men in white, they refused to give in, pressing forward at every opportunity until the final whistle. However, when the whistle came, it was the team in blue that began the celebrations.

Despite being outplayed, struggling to keep possession, and hanging on for most of the game, France found a way to emerge victorious. There is an old saying in football that still rings true today: when you are on top in a game, you have to score. Germany did not, and now they are out.

From 24, now we are down to two: Portugal v France. I know what I'll be watching on Sunday night, and it won't be Benidorm! 

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Wales v Portugal Match Analysis

It was a cagey first half to say the least. Although it was a very intriguing tactical battle with Wales arguably facing their toughest challenge yet, keeping Cristiano Ronaldo quiet. It was noticeable that the defence of Wales was incredibly compact not allowing any of the tricky Portuguese players any time or space on the ball. This resulted in the wide players and midfield players of Portugal lumping long balls into the box for Ronaldo to get on the end of. It was a job well done for Wales in terms of their plan for dealing with the threats of Portugal. Wales will also have been pleased that the loss of Ben Davies to suspension wasn't having any impact with James Collins showing to be an excellent stand in.

It was a half of very few chances. The best move from either team was when Gareth Bale picked up the ball and surged forward on a 40 yard run leaving Portugal left back Raphael Guerriero chasing his shadow but Bale couldn't get enough power on the shot and it was hit straight at Rui Patricio in the Portugal goal. Portugal were frankly terrible in the first half with a noticeable lack of movement and pace in their play allowing Wales to keep their shape incredibly well. Wales were clearly missing Aaron Ramsey who was serving a suspension. Ramsey has proved to be the link between the midfield and forward players and has been Wales' best player at Euro 2016. Without him Wales were unable to get into their usual quick incisive attacking play.

Wales started the second half in a sloppy manner and were soon punished. A short corner resulted in Guerriero whipping the ball into the box for Cristiano Ronaldo to rise above his man and hang in the air to smash the header past Wayne Hennesey in the Wales goal. An early set back for the Welsh who faced an upward task. Wales soon found themselves with a mountain to climb after Ronaldo sliced a shot but it fell to Nani who slotted it past Hennesey to make it 2-0 to Portugal. Nani now has 3 goals and 2 assists at Euro 2016, a very good tournament for Nani who when on form can be unplayable.

In search for a goal Chris Coleman rolled the dice and made all 3 changes by the 65 minute mark. Wales huffed and puffed but just couldn't get anything going in the final third. As well as that they kept making sloppy mistakes in particular Joe Allen who was really poor in this game. Clearly they were missing Aaron Ramsey and couldn't fill that void regardless of what Chris Coleman did to change things. Which also brings into question as to why UEFA insist on leaving the yellow card suspension amnesty in place until the semi final stage of the competition. Wales simply looked disjointed and were lacking the usual vigour they play with. There will be a sense of disappointment from a Welsh point of view with this performance because Portugal are nothing special and it was a massive shock they were even in the semi finals because of how poor they have been at Euro 2016.

Of course it's been an incredible achievement from Wales to reach the semi finals. Many said Wales would not even get out of the group but together they proved everyone wrong and got further than the abysmal England. The performance against Belgium was the best performance from any team at Euro 2016 in a game so far. Wales have lit up the competition with their performances and allowed other nations the hope that they to can dare to dream and do something special. This Welsh team have done their country proud and will want to carry this momentum into the World Cup qualifiers that start in September and will look to get to the 2018 World Cup together and stronger.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Germany v Italy Match Analysis

A match like this needs no introduction, but I'm going to try to give it one anyway. Germany versus Italy in a major football tournament is one of those 'must watch' games, irrespective of your nationality. There are many reasons why this is the case, one of the main ones being the number of trophies won by both teams, another is the fact that Italy are Germany's bogey side, having never lost to them in a competitive fixture. Would today be the day that the Germans finally broke the 54 year hoodoo?

Before the game, Antonio Conte had been engaging in mind games to take the focus away from his squad and pile all the pressure on his opponents, insisting that Germany are "the most complete team" in the world. The Italian goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon, also got in on the act, labelling his German counterpart, Manuel Neuer, the "better" of the two. Under normal circumstances, this would have little or no effect on the German football psyche, however, given their past record against Italy, you couldn't help but wonder whether it might play on the minds of one or two of the less experienced players.

Italy started the game without Motta and De Rossi, who are out through suspension and injury respectively, while Germany fielded a more defensive formation than usual (3 5 2), with Schalke defender Benedikt Höwedes replacing Julian Draxler, perhaps due to the fact that this was the first real test since the tournament began.

Germany started the brighter of the two teams, moving the ball around with relative ease, while Italy were happy to allow them to have the ball, opting for a more measured approach. When Italy did have the ball they used it remarkably efficiently, changing the point of attack with quick angled passes that stretched the German back three.

Germany suffered a blow after only 15 minutes when Sami Khedira went off with a groin injury, with squad captain, and Man Utd midfielder, Bastian Schweinsteiger coming on as his replacement.
This turned out to be the most exciting thing that happened in the first 30 minutes, as it was noticeable that neither goalkeeper had had a save to make, in fact the most entertaining aspect of this period of the game was Antonio Conte's histrionics in and around the technical area (the dimensions of which the Italian coach seemed unaware of).

The first half was drifting into a dull stalemate, until the 42nd minute when a good move down the left by Germany caused panic in the Italian box, with Müller failing to add the killer touch. This provoked Italy into pressing forward, although a short spell of pressure yielded no results.

No changes at halftime, and the game restarted following a similar pattern to the first 45 minutes, ie Germany with plenty of the ball, and Italy being tough to break down. The Italian resolve was typified by a wonderfully acrobatic defensive block by Florenzi, which prevented a Müller pile driver from finding the net. A rash of Italian yellow cards followed as they attempted to break up the German midfield play by any means necessary, because of this Sturaro and De Sciglio would now be suspended should Italy progress.

After 64 minutes Germany finally managed to find a way through the Italian defence, with Mesut Özil being the beneficiary of some untypically poor marking. He timed his run into the box brilliantly, and swept a deflected pullback into Buffon's goal. With Germany a goal up, would Italy take risks to try to force an equaliser?
The answer was emphatically no, as Germany continued to apply pressure. Özil seemingly had the run of the pitch, pulling the strings and testing the Italian back 3 at every opportunity.

Italy equalised on 77 minutes, Bonucci tucking away a neat penalty into the bottom corner of Neuer's goal after Jerome Boateng's strangely positioned arms came into contact with the ball during a good spell of possession from the Azzurri. After this, the game once again drifted into stalemate, with extra time looking more and more likely as the fear of making a game-costing mistake forced both teams to tighten up and keep men behind the ball. After a fairly tense 90+ minutes, the referee put his whistle to his lips and brought the second half to a close.

With extra time confirmed, could someone pull a piece of magic out of thin air and write their own chapter in the illustrious history of these two great teams? Or, would the weight of expectation, and the threat of cramp, paralyse both groups of players like rabbits frozen by car headlights?
After 30 tired and largely uneventful minutes we had our answer; paralysis 1 magic 0.
As the teams gather to sort out the order, I have to give special mention to Bastian Schweinsteiger. He came to the tournament on the back of an injury which wiped out the second half of his domestic season, because of this he was used sparingly, only coming on to see out the games. The injury to Khedira forced Joachim Low to gamble on his fitness, thrusting him into the action early in the first half. From that point on he ran the show in midfield, supporting Özil and protecting the German back three. 100 minutes later he was still getting into the Italian penalty box, showing some of the younger players how it's done. At the final whistle he looked exhausted after giving everything to help his team, in fact, the only thing on that pitch more worn out was the sole of Conte's shoes!

Anyway, penalties it is, time to sort the men from the boys.

Za Za is one of the boys, as is Müller apparently.  Özil was next to fluff his lines, followed swiftly by Graziano Pellé. Does anybody want to win this game?

Not Bonucci, anyway.

Time for a hero. Time for Schweinsteiger. The captain walked purposefully to the penalty area, placed the ball on the spot, and blasted it high into the Bordeaux night air.

Sudden death. Who would blink first?

After a seemingly endless run of successful spot kicks, Matteo Darmian was next to blot his copybook, giving Jonas Hector the opportunity of his life. The FC Cologne full back repaid the faith shown in him by Joachim Löw, placed his left foot spot-kick low into the net, and sent his team into the semi final.

On balance, it was the correct result, although you have to feel for an Italian team that came here with the tag of "worst Italy team for 50 years".

The truth is, if this is the worst, then we're all going to be in trouble when they build a good one.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Wales v Belgium Match Analysis

Given the dazzling array of creative talent on show, it was perhaps rather surprising that all the pre-match talk surrounded the defensive personnel that each manager might employ. With Jan Vertonghen injured and Thomas Vermaelen suspended, Marc Wilmots had a small and inexperienced pool of replacements to choose from. Wales, meanwhile, were sweating on the fitness of defensive rock Ashley Williams. Although Chris Coleman insisted that he had trained all week and would be ready, there were worries that the shoulder injury he picked up against Northern Ireland might hamper his performance.

As expected, Wilmots brought Jason Denayer and Jordan Lukaku into the back four, which was good news for the Welsh, as before tonight they only had 11 caps between them. Chris Coleman, meanwhile, opted to start with Robson-Kanu up front, with Vokes dropping to the bench after an ineffective display in the last round.

The game kicked-off amid the pouring rain, as the expectant fans in the Lille Métropole stadium wondered whose dreams would be washed away during the following 90 minutes.
Both teams started brightly, looking to move the ball forward quickly, with the Belgian midfield coming out on top in the early exchanges. After six minutes De Bruyne and Lukaku caused mayhem in the Penalty box, with the Welsh defence at panic stations, only a great Hennessy save and a terrific block from Taylor prevented Belgium from taking the lead.

Wales responded well, looking to run in behind the inexperienced Belgian back line, with a Bale shot into the side netting the sum total of their efforts.

After 12 minutes Naingollan opened the scoring with an absolutely rasping shot from 30 yards after the Welsh midfield had stood off, almost inviting him to shoot. He didn't need to be asked twice, he just picked his spot and belted it, the ball  brushing Hennessy's fingertips on the way in to the top left corner of the goal.

Defensively, Belgium suffer from a lack of width. The Welsh full backs were able to maraud largely unopposed as far as the 18 yard line. Wilmots plan was to trust in the pace of his full backs to cut off the Welsh supply line. This high risk strategy almost cost them a goal on 25 minutes, only a wonder save from Coutois kept Neil Taylor's low drive from levelling the scores.

The equaliser did come on 30 minutes after a good spell of Welsh pressure, a corner from the right was met with a strong header by Ashley Williams, who took full advantage of some non-existent marking and steered a powerful header beyond Courtois.

1 - 1, game on.

Wales continued to apply the pressure. The Belgian midfield were clearly worried about their back four, so played with fear that was seized upon by a hungry Welsh forward line that moved the ball with ease and interchanged seamlessly. When the halftime whistle blew the Belgians were more than happy to seek the sanctity of the dressing room, while the Welsh players would happily have changed ends and played the second half without taking a break.

Marouane Fellaini was introduced at halftime, with Wilmots hoping that his physical presence would upset the Welsh rhythm. This tactical change almost paid dividends within two minutes, as Fellaini was involved in a passing movement that should have been finished by the head of Lukaku.
Further Belgian pressure kept Wales pinned back, with wave after wave of attack being absorbed by a defence that was creaking under the strain.

Until, on 54 minutes, a long ball to Ramsey opened up the Belgian back four, and Hal Robson-Kanu produced a lovely piece of skill to create the space to slot the ball home. It may have been against the run of play, but on balance it was no more than Wales deserved.

2 - 1 to Wales, what would be the Belgian response?

Well, for the most part, it was more nervy defending and disjointed midfield play, although with 20 minutes to go Wales began to tire. Belgium sensed that this could be their way back into the game and committed men forward, forcing free-kicks and corners that Wales struggled to deal with.
Coleman was nervous, the clock was ticking slowly for the former Fulham man. Meanwhile, on the Belgian bench, the hands on Marc Wilmots' watch were spinning like the propellers on a spitfire.

The victory was sealed on 85 minutes when Sam Vokes drifted past his marker and got on the end of a Gunter cross, his header comfortably beat Courtois and sent his team into the semi finals of a major tournament for the first time in their history. As the 10,000 strong choir belted out 'Men of Harlech', the referee blew his whistle and put Belgium out of their misery, sending Wales into ecstasy.

3 - 1 was the final score, which didn't flatter Wales one bit. They outfought, out-thought and for much of the game outplayed their opponents. Every player in a red shirt gave their all, and given the ability within the Belgian squad, they demonstrated the effectiveness of trust, belief and sheer hard work in the face of supposedly superior opposition.

A yellow card for Ramsey puts him out of the semi final, which has to be a cause for concern amongst the Welsh fans, however, after tonight's performance, I'm not about to bet against another monumental shock at what is turning about to be one of the best European Championships for many years.

Audrey Hepburn, Eddie Mercx, Plastic Bertrand can you hear me? Hercule Poirot, your boys took a hell of a beating!