The year 2021 is potentially going to be a make-or-break one for the Central Coast Mariners.
The knockout stages have begun for Euro 2016 and the surprises keep coming, as Iceland toppled England and France were almost upset by the Republic of Ireland.
Poland 1-1, (5-4 penalties) Switzerland, Wales 1-0 Northern Ireland, Portugal 1-0 Croatia
Outside of Xherdan Shaqiri’s wonder goal for Switzerland, these games weren’t all that entertaining.
The 24-team format and accidentally lopsided draw were bigger talking points, as Portugal and Northern Ireland should have already been sent packing.
These matches all seemed to feature one significant problem: smaller nations had difficulty integrating their superstar forward into the general play.
Away from the service of the world-class midfielders of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, Robert Lewandowski and Gareth Bale have clearly suffered.
I don’t think the Munich forward has touched the ball all tournament. Bale has been hyped because of a few free kicks that goalkeepers have misjudged but hasn’t taken many shots in open play.
And Cristiano Ronaldo’s woes have been well documented.
Still, all three live to fight another day. How Croatia left Ronaldo so free on the winning counter-attack, I have no idea. Even so, it required a brilliant pass from Nani to unlock Ronaldo’s potential. It was a good save from Croatia keeper Danijel Subasic, but not enough.
I really wanted Croatia to make it. Mario Mandzukic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic are all Champions League winners, however they were outshone by Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic. In spite of the star power, they just can’t seem to pull it off when it matters.
France 2-1 Ireland
Finally, France played with a bit of urgency. I suppose conceding a goal in the opening minutes will do that for you.
Outside of perhaps England, many teams are struggling to maintain possession. France in particular, clear the ball away without trying to find a teammate when under pressure. Given France’s early deficiencies, the penalty could have been enough for a famous Irish win.
But Antoine Griezmann had a fantastic season with Atletico Madrid and has carried that form over with France. The lesson for selecting national teams must be: use the players in form and ignore the old guard. England, take note.
France finally started to look like they cared about this tournament as they have won the past two major trophies when playing at home.
Germany 3-0 Slovakia
Germany have finally started to play to their potential and will need to continue their form with Italy waiting for them in the next round.
The World Cup champions just seem to know which passes to play. They ‘look’ the part, which was a trait that the great Brazil teams possessed in previous decades.
Europeans teams seem to be relying less and less on tricks to beat opponents. Even Ronaldo is just trying to tap goals in these days. Julian Draxler seems to be the only player in the competition trying to be somewhat deceptive – just look at Germany’s second and third goals.
Belgium 4-0 Hungary
Didn’t see this one. All I’ll say is that any team that can still score four goals while playing as desperately as Belgium will always be dangerous. Due to the lopsided draw, I see them making it to the final.
Hungary were fun. They scored goals, brought something unknown, inspired 40-year-olds everywhere, revived grey trackies as an indispensable wardrobe item, and matched Ronaldo goal-for-goal even on his good day. Hope they’re back.
Italy 2-0 Spain
I hadn’t been too sure about Italy, but this was a beautiful performance that makes you think that the sky could be the limit if they weren’t matched-up against Germany next. But their win over the Germans in 2012 was quite epic and it could happen again.
Spain didn’t throw in the towel at least, they tried to pass their way back in. For the record, Giorgio Chiellini’s goal was the first knockout stage goal they have conceded in ten years. That means they’ve never had to come from behind during their World Cup winning run.
However, they’ve never had a type of forward like Didier Drogba – an extreme example – to whom you just lump it forward and he’ll clatter it home. That’s just not Spain. So when Gerard Pique was in with a minute to go and could have smashed it home for the equaliser, he tried to finesse it into the gap and Gianluigi Buffon made a fantastic save. Now that’s Spain.
Iceland 2-1 England
Iceland! Not much else to say.