I was a bit torn last night about which game to watch. Germany v Hungary or France v Portugal. In the end, I plumped for the latter, and while the Germans got there in the end, they got a hell of a fright and were close to going out of the tournament altogether.
Thankfully there are easy ways to find goal clips, so as I watched one game, I was able to see some of the highlights of the other. Hungary scored early, Germany equalised in the second half, only to concede again straight from the restart. Those kind of goals are so rare, they’re great. The one that obviously springs to mind is Cesc in the North London derby – we’d barely finished celebrating Robin van Persie’s opener and he was through and holy crap he’s scored!
It took a late strike from Leon Goretzka to equalise again and save Germany’s bacon. They now face England at Wembley which should be pretty tasty, for obvious reasons. Two big teams, lots of history, and neither of them have been particularly great in this tournament so far. I would say with the talent they have, and the opposition’s performances, England shouldn’t be overly worried about Germany, but then it does feel very much like a ‘form goes out the window’ kind of fixture.
At the same time, it was almost like a 90 minute penalty shoot-out in the other game. Cristiano Ronaldo put Portugal ahead after Hugo Lloris clattered the head off some lad, but just before half-time France were awarded a pretty generous penalty when Mbappe went down in the box. I thought Semedo just did what a defender should do in that situation, but the referee’s soft decision survived a VAR check and Benzema equalised.
The Real Madrid striker put France ahead with a lovely goal in the second half. The pass from Paul Pogba was superb, but the finish was unerringly good. I love just how aware Benzema is of his positioning in the box, he doesn’t even take the slightest glance at where the goal is, and the ball went in off the post. Portugal got a second penalty for an obvious handball, Ronaldo did what he does, and at 2-2 both sides were going through. The game kinda fizzled out, although Pogba did produce a glorious bit of skill before forcing the keeper into an excellent save. France play Switzerland on Monday, while Portugal will face Belgium on Sunday.
Earlier in the day, Spain missed a penalty but beat Slovakia 5-0, the opening goal coming from the most bizarre own goal of the tournament so far. Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka was the hero when he saved Morata’s spot kick, but turned villain when he fumbled the ball into the net under his own crossbar. When it went 3-0 I turned over to Sweden v Poland, as Robert Lewandowski had just got one back with a brilliant strike with about half an hour left.
I think the last 30 minutes of that game were my favourite of the tournament so far. Poland scored again to make it 2-2, and while it wasn’t quite end to end stuff, it was very open and very exciting. Sweden’s injury time winner sets them up for a game against Ukraine, while Poland go home. Spain will play Croatia in their first knock-out game. There’s now a two day break from the Euros, with no football at all – which seems a bit cruel or something. It’s funny how quickly you get used to having it on all the time. We go again from Saturday.
From an Arsenal perspective, a few small things to comment on. First, Lucas Torreira to Lazio appears to have some legs, with the Uruguayan midfielder tipped to join the Serie A side this summer. There’s still some sorting out to do with the deal itself, there’s talk of two payments from the Italians, but it looks like this one might happen.
Elsewhere, Martin Odegaard has confirmed to Norwegian TV that Real Madrid want him back for pre-season, and that is seen as the door being well and truly closed on any potential Arsenal move. I’m not fully convinced this one is completely dead in the water though. They will want to raise funds through sales, and I have a suspicion they’d do a deal if the price was right. Let’s see what happens though. We know he was pretty much top of the list going into the window, and I suppose Arsenal have to gauge how difficult this deal might be to do. I imagine they’re fully aware of Odegaard’s willingness to join us, or not, so let’s see how it plays out.
Finally, after his man of the match performance for England on Tuesday night, Bukayo Saka found himself making headlines in one of the UK’s most noxious publications. Quite why ‘footballer buys house in 2019’ is news in 2021 is beyond me, but I suppose there is a pattern when it comes to successful, black footballers and this particular ‘newspaper’.
I don’t suppose ‘Supremely talented young sportsman’s professionalism and consistency sees him care for his family’ resonates as much with their readership. My guess is Saka won’t care one bit, he seems a grounded, well-adjusted young man with a supportive family, but clickbait stories like this are presented in such a way as to generate divisiveness and to feed prejudices. The rallying around from Arsenal and football fans online last night was great, but it shows this weird, mashed-up celebrity/sport/entertainment/reality TV culture is still all too pervasive.
For a tonic, listen to Freddie Ljungberg talk about Bukayo Saka (not Sako as the article called him at one point, FFS).
"Bukayo showed all the time what he can do – his decision-making has always been good"
— The Coaches' Voice (@CoachesVoice) June 23, 2021
Right, that’s it for now, more here tomorrow including a brand new Arsecast. Until then, take it easy.