Sunday, July 21, 2024

Euro 2024: Saliba and France + Belgium & Ukraine beaten

Morning.

Let’s start with last night’s game between France and Austria, which saw William Saliba start for Les Bleus. The chatter pre-tournament was that he’d be on the bench, and I have to say I’m glad he got the nod. A player of his quality can only improve further by playing at the highest level – it would do him no good to be sitting watching rather than out there on the pitch. Didier Deschamps explained his decision afterwards, saying:

“If I decided to play William Saliba, it is because I thought he was more ready than Konate for such a match. But I don’t want to lose anyone either, we will need everyone. They [Saliba and Upamecano] have 120 minutes together for the France national team, it’s not a lot, but they have this ability to be very solid in one-on-one [situations], even if there were some clearances that they could improve on, they exuded a lot of strength and calmness. We needed that against such an opponent.”

He played as the left-sided centre-half, the opposite to where operates for Arsenal, and I thought he had a tidy enough game. No French player made more passes, and no starting French player had a better accuracy than him (95%). There were a couple of little moments defensively, a missed header in the first half saw Austria have a great chance at goal, but that situation developed primarily because Dayot Upemecano gave the ball away cheaply high up the pitch and was caught out of position.

I was impressed by Austria though. They were well organised and really worked hard, snapping into tackles all over the pitch – they just lacked that little bit of quality with the final ball. France’s forwards demonstrated their incredible pace plenty of times, but like the opposition didn’t have enough in the final third to consistently threaten the keeper. The fact it was an unfortunate/clumsy own goal kinda tells the story.

Kylian Mbappe missed the kind of chance you’d expect him to score in his sleep, and his night ended painfully when he smashed his nose off Kevin Danso’s rugged shoulders – later confirmed to be broken, as if the pictures didn’t tell the story. I guess he’ll have to play in a mask, but we’ll have to wait and see how ready he is for their next game.

Before that a sorry looking Belgium lost 1-0 to Slovakia. Down a goal early on, their first half was truly terrible. Romelu Lukaku was poor, Leandro Trossard nowhere near his Arsenal form, and Kevin de Bruyne looked weighed down by his hair transplant. As for supposed Arsenal target Amadou Onana, it’s a hard pass from me.

It was an eventful game though. Belgium thought they’d equalised but Lukaku stabbed the ball home from an offside position and it was ruled out. I think if he’d left it, it would have gone in and stood, but striker’s instincts and all that. Then Lukaku scored again, but VAR intervened, deciding that a faint handball by Lois Openda in the build-up was deliberate. They even used new technology to clarify that the ball had hit the player’s hand:

Which I suppose is fine, if there’s a way to produce greater accuracy then we live in an era which demands it, but the question is really about whether it was deliberate handball. I’ve watched it again, and for me the ball hits his hand rather than the other way around, and even so the ‘advantage’ is so minimal as not to be worth considering. I know the handball rule is one which frustrates many, but I don’t think a goal should be ruled out for that.

The Belgian manager, Dominic Tedesco, was more sanguine than many might have been, saying afterwards:

We lost and I want to be a good or at least a fair loser; we shouldn’t be talking about VAR. We trust these guys, we trust the VAR and the referees and if they blow and say it’s handball we have to trust and accept it and that’s that.

I suspect his biggest concern will be the overall quality of his team’s performance, which wasn’t anywhere near good enough – especially in the first half. The same will be true for Sergei Rebrov, whose Ukraine side went down 3-0 in what was a really entertaining game against Romania. I’ve seen stories linking us to their goalkeeper, Andriy Lunin, and on the basis of yesterday, he can get in the same bin as Onana.

To be fair, his mistake in the first half was ruthlessly punished, Nicolae Stanciu’s finish was outstanding – the goal of the tournament so far for me. Made even better by slow-mo replays which showed the ball took a nick off the underside of the crossbar – which improves every goal by 14.32% and that’s a scientific fact. Lunin was poor for Romania’s second too, a shot from distance he basically dived over, and I don’t think Oleksandr Zinchenko will want to see too many replays of the third.

All things considered, it was a thoroughly deserved win for Romania, and all the while, as I saw Mykhaylo Mudryk drop a 2/10 and show off his first touch which is like a mule wearing concrete boots, I wondered what on earth have Mikel Arteta and Edu seen in him (beyond being really fast) that made them pursue him to the lengths they did.

Today, it’s Turkey v Georgia in the early evening, followed Portugal v Czech Republic with no real Arsenal interest in either game – bar some vague, spurious transfer interest in a couple of players on show. For more on the Euros, join us this morning on Patreon for our round-up podcast, and there’s also a brand new Arsecast Extra for you below, recorded just before France’s game with Austria last night. Enjoy!

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