Sunday, July 21, 2024

Euro 2024: Spain make the final as France underwhelm again

Morning all.

So Spain are through to the final of Euro 2024 last night after a 2-1 win over France. A rare moment of quality from Kylian Mbappe saw him cross for Kolo Muani to head Didier Deschamps’ side in front, but Spain equalised via an incredible Lamine Yamal strike.

The 16 year old picked the ball up outside the box, sent Adrian Rabiot to the cleaners with a wiggle of his hips. and curled a perfect shot beyond everyone, going into the net via a very satisfying crack off the post. Watch it here. Then watch it again, it was that good. What an insane talent this young man is, and let’s not forget we’ve seen a 16 year-old Catalan wonderkid ourselves.

Dani Olmo made it 2-1 a few minutes later, showing good skill inside the box to fire home via the feet of Jules Kounde who couldn’t do enough to keep it out. Speaking of not doing enough: France. Throughout this tournament their football has been missing the kind of energy and end-product you would expect from them. Last night was another one of those games where the final ball was never really good enough, the decision making poor, and too many players stood around waiting for someone to do something rather than be more aggressive/proactive in the final third.

Nevertheless, they had chances. Dayot Upamecano produced a very poor header 6 yards out when he should have hit the target, Theo Hernandez fired a shot over, and Mbappe – when he did finally create some space for himself – blasted miles over when the finish he needed required more precision than power. It has been a tournament to forget for him, although it can’t have been easy to shoulder the attacking burden in a side too closely aligned to Deschamps’ conservatism, not to mention the injury he sustained too. Spain managed the final stages of the game well, as you would expect, and deservedly went through in my opinion.

It obviously means William Saliba’s tournament is over, and he can now go take a break, enjoy some downtime, and return to Arsenal in a few weeks time hopefully refreshed and ready to go again. I know some would have been happy for him not to play in this tournament, but I’m glad he did. He’s easily been one of the best couple of defenders at the Euros, and on a personal level I think he can be proud of his performances. No doubt he’ll have disappointment to contend with because of France’s exit, but overall his reputation – which was already stellar in the eyes of Arsenal fans – will have been enhanced worldwide by how well he did in Germany this summer. I think that can only benefit him, and us, in the long-term.

Tonight then, it’s England v Netherlands in the other semi-final, and while I’d have England as favourites for this on paper, it’s a tough one to call. Aside from that sprinkle of Saka stardust in the game against Switzerland, I really didn’t see a vast improvement in the overall performance. Despite what the BBC pundits tried to tell us, it felt very much like all the other games, underwhelming based on the talent they have available to them.

It has been those moments of quality, from Jude Bellingham in the previous game, and Saka’s great goal, that have gone a long way to help England progress. Obviously the penalties were excellent in the quarter-final, but they needed Saka’s piece of inspiration to get there in the first place. I know some will say this my Arsenal bias, but I think Harry Kane has been a big problem, and if you’re picking a team on merit, there’s no way he should be starting tonight. I think England would be a lot better with one of Ollie Watkins or Ivan Toney up front, but I can’t see any world in which Gareth Southgate makes that decision. It doesn’t even require him to be brave, just pragmatic – which is essentially his stock in trade – but I’d be astonished if he did it.

After David Raya, Saka and Declan Rice are the last two Arsenal players at the tournament now, so let’s see what happens later on. Will they make it through to face Spain in the final, or will they suffer semi-final disappointment like Saliba?

Edit: Ooops, sorry Aaron 😉

For more on last night’s game, and a bit more previewing of this evening’s game, we’ll have our Euro 2024 podcast on Patreon later – come join us!

For now, have a good one.

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