Sunday, July 21, 2024

Euro 2024: The good, the bad, and the very, very boring

Morning.

There was excitement and tedium in equal measure at the Euros yesterday. The excitement came early, when Spain and Germany – two teams with a lot of good players – each tried to win a game of football. The tedium came after, when France and Portugal – two teams with a lot of good players – were victim to the philosophies of their conservative managers, and both played in deference, and to their detriment, to a star who didn’t/couldn’t deliver.

I really did enjoy Spain v Germany as a contest. Goals, missed chances, good saves, late drama, a penalty incident, 15 yellow cards and a red. It is kinda mad that in a game where Anthony Taylor was so card happy, he let Toni Kroos away with as much as he did. That early tackle on Pedri, which forced the Spanish player off, was far more a yellow than many of the ones he issued, but clearly he didn’t want to spoil be the one to go down in infamy by cutting short a game which potentially was Kroos’ last in a great career.

Spain took the lead in the second early in the second half through Dani Olmo, the Germany midfield nowhere to be seen – not for the first time either. The finish was smart, and at that point Spain had had 10 shots to Germany’s 5. The pendulum swung, the introduction of Fulkrug helped, and I thought Kai Havertz had a very Kai Havertz game. Involved, impactful, intelligent, but the end product just wasn’t there. The moment when he took advantage of poor kick-out was a perfect example: he was aware, on his toes, strong, quick, made the right decision, but the execution was just off. I don’t want to repeat myself too often, but if we can make that aspect of his game 10% better he’d be just fantastic.

Germany dominated as they pushed for an equaliser. After the goal they had 11 shots to Spain’s 2. Fulkrug hit the post, Wirtz hit the post, some of the decision making from the German players was poor, before a last gasp goal from the Bayer Leverkusen man sent us to extra-time. Julian Nagelsmann, having put on as many attacking players as he could to find that goal, then took Havertz off for a defender at the end of 90 minutes. Of course game-state played a part in Germany’s dominance in normal time, and I don’t think Spain’s subs helped them because they withdrew two of their best attacking players and decided to dig in, but the momentum shifted back to the Spanish in extra-time. For all his flaws, I think Germany missed Havertz in the final 30 minutes.

The main talking point was the penalty incident when Jamal Musiala’s shot hit the hand of Marc Cucurella, but the ref played on and there was no intervention by VAR. It’s just so hard to reconcile the difference between that incident and the one in the Denmark game the other night when the ball skimmed Joachim Andersen’s hand from a cross in a wide area. It barely even affected the trajectory of the ball, yet he and Denmark were punished to the max by the award of a penalty.

In this case, Musiala’s shot looked like it was going on target, Cucurella’s hand stopped it, and it’s not a penalty? Even if you think the incident in yesterday’s game shouldn’t be a spot kick, and I can understand that because it is more ball to hand than anything else, it doesn’t stack up when penalties are being awarded for far less. The handball rule is a significant issue for football to deal with now, and I hope some considered thought is given to how we extricate ourselves from the abomination it has become.

It looked like we were gonna go to penalties, but Mikel Merino took advantage of tired legs by actually being able to jump for the ball and head home to make it 2-1 with just a couple of minutes to go. Or so we thought. It felt like Germany got another 10 minutes to find a second equaliser, aided and abetted by Spain being stupid and giving the ball back to them all the time. Dani Carvajal picked up a second yellow and a red, and there was an amazing chance for Fulkrug but he – of all people – headed wide, and Spain go through.

A fun game though. Unlike the garbage that followed. Roberto Martinez is a disgrace of a coach, leaving a useless Ronaldo on for 120 minutes when he offered nothing. I looked at the stats at one point deep in extra-time, and both goalkeepers had had more touches than him. France were, as they have been this tournament, deeply, deeply boring, trying too hard to ‘Give it to Kylian and see what he can do’ but it’s clear that Mbappe isn’t himself due to the injury and he did basically nothing. There was a 10 minute flurry when each side had a couple of chances, but it then reverted to the humdrum mundanity that came before.

At least we weren’t denied penalties after suffering through 120 minutes of utter crap, and France’s were superb. Each one unsaveable, and for all the talk about Diogo Costa after the last shoot-out, it showed Slovenia’s penalties were rubbish and his saves were decent but nothing more. William Saliba was brilliant again, and at least this is end of Ronaldo at international level – a man whose ego and narcissism was kowtowed to by a manager whose own reputation ought to take a big hit in the process, because it cost Portugal on the pitch. It was, despite the best, and quite impressive, efforts of Pepe’s 41 year old legs, like playing with 10 men, and even against a French side who had been rubbish, you can’t carry that nonsense. Good riddance to them both.

Right, the big one later is England v Switzerland, with Arsenal interest obvious in that one, although reports that Saka could play LWB are interesting, with formation shift on the cards from Gareth Southgate. Afterwards it’s Netherlands v Turkey, hopefully chaos and mayhem will reign.

For more on last night’s games, and more chat about today’s join us on Patreon later as we discuss it all in our latest Euro 2024 podcast. For now, have a great Saturday.

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