Eder: Portugal’s unlikely Euro 2016 hero

Euro 2016

Almost as unlikely as Portugal winning Euro 2016, was their match winner in the final against France.

When Cristiano Ronaldo went off injured after just 25 minutes, Portuguese prospects of winning a first European Championship suffered a damaging blow, since they lost their main goal – scoring threat.

As such Ronaldo’s team mates were required to assume a greater level of responsibility for trying to unlock the French defence without their talismanic captain.

Euro Ecstasy for Eder

The Portuguese players did that collectively and came close to scoring on numerous occasions, before Eder found the net with a wonderful low 25-yard drive.

Prior to appearing as a substitute against France, when he was introduced for Renato Sanches after 79 minutes, Eder’s involvement in the finals had been extremely limited. Specifically he had only made two other late substitute appearances in Portugal’s first two group games against Iceland and Austria, which those amounting to approximately 15 minutes of playing time for the Lille forward.

Given that Eder’s emergence from the bench to score Portugal’s winning goal in the final was entirely unexpected, as he became the sixth substitute to score in a European Championship final, with Olivier Bierhoff, Sylvain Wiltord, David Trezeguet, Juan Mata and Fernando Torres having previously done so.

The manner in which Eder controlled the ball from Joao Moutinho’s pass, strongly resisted the challenge of Laurent Koscielny, before sending a powerful 25-yard shot into the net, displayed a confidence which defied both the striker’s lack of game time at the finals and indifferent club form over the past year.

Differing spells at season at Lille and Swansea

Whilst playing for Swansea, whom he joined from Sporting Braga in June 2015 for a fee in the region of £5m, during the first half of the 2015-16 season, Eder did not score in 15 appearances.

Following that barren run of form, he was loaned to Lille in the January transfer window and quickly established himself as an important member of the French Ligue 1 club’s squad.

By scoring six goals in 13 Ligue 1 games, Eder helped Lille finish fifth and qualify for the Europa League, whilst earning himself a four-year contract with the club and a place in Portugal’s Euro 2016 squad in the process.

Rising to international stardom

Eder’s only other experience of playing in a major international tournament arrived at the 2014 World Cup when he made one start and two substitute appearances, as Portugal were eliminated at the group stage.

Furthermore before his superb strike against France, Eder had never scored in a competitive international game, with his three previous goals coming in friendly’s against Italy, Norway and Estonia.

Ultimately there could scarcely have been a better time for Eder to register his first competitive goal for Portugal as he became Selecao’s unlikely Euro 2016 final goal-scoring saviour and enhanced his reputation on the senior international stage.

UEFA announces Euro 2016 awardees and team of the tournament

Antoine Griezmann France Euro 2016

The title of UEFA’s Euro 2016 player of the tournament has been awarded to the French striker Antoine Greizmann, as reported by the Independent.

Great Greizmann

Griezmann also finished the tournament with the Golden Boot as he scored six goals, which was double that of any other player, to help France make the final.

Despite not being able to score in the final, whilst missing a great opportunity to do so with a header as France lost 1-0 to Portugal, Greizmann’s earned the award of the tournament’s most outstanding player by producing a series of excellent performances throughout Les Bleus campaign and particularly during their knock-out phase wins against the Republic of Ireland, Iceland and Germany.

Superb Sanches

Ultimately an unfitting end to a fantastic tournament transpired for Greizmann, whilst Portugal’s Renato Sanches enjoyed an altogether happier conclusion to his first major international finals. Specifically at 18 years and 328 days old, the Bayern Munich midfielder became the youngest ever European Championship finalist and winner, whilst also winning the Young Player of the Tournament award ahead of his France’s Kingsley Coman and fellow Portuguese Raphael Guerriero.

Team of the Tournament

The 22-year-old left back, who recently signed for Borussia Dortmund from Ligue 1 side Lorient, has also been included in UEFA’s team of the tournament, with three other Portuguese players featuring. They are goalkeeper Rui Patricio, centre back Pepe and Cristiano Ronaldo, whilst the German trio of Joshua Kimmich, Jerome Boateng and Toni Kroos also made the team, along with the Welsh duo of Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey. The other two remaining members of the side selected by an expert panel of Fifa delegates, which included Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes and Gareth Southgate, were Dimitri Payet and Greizmann of France.

Close of an excellent tournament

As such the distribution of UEFA’s awards and announcement of their team of the tournament, represents the final chapter of an excellent 2016 European Championships, which presented wonderful entertainment and an abundance of memorable moments.

 

 

 

Multiple heroes emerge to help hosts to Euro 2016 final

Euro 2016

Take a bow, Antoine Greizmann.

The great Greizmann

The French striker deservedly did so when substituted in the last minute of his country’s 2-0 semi-final victory over Germany, as he produced a man of the match performance and scored both goals to send Les Bleus through to the final of Euro 2016.

Whilst the role Greizmann has played in France’s run to the final cannot be underestimated, neither too can the contribution made by several of his team mates, who despite not making as many headlines as the Atletico Madrid player, have emerged as heroes in their own right for Didier Deschamps’ side.

Prodigious Payet

The first player to do so was Dimitri Payet. With France labouring to a 1-1 draw in their opening game of the tournament against Romania, the 29-year-old West Ham United playmaker scored a brilliant last minute winner, to transform the mood inside the Stade de France from one of frustration to jubilation.

Whilst Payet’s superb goal endeared him to the French supporters, so too did his emotionally charged celebration. Immediately after that Payet was substituted by Deschamps so as to receive a standing ovation from the French faithful.

Subsequently in addition to scoring in France’s second group stage game as Les Bleus beat Albania 2-0, Payet found the net in his country’s 5-2 quarter final win over Iceland.

Defiant defensive unit

During that game the centre back pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Samuel Umtiti defended unconvincingly but recovered to form a wonderfully solid partnership in France’s semi-final win over Germany, with Hugo Lloris also performing heroically to keep a clean sheet against the World Champions.

Lloris has been in inspired form throughout the finals, producing great saves at vital moments. That has been all the more commendable given that the French captain has not otherwise been overly busy during his country’s games. As such, Lloris’ ability to pull off outstanding saves has testified his superb levels of concentration and focus, which manager Deschamps demands be displayed by the entire French squad.

Sissoko’s successful emergence

Another key member of that is Moussa Sissoko. Despite being overlooked for a place in France’s first XI at the beginning of the tournament by Deschamps, who instead chose to play N’Golo Kante in midfield alongside Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba, Sissoko started and performed excellently as Les Bleus emphatically beat Iceland 5-2.

The Newcastle United midfielder was afforded the opportunity to do so since Kante was suspended for the match after picking up his second yellow card of the finals in the previous round against the Republic of Ireland. Deschamps retained faith in Sissoko for the semi-final with Germany, which the 26-year-old handsomely repaid with another assured display, to put forward an extremely strong case for starting France’s final against Portugal.

Collective excellence

Absolutely certain to do so, barring the emergence of any unforeseen circumstances are Pogba, Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna, who have been ever present and performed consistently well in the French campaign, during which Matuidi has enhanced his reputation as being one of the best box-to-box midfielder‘s in Europe.

Whilst Les Bleus progression to the final has owed much to the goal-scoring and creative talents of Greizmann, it has also been inspired by a cohesive and well disciplined team effort, which has been powered by many members of their squad including the unheralded quintet of Koscielny, Lloris, Payet, Sissoko and Umtiti.

 

Portugal enhancing their fine European Championship record at Euro 2016

euro 2016 - bale

Portugal’s Euro 2016 campaign is quite unique.

The reason for that being it represents the first time, since group stages were introduced to the tournament in 1980, that a team has reached the semi-finals without having won a game in normal time.

Portugal’s unique run to the semi-finals

Fernando Santos’ side beat Poland 5-3 on penalties in the quarter finals following a 1-1 draw after extra time, whilst Selecao also required 120 minutes of play to overcome Croatia 1-0 in the last 16.

Portugal reached that stage after drawing each of their three group games with Iceland, Austria and Hungary.

Therefore despite not winning a game in normal time, Santos’ team have upheld the country’s fine reputation for performing well at European Championships which began when they first qualified for the tournament in 1984.

Fine European Championship History

That year managed by Fernando Carbrita Portugal reached the semi-finals, which prior to their current run to the last four in France, they have done so on three other occasions.

Whilst Carbrita’s team lost their 1984 semi-final 3-2 to France after extra time, a similar feat befell the Portuguese side of 2000.

Despite performing valiantly Portugal suffered another painstaking extra-time semi-final loss to the French. Zinedine Zidane scored the winning goal from the penalty spot after 117 minutes, as Roger Lemerre’s side won 2-1 to advance to the final, where they would beat Italy by the same score line.

Portugal’s next semi-final appearance arrived in 2004, when as hosts Selecao beat Holland 2-1 before losing final 1-0 to Greece. Scorer of Portugal’s first goal against Holland was a then 19-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo, who captained the team at Euro 2012, when Selecao endured another semi-final disappointment.

After their last four encounter with Spain ended 0-0 after extra time, Portugal lost 4-2 on penalties, with Ronaldo not taking a spot-kick since he elected to put himself fifth on the team’s list of penalty takers.

Subsequently the Real Madrid forward made an altogether different decision in his team’s 5-3 quarter final penalty shoot-out win over Poland at Euro 2016, in that he opted to lead by example in hitting Portugal’s first penalty which he scored to help Selecao progress to their fifth European Championship semi-final.

In addition to their 1984, 2000, 2004, 2012 & 2016 European Championship campaigns, Portugal have played in two other finals, making the quarter finals on both occasions.

The first of those was in 1996, when they lost 1-0 to the Czech Republic, with the winning goal being a sublime scooped finished by Karel Probrosky. Portugal made their other quarter final appearance at Euro 2008, when they lost an enthralling encounter 3-2 to Germany.

Five of the Portuguese players – Ricardo Carvalho, Joao Moutinho, Nani, Pepe and Cristiano Ronaldo – who featured in that game are also key members of the country’s current squad.
Strengthening a fine European Championship Record

As such the quintet, along with the rest of their team mates and coach Santos are making a fine effort of strengthening Portugal’s excellent European Championship record in France, as they now prepare for a Euro 2016 semi-final against Wales.

 

 

Continuity in selection key to Iceland’s Euro 2016 success

Euro 2016

For a county with a population of just 330,000 people, Iceland’s performance at Euro 2016 is absolutely remarkable.

Masterminding that are the team’s joint managers Heimer Hallgrimsson & Lars Lagerback, who have named the same starting XI in all four of Iceland’s games at the finals.

Remarkable continuity

Of those XI players, seven were named among the starting XI for each of Iceland’s 10 qualification campaign games.

Those players were Kari Arnason, Ragnar Sigurdsson, Birkir Bjarnason, Gyfli Sigurdsson, Aron Gunnarsson, Johann Gudmundsson and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, whilst Jon Dadi Bodvarsson who has been an ever present in France, started eight of Iceland’s 10 qualifiers and appeared as a substitute in the other two.

The other three members of Iceland’s unchanged Euro 2016 starting XI, also played prominent roles in the team’s qualification campaign.

Goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson, who only became a professional in 2014 after working as a film director, only missed the last qualifier against Turkey.

Despite missing Iceland’s first two qualification games, right back Birkir Saevarsson was used as a substitute in the next two, before starting the remaining six games, as did Johann Gudmundsson, although the Charlton Athletic right sided midfielder did not feature in any of the team’s opening three qualifiers making a substitute appearance in the fourth.

Continuity harvests excellent performance for Iceland

The benefits of such continuity in selection have been evident in each of Iceland’s performances at the finals, with those characterised by a cohesive, disciplined, organised and well – drilled team effort.

So as to further illustrate the continuity in joint managers Hallgrimsson & Lagerback’s selection, a full list of the Iceland players to appear during the country’s superb 14 game Euro 2016 adventure is provided below.

Player appearances during Iceland’s remarkable 14 game Euro 2016 journey

*Emboldened names denote Euro 2016 squad members

Hannes Halldorsson – Only missed last qualifier against Turkey

Elmar Bjarnson -Two starts during qualification, three substitute appearances at finals

Kari Arnason – Ever present

Ragnar Sigurdsson – Ever present

Ari Skulason – Ever present

Birkir Bjarnson – Ever present

Aron Gunnarsson – Ever present

Gylfi Sigurdsson – Ever present

Emil Halfredsson – Five starts and one substitute appearance during qualification, three substitute appearances at finals

Jon Dadi Bodvarsson – Started every game with exception 5th & 6th qualifiers against Czech Rep & Kaz when used as a substitute

Kolbeinn Sigthorsson – Ever present

Birkir Saevarsson – Missed first two qualifiers, used as a substitute in the 3rd & 4th against Latvia & Holland, before starting every other

Rurik Gislason – Made five substitute appearance during qualification

Vidar Orn Kjartansson – Made five substitute appearance during qualification

Alfred Finnbogason – Made one start and four substitute appearances during qualification, two substitutes appearances at finals

Johann Gudmundsson – Missed first three qualifiers, used as a substitute in the 4th against Holland, before starting every other game

Eidur Gudjohnsen – Made one start and two substitute appearances during qualification, one substitute appearance at finals (Sub v Hungary) IS, IS

Olafur Skulason – Made three substitute appearances during qualification

Solvi Otteson – Made one substitute appearance during qualification

Ogmundur Kristinsson – Started last qualifier against Turkey in place of Halldorsson

Sverrir Ingason – Made one substitute appearance at finals

Arnor Traustason – Made two substitute appearances at finals, scoring the winning goal in the first against Austria

Unused quintet

Of Iceland’s 23-man Euro 2016 squad, only the quintet of Ingvar Jonsson, Haukar Heider Hauksson, Hjortur Hermannsson, Hordur Magnusson and Runar Mar Sigurjonsson, have not made an appearance during the team’s journey to their quarter final against France.

Potential to upset hosts

Should Halgrimmsson and Lagerback’s jointly managed team be able to reproduce the form which has seen them progress to the last eight of Euro 2016 unbeaten, then they undoubtedly have the potential to create a shock against the host nation.

 

 

 

 

Conte’s tactically perfect Euro 2016 Italian job

FBL-EURO-2016-ITA-MLT

Full of determination, discipline, energy, intelligence, passion and tactical acumen. Italy’s performance throughout their 2-0 win over Spain in the second round of Euro 2016 represented all of the qualities that the Azzuri’s manager Antonio Conte has gradually instilled in the team since taking charge in August 2014.

Prior to the finals Conte was cautiously optimistic and quite reserved about Italy’s prospects of performing well. “We’ll start with our headlights turned off because this is maybe not a good moment for Italian football but, as the tournament goes on, maybe we will light up and shine into other teams’ faces,” Conte revealed in an interview with Paddy Agnew of European Sports Media, during the Azurri’s preparations for Euro 2016.

Subsequently Italy’s campaign is currently evolving as Conte suggested it might, with the manager compensating for the lack of individual talent within his squad by building a tactically masterful team who are able to control a game’s dynamics and tempo, so it is played out in a way with which they are comfortable.

Conte’s approach to achieving that against Spain was to remain loyal to his favoured energetic 3-5-2 formation, within which full-backs Mattia De Sciglio and Alessandro Florenzi played a vital role. Specifically the majority of the Azzuri’s attacks featured a quick pass being played out to either of the wing-backs, who then exploited Spain’s narrow 4-3-3 formation to surge down the flanks, before delivering quality crosses into La Roja’s box.

Also instrumental in the perfect execution of Conte’s master plan by licensing De Sciglio and Florenzi to attack, was the unwavering defensive solidarity of the Juventus quartet of Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci & Giorgio Chiellini, with the 31-year-old centre half scoring the Azzuri’s first goal.

Thereafter on the astute instruction of Conte, Italy reverted to a 5-3-2 formation and comfortably defended their lead throughout the second half, whilst also launching several dangerous counter attacks, the last of which resulted in a second goal.

After nullifying another futile Spanish attack, Italy quickly broke out of defence, as Matteo Darmian – on as a replacement for Florenzi – found space on the right flank before measuring a fine cross to Graziano Pelle, which the Southampton striker finished emphatically. That goal was thoroughly deserved and capped a tactically superb Italian performance, which earned the highest of praise of Conte.

“It was a great performance. I am pleased this’ a team that plays football. We are very organised defensively, but equally going forward. Often people just think that Italy are a defensive side, but that is not the case,” declared Conte, who will now prepare his side to play world champions Germany in the last 8.

The game represents a repeat of the Euro 2012 semi-final between the two countries, which Italy won 2-1 in Warsaw courtesy of a wonderful double from Mario Balotelli.

Given the strength of Joachim Low’s German side, in order to overcome them, the Azzuri will require to produce a performance similar, if not higher, in quality than the one which they delivered to beat Spain, as recognised by Conte himself.

“We need the players to be 130 per cent against Germany. We will need something absolutely extraordinary, as simply extraordinary may not be enough”, remarked Conte, who learnt from Italy’s 4-1 friendly defeat to Germany back in March that playing a 3-4-3 formation against such strong opposition left his team too exposed defensively.

As such it was on the basis of that experience that Conte reverted to the more cautious 3-5-2 formation, with that system being the one which is most conducive to allowing the Italian players to energetically, intelligently and passionately express themselves, as proven by their performance against Spain.

Euro 2016 Hazard lies in wait for Wales

Euro 2016

Belgium’s golden generation produced an extremely polished performance to beat Hungary 4-0 and breeze into the quarter finals of Euro 2016, where they will play Wales.

Inspired by the brilliance of Eden Hazard who set-up one goal and scored another in the space of two second half minutes, Belgium delivered their most impressive display of the tournament, despite being wasteful in front of goal.

After Toby Alderweireld headed Belgium ahead from Kevin De Bruyne’s free kick, the game swung from end-to-end and remained evenly poised until the 78th minute when Michy Batshuayi scored a simple tap-in following fine work by Hazard. The Chelsea winger then scored a superb solo goal of his own, before Yannick Carrasco drilled home a fourth Belgian goal after Radja Nainggolan found the Atletico Madrid attacker with a fine through ball.

Rising to the Euro 2016 Challenge

Although in the end Belgium ran out convincing winners, in order to do so they had to resist a significant amount of sustained pressure from the Hungarians in the second half. That showed as well as being a potent attacking force, Les Diables Rouges are also defensively solid.

Also indicative of that is since losing their opening game 2-0 to Italy, Belgium have kept three consecutive clean sheets, scoring eight goals without reply in the process. Prior to beating Hungary Marc Wilmots’ side defeated the Republic of Ireland and Sweden 3-0 and 1-0 respectively.

Golden Generation beginning to shine

Therefore Belgium’s golden generation appear to be on the verge of fulfilling their potential at a major international tournament, particularly given the brilliant form of the mercurially talented Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne. The duo were instrumental during the victory over Hungary and were at the heart of many of the devastatingly swift counter attacks which Belgium launched throughout the game. In addition to that both players worked tirelessly, in particular De Bruyne, with Wilmots acknowledging as much of a player who spent ten weeks out injured at the start of this year.

“I have to say, Kevin De Bruyne every time he lost the ball he made the effort to come back and that’s what makes the side strong. When we don’t have the ball, we don’t give away many chances,” said Wilmots who will now prepare his team to face Wales in Lille on Friday.

Wales worthy quarter final opponents

Whilst Belgium’s performance against Hungary was very impressive, Wales produced a similarly excellent counter attacking and defensively sound display to beat Russia 3-0 in their last group stage game which served notice that Chris Coleman’s side are serious contenders to progress to the latter stages of Euro 2016.

Nevertheless a serious hazard stands in Wales’ way of doing that in the form of Eden and his golden generation Belgian colleagues, with the teams having played one another twice during qualification for the finals.

The first of those games finished 0-0 in Brussels, whilst Wales won the return fixture 1-0 at the Cardiff City Stadium courtesy of an expertly taken Gareth Bale goal, which sent the Dragons three points clear at the top of qualification Group B with four games remaining. Despite that Belgium overhauled that deficit to win the group, whilst Wales finished runners-up to qualify for Euro 2016, which they have so far played superbly at.
Although Bale has been instrumental in Wales’ run to the quarter finals – becoming the first player to score in each group stage game since Milan Baros & Ruud Van Nistlerooy did so at Euro 2004, whilst also setting-up his team’s goal in their 1-0 last 16 win over Northern Ireland – that achievement has been founded upon a cohesive, organised and spirited team effort, led by captain Ashley Williams.

Williams and Wales ready to rumble

The Welsh skipper is expected to be fit to face Belgium, despite suffering a shoulder injury against Northern Ireland. Immense throughout that game was Williams’ central defensive partner James Chester, with the pair having defended immaculately throughout the finals.

Ultimately the domineering centre back duo along with the entire Welsh team will undergo their toughest test of the tournament yet when they face Belgium in what is set to be an intriguing encounter between two extremely enterprising and talented sides.

Slovakia to pose tough Euro 2016 test for Germany

Euro 2016

A game against the World Champions Germany presents a daunting prospect for any team but rather than fearing that, Slovakia are ready to embrace the challenge in an attempt to prolong their Euro 2016 campaign.

After losing their opening game 2-1 against Wales, Jan Kozak’s side greatly improved their form to beat Russia by the same score line, before drawing 0-0 with England, to progress to the last 16 by virtue of being the best 3rd place team.

There was much to admire about the manner in which Slovakia performed during the group stage, particularly in terms of the defensive solidarity they showed against England to secure the point they required to reach the knock-out stages.

Whilst Slovakia’s experienced back four of Jan Durica, Tomas Hubocan, Peter Pekarik, Martin Skrtel, who have over 250 international caps between them were vital in resisting England’s best efforts to score, Jan Kozak’s side defended brilliantly as a team and should they do so again, will pose a formidable barrier for Germany to break down.

That barrier is reinforced by the extremely reliable holding midfield duo of Viktor Pecovsky & Juraj Kucka, who as well as shielding the team’s stable back four, also provide an excellent springboard from which Slovakia launch attacks. Spearheading those attacks is the team’s captain Marek Hamsik, who is widely regarded as one of the best box – to – box midfielders in Europe, a reputation which he strengthened with his all action displays during the group stages.

Despite being well marshalled by England’s Jordan Henderson in the team’s goalless draw, Hamsik produced a man of the match performance in Slovakia’s 2-1 win over Russia, when he scored one goal and set-up the other for Vladimir Weiss.

After receiving a precise pass from Hamsik, Weiss who plays for Qatari side Al Gharafa, effortlessly drifted past two Russian defenders before slotting the ball home to become the first player from a non-European club to score a goal in the European Championship. Whilst Weiss works tirelessly up and down the left wing for Slovakia, on the opposite side of the pitch, Robert Mak does a similarly effective job. Both players, who played together as teenagers in Manchester City’s Youth Academy, use their pace to protect the team’s full back’s and torment opposition defenders.

As such Slovakia’s well balanced attacking midfield trio work cohesively to support the team’s lone striker, a role which Adam Nemec had assumed from the country’s record goal-scorer Robert Vittek at the start of the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign. During that, Nemec scored three goals but despite that the Willem II striker has struggled for form at Euro 2016 and lost his place in the starting XI to Ondrej Duda, who scored in Slovakia’s 2-1 defeat to Wales. The Legia Warsaw attacking midfielder’s enthusiasm and effervescence make him a handful for opposition defences.

Although aside from Hamsik, Slovakia have no outstanding individual players, Jan Kozak’s side are a well drilled team with an excellent spirit. That was evident when they beat Germany 3-1 in a pre-finals friendly, with their strong performance in that prompting the World Champions manager Joachim Low‘s to give the following assessment of Slovakia prior to the team‘s last 16 encounter.

“They control the space well, are very strong in challenges and they can break with three or four quick players. They will challenge us, since they work defensively very well, we will not get many chances,” said Low, who will be without captain Bastien Schweinsteiger and has concerns over the fitness of Jerome Boateng. Otherwise the 56-year-old manager has a fully fit squad to choose from but the same cannot be said for his counterpart Kozak.

Tomas Hubocan, Dusan Vento and Robert Mark have all been ruled out the game. Nevertheless there are still 9 players (Jan Mucha, Martin Skrtel, Jan Durica, Peter Pekarik, Juraj Kuka, Marik Hamsek, Stanislav Stestak, Miroslav Stoch and Robert Vittek) in Slovakia’s squad who played in the 2010 World Cup.

As such given that experience, combined with their recent win over Germany and strong showing during the group stages, Slovakia will pose a tough test of Joachim Low’s side’s European Championship winning credentials.

The Azzuri and La Roja’s to resume Euro Championship rivalry in last 16

Euro 2016

For a third successive European Championships, Italy and Spain will play one another, in a repeat of the Euro 2012 final.

La Roja convincingly won that encounter 4-0, to seal a second straight European Championship title, after completely outplaying the Azzuri, who will be keen to exact revenge when the two teams face one another in the second round of Euro 2016 at the Stade de France.

In addition to meeting in the final of Euro 2012, which was jointly hosted by Poland & Ukraine, Italy and Spain played one another in their opening game of that tournament, which ended in a 1-1 draw.

Whilst that was a tightly contested affair, whereby Cesc Fabregas cancelled out a Mario Balotelli goal to earn Spain a point, the final was not. Spain produced an utterly dominant performance in Kyiv with goals from David Silva, Jordi Alba, Juan Mata and Fernando Torres earning them a thoroughly deserved victory.

Prior to their games in 2012, Italy and Spain met on three previous occasions at European Championships. The first of those was a 0-0 draw during the group stages of Euro 80, which was hosted by Italy, who ended the tournament by losing a play-off for third place 9-8 on penalties to the Czech Republic.

Following their clash in 1980, the two sides next European Championship tie took place in 1988. Gianluca Vialli scored the game’s only goal in the 73rd minute as Italy ran out 1-0 victors, before progressing to the semi-finals where they lost 2-0 to the USSR.

Subsequently, 20 years and four European Championships later was when the fixture next arose in the tournament as after their Euro 2008 quarter final in Vienna finished in a stalemate after extra time, Spain won 4-2 on penalties. Buoyed by that result, Luis Aragones’ side went on to win the tournament, beating Germany 1-0 in the final courtesy of a wonderful Fernando Torres finish.

Therefore with the exception of the Euro 2012 final, in which Spain produced a master class to demolish Cesare Prandelli’s weary Italian side, there has been very little between the two team’s in each of their other four European Championship games against one another.

Whilst seven members of the current Spanish squad – Iker Casillas, Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, David Silva and Pedro – played in the Euro 2012 final, also featuring in that game were six of Italy’s Euro 2016 players – Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli, Daniele De Rossi, Leonardo Bonucci and Thiago Motta.

As such there is a real sense of familiarity between the sides, with another chapter in their European Championship rivalry set to be written at the Stade de France on Monday evening. Whichever team emerges triumphant from that game will then play the winners of Germany v Slovakia in the quarter finals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rejuvenated Hungary’s enjoying excellent Euro 2016 journey

Euro 2016

During the highly entertaining group stages of Euro 2016, there were many surprises, one of which was the superb performances produced by Hungary.

Competing in their first European Championship since 1972, Bernd Storck’s team finished top of Group F to progress to the last 16 with an unbeaten record.

Playing with determination, togetherness and a great deal of quality, Hungary opened their campaign with a commanding 2-0 win over their eternal rivals Austria.  Scoring Hungary’s second goal was Hoffenheim striker Adam Szalai, as he ended a remarkably barren run of 41 games for club and country without a goal.

Despite that Szalai only appeared as a late substitute in Hungary’s next game, which despite dominating for long periods they required a late own goal by Birkir Saevarsson to draw 1-1 with Iceland.

Any disappointment the Hungarians may have felt by not winning that match, was quickly dispelled, as they played wonderfully well to close the group stages by drawing 3-3 with Portugal in a pulsating encounter.  That ensured Hungary topped Group F and progressed to the knock-out stages of a major international tournament for the first time since the 1966 World Cup.

Starring against Portugal was Zoltan Gera, who at 37 years and 61 days scored with a superb 25-yard strike to become the second oldest goal-scorer at a European Championship behind Austria’s Ivica Vastic 38 years and 256 days.  As a Hungarian veteran with a wealth of experience at international level, Gera exerts a positive influence on the team, whilst so too does captain Balazs Dzsudzsak.  By tirelessly cajoling and encouraging his players, Dzsudzsak leads by example, doing so in each of Hungary’s Euro 2016 group stage games.

In the team’s 3-3 draw with Portugal, the 29-year-old Bursaspor midfielder scored twice from outside the box to become the first player to do so in a European Championship game since Wayne Rooney achieved the feat in England’s 4-2 Euro 2004 group stage win over Croatia.

Whilst the experienced duo of Dzsudzsak and Gera, along with goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly played key roles in helping Hungary qualify for the last 16, underlying that achievement was a cohesive team effort masterminded by Storck.  The 53-year-old German has carried on the exceptional work of his predecessor Pal Dardai in developing a side of which the Hungarian support can be proud.

That has only recently become the case however since just over two years ago, Hungary were beaten 8-1 by the Netherlands in a 2014 World Cup qualifier.  Many of the players who featured in that humiliating defeat have also starred so far in Hungary’s Euro 2016 campaign, which indicates that rather than a radical change in personnel, that success has been built upon a revised strategy, initially devised by Dardai and consolidated by Storck.

The main focus of that strategy has been to eliminate the failings of previous coaching and managerial regimes by ensuring that professionalism, along with high levels of motivation, physical preparation and team spirit permeate the Hungarian camp, whilst instilling leaders, such as Dzsudzsak, within that.

Subsequently rather than the outstanding performance of any individual players, Hungary’s rejuvenation as a team capable of competing at a major international tournament has been inspired by Storck’s maintenance of a harmonious and well-balanced squad.

That squad consists of a fine mix of experienced and younger players, who have each repaid the faith Storck has placed in them.  For instance the under-23 trio of Adam Lang, Adam Nagy & Laszlo Kleinheisler have all performed brilliantly at the finals by adding a youthful exuberance to Hungary’s play, which has been of an extremely high quality at the finals.

Subsequently Hungary’s Euro 2016 journey will continue against Belgium in the last 16, which is likely to prove the toughest test of Storck’s well-drilled side to date.