It was a fitting end to the Quarter finals of the Euro 2016.
A quarter-final that had it all: The birth of a star, the late awakening of another. The embarrassment of yet another nation. The end of an era, and the end of a cycle; one which ended in tears… or maybe not?
It re-ignited an argument that was born the moment the first game of the tournament ended: “Is this the most interesting Euros yet?”
For the doubters who were against the idea of an expanded tournament, Michel Platini had being vindicated… albeit a bit too late.
But wherever the Frenchman was on Sunday night (most likely in his living room or most likely entertaining more questions from investigators), he would have being proud of himself and his achievements.
An European tournament like none other.
He called it his own Euros when France got the hosting rights, claiming it was the perfect place for the new cycle to begin.
He was right. Spot on! The cycle of unforeseen surprises (the Icelandic fever and those Portuguese), broken jinxes (Angela Merkel must be very proud), and the big Whales (Wales).
Monseuir Plat must have peeked into the future!
Euro 2016 has been a blockbuster of a competition far. And while most fans seem to have been surprised enough, you’ll agree with me that more’s coming.
More surprises… especially with the way Portugal seem to be crawling to the final.
While we await the semi-final matches, how about a rewind?
So far, so good:
When You Can’t sPORT UR GAL en route to the Final
Coming into the tournament, they seemed primed for it. They had the luck of the draws and many expected them to roll over their opponents in the group.
If they had done so, they would have faced Belgium and… that would have been game over (or maybe not?)
Many blamed them when second place seemed certain with only two minutes of their last group game remaining. But then, it never came through.
Iceland somewhat created a fairy tale by scoring perhaps the deadliest counter-attack at the tournament, one which demoted them to third place.
Had they finished second, England would be lying in wait. Cross the English hurdle and France would have been patiently waiting for them.
However, fortune favours the brave (if I am permitted to say so). Ronaldo and co now have the final in their sights… without even hitting second gear!
It might seem bad, but look on the bright side: there was the birth of a certain Renato Sanches, the lad that said no to the club some call the biggest in the world. The sizzling goal he scored to cancel out Lewandowski’s strike was one which had Cedric Soares written all over it, the Southampton right back selling out.
Fernando Santos would be wise to reinstate Vierinha to that position against Wales due to the You-Know-Who effect. Portugal have managed to come this far by making little mistakes, a key component of every title winning side.
They might not be scoring but they aren’t conceding either. When they do, they find ways of cancelling out the deficit without giving much away, yet another key component for winning trophies. If in doubt, ask Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona.
It’s time the emphasis on the collective is reinforced and they get a way to coax the best out of their star men. It is a shame that they have no No.9 who can score effortlessly which increases the work-load on Ronaldo, who likes to score, but then is losing his legs and his no longer as young.
If there was any time for them to hit second gear, it’s now! And they would need every help they can get. Ronaldo stepped up against Hungary. Rui Patricio was the reason they hung on against Croatia. Renato Sanches came to the fore in the quarters.
However, it goes way beyond that now. Otto Rehaegel who masterminded Greece’s win in 2004 in Portugal’s backyard would say, “While being the underdog can be good, it could be extremely dangerous and leave you vulnerable.”
Portugal are playing that part well, but they would be wise to let the world take them serious and set themselves up for the final with the right morale.
The Bells Rung
When Eden Hazard said he felt fresh for Euro 2016, it meant good news for the Belgian fans. Many felt their time had come. The golden generation had matured.
However, they (or us?) got it all wrong. Belgium was just a bunch of individuals with talent, one which was showcased by Radja Nainngolan’s unbelievable goal.
The flashes were there, but they never became electricity. They were like a circuit that twitched, but never came alive. Sadly so.
Aaron Ramsey on the other hand showed what talent in a well-oiled system would do. Two assists helping his side to a victory. And even when he’ll miss the semi-final, he will with a mind that his replacement would be just as good. An audacious team.
In the opposition dressing room, they were coming to blows, Thibaut Courtois revealed in the mixed zone. It was a case of the fleet wanting a new shepherd. Someone with the tactical discipline. Not the man in charge.
While he might be right, he is just as wrong because, he only came to the fore after the first game, a match in which he contributed to their failures. They were doomed from the outset, the loss to Italy had set the tone for the remainder of the tournament such that they had already being eliminated even before they took to the field against the Welsh.
The 4-nil win over Hungary aside, they left a lot to be desired and never needed to change gears to win games, something that should be the norm and not the exception.
The bells have rung and they have done so clearly, he who has an hear let him hear or else they would end up just like England’s failed class of 2000-2006.
A MACHINE AND A CHICKEN
I might have wished Italy won against Germany (but I still honestly do and Antonio Conte would be feel the same). The less said about Simone Zaza’s spot kick, the better.
Italy’s elimination had a sense of unfairness in it, just like that of the Icelandic and the Polish teams. However, their’s felt the most unfair. The cruel nature itself was just as unfair as every missed German spot kick felt like Italy would score their next.
It’s their second spot kick elimination at this stage since the turn of the millennium, one which brought back memories of Euro 2008. Gli Azzuri’s spirit, one embodied in their coach, Antonio Conte, had endeared them into the hearts of many. One Body, One Soul, One Spirit.
It was typical of the man and the team, even after going down to Ozil’s neat finish, they stuck together and got the reward. It however exposed the failings of the Italian game, the spot kicks in particular.
At some point, it felt like we were watching a Principals cup penalty shootout. While the Germans did have their version of poor penalties, the Italians’ were the worst. Names like Graziano Pelle, Matteo Darmian appear. Simone Zaza in particular, whose spot kick is still making waves on social media was a joke.
Giampero Ventura has a big job on his hands. He has to retain the mentality that Conte has instilled in this team of fighters. Conte admitted Italian football was at its lowest ebb and they would need a miracle to win the Euros.
Well he was right. The miracle didn’t happen. And while Germany stroll on, the Machines would hope they have enough left in the tank to see off Les Bleus, who dispatched Iceland.
This was France’s best game all tournament, they chose to hit top gear at the right time, given whom they have in sight in the semis.
And while Iceland might have seen their fairytale come to an end, they would go home knowing that they have reached out to a whole continent and preached the gospel that is, football.
Tosin Adesina is an ideal young man, a soccer aficionado. He prefers being called Fijasewa Arogunyo because that’s who the world would grow to know. He is a disciple of Pep Guardiola, a follower of Jurgen Klopp, a lover of Jose Mourinho, an admirer of Cholo Simeone, a fanatic of Carlo Ancelotti and an avid fan of Antonio Conte. You can connect with him on Twitter @teetunez
Author: Rotimi “Papi the Great” Daramola
Rotimi Daramola aka Papi the Great is the owner of ForTheGoal.
A freelance sports writer who focuses on football, Rotimi is also a freelance writer, a copywriter and a football analyst who regularly appears on radio and television to talk football. You can follow him on twitter @papi_thegreat to keep up with his writings, engage him and also find out about how you can secure his writing services.