Spain-Germany and Portugal-France could be classics

Nico Williams (ESP), Jamal Musiala (GER), Kylian Mbappe (FRA) and Cristiano Ronaldo (POR)
Nico Williams (ESP), Jamal Musiala (GER), Kylian Mbappe (FRA) and Cristiano Ronaldo (POR) (PC: X)

RevSportz Comment

The holders’ curse may have struck again, but in every other respect, it’s business as usual as Euro 2024 reaches its climactic stages. Italy, the defending champions, are out, and there were famous upset victories for the likes of Georgia and Slovakia, but there are no huge surprises in the line-up for the last eight.

Some may view Turkey as a shock quarterfinalist, especially after they endured a 6-1 thrashing in Vienna last March, but the same core of players had also beaten Germany 3-2 in Berlin last November. After the generation that put Turkish football on the map – reaching the semifinals at both the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2008 – a new one spearheaded by Real Madrid’s Arda Guler and Juventus’ Kenan Yildiz appears ready to shake up the old order. The Netherlands may have dismantled Romania, with Liverpool’s Cody Gakpo especially impressive, but they will not underestimate Turkey’s threat on the counter.

Switzerland are also outsiders, but the manner in which they schooled Luciano Spalletti’s Italy would have sent shivers down the spines of more than a few England fans. The Swiss are skilful, organised and direct and have shown a cutting edge that England have lacked in their four games. If England’s star cast perform to potential, they should go through, but if they’re as abysmal as they were for large portions of the game against Slovenia, Murat Yakin has the players to punish them.

Gareth Southgate won’t drop either Jude Bellingham or Harry Kane, but surely there will be some change on the flanks. Neither Bukayo Saka nor Phil Foden has shown enough, and in Anthony Gordon and Cole Palmer, Southgate has in-form replacements. Kane’s lack of mobility has also been an issue, and if he doesn’t start well against the Swiss, it would be silly to keep overlooking the qualities of Ollie Watkins, the Aston Villa forward, who bullied some of the English Premier League’s best defences last season.

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Spain vs Albania
Spain vs Albania (pc: UEFA/X)

The other two quarterfinals could be matches for the ages. It’s now 40 years since Antonio Maceda’s headed goal knocked West Germany, then defending champions, out of Euro 1984. Since then, the two have traded wins at the Euros, with West Germany winning on home soil in 1988 and Spain beating the Germans in the Euro 2008 final.

Spain have been this tournament’s most impressive side, with Lamine Yamal and Nico Williams being a fearsome proposition at times when cutting in from the wings. But in the round of 16, Georgia showed that they could got at with pace. Germany have players who can do that, especially Jamal Musiala and Leroy Sane, but the destiny of the tie will be decided in the middle of the park where Rodri comes up against Toni Kroos.

Spain don’t have the players they did in their 2008-2012 glory years, but they are more flexible tactically. They have the guile to play through a low block, and also the physicality and pace to threaten a high line. Alvaro Morata isn’t in the David Villa or Fernando Torres class as a finisher, but there are definitely goals in this Spanish team.

Cristiano Ronaldo vs Georgia
Cristiano Ronaldo vs Georgia (PC: X)

France-Portugal should be another classic, hopefully as good as their semi-final in Marseille in 1984, when the French won 3-2 in extra time. France needed a deflected goal to progress against Belgium, while Slovakia took Portugal all the way to penalties. The French tick every box on paper, but with Kylian Mbappe playing in a mask after suffering a broken nose in their first match against Austria, they have rarely made it out of second gear. Aurilien Tchouameni was sensational at the heart of midfield in the last game, but also guilty of passing up some gilt-edged chances.

Randal Kolo Muani made a real impression off the bench against Belgium, and now may be the time for Didier Deschamps to ditch the conservatism and look at younger talents like Warren Zaire-Emery and Bradley Barcola. Both have the verve to emulate what Mbappe so memorably did at the 2018 World Cup.

As for Portugal, they have everything a champion team needs, but the illogical decision to build the team around Cristiano Ronaldo could see the campaign end in tears. Had Portugal been lacking in forward options, it might have made sense to position a 39-year-old and almost-static Ronaldo up top. But when there’s talent like Diogo Jota, Joao Felix, Pedro Neto and Goncalo Ramos rotting on the bench, Roberto Martinez’s decision to start Ronaldo looks all the more absurd.

Since the last Euros – played in 2021 because of Covid – Ronaldo has scored 21 international goals. Only two, both in the same game against Switzerland in June 2022, have come against what would be considered a top side. If you were to ask William Saliba and Dayot Upemecano who they would rather face, Ronaldo or Jota, the answer is glaringly obvious. But it’s quite clear that Martinez doesn’t have the fortitude to drop CR7 and do what’s best for the team. The price he pays for that could be very high indeed.

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