Young talents star in Spain-Germany classic, while France and Portugal shoot blanks

Camavinga (FRA) and Merino (ESP) in Euro 2024
Camavinga (FRA) and Merino (ESP) in Euro 2024 (PC: Euro)

RevSportz Comment

The last week of European football’s fiesta will take place with the hosts on the sidelines, dumped out in the last eight by the best team in the competition. Germany are joined in the exit queue by Portugal, whose puzzling obsession with playing a statuesque Cristiano Ronaldo predictably cost them dear against a French team that has scored a miserable three goals in five matches to reach the last four.

Spain, their semi-final opponents, have scored 11, while conceding just two, and were worthy winners in what was unquestionably one of the better matches in Euro history. This is a very different Spanish team from the 2008-2012 vintage. Germany actually shared possession (52 per cent) and matched Spain for attacking verve. But they didn’t have the rub of the green – Niclas Fullkrug stuck the base of the post, and Kai Havertz lob, with Unai Simon stranded, sailed a foot over the bar – and couldn’t cope with the game’s outstanding performers, Lamine Yamal and Dani Olmo.

Yamal’s game sense and composure are surreal for one who doesn’t even turn 17 till next weekend. You often see exciting teenagers with a box of tricks, or searing pace. But how many have there been in the game’s history who could pause and unerring pick out the right pass or run to make. Nico Williams on the other flank is four years older and physically more intimidating, but Yamal already ‘sees’ the field like only the truly great can.

The pass to meet Olmo’s run for Spain’s opening goal was a perfect example. Olmo swept the ball home without needing to break his stride, almost making you forget that he hadn’t even started the game. But such are Spain’s resources right now that both goals came off the bench. After Pedri’s unfortunate injury following a clumsy challenge from Toni Kroos, Olmo slotted in seamlessly. The goal aside, his cross for Mikel Merino, his fellow sub, in the final minute of extra time, was perfection.

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Heartbroken Cristiano Ronaldo with Pepe and France celebrating after win
Heartbroken Cristiano Ronaldo with Pepe and France celebrating after win (PC: Euro)

Germany also had their own super sub in Florian Wirtz, whose last-gasp equaliser in normal time was so clinically taken that the late, great Gerd Muller would have been proud of it. But ultimately, too many big names came a little short. Nearly a third of the 22 fouls the Germans conceded came from Kroos. He was nearly faultless with the ball at his feet, but a rash of mistimed tackles indicated just why he has called it a day. Ilkay Gundogan, another veteran, was withdrawn in the second half, while Havertz looked like what he is – a creative player asked to be the finisher that he will never be.

Despite Eduardo Camavinga and Aurilien Tchouameni shielding the French defence so effectively, Portugal had 60 per cent possession and made nearly 900 passes. But with Ronaldo the focal point, the threat was only sporadic. France always looked more threatening on the counter, as the loping runs of Randal Kolo Muani and Kylian Mbappe’s surges caused much anxiety in the back line.

What both teams missed was a centre forward who could put away the chances. Ronaldo could do that half a decade ago, but not now against defenders of this quality. When the French won the trophy for the first time in 1984, they scored an incredible 14 goals in five games. Not a single one was scored by a centre forward. But what that team had was Michel Platini, whose runs from midfield and playmaking skills were peerless. No player in the history of any sport has dominated a major tournament quite like Platini did those Euros, scoring nine goals and finding the net in every game.

This French midfield is high on work rate and endeavour, and low on goals. With Mbappe clearly affected by the facial injury, and Antoine Griezmann also missing his shooting boots, it’s hard to see how they can get past Spain. Germany showed how it could be done, but you sense that Yamal, Olmo and friends have more goals and milestones ahead. After a decade of mediocrity, Spanish football is once again setting the standards.

Also Read: Cristiano Ronaldo’s last Euro ends in heartbreak as France wins in penalty shootout