Euro 2016 Round of 16: France 2 Republic of Ireland 1, Germany 3 Slovakia 0, Belgium 4 Hungary 0
Euro 2016 Diary: Germany & Belgium Impress, France Rally To Beat Ireland
All through this competition we’ve been waiting for someone to emerge as its star. A few have had their moments but there’s been no individual display yet to rival that of Hazard in Belgium’s demolition of Hungary.
It was a curious victory in many ways for through the first half, Belgium were comfortably on top but could only boast the one goal, Alderweireld’s 10th minute header all that was separating the sides despite Belgium being on a different level.
Their inability to put the game away encouraged the Hungarians, who were much more feisty in the second period and threatened an equaliser. But ultimately, Hazard, who had been unplayable all night long. He stepped it up into an even higher gear, creating a tap in for Batshuayi in the 78th minute to all but seal the game before helping himself to a sensational solo goal a minute later.
Carrasco then made it four on the break in injury time as the scoreline indicated the real gulf between the sides. The Belgian win elevates them to the pick of the sides in the top half of the draw as they head off to play Wales, but there are still question marks about them, not least in their cohesiveness as a side.
There are great attacking individuals in the team but there’s a lack of humility about some and the selfishness shown in attacking situations by a few, not least De Bruyne, cost them a goal or two when the game was still in the balance. That is a foible that might cost them dear as we reach the sharper end of the tournament, but that said, if Hazard keeps playing like this, he might just be enough on his own.
France Defeat Ireland
For a while, it looked as though Euro 2016 was going to be a party without a host because for 45 minutes, France were in all kinds of trouble against the Irish. Starting slowly, they conceded a second minute penalty through a clumsy Pogba challenge on Long, Brady stepping up to convert the kick, in off the post.
From there, the French played with insufficient intensity through to half-time, Ireland keeping them at arm’s length with some ease, right up until the final moments. France ended the half with a flurry of activity and that proved portentous, not simply because it suggested that the home side were finally getting going but also that Ireland, who had three fewer days of preparation, were beginning to run out of steam.
In the end, Ireland were defeated by their lack of ambition in the early minutes after the break, defending in numbers and forgetting to play on the front foot whenever possible as they had in the first half. By conceding territory to the French, they were merely inviting disaster and it ultimately arrived when Griezmann pounced twice in three minutes either side of the hour mark to turn the game on its head.
The 58th minute equaliser unhinged the Irish so badly that for the following ten minutes, the discipline which had hitherto been their strength went AWOL, such that the second goal came for France on the counterattack, a disaster shortly thereafter compounded by Duffy’s desperate lunge at Griezmann that resulted in a red card and, in effect, the end of the game.
For Ireland, overall, it’s been a positive competition where new players have emerged from the shadow of the likes of Given, Keane and O’Shea and have provided strong signs that they can go on into the World Cup qualifiers with real confidence, particularly if they play with the drive they showed in the first 45 minutes.
France move forward and will take similar confidence from this game, coming from behind to win and playing with more intensity and bravery in the second period. That style needs to become emblematic of the team if they are to progress further, but they will be pleased to see the way Griezmann has stepped up to look a real goalscoring threat now.
That’s because, as we have seen, finding a finisher in this competition has been an issue for everyone. Gignac, who came on in the second half, looks as if he couldn’t score in a massage parlour, even if equipped with a handful of gift vouchers and an instruction booklet.
Germany, on the other hand, look a lot more clinical, albeit that they were playing Slovakia who were abject. That said, the ease with which the Germans dismantled their massed defence, and this on a pitch that looked as if they’d just put down some laminate flooring from IKEA, throws England’s failings into sharp relief.
This was the consummate German display aside from Ozil’s missed penalty in the first half. They were in front after eight minutes when Boateng pounced, Modric-like, on a ball cleared out of the box, flashing a 20 yard effort into the bottom corner.
A typically clumsy Skrtel challenge then gave Ozil the chance to make it 2-0 from the spot shortly after, but his miss merely kept the game interesting for a bit longer, Gomez slotting in just before the break after good work by Draxler.
Slovakia picked up a little at the start of the second half but just as they were beginning to threaten, Germany, with typically good timing, found a third, Draxler steering in a Gerd Muller type volley to end the contest and set the rest of the competition off worrying about the Germans once again.
So they should for they have looked the most composed and consistent side we have seen to date and, again in traditional German fashion, they look to be finding their best form at the business end of the tournament.
But unlike previous German sides, this one likes to open the game up a little more and that could ultimately be their undoing in a tighter tie. They do give the opposition an opportunity to play, they don’t crush the life out of the game the way they used to, and that gives every other nation a little glimmer of hope.
That said, they haven’t conceded a goal in four games.