It continues to be the European Championships where the celebrated goalscorers have yet to really start firing, albeit that Morata of Spain has now moved on to three goals in the Golden Boot race alongside Bale after notching the opening goal against Croatia today.
Euro 2016 Diary: Spain To Meet Italy In Next Round
By Dave Bowler
Many had expected this to be the Lewandowski show but the Polish striker has still yet to hit the mark. Even so, Poland have come through their group comfortably enough, courtesy of three clean sheets and a couple of 1-0 wins, setting up a knock-out meeting with Switzerland, a game they’ll fancy winning, especially if Lewandowski can break his duck.
The 1-0 victory over Ukraine was routine stuff for Poland, rarely looking in any kind of danger, Blaszczykowski curling in the winner early on in the second half. Ukraine have continued their largely woeful tournament form, their mentality certainly questionable when it comes to playing at the top level where they seem to lack any kind of self belief, such a crucial ingredient in the game.
Self belief is not a characteristic that the Germans have ever seemed short of and nor was that ever the case against a spirited, but somewhat limited, Northern Ireland. The game could have been over by the break when Germany might have been approaching double figures but for some more indifferent finishing and the goalkeeping heroics of McGovern who kept it down to just the one from Gomez.
The Germans continued to dominate with some ease after the break as Kroos played more successful passes in the game than the entire Northern Irish team put together, but the reigning world champions were in cruise control and the game ended 1-0, crucially so as it turned out, for keeping the goal difference healthy was essential for the men in green.
When Turkey upset all expectations later in the day by defeating the Czech Republic 2-0, it meant that Northern Ireland were assured of a place in the last 16 as one of the best four third placed sides, a remarkable achievement for a country that started qualification in pot five when the draw was made a couple of years back.
Turkey gave themselves a chance of progress too with that 2-0 win over the Czechs. They were made to work hard for it and had to ride their luck on occasion but in the finish, they were deserved winners against a Czech side that, like Ukraine, have failed to live up to their pre-tournament billing. Turkey now have to sit through the games tomorrow and hope that other third place finishers allow them through instead, a pretty unsatisfactory way of conducting things.
The surprise of the day came when Croatia got a late winner to defeat Spain. Having made five changes in an England stylee, Croatia did rather better out of it, masking the loss of the injured Modric and regrouping superbly after the disappointment of their draw with the Czech Republic and all the unsavoury events off the pitch.
When Morata gave Spain the lead early on, and with the title holders knocking the ball around with their customary ease, it looked like it might be a long night for Croatia but they gradually found their feet and began to give as good as they got with some quick and direct attacking play.
They got a crucial equaliser through a clever Kalinic finish right on the brink of the break and that gave them the platform to really go for things in the second period. They were unfortunate to concede a penalty, though justice was done, of sorts, when Ramos’ spot kick was saved, albeit that goalkeeper Subasic was so far off his line when the kick was taken that he was almost behind Ramos – what do those goal line officials do?
As it was, it was Croatia who nicked the winner in the dying seconds, Perisic ending a curiously unsettled night for De Gea by smashing the ball past him at the near post. That condemned Spain to second place in the group and a last 16 meeting with the side they demolished in the 2012 final, Italy. Their grip on the trophy is slipping.