Euro2024 Thins Down to Four Usual Suspects

by Isidore Emeka Uzoatu
european soccer

The Netherlands subdued a hard fighting Turkey 2-1 After-Extra-Time (AET) on Saturday 6th July to complete the draw for the semifinal matches at the ongoing UEFA Euro2024 in Germany. The last of the quarterfinals, it lived up to expectations. What with the Turks scoring first in a match that degenerated to a bad-tempered affair towards the end.

Earlier in the day the Three Lions of England also survived a scare before knocking out Switzerland via a perfect penalty shootout routine. They had force tied the match at one a piece AET, thanks to a wonderful goal off the boots of Saka of Arsenal. As it turned out, his man-of-the-match performance in that match served to redeem him from the earlier criticism of his current form. As well as the reproach incurred from his penalty miss in the last tournament’s final at Wembley.

The previous day, Spain had first gotten the better of hosts Germany 2-1 AET in a pulsating encounter that lived up to its pre match billing in all ramifications. Before them, France, a la England, rode roughshod over Portugal in a penalty shootout masterclass after a scoreless 120 minutes.

So from the initial 24 teams that qualified, only four are now left. Talk of many being called but only a few chosen. And so, after all the preparations, playoffs and all, it has now come down to just two matches to go to lift the covetous trophy.

To slug it out for a place in the final, Spain will first trade tackles with France on Tuesday July 9 at the Munich Football Arena by 17:00 hrs. Next the Netherlands and England will complete the circle on Wednesday the 10th at the BVB Stadion in Dortmund by 20:00hrs. Both matches, though yet to be played, are already salivating the football mouths of the game’s followers the world over.

As either match plays out, uppermost in the stakes will be the antecedents of the opposing teams. As it stands, only an England victory in their game and the final on the 14th of July can guarantee a new winner of the 64-year-old trophy. Since their triumph at home in the 1966 World Cup, winning the Euro is fast turning into a mirage for them. The most so in the last edition that they hosted and made it to the final. Though their supporters blame the shift of the tournament due to the Covid pandemic, this time the ambition harbours no excuse(s).

Not so for Spain. They have won the cup a record 3 times after 12 appearances. As many as the West Germany/Germany combo after a record 14 appearances, France, on the other hand, has a record of two wins after 11 attempts. And though the Netherlands and England have also made it to 11 finals overall, the former have only won it once with the latter yet to don the achievement.

From the records Spain won 1964, 2008 and 2012, France in 1984 and the year 2000, with the Netherlands winning their solo gold in 1988. Also, while the Spaniards were runners-up in 1984, France lost the final in their backyard to Portugal in 2016. The Netherlands won in the only final they have appeared in, England only ended up runners-up when they lost as hosts to Italy in the immediate last edition before this.

Like it stands, it means that after all the gragra by some underdogs in the first and second rounds, it’s only the fittest that made it to these semis. And, who knows, England may yet achieve that elusive diadem in their trophy cabinet this time around. With luck on their side, it’s believed that they have the wherewithal to see it come to pass.

But to achieve this, they must first overcome the Netherlands challenge. Ranked 5th and 7th respectively in the latest FIFA rankings, it makes the stakes higher than ever. Head to head, they have played each other twice with either team sharing a win each. However, the Netherlands appear to have rediscovered the form both teams appeared to lack in the earlier rounds before England.

The other semifinal with France ranked 2nd and Spain 8th is no kettle of fish either. But much as Spain has emerged victorious in all their matches so far in regulation time, their French counterparts have mostly gotten through by sheer pluck. What with a couple of own goals, draws and the lottery of penalty shootouts they have had to cope with. Who’d have thought that their otherwise ever shining star Kylian Mbape has so far only scored a penalty!

Head to head, both teams have clashed with each other a record 6 times. France have won 4 of these while Spain has come through only once. The remainder ended in a draw. The statistic will ordinarily give France the upper hand in the game that many have termed another final before the final like the Spain vs. Germany quarterfinal. As always, the deadlock will only be resolved as the game lasts.

O yes, since football is not bidden to mathematical calculations, both games will be determined in the field of play. All eyes will no doubt be on Spain given their track record so far. But as often happens, crucial games are often never won by teams that peak early in a competition. The supervening assumption being that if France do hit their usual level this late, they may yet carry the day – and the trophy as well.

A theory also applies to the English team. Overall, though they have gotten this far, it’s widely believed that they are yet underperforming. So, save they re-engage their normal high gear against the Netherlands, it may just amount to another futile effort at winning the cup for the first time. Not minding their still intact rating as the team most likely to come through unscathed in the tournament.

So where does that leave the speculators? Definitely nowhere else but In limbo. Not until after the semifinals, when the two teams that’ll vie for the final come the 14th day of July at the Olympiastadion in Berlin have been determined.

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