The round of 16 is well under way and we’ve already seen our fair share of drama. Arsenal new boy Granit Xhaka’s penalty miss saw the Swiss crash out at the hands of Poland, Gareth McAuley’s own goal sent the Northern Irish home and the Portuguese stunned an in form Croatia side with a late goal in extra time.
It is often difficult to predict knockout football, more so when it comes to international tournaments. Although as football fans we are familiar with the majority of players involved, not many of us can honestly say we pay much attention to the international scene during the season.
Those of you who know me personally will know I’ve been really critical of the tournaments format and despite having countless conversations on the topic nobody has convinced me otherwise. UEFA’s decision to extend the finals to 24 teams in my opionion made a farce of qualification and the fact that 4 out of the 6 third place teams progressed to the last 16 is just a shambles.
Saturday night saw the Croatians crash out at the hands of Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and I for one was gutted. Having watched the group stages carefully I felt they were perhaps the most consistent side thus far. That’s my early tournament tip out of the window!
I would be lying if I said this has been a great tournament so far. As I mentioned earlier on I put a lot of that down to the format of the tournament. Some of you may be scratching your heads thinking how has that impacted the games? So I’ll tell you why I feel it has had an impact on some of the teams mentalities going into certain fixtures.
The clearest example for me was the fixture between England and Slovakia. England were solely focused on topping the Group and went out onto the pitch in St Etienne chasing the 3 points. The Slovakian’s however, having beaten Russia in the previous game were pretty certain a single point would leave them with a points total good enough to see them creep through as one of the third place teams. It’s no surprise that they ‘parked the bus’ and frustrated Hodgson’s men with a 0-0 draw.
Others may argue the opposite, you could say that this format keeps the group interesting until the final moments where often qualification may have been decided before the final round of fixtures. For me, I just simply find it a shambles that a team could lose their opening two games and still have a chance of progressing to the knockout rounds.
Whilst I say it hasn’t yet been one of the best tournaments I have watched it has by no means been the worst either. Some decent games/performances and some very average ones but I guess thats part and parcel of tournament football. With the business end of the tournament approaching fast we are bound to see some drama across the channel.
My highlights so far have to be Xherdan Shaqiri’s goal vs Poland and of course the “WILL GRIGGS ON FIRE” song!
Poland, Wales and Portugal are already safely through to the last 8 and I’d be surprised if Germany, Belgium and England don’t squeeze through. Host’s France face a tricky game vs the Irish who will be buzzing from the victory vs Italy during the week. Can the luck of the Irish strike again? Let’s see…
Without doubt the tie of the round and definitely the hardest to call is between Italy & Spain in Saint-Denis. I make the Spanish slight favourites to squeeze through but we all know the Italian’s are among the most stubborn in football.
A potential mouth-watering line up for the last 8 and I believe now is when this tournament will step up a gear.
Having picked them last week I am still backing Zi Germans to go all the way 🙂