So the quarter finals are done and dusted with Spain, Portugal, Germany and Italy taking their places in the final four. No major shocks were on display, only the inevitability that England’s run was ended once again by the dreaded penalty shootout. The Coin Toss runs the rule over who’s impressed and who hasn’t this week:
Andrea Pirlo – Twitter went into overdrive on Sunday night when talking about the 33-year-old’s performance against England. In fact, the dictionary almost ran out of superlatives. Not only did he dominate the game, providing the thrust of the Italian attack with his superb array of passes, but he also set them on their way to shootout glory with a delightful chip that had everybody purring. No one can quite understand why AC Milan let him go last year, but he’s proved them wrong, that’s for sure.
Joachim Loew – Some branded him arrogant and reckless for resting his first choice frontline of Gomez, Podolski and Muller, but I just call him a genius. Greece rarely threatened the Germans despite equalising just after half-time and now the rested forwards are hungry to regain their places in the starting XI. It’s not as if their replacements did badly either, both Klose and Reus bagged goals and Andre Schurrle was fairly impressive as well. That’s a choice of six players up top that any other international manager would die for.
Xabi Alonso – Believe it or not, defensive midfielder Xabi Alonso is Spain’s third top goal scorer during Vicente Del Bosque’s reign. He showed why against the French as well, coming up with a fine planted header and a coolly taken penalty to ease the Spanish through to the semi finals. On the night of his 100th cap, Spain’s shots on target all came from their midfield maestro who is quickly reminding everyone why he is an important cog in their setup. Liverpool fans must weep at the mere sight of him.
Cristiano Ronaldo – Sorry, but once again the man has to be included. Simply magnificent again, he is proving everyone wrong who’ve previously said Ronaldo doesn’t do the business at international level. The Czechs set up with ten men behind the ball and proved difficult to break down, but with Ronaldo in your team, there’s always a good chance against sides like that. He will relish the opportunity to take on the Spanish and who could bet against him firing his Portugal side all the way? He’s that good.
The England fans – In a tournament containing their major rivals where fears of racism and hooliganism were rife, the behaviour of the England fans has been almost exemplary. Not a single England fan has been arrested during the tournament, in stark contrast to their counterparts from Russia or Poland. Even outnumbered in Kiev by Ukrainians or Italians, they made an absolute racket and almost cheered the boys through to the semi finals. Those who travelled can be proud.
Laurent Blanc – Did the French ever believe they could beat the Spanish? Not from Blanc’s tactics. Picking Mathieu Debuchy and Anthony Reveillere down the right hand side was an immediate indication that France were setting up for a defensive display. They barely threatened all night and if we’re being honest, the Spanish were there for the taking. The post-match antics with Samir Nasri were ugly and you have to wonder whether France have moved on at all from the 2010 World Cup. Mind you, Blanc could be at White Hart Lane pretty soon, though on the basis of this tournament I’d look elsewhere if I were Daniel Levy.
The Penalty Shootout – What is it? Seriously, why do we have such an inability to win a game when comes down to twelve yards. The Spanish are poor, the Dutch are pretty hopeless and the Italians are improving, but we simply fail time and time again at spot kicks. The day Sepp Blatter decides the shootout is no longer a fair way to settle a game will be one of the greatest in English football. But then again, if England are losing on penalties, Blatter is unlikely to change it.
The British Media – England are out of a major tournament, let’s pull out the scapegoats and get criticising. Hearing Alan Green have a go on Radio 5Live about Roy Hodgson’s tactics and England’s performance was disappointing to say the least. Yes, England were poor and yes, England played very defensive football. But what other options did Hodgson have given the short amount of time available to him to organise an average outfit into a side capable of causing damage? Quarter finals can be seen as a good achievement and you’d expect England to improve once Hodgson settles into the job. The media’s constant undermining of the national teams are part of the reason for our constant failure and perhaps a bit of support now and then wouldn’t hurt.
Vicente Del Bosque – STRIKER. PICK A BLOODY STRIKER! Why does Del Bosque not seem to understand that Spain would be such a more rounded team if they played a man up top. The shots on target against French all came from defensive midfielder Xabi Alonso and Spain seem content just to play keep ball all game. We know you have the finest array of midfield talent in the world, but there’s no need to put it all on the pitch at once! Fernando Torres scored twice against the Irish, yet still looks short on form, but why on earth hasn’t Fernando Llorente been given a chance, especially considering his fine form in La Liga for Bilbao. You have to hope these tactics don’t cost the Spanish, indeed Portugal will present a challenge that France were completely incapable of.
Petr Cech – After Chelsea’s Champions League victory, the Czech goalkeeper showed he was back to his world class best producing a number of sensational stops in their run to victory, never mind his heroics in the shootout. However, it’s back down to earth with a bump for Petr. His horrendous blunder against the Greeks put his team under vast amounts of pressure and you can’t help but wonder whether he should have done more with Ronaldo’s header. Disappointing tournament.