Wales, Germany and France have all advanced to the semifinals of Euro 2016, along with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. Unless Portugal manage to cause an upset, after drawing all their matches in the tournament and advancing through penalties in both knockout matches, at least one Arsenal player will be European champion this year in France.
Radja Nainggolan briefly took centre-stage in the second quarterfinal with a thunderbolt that whizzed past almost the entire Welsh team in two banks of defense. Hal Robson-Kanu also briefly dropped jaws with a delightful Cruyff turn in the box to leave three Belgian defenders scrambling in the wrong the direction. But it was Ramsey, with his bizarre new blonde look, who managed to shift the spotlight from Gareth Bale against Europe’s top ranked Belgium side packed with attacking superstars.
Ramsey looked like he picked up a thing or two from Ozil in training, as he created two of the three Welsh goals playing as the attacking spearhead of a three-man midfield. The equalizer was a perfect dipping corner for captain Ashley Williams to thump in past Thibaut Courtois and get Wales level at half time. Ramsey went on to consistently find players in the box who couldn’t convert until Kanu’s wonderstrike for the lead. Sam Vokes scored a late header as The Red Devils pressed forward in numbers to complete a 3-1 comeback win. However, a late yellow card for a handball means Ramsey will miss Wales’ semifinal against Portugal at Parc Olympique Lyonnais on Wednesday night.
Joachim Lowe set up his team to mirror Antonio Conte’s 3-5-2 in the third quarterfinal with Ozil playing behind Mario Gomez and Thomas Muller. In a high quality match, both teams pressed each other towards the middle offering plenty of chances for both sets of midfielders to get on the ball and influence play. Italy’s primary threat came from longballs launched from the defense but Muller’s clever running and Gomez’s aerial presence were exploited by Ozil as the Bonucci-Barzagli-Chiellini backline faced their toughest game of the competition.
Ozil scored to put Germany in the lead after pouncing on a deflected cross in the box but Italy clawed back in through a penalty because of Jerome Boateng’s ridiculous handball. Italy sat back and defended, rarely venturing forward as Die Mannschaft tried to unlock the catenaccio. Ozil worked tirelessly through extra-time and came close to providing the killer ball only to be thwarted at the last moment by some exceptional defending. Ozil was one of seven players to not score, with his effort clipping the post, as Germany won 6-5 in a penalty shootout that had definite signs of the fatigue of the 120 minutes that came before.
Iceland had won quite a few hearts on their way to the quarterfinal showing great heart and a tough attitude but were quickly brought back to ground by an exceptional French team. Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud were both substituted before they picked up any more yellow cards and missed the semifinal but France were in cruise control by then. Iceland never gave up and managed to score two consolation goals but Les Bleus played in second gear for most of the match, accelerating only in spurts after racing to a 4-0 halftime lead.
Giroud had his best game of the tournament, dominating the air against an Iceland team which has defended with great conviction over the last month and scoring two goals. He was instrumental in two of the three other goals France scored, showing signs of a lethal strike partnership with the outstanding Antoine Griezmann.
Giroud and Dimitri Payet have 3 goals each, only behind Griezmann with 4, at the top of the scoring charts in the home team’s juggernaut run to the semifinals. France will take on Germany in the second semifinal at Stade Velodrome on Thursday.