Sadly, only three games remain in Euro 2016. Many of this tournament’s stories have already come to a close, some in disappointment, others with pride at making it so far. But four teams are still alive, hoping that their stories end with the lifting of a trophy on Sunday. Here is a recap of these teams’ triumphs in the quarterfinals, and a look forward to the matches still to come.
Poland 1 – 1 Portugal (Portugal win 5-3 on penalties)
Robert Lewandowski had been quiet leading up to this game, scoreless and rendered mostly ineffective by extra attention from opposing defenses. But Poland needed their star man against a talented Portugal, and he delivered, scoring the second fastest goal in Euros history at just over 100 seconds into the game. Unfortunately for Poland and Lewandowski, Portugal had stars of their own, and recent Bayern Munich addition Renato Sanches leveled the score midway through the first half. Both teams dug in defensively afterwards, and the rest of the game was slow and boring as a result. That is, until the penalty shootout, where Jakub Błaszczykowski’s miss doomed Poland and sent Portugal through to the semifinal.
Wales 3 – 1 Belgium
In a game that they were expected to win, Belgium dominated at the start, showing the same fluidity they did against Hungary and Ireland. The Red Devils got a deserved lead early in the first half, when Radja Nainggolan blasted a rocket from 25 yards into the top of the net. Wales responded strongly, however, with Ashley Williams’s header giving them an equalizer. Aside from a brief period at the beginning of the second half, Wales looked like the better team for the rest of the match. Hal Robson-Kanu’s second half goal, complete with a spectacular Cruyff turn that fooled three Belgian defenders and gave Wales the lead, while Sam Vokes’s glancing header put the game out of reach, sending Wales to the semifinal in their first ever Euros.
Semifinal Preview: Portugal vs. Wales
In a match that will probably be remembered as Ronaldo vs. Bale, the teams around the two superstars are probably more important. On paper, Portugal have the more talented squad, but they’ve looked vulnerable at the back and haven’t led a game after 90 minutes this entire tournament. On the other hand, Wales have played with as much determination as anyone, but are missing two of their most important players, Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies, due to suspension. The result will likely come down to which team can shut down the opposing star and muster up enough energy to nick a goal.
Germany 1 – 1 Italy (Germany win 6-5 on penalties)
Fresh off of their dominating win over Spain, Italy looked to once again defeat a more talented opponent through staunch defending and clever tactics. The Azzurri largely succeeded at nullifying the German attack, but lacked the same counterattacking ability they had against Spain. A brief spell of German pressure early in the second half led to a Mesut Ozil goal and a German lead, until Jerome Boateng’s handball gave Italy a penalty, which Leonardo Bonucci cooly converted. From then on, the game was more open, but neither team was able to score the decisive goal before time ran out and penalties began. Astonishingly bad misses from the likes of Simone Zaza, Graziano Pelle, and Bastian Schweinsteiger made this shootout a thriller, and for a while it seemed like the shootout would go on forever. Eventually, Matteo Darmian had his shot saved, and Jonas Hector converted to give Germany yet another penalty shootout victory.
France 5 – 2 Iceland
If it’s possible to concede five goals and still hold your head up high afterwards, then that is what Iceland have done. The biggest story of the tournament so far, underdog Iceland looked outclassed from the start. An early Olivier Giroud goal was followed up by goals from Paul Pogba, Dimitri Payet, and Antoine Griezmann, and the French lead 4-0 at halftime. But even though their semifinal hopes were all but gone, Iceland didn’t give up. They put two goals past French goalie Hugo Lloris in the second half and kept pushing for more until the final whistle. This Iceland team may be headed home, but they do so knowing that they have achieved one of the greatest sporting accomplishments in their nation’s history.
Semifinal Preview: Germany vs. France
The two most talented teams in the tournament face off in this second semifinal, each with their own advantages. The Germans have been defensively sound throughout the tournament, only conceding one goal and none from open play. The French have finally figured out how they play best and have home field advantage. Les Blues are also healthy, while the Germans have lost Mario Gomez to injury, with Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger currently questionable. The reigning world champions have looked offensively inept without Gomez up top, but if they are able to overcome this deficiency and attack what has been a shaky French defense, they have a good chance at knocking out the hosts and advancing to the final.