Two games with many similarities. Both ended 2-0, both changed drastically from half to half, and both sent teams full of hope tumbling out of the tournament. Here is a look back at the two Euro 2016 semifinal matchups, with a look ahead to Sunday’s final.
Portugal 2 – 0 Wales
For the first time this tournament, Portugal won a game inside 90 minutes, but this one didn’t start out seeming like it would be over quickly. The Portuguese, as they have done for much of this tournament, came out playing reserved, unwilling to push forward. Wales played similarly defensively, despite having had success with their aggressive, counterattacking style against Belgium. The result was a boring first half, where neither team looked like they would score, though Wales played slightly better than their opponents.
Commentators and fans alike wished for some more action in the second half, and they were rewarded with a finally exciting Portugal. Ronaldo smashed a header into the top of the net in the 50th minute to take the lead for the Portuguese, and Nani turned in a scuffed Ronaldo shot three minutes later to double it. Wales tried to battle back but never really threatened a solid Portuguese back line.
The Welsh missed suspended Aaron Ramsey and Ben Davies, as their respective link up play and speed at the back would have helped a Wales side deft of creativity and struggling to contain speedy Portuguese attackers. Though this is their best ever international tournament, Wales will leave Euro 2016 knowing they could have played better in this game. Meanwhile, Portugal head to the final, hoping to win their first ever major trophy.
France 2 – 0 Germany
This was a game of two halves and one handball. In an exciting first half, the Germans were dominant. Despite a few early French chances, Germany controlled possession and largely stifled the French attackers that had torn Iceland apart a few days before. But, perhaps tired of the stereotype, the Germans were inefficient, unable to put the ball in the back of the net despite their otherwise excellent attacking. Inefficiency turned to ineptitude when, in first half stoppage time, Bastian Schweinsteiger hung his hand in the air going for a cross and gave away penalty. Antoine Griezmann scored from the spot, and France led 1-0 at halftime.
As much as the handball deflated Germany, it energized France, and Les Blues came storming out of the gates for the second half, just as dominant as the Germans had been in the first. A superb play from Paul Pogba set up a second goal from Griezmann in the 72nd minute, putting the game out of reach for a suddenly floundering German attack.
Mario Gomez’s absence was notable, as Germany lacked any finishing instinct up front. Thomas Muller, perennially dangerous in World Cups, was out of step throughout this tournament, and Mario Gotze was all but invisible when he was subbed on. Even Gomez doesn’t appear to be a permanent answer for a German team that needs to find a striker if they want to repeat as world champs in 2018. For now, though, they’ll just have to settle for five straight semifinal appearance in major tournaments. Poor Germans.
Final Preview – Portugal vs. France
For the most part, Portugal have not been pretty. They’ve scraped through to draws or penalties, gotten flukey late winners, and almost always played defensively. Still, they’ve made it to the final, and that takes more than luck. The last time Portugal made it to a final, in 2004, they were the host nation and played Greece, who had defended their way to the final. Greece kept on defending and won against a more talented Portuguese side. Now Portugal are the defensive team facing a talented host nation, hoping for an upset. Greece did it to them, and they might do it to France. Plus they have one of the best players in the world in attack to help them out.
France, like Portugal, struggled early in the tournament, but they are gelling at the right time. Griezmann is scoring for fun, Samuel Umtiti has seemingly solved France’s defensive problems, and even Olivier Giroud, not long ago booed by the French fans, is contributing with outstanding hold up play. France will likely have to break down a defensive Portugal, but if their attack keeps playing like it has been, it would be difficult to see them fail. Les Blues have won the past two tournaments they have hosted (the ‘84 Euros and ‘98 World Cup) and are favorites to continue that trend. If the talent of this French side continues to show itself, look for France to lift the trophy come Sunday.