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A Semifinal Without the Welsh Jesus and Toral Out on Loan Again

After a short break, the European Championships is down to the last four and we would start with Portugal vs. Wales. Portugal are familiar surroundings, as the team has been astonishingly consistent in the Euros, playing their fourth semifinals in the last five competitions. In Euro 2000, they were knocked out by eventual winners, France. They hosted the tournament in 2004 and went all the way to the final only to lose to surprise package, Greece. In the last edition, the country was knocked out by Spain in the semis.

Wales, on the other hand, have exceeded every set expectations to be where they are in the competition. In fact, the only time Welsh football was in the spotlight in an international tournament was as far back as 1958, when Jimmy Murphy’s side went all the way to the quarterfinals in that World Cup before losing to a Pele goal. Pele and his country went on to win the tournament.

This class of ’16 led by Chris Coleman has been consistent from game one till this very moment but what they lacked in talent and skill, they made up for it with sheer determination and industry. Take a look at the back line for instance, Wayne Hennessey is certainly no Manuel Neuer, but he has come goods for his nation in this tournament. Ashley Williams, James Chester and Ben Davies are not world beaters, but they work very hard for each other as a defensive unit. On the flanks, Neil Taylor and Chris Gunter support both attack and defensive superbly.

With Joe Allen, the Welsh Pirlo, and Joe Ledley holding the fort in the middle of the park, Aaron Ramsey has been given the freedom to influence the game as his team’s creative hub, and so far, he has been involved in a combination of five goals and assists for his team. The nation’s talisman, Gareth Bale, has been outstanding the competition with his goals but Ramsey has been one of the contenders for the Player of the Tournament, which makes his suspension today a very bitter pill to swallow.

Ramsey picked up an unnecessary yellow card in the 90th minute when Wales beat Northern Ireland in the Round of 16. Knowing fully well that any foul play from him would see him miss the semis, you’d expect the Welsh Jesus to be on his best behavior against Belgium but on the 75th minute, he picked up a card that has ruled him out of today’s showpiece. A petition has been raised to appeal the decision to suspend Ramsey but I’m sure they appeal will fall on deaf ears.

Luckily, the suspension is just for one match so Ramsey stands a chance of playing in the final if Wales gets a good result today. Good luck to the Dragons in their quest for glory.

Elsewhere, there has been some news in the transfer market, as youngster, Jon Toral, that was snapped from Barcelona with Hector Bellerin in 2011, is set for yet another loan switch to Granada CF this time. Since moving to North London to continue his football education, aged 16, Toral has been playing consistently for the reserves and has been waiting for a chance in the first team.

He was loaned out in the 2014/15 season to Brentford, where he made 37 appearances and scored six goals for the Bees. Last season, after featuring in some preseason games for the Gunners, Toral was shipped out again to Birmingham City, where he excelled with the team, scoring their goal of the season against Ipswich Town, as well as winning the Player’s Player of the Year and Supporter’s Player of the Season award.

With Toral having just one more year left in his contract, shipping him out on loan to another team would mean that if the Gunners fail to offer him a new deal, he would be available on a free transfer to another club. The thing is, a player like Toral, talented as he is, is finding it difficult to break into the Arsenal team due to the vast array of options Arsene Wenger has at his disposal in central midfield. A loan is actually good for the player because he would be limited to more Reserves football if he remains with us this season. It’s only a major injury crisis that can make him get a chance in that central midfield.

Even if Arsenal succeeds and gets him to sign a new contract, the chances of him breaking into the first team would be slim to none, so if only makes some sense to offer him a new deal to get some financial benefit from him when he’s sold. Last time I checked, he cost the club 300,000 quid when we shipped him from Barca’s La Masia academy.

Let’s see what happens as that develops.

Sayonara.

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Germany vs Italy: Well, That was Nerve Racking

This was tagged as one of the biggest matches in the competition as the team with the best defense faced off against the dark horses of the tournament. Germany under Joachim Low had superbly gone through four games in the competition without conceding a goal but their general play has shown a team effort, with the goals coming from all corners. Italy on the other hand, had a club feel about them, as Antonio Conte had done really well to assemble a set of fighters that fit his 3-5-2 perfectly.

In order to match his opponent, Low switched from his usual 4-2-3-1 setup to 3-5-2, as Joshua Kimmich and Jonas Hector (that recovered from a cold) flanked Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Benedickt Howedes. With both teams fielding the same formation, the game was on lock down as both sides played a similar type of football. As expected, the Italians were the rougher of the lot with Stefano Sturaro, Mattia de Sciglio and Marco Parolo picking up bookings in quick succession.

After over an hour of deadlock, the game opened up when Mario Gomez found Hector in behind the defense and the defender drilled a cut back that was tapped in by Ozil. A resilient Italian defenders torn to shreds by a beautiful piece of attacking football.

The goal put Germany in the driving seat but it was followed shortly by an injury picked up by Gomez. Julian Draxler came on in his stead. With Italy pressing for an equalizer, they got their rewards late when an experienced defender like Boateng made such a rookie mistake by raising his arms to defend a ball in the box, leaving the ref no choice but to point to the spot. Up stepped Leandro Bonucci to smash the penalty home.

With the game producing no winner in 90 minutes, it was time for 30 more minutes but it wasn’t enough, so the game was to be decided by the lottery of penalty shootouts.

Lorenzo Insigne started the shootout with a spot kick that sent Manuel Neuer the wrong way to give the Italians the lead. Up stepped Toni Kroos, that had a stinker in 120 minutes of football but his penalty to left corner was too much for Gianluigi Buffon to handle.

Italy’s next spot kick taker, Simone Zaza, was the freshest player on the pitch and he had just one job to do from 12 yards but he came up with this…

Thomas Mueller had the opportunity to put the Germans ahead but his tame effort was saved by Buffon. The oldest outfield player in the tournament, Andrea Barzagli, 35, was tasked with playing the third penalty for his nation and he smashed the ball to the middle, taking no chances. After Barzagli gave the Italians the advantage, our very own Ozil stepped up and clipped the post with his penalty. That was the second spot kick he was missing in the tournament.

Graziano Pelle had the chance to make it 3-1 to Italy and put the Germans under intense pressure but the nerves got to him and he side-footed his effort wide off the mark, even though Neuer kept a close eye on the ball. Draxler fired his shot in the left post and leveled the shootout at 2-2.

With only one spot kick left for both sides, Bonucci, who had scored a penalty in regulation time, faced Neuer once again but the Bayern Munich goalie made a superb save to give the advantage to Germany. It was down to the captain, Bastian Schweinsteiger, to score the goal that would send Germany to the semis but he came up with this…

With both teams exhausting their spot kicks, it was time for sudden death. Emamuele Giaccherini started the proceedings with a top drawer finish and was pegged back by Hummels that fired his effort to the right of the net. Parolo blasted his effort through the middle and the youngest player on the pitch, Kimmich, showed good composure with a superb penalty that went low to Buffon’s left corner. De Sciglio’s penalty hit the underside of the bar and crept into the net and this was followed with a good penalty from Boateng.

With both teams locked at 5-5, up stepped Matteo Darmaian that fired a goal bound shot that was saved by the legendary Neuer. This meant that Hector could make himself a national hero and end Italy’s hoodoo on Germany if he converted his spot kick and he fired a shot that went under Buffon to send Germany to the semis.

heartache for the Italians

The Germans celebrated while the Italians had to leave the tournament on the back of some brilliant team performances in the course of the competition. Conte would leave for Stamford Bridge to start a new adventure but he can look back on his experience with Juventus and Italy with some measure of pride.

As for Germany, they deserve to be where they are and the world champions would be waiting for the winner of the Iceland vs France match tonight.

It was nerve racking to say the least.

Sayonara.

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Euro 2016: Thoughts on Ramsey’s Performance Against Belgium

The European Championships is reaching its climax with two teams booking their places in the semifinals of the competition. I’d say that this is the best time to bet on Euro 2016 with William Hill with teams like Wales springing surprises in the tournament.

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The Welsh side, led by former Fulham boss, Chris Coleman, has been a class act all tournament long, and last night performance also showed that it’s not always around Gareth Bale. Credit to the Welsh talisman for stepping into the plate with three goals in the competition so far, but in Aaron Ramsey, the Welsh have a vital cog in their midfield that has been a class act for the entirety of the tournament. Maybe it’s the blonde hair, I really don’t know.

Unlike, Arsenal where he plays with some restrictions on the wing, or in the box-to-box role when Santi Cazorla was unfortunately injured, Ramsey has been given the license to roam with ease at Wales, and he’s all over the place for his nation. His first performance against Slovakia was tame but he turned up the screw against Russia, getting a goal and an assist to his name.

When the Welsh fought against Northern Ireland in the Round of 16, Ramsey worked really hard for his team and their place in the quarterfinals were well deserved. Then came Belgium, one of the pre-tournament favorites, with all the big names here and there but that didn’t deter the Welsh from putting up another committed performance.

Belgium opened the scoring with a stunner from Radja Naingollan. The AS Roma-based midfielder has been on Chelsea’s radar for some time but his shot was way too much for Wayne Hennessey to handle. Ramsey got his first assist on the night when he lofted a corner that has headed home by skipper, Ashley Williams. This was a player that was tipped to miss the game.

Ramsey’s second assist on the night was made possible by some brilliant individual play by Hal Robson-Kanu. The Reading striker latched onto Ramsey’s cut back and made a fool out of his marker before slotting the ball past Thibaut Courtois. Wales put the game beyond doubt when Sam Vokes nodded Chris Gunter’s cross late on, and it was curtains for the highest ranked European team in the tournament.

 

There was some sorrow for Ramsey and Wales when he received a yellow card that would rule him out of the semifinal clash with Portugal. Bearing in mind that all cards would be cleared off in the semis, Ramsey messed up pretty bad to get himself booked.

According to Squawka, Ramsey had two shots, created six chances, made seven crosses, completed three take-ons, had a passing accuracy of 86% and he won 100% of the aerial duels he attempted. A Man of the Match performances in my books.

It has been an awesome tournament for Ramsey and we can only hope he carries this sort of form into the new season with his No. 8 jersey. On the interim, I wish him and his nation well in the Euros as they face another stern test in the form of Portugal.

Sayonara.

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