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.
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