Euro 2016 Semifinals Preview

Wednesday 6th July

20.00 Portugal v Wales

Real Madrid's Welsh forward Gareth BaleSemi-final time has arrived. Hands up who predicted that Wales would get this far. We certainly didn’t and yet, there they are. We did have Portugal down as a “serious team” from the off but have been largely disappointed by them since. If your money is going to go toward Portugal, it’s worth bearing in mind that they have yet to win a match over 90 minutes in this tournament.

In fact, this column is not alone in thinking that Portugal can count themselves lucky to have gotten this far. They have huffed and puffed but rarely sparkled. Ronaldo is the man under the most intense scrutiny and he hasn’t come out of it looking well. Pepe, however and to the shock of many who focus mostly on his playacting, has been immense in defense.

In the first half against Poland, Renato Sanchez amply demonstrated the exceptional qualities he can bring to the team; a fact which made it all the more bewildering when he was stuck high and wide on the left during the second half, ostensibly to give some protection to his left back but in reality seriously blunting Portugal’s drive through midfield. If the same move is repeated in this game, it will be Wales that are counting their lucky stars.

And what of Wales? First thing we can say is that Ben Davies and, crucially, Aaron Ramsey won’t play any part due to suspensions. Although Gareth Bale is the star man, Ramsey has been instrumental in Wales’ performances and it is hard to overstate the impact his loss might have on their prospects for progression.

Thus far, Wales have displayed a pragmatism and intelligence that should serve them well in this match, even in the absence of Ramsey and Davies. Portugal’s defensive midfielder, William Carvalho, is also suspended and Wales will look to expose the Portugal’s soft belly in his absence, assuming it’s there. Portugal are slightly better than evens to win here but Wales have the superior fighting spirit and that might be enough. StanJames is offering 16/5 for a Wales win. Oh yeah, there may also be an interesting subplot between two Spanish-based players but we won’t say who…

Thursday 7th July

20.00 Germany v France

France GermanyThe other semi-final sees the world champions take on the hosts and pre-tournament favourites, France. Easily billed, then, as the battle of the heavyweights but one corner is coming into this fight carrying some serious knocks. Germany, through injury and suspension, are without Khedira, Hummels and Gomez – that is, three essential elements of their spine. There are also serious doubts as to the fitness of Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Germany were made to work for their extra-time and penalties win over Italy in their quarter final tie and these absences are the living proof of that. The question is whether or not their squad has the necessary quality and depth of talent to compensate. What counts for them and against France is the quality of opposition they have had to beat along the way – they are tired and bruised but are battle hardened.

France ran a sword through the dreams of casual sporting fans everywhere when they beat Iceland 5-2 in their quarter final tie. Although Iceland ‘won’ the second half 2-1 in a stirring comeback befitting of their play this summer, France took every advantage that an overly offensive opponent gave them and engineered a pleasing variety of goals.

There have been some critics who have queried the ability of Iceland to put two past them in the second half and while such opinions are not without validity, France knew going in at half time that the job was done and probably saw little value in killing themselves in the second half. There’s plenty more left in the tank of this team but is it a bit late in the tournament to be taking on their first ‘big’ opponent?

Ordinarily this column would think so but due Germany’s aforementioned absences (and key absences at that), France have a chance and good one, too. Germany have become reliant on Gomez to engineer space for their attacking midfielders and without him the fear is that they will return to the shapeless mass we saw in their opening games. France had four different goal scorers in their last match alone and will fancy their ability to score a few more here.

Germany are slight favourites to progress to the final at a price of just under 2/1 from most bookies, which is a good price if you fancy them. And there is a lot to be said for that result but in this columns opinion, four enforced changes from the starting outfield 10 might just be too much to mitigate. 888Sport are offering 39/19 for a France win.