Connect in the back of the net

The article below is the sixth installment of a column related to everything Euro 2016 titled “Euro Vision” by respected South African sports journalist and ANN7 Prime Sports Anchor, Peter Stemmet.

Euro 2016 came to life in the most spectacular fashion during the Last 16 matches.  

As expected, the host nation France progressed but it required a hard-fought effort against a tough Republic of Ireland side that was not helped by a red card.  

Les Bleus have been solid if not spectacular to date and the French public will be salivating, perhaps mistakenly, at the prospect of a knockout match against Iceland.

What can we say of the volcanic island?  A population of around 330 000 suggests they have no business being at Euro 2016 but they have been nothing short of superb.  They qualified for the tournament to begin with; largely considered a miracle.  

They were good enough to progress from Group F, where their opponents included Portugal and Hungary.  Surely that would be the end of the fairy tale … Surely.

England, perennial tournament underachievers found Iceland too hot to handle in Nice on Monday night.  

Despite a 1-0 lead, the English were beaten 2-1 in what is now regarded an embarrassing outcome for the Three Lions.  Roy Hodgson resigned immediately and questions are being asked again of England.  

The truth is that the side is often overhyped on the eve of a major tournament.  A quick look at their last few tournaments results bears witness to their real position among the sport’s elite:  Last 16 (2016), Group stage exit (2014), quarter-finals (2012), Last 16 (2010), Did Not Qualify (2008).  

It is true Sven-Goran Eriksson’s England reached three consecutive quarter-finals but before that the English suffered group stage humiliation at Euro 2000, a Last 16 exit at France 98 and reached the semi-finals on home soil at Euro 96.  Do not forget the failure to qualify for USA 94.

The sad reality is that over the last two decades, the performance of England suggests they are no better than Mexico, and with all due respect to the North Americans, El Tri are not considered contenders save for the Gold Cup, which in all fairness is a tournament that is won either by the Mexicans or their neighbours the United States, with several other teams mostly making up the numbers.

Looking at the quarter-finals, Germany vs Italy is the Euro 2016 nightmare fixture the Germans would not have wanted.  

Joachim Loew’s lot have not set the world alight to date and many believe since winning the World Cup two years ago, they have struggled to exert themselves.  

The harsh reality is that Germany has never beaten Italy in a competitive outing and the Azzurri are looking ominously like the great Italian sides of old; rock solid at the back, almost impossible to break down and experts at defending a lead.

The Belgians deserve a special mention.  The way the demolished Hungary should not be overlooked.  

Belgium look like they could be ready for a coronation themselves and while I expect Wales to be a firmer foe than the Hungarians, Marc Wilmots’ men are my favourites to progress.  

This tournament is shaping up to be a fabulous fight for the right to be crowned champions of Europe.

 

Written by Peter Stemmet

Follow Peter on Twitter @super_pete

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