I don’t think I quite get what Fernando Santos is trying to achieve with his Portugal side. I get the desire for two holding midfielders even if I don’t necessarily agree with it, but two holding midfielders and Moutinho, while Fernandes sits at the side? That seems a bit much, and a bit like hoping something good happens rather than seeking to outplay whoever the opposition is – and Portugal have the players to do that.
There’s something extremely compelling about Renato Sanches, it’s not just him playing for Swansea. I hope he keeps his place in Portugal’s starting XI tonight (though I also hope Bruno Fernandes comes back in for João Moutinho) because not many players have the control and physique to drive through the middle of the pitch with the ball.
The Netherlands’ Denzel Dumfries was one of the stars of the group stages. Can he step it up again?
So what’s going to happen in today’s games? Netherland are playing pretty well now, but we shouldn’t forget their struggles against Ukraine, and Czech Republic are a better side than them. I think they’ll find a way – Georginio Wijnaldum appears to be on one, Frenkie de Jong is also moving nicely, and Memphis Depay is a threat. But as anyone who’s watched Slavia Prague in Europe could tell you, the Czechs have a decent group of players, and Patrick Schick seems to be maturing into his ability and physicality. I’m looking forward to it.
This is less great. What an absolute world.
Gabby Logan is great. Read about her here.
Here’s our pod looking back at yesterday’s activities.
I love the smell of toadying in the morning. It seems that tournament hosting relies on keeping Uefa sweet as much as it does infrastructure. A real turn-up for the books there.
Perisic’s tournament behaviour really is something. He’ll be a huge miss for Croatia, especially if Spain really have found form, formation and personnel. That said, it’s hard to see either beating France in the quarters, who it’s hard to see Switzerland beating in the last 16.
When Bale does walk away, Wales have a big problem. They’ve still got plenty of talent, but at international level at least, Bale is probably the best player in their history (though I didn’t see John Charles). Either way, over the last 10 years, he’s continually won them games, and replacing that is difficult if not impossible. Though if David Brooks gets fit enough to fulfil his potential, that’ll be something.
Post-match, Gary Bale was asked about his future and, understandably, wasn’t minded to discuss it in the aftermath of a miserable thrashing.
And here’s Ben Fisher’s report from Wales v Denmark…
Meanwhile, bit of A-League grand final.
What do we think about Italy then? During the group stages, I wrote in these pages that I could see them beating a serious team but couldn’t see them beating three serious teams in a row, and that remains the case. Whichever of Belgium and Portugal comes next, maybe, but Belgium or Portugal, followed, say by France and then Germany? That’d be a monumental effort for any team: three brilliant performances in a row is unusual, and I wonder if Italy have individuals able to compensate for poor ones at that level.
And here’s Jonathan Liew’s colour piece.
Here’s Barney Ronay’s match report from last night’s little go-around.
Morning! However engaging any tournament’s group stages – and despite the awkwardness of the format, these finished in the grand style – ultimate success is determined by the quality of the knockouts. Think Italia 82, Mexico 86, Italia 90, Euro 2000, Germany 06.
Well, we’re off the a decent start here, yesterday’s games giving us a lot of what we needed. First, the feelgood story of Denmark continued, bathing us in a glow of joy and relief – sorry Wales – then Italy and Austria delivered pretty much the prototype, an exciting game in which a favourite was taken deep before prevailing, scoring a sensational goal in the process. Things are happening.
Today should give us more of the same. In the early game, an in-form Netherlands face the awkward Czech Republic, the winner to meet Denmark – there are no givens there. And second, the tie of the round, in which already there Belgium meet getting there Portugal, one team searching for that elusive first major title and the other defending that elusive first major title, both stuffed with brilliance and flair. Let’s be having you.