Euro 2024 finally promises a high-voltage climax | Football News

Euro 2024 finally promises a high-voltage climax | Football News

New Delhi: A Euro 2024 that has waxed and waned will get a heavyweight home run after all with the continent’s biggest performers of this century, France and Spain, and arguably its biggest under-achievers, England and Netherlands, setting up exciting semi-final clashes this week.

Fans react as England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford saves a penalty during the shootout against Switzerland on Saturday. (AP)
Fans react as England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford saves a penalty during the shootout against Switzerland on Saturday. (AP)

If entitlement matters at the business end of a major tournament, Spain can claim that, having played the liveliest football by a distance among the final four, won all five games, being joint top in the tournament with 11 goals and sending hosts Germany out in the quarter-finals.

The irresistible though will run into an immovable France, who are the only team not to score in open play. Kylian Mbappe’s poor form compounded by a fractured nose has symbolised the seemingly broken game of the pre-Euro favourites. France’s only goal was off an Mbappe penalty besides two own goals. Four clean sheets in five matches thus rings hollow.

Spain though will be wary of an opponent oozing with experience and talent across the pitch, the twice Euro winners (1984, 2000) having reached three World Cup finals (2006, 2018, 2022), winning six years ago in Russia.

Spain, the 2008 and 2012 continental champions, won the 2023 UEFA Nations League winners, but have mostly come second best against France in major tournaments. Les Bleus beat Spain in the 1984 Euro final and in the 2000 quarter-finals, the 2006 World Cup last 16 and in the 2021 Nations League final. Spain though beat France in their last meeting in the Euro, in 2012.

“We’re in the semi-finals and it’s something we shouldn’t take for granted, even if we may be used to it recently. Now we go to win it,” France coach Didier Deschamps, whose brilliant record has gone with criticism of his over-cautious approach, said after beating Portugal.

Spain’s young wingers Nico Williams and Lamine Yamal, who have enjoyed an outstanding tournament, will run into the seasoned French defence. Spain will also miss the suspended defenders Dani Carvajal and Robin Le Normand, but will hope Dani Olmo, who scored and provided the assist as a sub coming on for the injured midfield string-puller Pedro, will step up.

“My players are insatiable. There’s always room for improvement, of course, but we can’t question their pride, quality and commitment,” Spain coach Luis de la Fuente said after the quarterfinal.

England will be the odd side out – the only team among the four not to win the continental trophy, after their shootout heartbreak in the Wembley final against Italy three years ago. Their manager Gareth Southgate heralded a new era, with his third semi-final (2018 World Cup was the other) and the 2022 World Cup last eight.

Criticised for his conservative approach despite top talent on the pitch and the bench, England though have produced gritty performances, coming from behind to beat Slovakia and Switzerland in the knockouts. Their wait for a major trophy since the 1966 World Cup though has dragged on.

Southgate was upbeat after beating the Swiss on penalties. “Now we want to deliver one more thing – we have never been to a final outside England, never won a Euros, so there are two bits of history we would like love to create.” Enough to motivate his players, though the big question is whether he will give his side the freedom to attack.

Netherlands though will believe they can stop England, the perennial under-achievers who twice lost a World Cup final (1974, 1978) having won their only Euro on German soil in 1988.

England have beaten the Dutch only once in nine meetings since a 4-1 win at the 1996 Euros played in England. It is also their only win in a major event, besides a draw in the 1990 World Cup. The Dutch won 3-1 at the 1988 Euro.

The return of left fullback Luke Shaw after a five-month injury layoff saw England show more enterprise and cohesion in attack, and will hope their young players – Phil Foden, Jude Bellingham, Cole Palmer, Kobbie Mainoo – will make up for the off-colour Harry Kane.

The Dutch, who tamed a robust Turkey on Saturday night, will pin their hopes of their super sub Wout Weghorst, the 31-year-old, 6 foot, five inch forward whose ability to lift the attacking players around him was crucial in the win.

“Every attacking player in our squad has different qualities,” Cody Gapko, the Dutch livewire on the left, said. “…You can bring Wout because he’s tall, he’s good in the air, he fights for every ball that comes in the box.”

England’s last line has looked shaky under pressure, which defender Nathan Aké suggested Weghorst could exploit. “He’s a nightmare to play against. You know, he’s strong, he’s a nuisance in the box. And he fights for everything. He runs after everything. So, for us, he’s a great asset.”

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