Euro 2016: So Far, So Good… (Le Rendezvous)

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The last 16 is done with. We’re on to the Quarters now. But Euro 2016 just won’t stop surprising. Surprises here, there and everywhere!

Poland beat Switzerland (unsurprisingly for me). And even though Shaqiri’s goal left me speechless, it wasn’t enough to bail them out.

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Then a Gareth-Bale-inspired Wales leapt over the line against Northern Ireland. I wouldn’t have predicted at the start of the tournament that they’d be the last nation from the British Isles standing. But they are, thanks in part to a certain Woy’s decisions. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Uncle Ronaldo!: Mother and child meet their hero. Photo credit: https://mobile.facebook.com/uefaeuro?_rdr

Uncle Ronaldo!: Mother and child meet their hero. Photo credit: https://mobile.facebook.com/uefaeuro?_rdr

There was Portugal. Were they inspired by Cristiano Ronaldo? I beg to differ. I think the “inspirer” was Fernando Santos, who finally awoke to the reality that pairing Carvalho with Pepe was a ticking time bomb. *Round of applause for you gaffer*

I'm alive!: Hazard celebrates after scoring for Belgium against Hungary. Photo credit: https://mobile.facebook.com/uefaeuro?_rdr

I’m alive!: Hazard celebrates after scoring for Belgium against Hungary. Photo credit: https://mobile.facebook.com/uefaeuro?_rdr

I wasn’t at all surprised with Germany’s or Belgium’s showings. They showed what meeting a tournament heavyweight earns you: a straight ticket back home!

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France were a scam until Griezmann bailed them out, (with help from Giroud. You know what I mean).

Which brings me to Italy and Iceland, the biggest winners of the round. They displayed to the world that team spirit trumps individual quality no matter how much the talent abounds in a team (Hello England!).

With each of the 8 games in the second round, there was one case or the other. Case studies if I may.

Let’s see Case1:

MISSION: Eliminate Defending Champions and Avenge Final loss.

It seemed impossible from the word go. Conte and the Italian camp tried their best to maintain expectations, but then we all know Antonio Conte. He always has an ace up his sleeve and there was one in Saint-Denis, the collective.

He himself admitted that talent-wise, they were never going to match the Spaniards. But talent hadn’t exactly stolen the show in France.

From the blast of the whistle, they went toe-to-toe with Spain for everything. The farce of Spain keeping the ball so their opponents wouldn’t hurt them was what it was. Then came the goal… and the Red Fury never recovered.

It was the kind of goal that knocked them out. They tried to come back. Pull one back. Draw level. The closest they came was from Gerard Pique, who drew a masterful reflex save from the great Gigi Buffon (who was in awesome form).

Add to Buffon the wall of defense akin to the Great wall of China that La Roja encountered. Defensive organization unrivalled. This wasn’t parking the bus. It was the Italian defense. It brought back the old saying that Catenaccio is the solution to the famed Tiki-Taka, whose remains were definitely extinguished on the day.

The Italian Wall.

The Italian Wall.

Italian greatness aside, Don Del Bosque also handed the initiative to the Italians. Italy’s 3-5-2 would have suffered had Hector Bellerin started in Juanfran’s stead. Besides, I still don’t understand his aversion to Koke. His decision to go with the tested and trusted, instead of switching things up, failed him again and all this could have been avoided.

Decisions like dropping Isco and Saul, the former whose case in particular was disheartening. Besides, Aritz Aduriz would have offered more in attack than the ineffective and uncertain Pedro who has looked shorn of confidence since leaving Barcelona.

He did give Lucas Vazquez a chance, but it was too sudden, especially for a kid who isn’t used to playing against the brute force of an Antonio Conte-inspired team; a team led by a coach whose energy is so amazing (and contagious), it made him jump on the top of the dugout after Graziano Pelle landed the knockout blow.

So much passion inside one man. Chelsea players had better prepare. Dear Klopp, you now have a touch-line-drama-acting competition.

MISSION UPDATE: Mission Accomplished

Case2:
MISSION: Eliminate Woy’s Bunch of Jokes

Not the Sunniest Euros for England. Photo credit: https://mobile.facebook.com/uefaeuro?_rdr

Not the Sunniest Euros for England. Photo credit: https://mobile.facebook.com/uefaeuro?_rdr

This has got to be the best thing to happen to Euro 2016. Don’t get me wrong. Payet’s goal and that 3-3 scoreline were beautiful but… the elimination of one of the saddest and shambolic teams in the tournament? Awesome!

What most don’t know is, England practically got knocked out the day the draw was made. Upon realisation that they’d face Wales, all focus was on the game in Lens. Come squad announcement time, Roy Hodgson announced his squad with that game in mind, dropping more reliable options in favour of injured and unfit players.

It was going to come back to haunt him. And it did. They drew against teams they should have beaten: bottling it against Russia before failing to solve a puzzle called Slovakia. Sandwiched in between, they had won the only game they came to France to play. They had beaten Wales.

Considering the Dragons are in the Quarter finals and the Three Lions are back at Heathrow wondering where it all went wrong, that’s an achievement innit?

From #Brexit to #Eurexit. What a week to not be an Englishman.

They somehow agreed to throw away the favour that the god of football bestowed upon them after Iceland finished second rather than Portugal. Or… could it be that when you have screwed with fortune, it screws you back?

You decide.

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Great credit to the Icelanders by the way who don’t have great football facilities that the Manchester City alone can boast of.

This should be a time of reflection for the FA. The failure began when they appointed Roy Hodgson. He led them to three major tournaments, all ending in Heartbreaks. Who remembers Euro 2012? Brazil?

Three Lions or Three Lambs?

Three Lions or Three Lambs?

In reality, England lack the mentality to win football tournaments. It says a lot that since 1966 when they won the World Cup on home soil, they have only won seven knockout games. No wonder, they sulked to stupor and behaved like babies when they lost the bidding rights to the 2018 World Cup.

They can learn from the team that eliminated them though. Team spirit and the right mentality will conquer mountains. Just ask Lars Lagerback and his co-coach. It’s not the first time Lagerback would engage in such co-coaching skills. He did likewise at Euro 2004 with Sweden, where they eliminated Italy in the group stage.

It’s his blueprint. France would only be wise to beware, because even if they have overachieved, they can sense something special. It would be their driving force when they take to the pitch on July 3. So much for beating England.

MISSION UPDATE: Mission Accomplished

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On a final note, I hope to see some Quarter final upsets, Italy knocking out Germany on Saturday, Wales edging Belgium on Friday. Now is Ronaldo’s time to step up and lead Portugal like a real leader, because Poland could be wasteful, but Robert Lewandowski and Arkadiusz Milik could just find their scoring boots.

Then there is France on Sunday. As much as I’d love to see Iceland win, I’d rather keep my fingers crossed. This, really, is Les Rendez Vous

About Author
Tosin Adesina is an ideal young man, a soccer aficionado. He prefers being called Fijasewa Arogunyo because that’s who the world would grow to know. He is a disciple of Pep Guardiola, a follower of Jurgen Klopp, a lover of Jose Mourinho, an admirer of Cholo Simeone, a fanatic of Carlo Ancelotti and an avid fan of Antonio Conte. You can connect with him on Twitter @teetunez

6 Talking Points From #FootballThisPastWeek

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There has been a lot of footballing action over the past week. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that there’s been enough to have been able to watch at least two everyday!

Phew! That’s a lot… for some.

But not for the football fans.

From the amazing goal scored by Shaqiri to the not-so-eventful Croatia – Portugal game and the Copa America final, football has given all a whole lot to talk about this past week.

And out of all the events that happened, I’ve selected a few to talk about (or write about?).

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-Rangers International Can Win the Nigerian Professional Football League
At least the Enugu side are playing like they want to. On Friday, Rangers entertained Warri Wolves, beat them 2-1 and OUTPLAYED them by all means!

Rangers were the FASTER, BETTER and STRONGER side of the evening as they showed off title-winning potentials: A great defense line, midfielders that can continuously string out defense-splitting passes to either find out wingers with amazing speed or pick out strikers who finish with aplomb.

May sound exaggerating but it’s not. Really.

Their flankers had some sort of terrifying speed that the Warri Wolves could not defend against. And everytime Rangers attacked, they seemed like they would score.

Maybe Enyimba should be looking over their shoulders (and ahead of them too as Rangers are now second on the NPFL table with the Aba Elephants currently sixth) as it seems another club is playing like they want the NPFL trophy so badly.

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Portgual’s Lucky Euro 2016 Run (or not?)
I’m not even sure if those are the right words to describe Portugal’s run so far in the Euro 2016. Might need a, erm, more luckier word than the word “lucky.”

From not winning any of their group games to qualifying out of their group as a “Best Loser”, you’d have thought Portugal had been lucky enough.

They were drawn against Croatia in the second round and the people’s verdict was simple and straight-forward: Portugal are out of Euro 2016. Some, not all the people.

But Mama Luck wasn’t done with C. Ronaldo and co just yet. Portugal which did not have any shot-on-target in the entire 90 minutes, managed to scored the winning goal with their second shot-on-target in the 117th minute.

Croatia, the favourites, were sent home. Portugal, the underdogs, move a step closer to glory.

Now let me ask: If that wasn’t luck, I’m wondering, what could it be?

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Nigeria and the CAF World Cup Qualifiers’ Group of Death
Algeria, Cameroon, Nigeria, Zambia. All of these countries in one group in a football competition.

If it was a normal football tournament where two countries could qualify, as a Nigerian, I wouldn’t have been too worried. The Euro 2016 scenario, where a “Best Loser” could still qualify, would have been even more calming.

But you can imagine how skeptical I was, as a Nigerian, when I remembered it was a World Cup Qualifier and ONLY one team could get the ticket to, this time, Russia 2018.

I started to think: How could a team without a coach beat the likes of Algeria after the Nigeria – Egypt AFCON qualifiers experience? Cameroon? Can the Super Eagles even beat Zambia?

The topic was raised on the blog’s forum (reach me here if you want to join in the discussion). All (myself included), except one (out of 40), concluded that Nigeria could not make it out of that group and qualify for Russia.

The debate shifted to the possible positions Nigeria could finish in. The conclusion? Majority seemed to think Nigeria would finish either second or third.

What do you think? Share your thoughts with me in the comments section below.

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Copa America Final
Even though the competition in the U.S.A was overwhelmed by the Euros, the Copa America caught it’s own fair share of the media’s eye.

While the competition was on, it was hard to ignore scorelines like Chile’s white-washing of Mexico 0-7 and Argentina’s 4-0 thrashing of the USMNT.

But the final was the mega one. The clash of the titans. Chile vs Argentina. Names were pitched against names, head-to-head and all. In the end, Chile beat Argentina 4-2 on penalties after a goalless 90 minutes.

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And there were two major talking points. No, make that three:
– Messi missed a penalty.
– The win meant Chile had now beaten Argentina to the Copa back-to-back.
– Alexis Sanchez was voted the tourney’s MVP.
– Messi cried.
– Messi retired.
– Messi, with Argentina, had successfully missed out on 3 trophies, in the last 3 summers, back-to-back-to-back.

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Just in case you’re wondering, I just multiplied Argentina’s back-to-back-to-back trophy losses with Chile’s back-to-back trophy wins. There you go. 6 talking points!

But Why Did Vardy Turn Arsenal Down?
It’s been one of those weird seasons where every Arsenal fan seem to know which player Arsene Wenger will buy. Usually, they’re always in the dark, not knowing which rabbit the Frenchman would pull out of his hat.

I don’t think much expected the Arsenal-Vardy links. But the news kept getting stronger and speculations were rife.

Some football fans were not sure what to think of the move. Leicester had just qualified for the UEFA Champions League. So why leave the Foxes for the Gunners?

Over the week, Vardy signed a new four-year contract with Leicester and “dashed” all hopes of an Arsenal move.

But, why did he turn down Arsenal? Or any other move for that matter? What will another season with Leicester prove?

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The Week of Retirements
When a Swedish king like Zlatan Ibrahimovic decides to retire from international football, it’s a sad day.

Like as if it couldn’t get any sadder, Leo Messi the Argentine Legend, decided to quit international football too! Two super stars leaving the international football scene!

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For Ibrahimovic, maybe the age factor was one that played a big role in causing him to hang the “International Boots.” But I’m still unsure why Messi decided to quit on Argentina at such a “young and tender” age of 29.

Three final losses in a row could be disheartening enough to make anyone give up. But even though Leo has “hung” his international boots, I’m sure the Argentina FA (AFA) will be scheming several ways to “unhang” those boots.

Worthy Mentions

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If you haven’t seen Shaqiri’s goal against Poland, you should check it out. One of the best of the Euro 2016 so far.

I can’t emphasize enough, the beautiful penalty-takers that Poland have. Against Switzerland, they kept rifling spotkicks into the top corner of the net!

Do you have any additions to my list? Something that caught your eye over the past week? Let me know! Share with me and others in the comments section below.

Also, don’t forget to share this great post with your friends. Sharing is caring! Share it with them and they’ll thank you. 😉

About Author
Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter @rotdav and on LinkedIn

Euro 2016: So Far, So Good… (After the Group Stage)

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Guns have been holstered in the Euro 2016. Swords have been sheathed… temporarily. The men are taking a well-deserved break, before moving on, after being seperated from the boys.

A break before moving on to the next round of battles for glory.

The group stages of any football competition is usually the most boring part of that competition. Have you noticed?

This is so true that, if you think it’s not, just cast your mind back to the UEFA Champions League group games you’ve seen.

You see?

Even the Copa America (Centenary edition), on-going in the U.S.A, has lived up to this expectation. Several boring games up until… erm, the final? (Chile thrashing Mexico 7-0 in the quarter-final and Argentina whooping USA by four unreplied goals in the semis don’t exactly count as exciting).

The dilemna of the group stages of football competitions.

But the case has been an entirely different one in this year’s European Championship.

As a matter of fact, it’s been so exciting in France that there’s been a whole lot to talk (write, gossip, tweet, facebook, instagram, whatsapp) about here, there, and everywhere.

It’s been breath-taking! Catching up with the fanciest of goals and the most-surprising of results has been quite the job.

And as far as I can remember, the games have just begun. Imagine what will happen in the Knockout round… (let your imagination run wild for a minute…)

So you see… the party in France hasn’t even started. There will be more last-minute, heart-breaking goals. There’ll be even more surprises, heart-aches and games tighter than before.

I know you can’t wait. I can’t too!

But, while we’re waiting, let’s look back at what happened in the Third Round of the Euro 2016, shall we?

So far, so good:

Stamping Your Authority While Having Fun: Payet celebrates after scoring against Albania. Image credit: www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/

Stamping Your Authority While Having Fun: Payet celebrates after scoring against Albania. Image credit: http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/

– The “Extra Four” Made This Euro Even More Exciting!
The Euro 2016 had a twist to it: The “Extra Four.” You can also call them the “Best Losers” or the “Lucky Ones.” (ironic right?)

Four countries, from the six groups, “survived” and qualified for the knockout stages along with the 12 that got automatic qualification.

Teams like Slovakia, Northern Ireland and even Ronaldo’s Portugal could only manage to qualify as best losers.

But before, during and after the third round, calculations and permutations were going on all over the place. Who would qualify?

For teams like Italy and Spain, it was more of the case of topping the group as they had already qualified. But C. Ronaldo and the gang were calculating. “What if’s” became the order of the day.

Of course this made the third round of group games a delight to watch as players like Cristiano Ronaldo finally came alive, one team stepped up to beat Spain and Iceland pulled a rabbit of their hat in the last-minute.

Lol.. too much to handle Ronnie?

Lol.. too much to handle Ronnie?

– That Awkward Moment When…
… teams like Hungary, Croatia, Wales top their respective groups after the three rounds of games. Who would have thought?

Of course it wasn’t strange to see England finish second in their group. That’s just English football’s way. With the way Portugal played, it was more awkward than surprising to see Hungary finish as the group leaders.

Though the Russians failed to qualify and, expectedly, with their fans gone back to Moscow or St. Petersburg, there were still more fan troubles. Some fans even got arrested.

Of course the fan troubles part wasn’t awkward. I mean, fan troubles has been part of the tournament before it even began right?

So much for being Portugese. Phot credit: www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/

So much for being Portugese. Phot credit: http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/

– Ronaldo ALONE Cannot Save Portugal
Some might argue that this is me trying to beef up my short article with another story of CR7’s performance at the Euros so far.

But since everyone’s talking about him (and criticizing too), I’d rather talk about how Ronaldo ‘s teammates are more of a burden than a blessing to the legend.

Portugal, as a team, could only manage three draws in the group stages. It wasn’t because C. Ronaldo did not step up to the plate. It was because players like Quaresma were busy scattering while Ronaldo and Moutinho were gathering.

Even when they needed to win against Hungary and they finally scored three goals… they still MANAGED TO CONCEDE THREE!

Jeez!

It’s more than obvious that Ronaldo is NOT the only solution to the problems of the Portugese national team. What more can a player do for a team if, after scoring two, his team-mates go on to successfully concede not two, but three goals?

With the way they’ve played, the Portugese team are not expected to go far in this tournament. But if their going far is one of the surprises the Euro 2016 has in store for us the fans, we obviously don’t mind right?

The Portugese national team had better stop overly relying on Ronaldo and start supporting him by being better team players before it’s too late.

– Amazing Knockout Matches: A Fan’s Delight!
Like I said earlier, the men have been seperated from the boys. Now it’s go big or go home!

For a tournament that has already amazed fans well enough, the football gods have put some icing on the Euro 2016 cake: even more mouth-watering fixtures!

Hard-running, counter-attacking Croatia will take on Portugal while host-nation France will be more-than-ready to take on Ireland. I’m half-heartedly expecting a battle when Germany take on Slovakia and I literally can’t wait for the Italy vs Spain game (Forza Azzurri!)

England faces Iceland (easy one there mate?) while there’s a tasty clash in the works between Hungary and Belgium (both teams to score maybe?) Bale(s) and Wales take on Northern Ireland (some more UK drama. Leave or Remain? In or Out?) while Switzerland and Poland will slug it out.

Worthy Mentions
It’s interesting to note that no team won all of its group games. The closest any team got to nine points was two wins and a draw. That’s how competitive Euro 2016 has been so far.

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It’s also note-worthy (nose-worthy?) to pay tribute to Swedish legend, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who played his last international match for Sweden against Ireland. Much much love Ibra… I won’t forget that in-the-air, over-head goal against England in a hurry (you remember it?).

Of course don’t forget to share your thoughts with me and other readers in the comments section.

So far, so good, who do you think will win Euro 2016? What have you noticed in the tournament so far? Which team will fail to make it past the second round?

Iceland? But did you really mean Iceland or England?

Let me know what you think.

Sharing is caring! Don’t forget to share this article with your friends. They’ll thank you! 😉

Images credit: Mirror

About Author
Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter @rotdav and on LinkedIn

Euro 2016: So Far, So Good… (Part II)

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… the European Championships has been amazing. The Euro 2016 roller-coaster ride has had it’s fair share of highs and lows but it, on the overall, has been a football fan’s delight!

With games too tight to call, surprising results, the fans invasion, late goals, Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal-less run, Euro 2016 has gotta be the most dramatic Euro I’ve seen.

Scratch that!

I’ll take it a notch higher and acclaim this tournament as one of the most dramatic since the history of the competition. I’m sure you’ll agree with me.

In terms of happenings on the pitch and especially off it, Euro 2016 has beaten all others before it hands down as regards drama and surprises.

And after the second round of games in the group stages of the tournament,

– The Surprises/Surprising Results Continue
The first round of games had a lot of surprising results. Portugal’s draw with “lowly” Iceland, Hungary’s win over Austria, Spain’s and France’s late winners, the catastrophic Belgian side and more (the England result wasn’t so surprising. I mean… it’s England, right?)

Most football fans agreed that the teams were just finding their feet, hence the surprises. I agreed. With Round 2, things would return to normal.

By normal, I expected countries like Germany and Portugal would win and not drop points. I expected France to have an easy ride against Albania, etc.

But Euro 2016 had other ideas.

Expectedly, Belgium ran riot against Ireland, waking up from their slumber and scoring three unreplied goals. Spain had it easy too.

Unexpectedly, Germany and Portugal COULDN’T score against their opponents. France needed “80-somethingth” minute goals to finish off Albania and… England beat Wales!

As if England’s win was not enough (yes that win was a BIG DEAL. Don’t believe? Ask Sturridge)…

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– Finally! A Four-Goal Game & A Three-Goal Margin
Actually, there were two 3-0 scorelines in the second round of games in France. Before now, the highest goal margin was two goals.

But Spain and Belgium surpassed that mark by scoring 3 unreplied goals past Turkey and Ireland respectively.

Low-scoring games had been the order of the day in France. The highest goals total in any game in the tournament was three. That was before Czech Republic came from 2 goals down to draw their game against Croatia.

But it hasn’t been all goals and positive surprises in Euro 2016…

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-More Crowd Troubles and Pitch Invasions
Of course it all started in the first round, infamously between Russian and English fans. The second round had even more crowd trouble.

The Russian fans continued to be so “patriotic and passionate.” They continued supporting their team vigourously, despite threats of deportation from the French government.

Even pleas from the Russian football team to be “less passionate” and “unhooliganistic” fell on deaf ears. Eventually, 20 fans were deported. But… the fever had already spread.

Flares and objects were thrown onto the pitch in the game between Czech Republic and Croatia. The flares came from the Croatian fans who were, at the time, leading 1-2. Talk about “passionate fans!”

Then there was the drama with the Hungarian fans in their game against Iceland.

Icing on the cake?

The random fan, who after an Olympic-like 100m race, left his marker (the security official) for dead, found his way to Cristiano Ronaldo’s side, SUCCESSFULLY took a selfie (or selfies I think?) with CR7 and then burst into tears.

I’m still unsure whether it was tears of finally meeting his hero or tears of the thought of spending the night in police custody instead of at his girlfriend’s.

But can the fans be blamed? I’m not sure. With the next point, you can understand why the fans are now even wilder.

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-Now, The Permutations Begin!
It’s that time of a football competition where qualifications and exits become the talking points. Who will make it to the next round? Who will be knocked out of the tourney?

With Round 2 gone, teams are looking over their shoulders, trying to get all necessary points for survival. They’re not alone! Their fans are busy too!

They’re busy calculating possible outcomes and what effects they’ll have on their darling teams. They’re speculating, “What if Team A wins and our team loses? Do we still qualify for the knockout stages? How about goals difference?”

The dilemna of a fan (or fans).

But fans of teams like France, Italy, and Spain don’t have such headaches. Their teams have gained passage to the next round thanks in part to great team play and…

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– The “Late Goals” Show
In the first round of games, it was France and Payet, Pique and Spain, Italy and Pelle with all the late goals.

Round 2 hasn’t been any different. In fact, there have been more late goals in the second round of games than in the first.

France need late goals from Payet & Griezmann to get maximum points and break Albanian hearts. England needed a 90th-minute Sturridge goal to make Gareth Bale eat his words.

For Hungary, an Iceland owngoal in the 88th minute was good enough to earn a draw. Italy’s Eder was on hand in the 87th minute to score a late winner against Sweden. The Czechs also left it late against Croatia, waiting until the 90th minute to level the game.

Worthy Mentions
If Modric’s or Payet’s goals were the leave-your-mouth-wide-open-in-amazement goals of the first round, then Marek Hamsik’s goal against Russia is the goal of the second round.

I dunno about you but I’m still unsure about Ronaldo and Portugal. CR7 seems to be suffering from “the lack of good-enough teammates,” most-notably, Quaresma’s abysmal performance against Austria.

And on the overall, they don’t look like they’ll make it far even if they qualify. Not a surprise though. With names like Germany and Spain, the way Italy is playing, it’s already hard to see Portugal winning the trophy.

Now think of the way Portugal are currently playing and imagine them lifting the trophy. Of course it’s totally possible/totally impossible (you choose).

Two rounds down, one to go!

P.S: What has caught your eye so far in the Euro 2016? Add to my list by dropping your comments. Don’t forget to share this great read with your friends. Trust me, they’ll thank you. 😉

About Author
Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter @rotdav and on LinkedIn

Euro 2016: So Far, So Good…

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The European football championships currently underway in France has been one of the most talked about football tournaments in recent times.

The security concerns before the tournament began overshadowed the glitz and glamour of the beautiful game and there was more bad news in the media than good. Skepticism was the order of the day for most.

Even though the Russian fans lived up to the expectations of some of the “skeptical” ones, beautiful goals, late winners and upsets have reminded me how beautiful football is.

With just the first round of games done with, there’s already so much to talk about. So far, so good,

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The Superstars Have Been Quiet
The European Championship is synonymous with top shots like Europe’s top 5 football leagues and the big names that ply their trades there. So, naturally, you’d expect the stars to shine. But the storms seem to have gathered in France, preventing the stars from shining. While big names like Welsh star Gareth Bale and Zlatan and Modric and Payet have contributed to goals, names like C. Ronaldo, Hazard and the whole England team have failed to live up to expectations. Maybe they’re still warming up and will come alive in the second and third round of games. Just maybe. Speaking of stars not shining…

– The “Smaller Teams” Are Shocking The “Big Boys”
Of course before tournaments, there are teams that are picked to win all their group games and have an easy stroll. But with results like the 1 – 1 draw between Portugal and Iceland, Hungary’s 0 – 2 defeat of Austria, it’s not been business as usual for the big boys in France. The smaller teams came prepared this time, with names like Romania forcing France to need a late winner in the tournament’s opening game. So much for the first round of games. Can’t wait for the others.

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– The Scarcity of Goals: Poor Goalscorers or Great Defenders?
Tournaments like the Euro Championships are expected to be full of goals (or so I think?) I mean: all those big names must come with goals right? But the first round has had “low-scoring” games, with the highest scoreline so far being 2 – 1 and all games ending in Under 3.5 goals (Hello Bettors!) So far, so good, I’m not sure who has been doing a better job: the shot-stoppers or the goal-getters. On the overall, they’ve all made this competition too tight to call. Round Two!!!

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– Late winners (France and Spain, Hungary and Italy)
Maybe with this point, it’s safe to say the defenders have been on top in the Euro 2016 championship. They’ve forced teams to dig deep and earn their full points. France needed an 87th-minute beauty to win all three points against Romania. Hungary scored in the 87th to seal a win. Italy needed a 90+3 min goal by Pelle to finish off the Belgians. The Spaniards needed a late goal too. It has not been a roller-coaster ride so far in France. Makes things more interesting yeah? Good one for us the fans!

Worthy Mentions
As England prepare to take on Wales, it seems the Englishmen are still suffering from the inability to perform on the big stages. With all those names, they could only manage a draw against the Russians. So much for having almost all your players come from the “fiestiest” football league in the world. Some will blame it on history (the English haven’t won any of their opening games in the European Championship). But like Olamide will say, “Sh’oro niyen?”

What else…?

Some will tell you that the Italians blew away the Belgians thanks to some fantastic tactical display by Antonio Conte. Chelsea fans can’t wait for the Italian. But, in reality? The Belgians FAILED TO GEL. They played individually and not as a team. They simply shot themselves in the foot. And now they’re at the bottom of the table.

After Round 1, let the games begin!

Images credit: Rediff

About Author
Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter @rotdav and on LinkedIn

Belgium 0 – Italy 2: 5 Tricks Antonio Conte Is Bringing To Chelsea

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The UEFA Euro 2016 game between Belgium and Italy was described by many as a winner-takes-all game.

That, in other words, meant that whoever won the fixture, would be in pole position to top the group after the group stages of the competition. And whoever lost the game risked being behind (and being knocked out too) in a group that seemed so complex.

So much at stake.

In the end, Italy won the game thanks to plenty of teamwork, great tactics and a great first half of football.

One name was behind the scenes, successfully pulling all the strings that made the Italian puppet outperform its Belgian counterpart. His name?

Antonio Conte.

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The Italian, with his usual 3-5-2 formation, was on top tactically throughout the first half. His formation successfully frustrated the Belgians during the period, forcing them to make shots from outside the box.

In anticipation of his move to Chelsea, I’ve analyzed the tactics Conte used against Belgium and how it can be implemented/utilized at Chelsea.

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– Plenty of Dynamism & A Compact Defense
Against Belgium, the Italian players moved around the pitch as a unit, especially in the first half. When going forward, there was always that support play. Defensively, he seemed to assign two players to one Belgian, anticipating every second move made by the Belgians. The players covered for each other with names like Giacherrini and Candreva dragging back to defend. This made the Italians HARD TO BREAK DOWN. And even when they were broken down, they made sure they CROWDED OUT the opposition player in their 18-yard box. Throughout the first half, the Italians forced Belgium into making shots from outside their 18-yard box. With this kind of technique, they were caught on the counter ONLY ONCE!

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– Loads of Wing Play
Emanuele Giaccherini and Antonio Candreva were Conte’s wings men in the 3-5-2 formation. They were also his tool of rattling the Belgian defense. These two players troubled Ciman and Vertoghen while freeing up space for Eder and Pelle (and Immobile when he came on). A run-in behind the opposition defense by Giaccherini made him to score the opening goal.

– Counter-Attacking Football
The Belgians came out firing on all fronts in the second half, trying to get the equalizer. They were now applying all their strength and numbers on this stubborn Italian defense system. They bolstered their attack line and ignored their defense, leaving them vulnerable. Instead of bringing in another defender to complement his team, Conte brought on Immobile and De Sciglio. Fresh legs to take advantage of the Belgian defense. This move paid off within minutes as Immobile’s first shot on target forced Courtois into making a save. In the 90+3 minute, 4 Italians were up against 3 Belgian defenders in a counter-attacking play. The end result? Pelle scored the second goal of the game in style, dashing all hopes of a Belgian comeback.

– Defenders…
…who are great passers of the ball. In the build-up to the tournament, several key names in Italy’s midfield got injured. Veratti, Montolivo. Pirlo was absent. It seemed the Italians would not be able to connect defense to attack. But Conte had other ideas: defenders with an eye for defense-splitting passes. Their responsibility would be to thread balls over the top of opposition defenders and into the path of strikers (or any player available) who would have found their way behind the last line of defense without triggering the offside flags. Their first attempt at this technique led to the game’s first goal.

– A Striker That Won’t Stop Running At the Opposition
This in a way was some sort of “counter-attacking” play. Antonio Conte, in his 3-5-2 set-up, fielded Pelle and Eder up front. Eder was given a mandate of running at the Belgian defense whenever they had the ball. This was to unsettle the Belgians and force them into launching the ball into the air, thereby turning their ball-possession into a “free-for-all” possession. Then the Italians would either win possession or “bully” the Belgians into giving it up. By the time Eder was exhausted, Conte subbed him off for Immobile to continue the running.

Even though it was Antonio Conte’s first game at the Euros as a coach and Belgians like Fellaini made things easy for the Italian, Conte has showed signs of how much he’s bringing to the Stamford Bridge.

Now imagine a Chelsea side with NO EUROPEAN COMMITMENTS and ALL THOSE TRICKS UP THEIR SLEEVES…

About Author
Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter @rotdav and on LinkedIn