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UEFA Euro 2024 Preview: Semifinals

Semifinals
Jordan Pickford was massive for England in penalties, he will need to have another strong match in the Euro 2024 Semifinals. (Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports)

UEFA Euro 2024 Preview: Semifinals

The Quarterfinals at Euro 2024 saw some excitement and now the Semifinals are hours away. In the quarters, we saw some late goals, penalties, and a fair share of drama. In the first semifinal, Spain edged out Germany with a 119th-minute winner from Mikel Merino. However, before that, there was a rather controversial call in which Marc Cucurella had his arm out in the penalty box and was hit. The referee decided it was not a penalty for Germany which it looked like it should have been. Nonetheless, Spain held on despite a red card and an injury. The second quarterfinal in the top half of the bracket was far less eye-pleasing. France and Portugal played a rather dire 0-0 draw that required penalties to decide who moved on to the Semifinals. France even without Kylian Mbappé went a perfect five for five while João Félix hit the post and ultimately cost it for Portugal. 

The other half of the bracket saw a nail-biting match between the Netherlands and Turkey. Turkey opened up the scoring 35 minutes in with a goal from Samet Akaydin. It took 70 minutes for the Netherlands to get level and it came from the head of Stefan de Vrij. The powerful header started something for the Dutch who took the lead six minutes later on an own goal from Mert Müldür. Müldür tried to make a last-ditch effort to deny Cody Gakpo from a tap-in goal at the back post. Like the France and Portugal match, England and Switzerland were far less exciting. It took 75 minutes for someone to break through. That came from Breel Embolo. The Swiss forward poked the ball into the goal to get the lead. A mere five minutes later, England leveled it on their first shot on target of the match. Bukayo Saka ripped one with his left foot from outside the box that found its way past Yann Sommer. Extra time went the same way as the first 70 minutes, and soon we found ourselves in another penalty shootout. England put their penalty disaster from the Euro 2020 Final behind them to score all five while Jordan Pickford saved the first Swiss penalty from Manuel Akanji.

Now time to dig into the Semifinals matches and see what will make these teams separate themselves.

Spain vs France – July 9

Spain has looked like the best team at Euro 2024 so far with an array of young players making a name for themselves. That starts with Lamine Yamal. The 16-year-old leads the tournament with three assists. Along with him 21-year-old Nico Williams has scored a goal but been one of the more dangerous players in the Spanish attack. However, they will be without Pedri. The 21-year-old star midfielder picked up an injury eight minutes in that will keep him out for the remainder of Euro 2024 including the Semifinals. Pedri will not be the only player missing from Spain’s lineup. Defenders Dani Carvajal and Robin Le Normand picked up cards that will see them suspended for the Semifinals. Carvajal was shown a red card in the 120+5’ after picking up a yellow earlier in extra time. Le Normand picked up his second yellow card of the tournament earlier on. 

France is the story of two sides. Offensively they have looked brutal. Through five matches they have yet to score from open play with the only goal they’ve scored coming from a penalty. The other two goals for France came from own goals. Defensively though, there has not been a better team. The only goal that France has allowed came from a penalty against Poland. The backline consisting of William Saliba, Theo Hernández, Dayot Upamecano, and Jules Koundé has been superb. Saliba has looked like one of the best defenders, if not the best. There are still questions surrounding Mbappé and his broken nose. The star forward came off in extra time after getting knocked once again.

For Spain to win in the Euro 2024 Semifinals, they will need to break down the tight French defense. That starts with the midfield. Fabián Ruiz and Dani Olmo lead the team in goals with two each. Olmo will be likely replacing Pedri for this Semifinals and look to carry his strong play from the Quarterfinals over to the next round. Expect Yamal and Williams to try and stretch the French backline and open space for Álvaro Morata. There will also be pressure on the Spanish backline that will be without two starters. In the place of Carvajal and La Normand will probably be Jesús Navas and Nacho. The two have not played much all tournament but will need to hold things solid for Spain to advance.

On the other side, France will need to find a way to score. They will need Marcus Thurman and Antoine Griezmann to step up, unlike they have so far. If Mbappé is not up to full form then the supporting attack will have to prove their worth. As we have seen in recent tournaments France is extremely dangerous and can turn their poor performances so far around in the snap of a finger. To beat the high-scoring Spanish team France will need Saliba and company to continue playing how they have done so far. 

Prediction

As poor as France has played so far this team seems to continually find ways to win. With the players missing in the Spanish side, it will be a new look for them. The age of the players stepping into Spain’s backline for the Semifinals concerns me. Sure Nacho and Navas have a wealth of experience, but they aren’t nearly as quick as the attack of France. I have France winning 1-0 in extra time. 

Netherlands vs England – July 10

The Netherlands has struggled a bit here and there, but they have still worked their way to the Euro 2024 Semifinals. The best they have looked came against Romania in a 3-0 win. Outside of that, they have fallen behind in three of their four other matches. What that shows is that they can find ways to come back. However, it is a concern of mine that they are slow to start games. Cody Gakpo has been leading the attacking line with three goals. Alongside him has been Donyell Malen with two goals. In their match against Turkey, the tide changed when Wout Weghorst came on. The tall striker causes issues to defenses that Memphis Depay just does not pose. Defensively Virgil van Dijk has been strong leading the way. 

Just as the Dutch have done, England continues to fall behind and pull some miracle out of their butts. First, it was a 90+5’ minute bicycle kick equalizer from Jude Bellingham to draw level with Slovakia. Then, it was an 85th-minute goal from Bukayo Saka to save England against Switzerland. The lack of attacking prowess has been very noticeable. However, Gareth Southgate’s side had a better look going forward once he switched formations to allow for a more spaced attack going forward. While England’s attack has been lackluster, to say the least, the defense, and especially Jordan Pickford has been stout. Pickford was a hero in penalties in the Quarterfinals. This defense will need to keep strong in the Semifinals. 

For the Netherlands to win this matchup in the Semifinals, they will need to make sure not to fall behind early. This has been a common occurrence but against far less opposition than the English side, they will be facing. The Dutch will need Depay, Gakpo, and Malen to pressure the English back three early and often. If they get the lead they will need Van Dijk and 21-year-old goalkeeper, Bart Verbruggen, to play a great match to avoid allowing England another late equalizer. 

For England to win, they will need to do something similar. The attack has started slowly in every match. They will need Harry Kane to find the form that he had in the Bundesliga and have Phil Foden finally show up. They cannot keep relying on Bellingham and Saka to bail them out. Foden has struggled immensely so far. Through five games he has yet to have a goal or assist. Elsewhere the move for Luke Shaw to start out wide over Kieran Trippier could benefit England both going forward and back. When he came on against Switzerland, the team looked much stronger. Shaw and Saka on the wings may be a recipe for destruction or disaster depending on if they can play the way they did in the last 15 minutes and extra time or not.

Prediction

The second match of the Semifinals has the concern of being rather dire. However, I think the teams playing will find a way to make this exciting. Pretty straightforward, but whoever scores the first goal will have a massive advantage. However, both teams have proven their capability of coming from behind so whoever takes the lead will need to keep going forward and not welcome oncoming pressure. I think this Semifinals match at Euro 2024 will head to extra time after a 1-1 draw, with England finding the difference in the extra thirty minutes to win 2-1.

***

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