Place: Istanbul |
Drink: Orange juice |
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water of football fairy tale finishes… Someone finally handed the “sharks” – Germany, France, Portugal – a familiar script, the one in which they progress to the latter stages of yet another major international soccer tournament, in this case the semi-finals of Euro 2016, which kicks off again tonight in France.
It’s inspiring that at least one “minnow” (see my previous post), the Dragons of Wales (pop. 3 million), are still swimming with sharks. And now that the semis are upon us, here’s how I see this double feature playing out. Agree? Disagree? Think I’m gorffwyll (crazy in Welsh)? Please leave a comment with your own prognostications!
PORTUGAL v. WALES (8 pm tonight @ Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon)
Why Wales Will Win: Its brightest star will shine brighter. Billed as the battle of the biggest stars – or, at least, among the best paid ones – on the planet, Gareth Bale (Wales) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) know each other well. Having just taken the Champions League title as teammates for Real Madrid, each would love nothing better than adding a Euro final to his constellation of accolades. So far, the supporting casts of both sides have played huge roles, and Wales will certainly miss its midfield maestro, Aaron Ramsey, suspended for the match. I still think the Dragons will have enough firepower and confidence, fresh from a quarter-final upset of world #2 Belgium, to send Ronaldo pouting back to Portugal.
Prediction: Wales 2-1, with Bale scoring the winner in extra time
GERMANY v. FRANCE (8 pm Thursday @ Stade Vélodrome, Marseille)
“Football is a simple game,” ex-England striker Gary Lineker once said. “Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.” While France has enjoyed a summer picnic in its own backyard, including feasting on everyone’s favorite minnow, Iceland, to reach the semis, Germany will prove a far stingier guest. So far, the reigning world champs have yet to concede a goal in open play. The loss of Sami Khedira, Mario Gómez, and Mats Hummels, through injury or suspension, is reason for concern, but I’m still going to side with Lineker and history. Nine times in World Cups and European Championships, including six semi-finals, the Germans have eliminated the tournament hosts.
Prediction: Germany 3-1, with Thomas Müller finally finding his scoring boots