Success in football is often determined by that old cliché, ‘being more than the sum of the parts’. A truly brilliant team will exceed said sum, it will be a unit, a well-oiled machine that performs above expectations.
Unfortunately for this European Championships, only one of the countries that have qualified for the last four really represents this.
Germany, despite their star-studded squad, have been significantly underwhelming. Jogi Low’s side began the tournament with a breezy 2-0 win against Ukraine and haven’t really shown their breath-taking form of the 2014 World Cup since. Even in the opening game victory, it was more a case of individual class showing through, rather than the footballing masterclass we may’ve hoped for. That game against Ukraine saw Toni Kroos dominate, but there was little resemblance to the team that wiped the floor with Brazil two summers ago.
All the quality is evidently there for Germany, but there group games hardly looked like a side who could win a second major tournament in three years. Their fortunate escape against the Italian’s in the quarter-final reflected a team that is not performing to the level they should be. Thomas Muller’s continued failings at the Euros have not helped Germany’s cause, of course, and they were fortunate it was only Slovakia standing in their way in the last 16. The Germans have seldom come close to their brilliance of 2014. That brilliance threatened to make this German team one of the all-time great national sides. Their performances up until the semi-final stage in France represent a team who have muddled through due to supreme quality and squad depth rather than a team who have really lit up the tournament.
Now, France. The hosts have yet to dazzle quite as many expected from a squad possessing some of the world’s best players. Late goals saved them against both Romania and Albania, before a dead rubber match against Switzerland ended in a drab 0-0. Dimitri Payet has been the main shining light for this French side, whilst Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba have largely underperformed.
The thrashing of Iceland in the quarter final gave the stats a good boost ahead of their match with Germany, but even this needs to be put in to context. Iceland, for all their over-achieving, losing to France by several goals is not a shock, it is simply a return to the comparative norm in many ways. This French team is laced with quality, with creative spark and entertainers but they are yet to show they are a side that can go on to dominate European football. Compared to their wonderful side of 1998 and 2000, this team falls short. The quality is certainly there, but, as a complete unit, they are yet to really inspire, to really show they have a definitive way of playing. This could all change against Germany of course, although individual flashes have been the way forward for France thus far.
The third semi-finalist, and third favourite for the tournament, Portugal has been as disappointing as anyone. It is a freak that Portugal have made it this far, considering that they are yet to actually win a game of football. Aside from the tedious chatter of Cristiano Ronaldo’s perceived underperformance, Portugal’s youthful, talented squad has flattered to deceive. In the tournament’s weakest group, Portugal’s failure to pick up a victory against minnows Iceland, a lacklustre Austria or Hungary is one of the great disappointments of this summer football feast.
Nani and Quaresma have continued their career trajectory as nearly-men, whilst the elderly Ricardo Carvalho has looked just that. If it wasn’t for a fortuitous draw, Portugal would likely have faced far stronger teams than Switzerland and Poland in the knockout rounds. At their current performance level, Portugal would have been brushed aside by any stronger team long before their semi-final date with Wales. Like Germany and France, Portugal have not performed as a team, as a collective. They have fallen far short in the quality of their performances throughout and, unless that changes, it would be a shame if they were to win the tournament.
Finally, on to Wales. The only of the four remaining teams who have truly captured the imagination of the neutrals. Chris Coleman’s team have been organised, entertaining and performed with quality that many suggested was not in their squad. The patronising has stopped around Coleman’s side and there is a genuine possibility that they could go on to win the tournament. Right now, Wales are the side most deserving of their semi-final spot.
Wales have exceeded all expectations, they have provided upsets and performed at a level far greater than the squad list alone would suggest. In a tournament of seismic footballing shocks, we have been left with three wholly disappointing teams in the semi-finals.