Euro 2024 hits and misses: Ronaldo's curtain call?

Ronaldo centre stage again – but was this his curtain call?

Even with superstar Kylian Mbappe on the pitch, attention is drawn towards Cristiano Ronaldo. His penalty shootout spot-kick summed up the theatre which surrounds him. The dramatic intake of breath. The staggered run-up. And the big celebration when he impressively thumped the ball in.

But while he may have played his part in Portugal’s two shootouts in the knockout stages of these Euros, his contributions during normal play have been less convincing. He was isolated here and spurned the half-chances when they did come his way, hacking the best of them over in extra-time.

With Portugal failing to link up in the final third, Goncalo Ramos – who famously scored a hat-trick when he replaced Ronaldo as a starter at the World Cup – and Diogo Jota were sat on the bench presumably wondering when they would get a go. The nod from Roberto Martinez never came.

The Portugal manager stood by Ronaldo until the very last. And perhaps this will be the final time we see him at a major tournament. His final Euros has ended without an in-game goal and a demonstration – to observers from outside the Portugal camp at least – that it is time to move on to the next generation.
Peter Smith

It wasn’t pretty but France find a way through

Theo Hernandez of France, right, celebrates with goalkeeper Mike Maignan after scores the winning goal to defeat Portugal during a quarter final match at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Hamburg, Germany, Friday, July 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Theo Hernandez of France, right, celebrates with goalkeeper Mike Maignan after scores the winning goal to defeat Portugal during a quarter final match at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Hamburg, Germany, Friday, July 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Hassan Amma

So it’s not just England supporters who are lamenting their side’s lack of exciting football at these championships. France fans must be feeling exactly the same. Incredibly, Les Bleus have reached the semi-finals without scoring once from open play.

They rarely looked like ending that strange drought against Portugal.

Didier Deschamps’ side were so passive, allowing Portugal to control possession for long periods. When they did get the ball in the opposition half, there seemed little cohesion between what has proven to be a devastating attack in the past. Star man Kylian Mbappe clearly isn’t right – his substitution midway through extra-time indicated that. But around him there seems a lack of conviction or commitment to go for it from his team-mates.

Ousmane Dembele did at least show that required drive when he came off the bench and is surely pushing for a starting role against Spain. Certainly France, if they are to reclaim their European crown, will need to find some final third spark at some point in this competition.
Peter Smith

Germany No 9s cost them semi-final spot

Kai Havertz was particularly wasteful in Germany's loss to Spain
Kai Havertz was particularly wasteful in Germany’s loss to Spain

There is a lot to like about this Germany team. Antonio Rudiger is a leader at the back, Manuel Neuer still has goalkeeping prowess, fluid youngsters such as Florian Wirtz, Jamal Musiala and Leroy Sane at the other end?

But why wasn’t it to be? Why was this a first-ever quarter-final exit at a European Championship?

Perhaps the one aspect missing was clarity in the No 9 role. Kai Havertz was a good link-up player was failed to score from open play in the tournament. Niclas Fullkrug looked sharp and scored a couple, so why wasn’t he starting? It felt off.

When it mattered, both failed in the big moments. Havertz missed two big chances at 0-0. Fullkrug generated 0.99 worth of xG from his six chances – and ended up scoreless.


Germany’s time will likely come again. As above, there are lots of positives. But just like in 2006 when Fabio Grosso and Italy struck late on German soil, it feels like an opportunity missed.
Sam Blitz

Unlikely hero Merino follows in father’s footsteps

Mikel Merino sent Spain through in the 119th minute
Mikel Merino scored once in 25 games for Newcastle in 2017/18

A late equaliser from Germany in normal time, a late winner from Spain in extra-time. This one took a while to get going but when it did, my word it was pulsating.

This really was a case of two European heavyweights slugging it out with 39 fouls in this match, the most in a single Euros fixture since Croatia faced Portugal in 2016.

Spain were on their knees when Florian Wirtz struck, but their pedigree saw them over the line. It is now six times they have reached the semi-finals at the European Championship, with only Germany (8) participating in more in the tournament’s history.

Mikel Merino failed to set pulses racing during his time at Newcastle, scoring once in 25 appearances before being shipped out to Real Sociedad after just one season.

Merino’s father Angel scored for Osasuna in a second-round UEFA Cup tie in November 1991 at Stuttgart. Mikel mimicked his celebration from that night as he danced around the corner flag in the same stadium, 33 years on for his country.

That is the beauty of international football. His leap reminded me of Tim Cahill, legs spread like a frog, twisting his neck as he ghosted behind Antonio Rudiger to place his header into the corner.

The Spaniards have been in imperious form at this tournament in recording five straight wins. Replicating the achievements of 2008 and 2012 is coming into sharp focus.
Ben Grounds

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