Robbie Fowler takes stock of the tournament so far and looks ahead to the weekend's games.
I don’t buy the opinion that Cristiano Ronaldo has been poor, okay he’s missed a penalty but he’s made a major contribution so far, not least with two crucial goals in the 3-3 draw with Hungary. Zlatan Ibrahimovic barely contributed as Sweden went out with a whimper and we are still waiting on the likes of Muller, Giroud and Kane etc to hit their straps.
Midfields and defences have dominated and it’s been no surprise to me that Iniesta has been star of the show for Spain - he’s the glue that holds that team together and few players make the game look as easy as he does in world football.
Spain and Italy both lost their final group game but, along with Croatia, they looked the best sides in the tournament prior to that so Monday’s meeting between them will have a major bearing on the shape of the tournament going forward.
Croatia have impressed a lot of people, not least when beating Spain despite resting some key players, and I’ve been very taken by Ivan Perisic, who looks the sort of player that could do well in the Premier League.
On to the weekend’s games and all eyes will be on Paris on Saturday evening as Wales face Northern Ireland in the Stade de France.
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Gareth Bale always takes the plaudits for Wales but I think Aaron Ramsey has been the star of the show for Chris Coleman’s side, with Joe Allen not far behind. They help form a strong backbone to this Welsh side and, while Northern Ireland won’t go down without a fight, I expect Wales to win this in 90 minutes. To that extent, the best odds even money about Bale and co. winning this game in standard time looks a solid bet.
The final match on Saturday also throws up a strong 90-minute selection in the shape of Croatia who have looked the real deal so far and I can see them having far too much for a Portugal side who have struggled to get the job done against much weaker opponents in their group.
Most people won’t give Republic of Ireland a prayer against France and the bookmakers don’t either, but the hosts have hardly set the world alight so far and it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise should the burden of expectations prove too much for Didier Deschamps’ side on Sunday afternoon. If Ireland can keep it tight early, they could frustrate the French and the longer the game goes on, the more the home crowd will become nervous. I don’t expect Martin O’Neill’s men to offer a great amount going forward either and for that reason it might be worth having a small wager on this being goalless after 90 minutes. The 0-0 scoreline is a 6/1 chance, as is No Goalscorer.
All the best,