Can Wales win the Euros?

With Euro 2016 reaching an exciting climax, it’s time to see whether or not Chris Coleman’s Wales can do the impossible, Ronaldo can finally get international glory, Germany can win back to back tournaments or France can win on home soil once again.

Wales, who have won all but one game in their Euro campaign so far, were very impressive in their shock 3-1 win over Belgium in the quarter finals, where they fought back from 1-0 down after Radja Nainggolan’s stunning strike with goals from Ashley Williams, Hal Robson-Kanu and Sam Vokes.

Robson-Kanu, who scored the winner in Wales’ opening game of the group stage against Slovakia, tucked away an outstanding finish when, with the score tied at 1-1, he controlled a cross from Aaron Ramsey, pulled off an audacious Cruyff turn, and, keeping his head in the biggest game of his career, calmly slotted the ball past keeper Thibaut Courtois.

That goal set up an exciting finish, and after Belgium went looking for an equaliser, a classy header from Sam Vokes sealed the match, booking Wales their place in the semi-finals.

Unfortunately, despite the nature of their historic win, yellow cards for Ben Davies and Aaron Ramsey mean that both of them will be out of the last four clash with Portugal, and whilst Ben Davies is a key player in the side, Aaron Ramsey has had a glittering tournament so far, with a goal and four assists proving crucial in their rapid progress into the latter stages of Euro 2016.

Ramsey, who brings flair and creativity that no one else in the Wales squad can, will be a big miss, so Andy King of Leicester, if picked to replace him, will have a huge job on his hands.

Still, if there was a team where Wales may not need their Arsenal star, it could well be against Portugal, a side who are yet to win a game in 90 minutes in all of their five games so far in France.

Obviously, they would still rather have him than not have him, but if they can get themselves through to the final, providing Ramsey keeps himself clear of any freak injuries, he will be back, eligible to play, and he will have had an important rest.

Without one of their main stars available, there will be more pressure on Gareth Bale, and the Real Madrid winger got off to a flyer in the group stage with three goals in three games, so as we reach crunch time with the semi-finals, Bale will hope to further stake his claim to become the best player in Welsh history, after all, Ryan Giggs and Ian Rush never succeeded at a major tournament.

As for the match up between Bale and his club team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, it is likely to be that whichever of the two shows up on the night will see their team prevail overall, but despite their individual quality, Wales have shown on many occasions that a good team ethic combined with hard work and determination can get them far.

Portugal contrast deeply, as their team is mainly built around Ronaldo, but whilst they have wanted to get the best out of Cr7, he has mainly been on the periphery of their matches so far, with his impressive display in their 3-3 draw with Hungary being the exception.

That match is also an exception in the sense that Portugal have hardly been entertaining to watch, and really, in truth, they haven’t played very well, after scraping through an accessible group in third place behind Iceland and Hungary, and after they had to wait 118 minutes to score in their 1-0 win over Croatia, they beat Poland on penalties following a goalless 120 minutes to reach the semis.

Moving onto the other last four match, hosts France, who beat Iceland 5-2 in the quarter finals, face World Cup holders Germany, who beat Italy on penalties en route to this eagerly anticipated clash.

The latter, who have looked cool throughout the tournament, finally met their match in the form of a resolute Italy side under Antonio Conte, but they made it through, and although they may not be as good as they were when they won the World Cup two years ago, they are considered by many as favourites to win the whole thing.

A strong side all round rather than being strong in one area, that could suit them, but they may still struggle to contain the likes of France’s Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann who have been in fine form so far in their home Euros campaign.

Greizmann is the tournament’s top scorer so far with four and Payet, who has three goals to his name so far, will be a serious contender for player of the tournament.

Facing Germany could mean that the return from suspension of N’golo Kante could be huge, and after the duo flourished playing as two strikers against Icleand, Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann could play as a pair once again, with Payet possibly moving into the middle.

Should Payet vacate his previous role on the left and play in the hole, he may obstruct the space for Paul Pogba to roam, but if he drifts wide, allowing himself to cut inside as he loves doing, he could prove effective, providing Didier Deschamps is able to fit his two creative stars together in attacking positions.

So, two blockbuster semi-final matches await us – the first a match with a player of incredible class looking to prove himself against a strong collective unit that also have one star player, and the second a mouth-watering fixture between two European powerhouses – we’ve got a lot to look forward to.


Lionel Messi retires from international football

It was meant to be the moment. The time when Lionel Messi finally achieved the international glory he craved so much. His fantastic tournament was all set to end with revenge against Chile, the side who had beaten Argentina in last year’s Copa America final in cruel fashion, thanks to a penalty shoot out after a 0-0 draw.

Incredibly, in this year’s Copa final, after a goalless 120 minutes, it was spot kicks again, and, after Arturo Vidal missed the Chile’s first, it was up to Messi.

The best player in the world places the ball on the spot. He hasn’t had a good penalty record over the past couple of years. Is he thinking about that? It doesn’t look like it. In fact, he looks quite confident, as he steps up to, quite possibly, take the most important kick of his life. If he scores, Argentina goal 1-0 up after a penalty each, and look favourites to win. If he misses, Chile are back in it.

He glances up at the goalkeeper, and steps up to strike. And he misses. He blazes his shot hideously over the bar. His head sinks into his hands as he begins the long walk back to the halfway line.

He had scored a penalty in the shootout of last year’s final, but Argentina ha still lost. This year, he missed, so it wasn’t really as surprise when Chile went on to claim back to back Copa America titles, both of them coming from 0-0 draws after 120 minutes and winning on penalties against Argentina.

However, in the aftermath of the match, little of the focus was on the champions, because it was Messi who sent shockwaves throughout world football, stating that he would retire from international football in an interview.

His decision to give up at 29 with the Russia World Cup looming just two years away was definitely unexpected, but before blaming him, we have to put things into context.

Whilst always consistently performing at club level for Barcelona, he has never quite been able to produce that kind of form for the national team.

Of course, we have seen spells of brilliance, and after he lit up the tournament all the way up to this year’s final, it would have been the perfect way to finally get his first major international honour, after winning gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

But of course, it wasn’t to be, and following Argentina’s defeat in the 2007 Copa America final, they have now lost the final at every tournament for the last three years, after the 2014 World Cup final, the 2015 Copa America final, and the 2016 Copa Centenario Final all saw Messi and co fall at the final hurdle.

Undoubtedly, it’s a situation that would be almost impossible to handle for the five time Ballon D’Or winner, and after his announcement that it was all over, reports are suggesting that Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Sergio Aguero, Lucas Biglia and Angel Di Maria (to name a few) could also follow suit.

As for his international career on the whole, if he wasn’t Lionel Messi, it would have been brilliant. Unfortunately, the fact that he is such a good player means that despite being their all time record goalscorer, his lack of a major trophy means he falls just short of many Argentinian people’s requirements.

He may have taken apart bitter rivals Brazil with a stunning hat-trick, he may have scored four brilliant goals in the World Cup group stages, he may have guided his country to this latest final with jaw-dropping pieces of skill and brilliance, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t enough.

So, if he does stay true to his word, it seems he will ultimately fail to earn the elusive accolade of the best player of all time, after all, whilst he has never been part of a quality Argentina side, Diego Maradona, who he has been likened to on a countless number of occasions, managed to drag a relatively poor side to World Cup glory, and even if Messi may have been a better player, there is no doubt that Maradona had a better career.

Yes, he is a truly unbelievable football player – but perhaps not the best to grace the earth.