Group stage wide boys
Inverted wingers have been all the rage for a good few years now reason, but with Arjen Robben absent, Lionel Messi at Copa America and Ronaldo and Bale acting as central focal points for their respective teams, teams may need some genuine width against the mass defensive ranks that became a feature of the group stage.
Roy would argue that the wide players in his team should be the the full-backs and Kyle Walker, in particular, has risen to the task admirably. England’s most dangerous player in the opening games; Walker has been a major factor in Spurs’ resurgence and has now brought his pace and power to the national set up. While he does have the tendency to switch off or appear distracted (particularly when not fully fit), Walker now seems more focused and certainly did not appear tired from the domestic season as he gave Neil Taylor a truly torturous time against Wales. Nathaniel Clyne proved himself a worthy deputy in the Slovakia game, but tended to cross earlier and not run as close to the byline as the Yorkshireman. England will need Walker to attack Ari Freyr Skúlason and drag players from congested central areas in order to triumph against Iceland.
Ivan Perisic starred in Croatia’s outstanding victory over reigning champions Spain (more of that below) and has been a refreshing presence on the left of attack. Goals against Czech Republic and Spain and his willingness to go around his full back on the outside showed how dangerous he can be. Reassuringly, his performances seem to have improved since he got rid of that number 4 and Croatian coastline from the sides of his head (debate rages as to whether it was his children or a competition winner who shaved those in?).
Kit of the tournament
Germany’s classic home strip is the perfect encapsulation of their stereotypical menace and efficiency, while Belgium’s away kit wins points for including their flag colours without resorting to the garishness of their home shirt. Switzerland’s kit has obviously been the biggest embarrassment for its lack of durability while Ireland seem to be aiming for the highs of USA 94 by going for a 90s influence.
But in terms of most awaited match-up in the last 16, it must be Portugal’s mint green away number against Croatia; who should be given their first chance to unleash their red and white checks.
Team performance of the tournament (so far)
Croatia against Spain, without Luka Modric stands out as the first time an in form side has been beaten. You could class Ireland’s victory over Italy in the same bracket were it not for the 8 changes made by Antonio Conte (to take nothing away from the Irish performance). The Italian’s dismantling of the lauded Belgians still lingers in the memory and hopefully the second half of the draw will force sides to raise their game further should they wish to make it into the quarter finals.
Top marks to Icelandic commentator Gudmundur Benediction for producing the best reaction to a goal since Gary Neville and his Fernando Torres “goal-gasm” (shudder). Tony Pulis has been a charmingly relaxed presence on ITV (“Sam, is the number 14 a full back or a centre back?”) with no pretence of doing his research, and instead just watching a game and calling it as he sees it. “Lawro” meanwhile must soon be put out to pasture, as he now resembles a new addition to Gogglebox who is trying much too hard – less of this please!
Andrew Grillo, The Sweeper Football Blog