I usually mentally divide the phases of a finals tournament as you would with a classic comedy, in three acts: the setup, the confrontation, and the climax. The setup is the group stage. In which all the different teams (and different personalities) are introduced, and define their characteristics, graces and ambitions. The confrontation (or the midpoint junction) comes in the form of the last 16 and the quarter-finals, where the plot thickens. The climax, of course, is the semi-finals and final, where the mystery is solved. So today then, we arrive in act two, when teams reveal their secondary personalities and we find out which are going to stay in shot, and which are going to be written out.
The midpoint of this great story will begin to unravel this afternoon with three encounters. Switzerland-Poland – a game which doesn’t really get me going, although the excellent Swiss midfielder Xhaka has the potential to get you out your seat. Later, it’s Wales-Northern Ireland (with aromas of the Six Nations): two sides who show their faces in the wake of Brexit, in which their different populations voted different ways. Northern Ireland, like Scotland, wanted to remain, Wales, like England, chose to leave. But that political situation will be purely anecdotal, and won’t loom over this game. Something which does loom over it though is the presence of Gareth Bale, one of the competition’s biggest stars.
What could have been
To close out the day’s proceedings, it’s Croatia-Portugal. This game could have featured Spain, although Vicente Del Bosque says he wasn’t sure if Portugal would have posed an easier task than facing Italy. The majority of fans surely would have preferred this route though. That said, Cristiano was in tremendous form the other day, resolving the damage in Hungary’s box which his teammates had caused in their own. Today we’ll see him against a very good team, in which Modric returns to take the steering wheel. As with Bale, Cristiano and Modric are flying the flag well for Real Madrid. It’s just a shame one of them will be leaving the competition today.