Before the first kick was taken, the pundits sofa was united in their two pieces of advice for the penalty takers: make your mind up early and don’t change it, and, remember what you’d practiced. You’d have thought that a livewire coach like Antonio Conte would have slapped Simone Zaza senseless if he’d tried that spot kick in training. At the very least told him to stop mucking about.
He wasn’t the only one to miss but certainly the funniest. Or most desperate, if you’re Italian.
Mesut Özil gave Gianluigi Buffon the ‘eyes’ and sent his penalty against the post. It was his second successive miss from the spot. You have to admire the willingness to stand up and be counted but question whether his manager made the right choice. Well, obviously he didn’t as the miss showed.
To that point, it had been a good evening for Özil, with his goal giving Germany the lead. It was a match which swung to and fro between the sides. A ‘tactical battle’ they called it which generally means they are as dull as dishwater. This one though was fascinating. And as dull as dishwater at the same time.
That was until the lunacy of Jerome Boateng intervened. It was the bizarrest decision by a defender I’ve seen in quite some time, perhaps since Lee Dixon decided to chip David Seaman from 30 yards. The closest I can think to describe it is that he was auditioning for a new Dracula movie with his arms in that position. Redemption came when he comfortably converted his spot kick.
Germany are through but looked far from imperious. However, looking at the remaining nations, it’s hard to see anyone stopping them.
Tonight’s match sees France take on Iceland and everyone wants the underdogs to win. They won’t though; you know the fairytale is set to end with a crushing defeat as the rest of the world realises just how bad England really were.
Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny – there’s an interesting profile of him here – will both feature, with the striker continuing to baffle as to how he switches his form on and off so readily. He’s also a lesson in which football conversations move: criticise or want him as a Plan B, suggest he might benefit from some competition and accusations of treachery follow – you want him out of the club.
The definitive stances adopted by his defenders are counter-productive to Giroud’s cause. If it came to that black and white choice, the likelihood is that most would opt to sign a more consistent striker. Twenty goals a season is a decent total but when the majority come pre-Christmas, there’s a detrimental effect quickly felt.
It’s that missing element which keeps Giroud bracketed as a good striker but not moving to the ‘world class’ level. That said, hyperbole has rendered that term almost meaningless.
On the Arsenal front, things are very quiet. And quiet isn’t good for Arsenal, especially with teams expected to challenge for the title spending money like there’s no tomorrow. United have added two to their squad this weekend, City are looking to complete deals this week whilst Batshuayi is expected to join Chelsea tomorrow.
Arsenal, Xhaka already signed, were led a merry dance, making an uncomfortable contrast to the ‘decisive’ action of rivals. Transfers aren’t conducted in private, they are on the back pages and Arsenal’s absence for those column inches makes a febrile breeding ground for discontent.
For me, signing players who will improve the squad is really the only criteria we ought to worry about. It’s a big concern with Arsenal’s recent patchy transfer record; there’s genuine history with going into seasons with under-strength squads and it hasn’t ended well in the Premier League, we can all agree.
However, there are benefits in signing before pre-season training; it eases settling the squad and means Arsène isn’t distracted either. That may prove as beneficial as anything else, easing the pressure on himself rather than setting himself up for martyrdom.
The media believe the Arsenal board are ready to offer Arsène a new deal to fend off the FA’s interest in appointing Wenger as Roy Hodgson’s successor. This presumably isn’t the same offer which has sat on Arsène’s desk for some time, waiting for him to sign or an opportune moment to screw the board for a few dollars more. No-one wants to be paid in sterling the way the currency markets are going.
Meanwhile, Alexandre Lacazette is the latest striker Arsenal have failed to land with Lyon confident that the player will stay because the “coach relies on him”. As if player loyalty is something to consider in a move; it’s bought and sold like any other commodity. Expect Lacazette to sign a new deal in the next few weeks.