TV View: Shearer’s fears are confirmed, the Germans are coming

In the RTÉ studio Damien Duff and Richie Sadlier see hope for Spain after 5-0 win

German players celebrate after they drew 2-2 with Hungary in Munich. Photo: Lukas Barth-Tuttas/EPA

German players celebrate after they drew 2-2 with Hungary in Munich. Photo: Lukas Barth-Tuttas/EPA

 

The meeting of the reigning European champions, Portugal and the current world champions, France, a match to savour, a galaxy of star players to illuminate the Puskas arena in Budapest, although that seems a wildly inappropriate metaphor given the Hungarian government’s Iridophobia.

But the most pertinent opening question for the BBC’s soccer panel was which team England would prefer to face in the Round of 16. Alan Shearer wanted to avoid Germany, Frank Lampard felt France would cause Gareth Southgate’s side most difficulty while Rio Ferdinand went looking for tweezers.

Hungary took the lead against Germany in Group F’s other match in the biblical rain in Munich, Ronaldo’s penalty put Portugal 1-0 up and at that point BBC co-commentator the excellent Jermaine Jenas ventured that, “who knows the French might be saying we don’t mind going to Wembley,” a suggestion lent credibility on the evidence of their first half lethargy.

Portugal had to win, France were already through and that was reflected in the respective energy levels until the game’s second penalty; there’d be more vigorous jostling in junior infants than Nelson Semedo brought to bear in easing Kylian Mbappe out of harm’s way. Referee Antonio Lahoz is rather partial to the spotlight according to Gary Lineker. No argument here.

Karim Benzema, who commentator Guy Mowbray explained had missed his last three penalties, converted the spot kick. What was arguably more disconcerting was the little handshake between the penalty scorers and ex-Real Madrid teammates as the first half drew to a close.

They were united again soon after the interval, Benzema scoring a second following a VAR review and Ronaldo then smacked home a second penalty, his 109th international goal drawing level with Iran’s Ali Daei at the top of the all-time list. At 2-2 Portugal were Wembley bound when Hungary went 2-1 up in Munich. The German equaliser earned them the London gig.

When the whistles went in Budapest and Munich, a pair of 2-2 draws, it was a case of as you were at the start of play. Shearer’s worst nightmare had been realised; the Germans are coming.

Earlier in the day in Seville, a man ponders a course of action and gets out a pen and paper. He sits on an ice box and begins to write.

El País newspaper. Situations vacant. Striker/penalty taker required. No previous experience. Start immediately. Contact L Enrique, 1800 Desperate for details. Few would have blamed Spain’s manager if he’d been mentally composing that ad 11 minutes into his team’s pivotal Euro 2020 group clash with Slovakia after the beleaguered Alvaro Morata had a penalty saved by Martin Dubravka.

For the second time in the tournament - Gerard Moreno the culprit against Poland - and the fifth occasion in succession Spain failed to convert a spot kick, their travails in front of goal a frailty that had perplexed the RTÉ panel in the build-up to the match.

Possession is nine tenths of the law but as Spain emphatically proved in the tournament prior to the Slovakian game ‘owning’ the ball doesn’t guarantee goals. That’s the tricky bit.

In the RTÉ studio Damien Duff and Richie Sadlier, ardent admirers of the Spanish way, both lamented the very obvious and debilitating shortcoming that threatened to deny Enrique’s team a passage to the knockout stages of the competition.

Those fears looked like being realised following the penalty miss but as Spain continued to flounder they found an unlikely acolyte. Dubravka, who had saved the penalty and made a couple of other fine stops, literally handed the home side the breakthrough of which they appeared incapable, when in trying to push the ball over the crossbar he palmed it into the net; ham-fisted, bizarre, slapstick, chose your description.

The upshot was remarkable. The pall of anxiety that had previously afflicted Spain’s goal-shy players evaporated in the Seville sunshine. A second materialised in first half injury time, the trickle then turned into a torrent with three goals in 15 second half minutes. Back in the RTÉ studio Peter Collins was right to suggest that Slovakia’s insipid performance had to be factored into the analysis.

Sadlier acknowledged that “the opposition (Slovakia) was alarmingly bad,” while Duff admitted that “Slovakia didn’t put up an awful lot of fight, it was a capitulation job. It does show that if you open up against Spain that’s what they will do to you. It’s the perfect day for them (Spain), a great win and great for confidence.”

Not sure if that’ll extend to Morata, his team scored five goals to which he contributed none, he missed a penalty and his replacement scores upon his introduction. It’s hard to find any succour in those statements. But as far as the collective goes, Spain march on. Questions remain but the inquisition is less virulent; for now.

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