Euro 2024 QF talking points: Ronaldo vs Mbappe, red-hot Spain

Spain vs Germany

Supercomputer’s favourites face hosts in heavyweight quarter-final

Spain have become the supercomputer’s favourites to win Euro 2024 but they face their biggest test so far on Friday as they take on hosts Germany in a mouth-watering quarter-final.

There is no doubt Spain have been the most convincing team at the tournament. Luis de la Fuente’s side have a 100 per cent record with Robin Le Normand’s own goal in the 4-1 last-16 win over Georgia the only goal they have conceded so far.

Such is Spain’s fluidity that they had 35 shots against Georgia – the most in a match at either the World Cup (since 1966) or Euros (since 1980).

La Roja have been an exciting watch and are everything England should be with their attacking talent clicking. But their opponents on Friday night in Stuttgart possess the weapons to hurt them and a midfield to rival them.

Germany have not quite hit the heights of Spain but Julian Nagelsmann’s side have shown glimpses of their electrifying quality with Jamal Musiala at the heart of it.

Stuttgart set for Euros classic?

The tournament’s two highest-scoring teams meet in Stuttgart, with Germany on 10 goals to Spain’s eight.

Spain’s 82 shots also lead the way while Germany’s Jamal Musiala is level with the Netherlands’ Cody Gakpo – and eliminated pair Ivan Schranz and Georges Mikautadze – atop the Golden Boot standings.

This is surprisingly Die Mannschaft’s first quarter-final at a major competition for eight years, but expectations will be high as the host nation.

And that home advantage could well give Germany the edge in what has been a tight affair in recent years between these two sides, with their last five meetings producing one win for each team and three draws.

It does feel like that whoever wins this heavyweight last-eight clash could well go on to win the whole thing.
Declan Olley

Will Kroos delay retirement?

Toni Kroos
Toni Kroos lifted the World Cup with Germany in 2014 and has won the Champions League six times

A 34-year-old Toni Kroos has rolled back the years in the Germany engine room this summer, but now he meets his toughest opponent with retirement on the line.

Kroos has made the most successful passes (386) with a 95 per cent completion rate and has created the second-most chances at the tournament. He has been untouchable.

Robert Andrich plays the enforcer role alongside him with 11 tackles and eight fouls placing him among Euro 2024’s toughest midfielders, while the silky Ilkay Gundogan brings guile and composure in between the lines.

Germany's Toni Kroos, left, and Germany's Robert Andrich gesture at the end of the round of sixteen match between Germany and Denmark at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Dortmund, Germany, Saturday, June 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Kroos and Robert Andrich form the base of Germany’s midfield

The Germany midfield is balanced nicely, although, with a combined age of 96, the younger Spain trio can stretch their creaking legs.

Rodri anchors the midfield like he does at Manchester City with Pedri and Fabian Ruiz playing ahead of him, feeding the wingers and breaking into the box.

Fabian Ruiz celebrates after doubling Spain's lead against Croatia
Fabian Ruiz has shone in the Spain midfield

Ruiz has been particularly impressive, scoring and assisting in two of his three games and having eight shots – the most of any midfielder. He does his fair share of dirty work too, winning possession the second-most at the tournament (29).

There would be no shame in Kroos’ illustrious career ending against this opposition. He is playing well enough to stop it from happening though.
David Richardson

Yamal and Williams give Spain wings

Nico Williams has been among Euro 2024's standouts
Nico Williams has been among Euro 2024’s standouts

Spain have been enjoying the calm before the storm.

With three tournament wins each, they and Germany are the most successful nations in European Championship history, but the prospect of Friday’s showdown was put on the backburner this week as De la Fuente took his squad out to the tranquil setting of the Black Forest.

Nico Williams became the first player on record at the European Championship to score a goal, assist another and complete 100 per cent of his passes (46/46) in a game he started
Williams became the first player at the European Championship to score a goal, assist another and complete 100 per cent of his passes (46/46) in a game he started

Blocking out a growing cacophony surrounding the exploits of their enterprising young wingers will prove difficult, however.

The 4-1 victory over Georgia was the first time since Italy were hammered 4-0 in the Euro 2012 final that Spain have won a knockout-stage game in normal time at a major tournament, but the reason they have now been installed as favourites of this edition is down in large part to two young men.

Lamine Yamal was excellent in Spain's win over Croatia
Lamine Yamal has provided two assists already – the first teenager to assist multiple goals at an edition of the European Championship since Cristiano Ronaldo at Euro 2004

How Spain became more vertical under De la Fuente

Spain, for so long the benchmark for possession and passing football, rank only fourth in those categories among the quarter-finalists this time around to emphasise the evolution in their style.

Luis de la Fuente’s side have completed 2,281 of 2,578 passes but those numbers trail Portugal (2,558 of 2,953), England (2,470 of 2,837) and Germany (2,451 of 2,745) – with the caveat that Portugal and England both needed extra-time in the last 16.

Lamine Yamal was heavily tipped to shine over the course of the month but Nico Williams’ star has reached new heights. His performances have already reportedly attracted interest from Chelsea, although Spanish publication SPORT claims the Athletic Bilbao winger would prefer a move to Barcelona.

“They are playing at a very high level,” Mikel Oyarzabal said of the pair. “They’re making a difference for us and that’s positive for the team. They’re different, it’s getting more and more difficult to find players like them. They’re young, they’re fearless, they’re going to do what they have to no matter the rival.”

Germany have Musiala – the joint-top scorer on three goals – and Florian Wirtz to call on, so this is also the clash of the wonderkids. Spain will look to their two precocious wide talents to deliver another display full of skill and swagger.
Ben Grounds

France and Portugal need their shooting boots on

The best forwards in the world on either side, France vs Portugal has all the makings of being a classic fixture. Or does it?

Incredibly, a France player is still yet to score from open play in this tournament so far. Les Bleus’ top scorer at this Euros is ‘Own Goal’ with two.

Can Ronaldo finally get off the mark?

France are yet to score from open play, with two own-goals and a penalty seeing them this far, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s 20 efforts on goal for Portugal are more than any other player in the tournament but he has failed to find the net.

That includes an extra-time penalty saved by Slovenia’s Jan Oblak on Monday night, though Ronaldo did score in the shoot-out that followed – in which Diogo Costa saved all three Slovenia attempts, a European Championship record.

Portugal, meanwhile, are not much better. They come into this game having failed to score in the last two and have statistically the most wasteful player in the tournament so far in their talisman and captain.

Cristiano Ronaldo has produced the most shots in the tournament so far with 20, but is still yet to score. His negative xG differential of -2.75 is the worst record in the competition too. Second in the list is France’s Antoine Griezmann, who is also without a goal despite producing 1.92 of xG.

With Kylian Mbappe also showing signs of wastefulness, both teams could do with getting their shooting boots on – as the games are getting bigger and the margins are getting smaller.
Sam Blitz

Saliba key for France after winning over Deschamps

William Saliba
William Saliba was a surprise inclusion in the France XI for Euro 2024 but his performances have not disappointed

France’s goal stats are not the sort you would associate with potential champions, but at the other end of the pitch, their extremely robust defence – which has conceded just one goal, a penalty from Robert Lewandowski – gives them every chance.

At the heart of that defence is a player that many did not even expect to start at this tournament.

Saliba's Euro 2024 stats

Didier Deschamps was expected to start Dayot Upamecano alongside Ibrahima Konte at the heart of the France defence, but William Saliba finally got his chance, won over Deschamps and is starring for Les Blues, who are yet to concede from open play at the tournament.

This will not be a surprise for Arsenal supporters and watchers of the Premier League. Saliba has been a vital cog in Mikel Arteta’s side over the past two season. His injury towards the end of the 2022/23 campaign was pushed by many as a reason for the Gunners’ failure to get over the line and win the Premier League title.

William Saliba shackled Romelu Lukaku brilliantly in the last 16
Saliba shackled Romelu Lukaku brilliantly in the last 16

William Saliba’s first half by numbers vs Belgium…

  • 100% pass accuracy (33/33)
  • 2 x possession won
  • 2 clearances
  • 1 interception
  • 0 possession lost
  • 0 fouls

He has now transferred his club form to the national stage and his performance up against Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku in the last 16 was Saliba at his dominating best. He showed every one of the qualities he possesses up against the physical Lukaku.

He won everything in the air, showed he was up for the physical battle, read the game superbly and on the ball, his passing was superb. Lukaku, a thorn in the side of so many over the years, never had a sniff.

A new challenge now awaits Saliba with Ronaldo next up to battle the 23-year-old, but it would be no shock to see France’s surprise package shackle Portugal’s talisman and lead France into the last four.
Oliver Yew

Real’s new Galactico takes on their greatest ever in battle of the misfiring forwards

Frustration in front of goal has been the main theme of France and Portugal’s Euro 2024 as both sides gear up to face each other in Hamburg.

Kylian Mbappe fits a protective mask ahead France's clash with Poland
Kylian Mbappe has found it hard to breathe while wearing his protective mask at Euro 2024

Those struggles in front of goal have best been summed up by the off-colour displays of the two country’s captains, Mbappe and Ronaldo, giants of the game who have scored just once between them so far in the tournament and even that was a penalty from the France forward.

Mbappe, who joins Real Madrid from Paris Saint-Germain this summer, six years after Ronaldo departed the Santiago Bernabeu, has scored 48 goals in 82 appearances for Les Bleus and a mind-boggling 256 times in just 308 appearances before leaving the French capital.

After breaking his nose in France’s opening group-stage win over Austria, though, Mbappe has since been required to wear a protective mask over his face, something his manager Didier Deschamps says he is still “getting used to”.

And if France are to get their hands back on the Henri Delaunay Trophy for the first time since 2000, you feel their masked man will need to start firing up front, starting against a Portugal team whose own main man has also been misfiring in attack in Germany this summer.

Cristiano Ronaldo
A tearful Cristiano Ronaldo after Portugal’s penalty shootout win over Slovenia in the last 16

Ronaldo’s 20 efforts on goal for the 2016 champions are more than any other player in the tournament and the 39-year-old has failed to find the net as yet.


That includes an extra-time penalty saved by Slovenia’s Jan Oblak on Monday night, though a tearful Ronaldo did score in the shootout that followed.


Ronaldo has already confirmed to O Jogo this “is, without doubt, my last Euros” and having scored in every one of the other tournaments he has featured in, the forward will be desperate to continue that run against France in what could come down to a battle between one former Real great and a potential future Madrid star.
Richard Morgan

England vs Switzerland – Saturday (Dusseldorf, 5pm)

Why England must be wary of dark horses Switzerland

Switzerland are without question the tournament’s dark horses. They have mustered just 46 attempts at goal, with Saturday’s opponents England the only team to register less shots than them at Euro 2024 (45).

Meanwhile, Switzerland’s passes (1,543 completed of 1,872) and completion percentage (82.4) are the lowest of the eight quarter-finalists and they are also the only remaining team with less than 50 per cent possession in their games so far (46.8).

But they are undefeated and have proved their credentials at this tournament, earning wins against Hungary and well-fancied Italy. Bologna striker Dan Ndoye could be one for England to watch, with the 23-year-old enhancing his burgeoning reputation with a goal against host nation Germany.
Dev Trehan

Netherlands vs Turkey – Saturday (Berlin, 8pm)

Baby-faced assassin Guler epitomising Turkey’s unrelenting energy

Arda Guler's rise to prominence is as much a story of resilience and hard work as it is about natural ability
Arda Guler’s rise to prominence is as much a story of resilience and hard work as it is about natural ability

Having arrived at Fenerbahce aged just 13, Arda Guler was hailed as the ‘Turkish Messi’. At Euro 2024, he is making a name for himself.

The start to his Real Madrid career was blighted by a knee injury, but he returned stronger to become the youngest player to score on their European Championship debut with his goal-of-the-tournament contender in Turkey’s opening group game against Georgia – breaking a record held by Ronaldo.

Mert Gunok set for another busy night?

Turkey have faced comfortably the most shots on their goal of any quarter-finalist, 59 after Austria’s barrage of 21 on Tuesday.

There is a self-confidence and maturity to Guler behind his restless, indomitable will to win on the grandest stage. Through the heavy rain, the hostility and the hailstorm of beer cups, it was 19-year-old who conducted a masterpiece in how to embrace the pressure against Austria.

Head coach Vincenzo Montella said it took ‘soul’ to reach the last eight, and with their partisan supporters now descending on Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate will be painted red. The momentum is reminiscent of how Morocco reached the World Cup semi-finals in Qatar.

One of Turkey’s greatest strengths is an intangible, unrelenting energy from the stands, but their 18 yellow cards to date is only one shy of a tournament record. Montella will look to Guler to provide a calming influence.

With Xavi Simons playing so well centrally for the Netherlands against Romania, this quarter-final could again demonstrate how Germany ’24 has been the Championship owned by the next generation of playmakers before their time.
Ben Grounds

Red-hot Gakpo carrying on where he left off for Liverpool

Netherlands forward Cody Gakpo heads into Saturday night’s quarter-final clash with Turkey in Berlin as the joint-leading goalscorer at Euro 2024, although that will not come as any surprise to Liverpool fans.

That is because Gakpo also finished last season in impressive form for Jurgen Klopp’s side and was one of the few standout players in the stuttering end to the Reds’ league campaign, contributing two goals and two assists in their last six Premier League games.

Cody Gakpo of the Netherlands celebrates scoring his side's opening goal during a round of sixteen match between Romania and the Netherlands at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Munich, Germany, Tuesday, July 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Cody Gakpo celebrates his opener against Romania

The 25-year-old has continued where he left off for Liverpool, scoring three and assisting another in the Oranje’s passage through to the last eight, meaning he and Musiala, who also has three goals to his name, are the favourites to win the tournament’s Golden Boot.

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As Gakpo continues to light up Euro 2024, take a look back at our picks of his best Liverpool goals in the Premier League

Gakpo has been a real threat so far at the Euros cutting in from his starting position on the left-hand side of the Netherlands’ front three, from where he has scored all his goals, including a 121km-per-hour strike that flew past Romania goalkeeper Florin Nita at his near post to open the scoring in Tuesday’s last-16 win in Munich.

Cody Gakpo equalises for the Netherlands against Austria
Gakpo’s first goal at the Euros came as he equalised against Austria

All of which means Gakpo has now joined former greats Johnny Rep (1974 and 1978 World Cups) and Dennis Bergkamp (Euro 1992 and World Cups in 1994 and 1998) as just the third Netherlands international to score three or more goals in two major tournaments after also netting three times at the 2022 World Cup.

In fact, across the past two international tournaments, the only European with more goals than Gakpo’s six in nine games is Mbappe, who has nine in 10 matches.
Richard Morgan

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