Euro 2024 Semi Finals: Players to Watch
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Euro 2024 Semi Finals: Players to Watch

09/07/24 09:39

As England, France, Spain and the Netherlands prepare for their vital semi final fixtures, we are taking a closer look at one player in each nations squad that has the ability to make a crucial difference, whether that be scoring up one end, or laying their life on the line at the other.

Netherlands: Xavi Simons

Simons.jpg The Netherlands have certainly made getting to this stage look quite difficult. Beating Poland 2-1 thanks to a last minute winner, drawing to France and then losing convincingly to Austria in their final group game, it was tough to read into the Netherlands performance, although I can think of one particular Gennaro Gattuso quote that sums it up: ”Sometimes maybe good, sometimes maybe s%$*.”

One player who has risen above the rest in the more messy, disjointed showings has been the newly unveiled PSG signing, Xavi Simons. After a poor first game against Poland, his performance improved remarkably after coach Ronald Koeman dropped Joey Veerman from center midfield. This allowed Simons, who started on the right flank against Poland, to play in his more familiar central attacking role, with Tijjani Reijnders dropping into the deeper spot vacated by Veerman.

Simons now sits joint top of the assists leaderboard alongside Spanish wonderkid Lamine Yamal, who have three each, and has now become the Netherlands’ main creative outlet behind the clinical front three of Cody Gakpo, Memphis Depay and Donyell Malen.

It may still be too early to say, but should the Dutch pull off a miracle and go all the way, the tactical change to bring Simons into the heart of the attack will be talked about for years in the Netherlands. As it stands with such a creative, visionary young attack, almost anything is possible for the Oranje. The next player in the list will most certainly have his hands full.

England: Marc Guehi

Guehi.jpg I know it’s been said to death since England's first group game, but Marc Guehi is a really good center back. A former Chelsea academy graduate, they must at some point come clean and admit they got it wrong when they decided to sell him to Crystal Palace for the bargain price of £20 million.

Now valued at closer to £40 million, and with big English clubs more than willing to pay over the odds for him, Guehi has shown the classy, calm demeanor at this tournament that every trophy chasing club pursues. Relaxed with the ball at his feet, and immensely concentrated in 1v1’s and foot races, he seems to be the complete center back.

Coming off the back of a suspension after a second yellow card of the tournament against Slovenia, it will be no surprise if Gareth Southgate introduces him back into the starting 11 in place of Ezri Konsa, who in fairness to him had a solid game against the Swiss and probably deserves a cameo as a substitute for his efforts.

But with Guehi back at the back, England will be feeling much more assured that if they can get that crucial goal to go ahead, it’s lights out for the Netherlands.

Spain: Fabian Ruiz

Ruiz.jpg This guy has been a total revelation for Spain this tournament. Considered something of a squad player at PSG last season, the Spanish system has unlocked a new level of his game, and according to sofascore, he has been the highest rated player of the tournament so far, with an average 8.48 rating.

To be averaging that over the course of four games, you need to be doing something pretty special, and that is exactly what he is doing. Accumulating two goals and two assist to his name this tournament, his calming, assured presence on the ball, combined with his ability to squeeze out of tight spaces and excellent passing range, provides more opportunities for pacy wingers Lamine Yamal and Nico Williams to make those devastating runs in behind that are what really hurt the opponent.

There have been multiple occasions this tournament that he has pulled something off that the viewer simply cannot believe; a stunning escape when surrounded by three German midfielders personifies this perfectly. With one touch of the ball he is clear of all them, and you find yourself questioning just how he saw the route out in the first place.

With him operating on the left of the midfield three, his links with Williams will be vital if Spain are to break down the stubborn defensive unit of France, but with the way he’s playing, I wouldn’t blame you for expecting more match winning brilliance. Providing us with one of the best individual Euro campaigns in living memory, let's all just sit back and enjoy it.

France: N’golo Kante

Kante.jpg One of the best loved players around, even after his money fuelled move to Al-Ittihad in Saudi Arabia, N’golo Kante is a player you can’t help but be fond of. His all action, non-stop displays truly are the stuff of legend, and after falling off a bit in his last couple of seasons at Chelsea, it appears he is back to his unbelievable best, with two man of the match showings in France's first two games.

A key reason why France have conceded just the one goal this tournament, Kante stops 99% of attacks before they develop into something dangerous, and those that do, he tends to be there in some capacity anyway.

So much stronger than his light build suggests, he can push, barge and bully the ball away from opponents with what looks like such ease, and when he has the ball, his close control and high speed dribbling are so difficult to stop. I’ve been convinced for some years now that Kante could play any position on the pitch and still give an 8/10 performance, testament to the complete player he is.

While France’s most pressing issue most definitely lies in their attacking output, they can at least be less worried about conceding if Kante is fit and firing in front of William Saliba and Dayot Upamecano, in what must seem like an impassable defensive triangle to opposition attackers.

France vs Spain will no doubt be an epic, and I can’t help but get the feeling that Kante will have a big say in the final result, whether it be with another brilliant defensive display, or through a goal contribution up the other end, something many people never seem to appreciate about him.

The Semi Finals

We are set for a feast of brilliant football over the course of the next two evening, and hell, even if you’re not a football fan, there is bound to be something for you to appreciate in both of the semi finals. Trust me you don't want to miss them.

France vs Spain

Kick off - 8pm BST, Tuesday 9th July.

Where: The Allianz Arena, Munich.

Where can I watch: BBC 1, BBC iPlayer.

England vs Netherlands

Kick off - 8pm BST, Wednesday 10th July.

Where: The Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund.

Where can I watch: ITV, ITV X.

Benji Kosartiyer
Journalist
Harry Pascoe

Football Writer

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