Euro 2024 day 22: Goodbye to Ronaldo and Kroos as Spain and France set up semi-final


Euro 2024 has its first pair of semi-finalists.

Spain made it through to the last four with a 2-1 victory over hosts Germany that went through extra time all the way to Mikel Merino’s late, late winner. It was a truly classic encounter, another brilliant match to watch at a tournament that’s been full of them.

Then there was Portugal v France, which was rather less captivating.

But this is knockout international football. Even if there’s little drama over 120 minutes, there’s always penalties — and the French went through as Portugal’s Joao Felix missed a decisive spot kick. Cristiano Ronaldo converted but still suffered disappointment in his final appearance at a European Championship.

Let our writers take you through the key moments.


Auf Wiedersehen to Germany and Toni Kroos

From the euphoria of Florian Wirtz’s 89th-minute equaliser to the gut-punch of that Spanish winner from Merino in the 119th-minute, with penalties in front of a boisterous home crowd beckoning.

Germany will be stung by this defeat, but they will not be too disheartened. Many considered Spain a superior and better-developed side and pre-game expectations were measured accordingly.

Instead, we should think of this as a graceful exit for Germany, not a damaging one like those of the recent past. Before beating Denmark in the last 16 they had not won a knockout game at a major tournament since Euro 2016, crashing out at the group stage of back-to-back World Cups and losing to England in the round of 16 at the last Euros.

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Germany fans react as they watch on Friday (Jaime Reina/AFP via Getty Images)

But it was still cruel, and there will be great disappointment that their Euro 2024 journey has come to an end — the fun, the fan parks and the sense of national unity that this tournament seemed to have awakened. That’s what will hurt most in the morning.

And for one German player in particular, Friday’s loss was especially poignant.

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Kroos and Kimmich after Friday’s defeat (Qian Jun/MB Media/Getty Images)

Ever since he announced his decision to retire back in May, one question has followed Toni Kroos: why step down now?

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Toni Kroos was at the top of his game at Euro 2024 – so why is he retiring?

The fact he won the Champions League with Real Madrid just a month ago and was one of Germany’s most impressive players in their run to the quarter-finals makes that a valid question, too. Kroos has always been keen to ensure that Euro 2024 was solely about the team and not his farewell tour, but unfortunately now it really is goodbye to one of the game’s modern greats.

Sebastian Stafford-Bloor and Dermot Corrigan

Spain’s tough side and Merino’s leap

Luis de la Fuente’s side do look really strong— having now proven they can also dig deep and strike back when the chips are down.

Spain had already played the most coherent attacking football in the tournament so far. In the group stage they put three goals past Croatia and totally outclassed Italy before their reserve side beat Albania. In the last 16, they scored four against Georgia.

Against Germany they showed their game can adapt; withstanding physical pressure, holding their nerve after being pegged back to 1-1 and then claiming a late winner in the most dramatic of circumstances.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

The Briefing: Spain 2-1 Germany – Mikel Merino’s late, late winner dumps out Euro 2024 hosts

Merino’s goal was remarkable for a number of reasons. First, there was the amount of time he seemed to hang in the air, and how he contorted his body mid-flight to meet the ball with his head.

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Merino’s header won the match for Spain (Fabrice Coffrini /AFP via Getty Images)

Then there was his celebration. Merino’s father was a footballer too, and he scored in Stuttgart for La Liga side Osasuna in the old UEFA Cup back in November 1991.

Here’s another compelling fact. Spain had never previously beaten a host nation in a knockout tie at either a World Cup or European Championship.

Spain’s results against host nations in major tournaments

Game Host Result

World Cup 1934 quarter-final

Italy

1-1 draw

World Cup 1934 quarter-final replay

Italy

1-0 loss

World Cup 1950 final round

Brazil

6-1 loss

Euro 1980 group stage

Italy

0-0 draw

Euro 1984 final

France

2-0 loss

Euro 1988 group stage

West Germany

2-0 loss

Euro 1996 quarter-final

England

0-0 draw (lost on pens)

World Cup 2002 quarter-final

South Korea

0-0 draw (lost on pens)

Euro 2004 group stage

Portugal

1-0 loss

World Cup 2018 last 16

Russia

1-1 draw (lost on pens)

Euro 2024 quarter-final

Germany

2-1 win

For this youthful team to do so feels like a vital step.

James McNicholas and Pol Ballus

France hold their nerve, but can they click?

Germany’s players weren’t the only ones left rueing the cruelty of this game. Spare a thought for Joao Felix, whose penalty for Portugal in their shootout with France struck the post and ended his nation’s dreams of adding another Euros title to their 2016 success (when they beat France 1-0 in Paris).

After his remarkable heroics in the previous round against Slovenia, saving all three penalties he faced, the stage was set for keeper Diogo Costa to take Portugal through again. France had also lost their previous three penalty shootouts in major tournaments, not winning one since the 1998 World Cup.

But this time they prevailed, and manager Didier Deschamps celebrated richly with Kylian Mbappe. Ronaldo, 39, and Pepe, 41, were more downcast. Ronaldo has already said this will be his last Euros.

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Pepe and Ronaldo after the penalty shootout (Jens Büttner/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Theo Hernandez was the player who stepped up with the chance to win it for France, as Mbappe stood on his haunches, pleading him to score. And he did, sending Costa the wrong way to keep France’s Euro 2024 dream alive.

But they might not much fancy meeting Spain.

EuroBracket July5 France

Although the French have good memories of beating Spain in the Nations League final in 2021, they will not arrive for their semi-final in the most expressive spirits and they are much changed since that success. The 2021 spine included Raphael Varane, Paul Pogba and Karim Benzema — and it is crystal clear that there is little rhythm in the Blues at this tournament.

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Deschamps and Mbappe celebrate after the penalties (Ronny Hartmann/AFP via Getty Images)

Will they click? Can they click? Spain are sure to be favourites and it is up to Deschamps to find the formula to press on.

Tim Spiers and Amy Lawrence 

Mbappe v Ronaldo was… quiet

Portugal v France meant Mbappe versus Ronaldo, but in truth both players had quiet games, although there was a worrying moment when a header was planted against the side of Mbappe’s head and he lay dazed on the turf having taken off the mask he wears to protect his broken nose.

In the first half Mbappe was barely involved in the action, reflecting France’s staid attacking performance. At one point he uncharacteristically played a wayward pass straight into the Portugal midfield, on another he played a through ball down the left but no one chased it. He just wasn’t himself, and Deschamps took him off in extra time.

Given Ronaldo had yet to score at Euro 2024 going into the game there was a lively debate about what he actually brought to this Portugal side if not goals. Well, there was a resounding answer to that question during what was an anonymous performance from the Al-Nassr striker.

The longer it went on, the more bizarre it was that Martinez persisted with him on the field. In Portugal’s four meaningful matches at this tournament (i.e. every one bar their final group game) Ronaldo played every second. Was a pair of successful penalties in Portugal’s two shootouts really worth it?

Tim Spiers

What’s next?

There are two more quarter-finals to come tomorrow:

(Top photo: James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images)





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