Eight became four over the weekend as Portugal, Wales, Germany and France all booked their places in the semi finals of Euro 2016.
While Portgual and Germany needed penalty shootouts to progress to the last four, Wales and France delivered performances of confidence and composure to ensure that the overall race for the Henri Delaunay trophy is a remarkably open one.
The quarter final weekend saw, among other occurrences, 18 year old Bayern signing Renato Sanches announce his arrival on the international stage, while Itay’s Simone Zaza took one of the worst penalties ever seen at a major tournament in their shootout against Germany.
Ultimately, this is the time when the stars of the tournament should make themselves known, and while some have risen to the challenge, others have thus far failed to step up to the plate.
Here are eleven players who lit up the quarter finals:
Rui Patrício (Portugal)
In truth, these matches were not the best examples of goalkeepers showcasing their skills. None of the eight keepers involved managed to keep a clean sheet, and while one or two were at fault for at least one goal conceded, this could not be said for the Sporting stopper.
Like Manuel Neuer and Germany, Rui Patrício’s Portugal were victorious in their shootout against Poland. However, the goalkeeper was the hero in this instance as the 28 year old’s save from Kuba Błaszczykowski gave Fernando Santos’ side the win and sent them into the semis without having won a game in 90 minutes at any stage of Euro 2016 so far.
Right Back: Łukasz Piszczek (Poland)
Centre Back: Ashley Williams (Wales)
Centre Back: Mats Hummels (Germany)
Left Back: Jonas Hector (Germany)
Łukasz Piszczek of Borussia Dortmund was tasked with the unenviable challenge of keeping Portugal talisman Cristiano Ronaldo quiet – and, to his credit, he achieved just that. He managed to get forward himself on occasion too in what was a frustrating night for Poland.
Ashley Williams has recovered from an error-laden start to grow into this tournament massively. His performance for Wales against Belgium was masterful, and his headed equaliser meant that he played an even greater role in the Welsh recovery from going 1-0 down. Will be a vital player against Portugal on Wednesday.
Germany’s Mats Hummels was as reliable as ever in the heart of an adjusted three-man central defence. However, the yellow card he received will rule him out of the semi-final against France on Thursday.
Jonas Hector has looked very promising at Euro 2016. The Cologne defender was the hero of the hour on Saturday as his penalty proved the winning goal, but even aside from that he handled the shift from attack to defence very well, and kept Alessandro Florenzi quiet on the Italian right hand side.
Centre Midfield: Renato Sanches (Portugal)
Centre Midfield: Aaron Ramsey (Wales)
Attacking Midfield/Number Ten: Gareth Bale (Wales)
Wales duo Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale were at their imperious best against Belgium. Although neither scored, both were influential throughout. Chris Coleman’s side will have many heroes to thank if they do end up winning this tournament (and even if they don’t), but none more so than these two. Ramsey’s yellow card means he will miss the semi-final, and his absence will be felt.
Everything about Renato Sanches on Thursday, meanwhile, oozed class. Bayern have seen fit to spend over €35m on the 18 year old and it is easy to see why. Strong and quick, with a brilliant goal thrown in, he showed confidence that belied his years and new Bayern manager Carlo Ancelotti can consider himself lucky that the deal to take him to the Allianz Arena is already done.
Right Wing: Antoine Griezmann (France)
Left Wing: Dimitri Payet (France)
Striker: Olivier Giroud (France)
Without a hint of hyperbole, the French attacking trio of Antonie Griezmann, Dimitri Payet and Olivier Giroud were the best thing about the quarter final ties. They way in which they demolished a hitherto well-organised Iceland side was staggering.
Between them, those three players now have ten goals, as it becomes apparent that the Golden Boot will almost certainly be going to a French player.
Though Payet has been fantastic from day one, the other two have improved as it has worn on – Giroud in particular could do no wrong last night. It puts them in very good stead ahead of Thursday’s decider against Germany.
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