Euro 2024 talking points: Yamal impact, key goals, final predictions

Published on: 11 July 2024

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Euro 2024 is down to the final two teams, with the winner set to be crowned on July 14.

So far, the tournament in Germany has been full of surprises, but what stood out from the semifinals as France fell to Spain and England overcame Netherlands.

We asked ESPN FC's writers at the tournament what they have made of things so far now that we're heading into the final next week.

What was your main takeaway from the semifinals?

Gab Marcotti: It's an obvious cliché, but goals change games ... especially when they come out of nowhere. We saw that with both Lamine Yamal's equaliser for Spain vs. France in Munich and Ollie Watkins' late winner for England vs. Netherlands. And, as a corollary, quality matters. When teams defend well, it takes something special to score and Yamal, Watkins and Dani Olmo (note the control in the lead up to his winner) delivered that.

Editor's Picks

    Spain's genius outweighs lack of star power in dazzling Euro 2024 run1dGab MarcottiSouthgate's bold, belated subs fire England to Euro 2024 final1hJames OlleyThe story behind viral photos of Messi holding baby Yamal3hChris Wright

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Sam Marsden: Obviously the matchwinners will take the plaudits, but let's talk about Rodri for a minute. Once again the defensive midfielder was brilliant for Spain against France. It's not just what he does with the ball, it's what he does without it and how he talks his teammates through the game. With Brazil's Vinícius Júnior out of the Copa América and Jude Bellingham not having the greatest tournament so far for England, the Ballon d'Or race could open up again. Why not give it to Rodri, a Premier League winner with Manchester City, if Spain win the Euros? It's certainly been a talking point in all recent Spain news conferences.

Mark Ogden: That players are being pushed to the point of exhaustion and beyond. Harry Kane, Bellingham, Kylian Mbappé and others have looked well short of their best in Germany. Kane and Bellingham, in particular, really struggled in their semifinal and fatigue is clearly an issue for both of them. They both have a 32-team Club World Cup to look forward to next season and the 2026 World Cup a year later. Footballers need a break, otherwise the game will suffer.

James Olley: Genuine pleasure for Gareth Southgate. There has been plenty to question the 53-year-old about during these finals as England pretty much stunk the place out until the quarterfinals. But somehow -- and, yes, there's been luck involved and a favourable draw -- he has got England to the final in Berlin. His tournament record now reads: semifinal, final, quarterfinal, final. The class of players he has at his disposal demanded a deep run in Germany and, after fierce personal criticism, Southgate has delivered that. Whether he can end England's 58-year wait for a major men's honour remains to be seen and his weaknesses may yet be exposed. But Southgate is a decent, principled man who genuinely cares about his role and clearly has the players' support. If he really has them peaking at the right time, all will be forgiven.

Julien Laurens: France boss Didier Deschamps has been telling us all tournament that as long as he wins matches, we can't argue with his defensive tactics. Well, he has stopped winning now, so we can criticise him. His substitutions against Spain were terrible, his in-game management was shocking, while his idea was clearly that Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and all the other plans were built around Mbappé. But his captain didn't show up and Deschamps didn't change anything. He will stay in charge and after four semifinals in the last five tournaments, his results are there. But things have to change for the 2026 World Cup.

Just how impressed have you been with what 16-year-old Lamine Yamal is doing?Lamine Yamal is only 16 and has taken Euro 2024 by storm. Alex Pantling - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Marsden: You don't play over 50 games for Barcelona at age 16 without being special, but it's still impressive what Yamal keeps doing. He has not changed since making the jump from youth football to senior football with club and country. He is playing just as he did in the U17 Euros last year. Nothing seems to faze him -- look at how he dealt with the prematch comments from France midfielder Adrien Rabiot -- but even so this tournament could prove a seminal moment his career. The goal against France had huge repercussions around the world and the spotlight on him has moved to the next level.

Ogden: He's a phenomenon. To be stealing the show at a major tournament at such a young age is incredible. I remember England striker Wayne Rooney making a similar impact as an 18-year-old at Euro 2004 and Yamal is at the same level. And before people question that comparison, please watch some footage of Rooney at that tournament rather than thinking of the older version at Euro 2016. Rooney was a wonderkid and Yamal is the same, but hopefully the Spain winger has better luck with injuries than Rooney did.

Olley: Very. There's a bravery and freedom about him that normal 16-year-olds do not possess. He has three assists so far -- nobody else has managed more than two -- and his willingness to commit defenders has seen him attempt 30 dribbles so far, a number only bettered for four players at this tournament.

Marcotti: I'm just struck by his maturity and the decision-making. He tries extremely difficult things at the right time -- think of the other shot he had vs. France, the running curler that was just wide. His semifinal goal was phenomenal but there were probably four or five other guys on the pitch with the skill set to do something like that. The difference is Yamal's timing to do it in that moment and that it was the right decision.

Laurens: Nothing that Yamal is doing in Germany should surprise you, unless you have been on another planet for the last 18 months. Otherwise, this is just the normal rise of a generational talent and a prodigy who is even more precocious than Lionel Messi, Pelé, Diego Maradona or Mbappé. No one at 16 years old has ever had an impact on a tournament like this before. That is how special he is.

play1:06Leboeuf compliments England's 'deserving' win

Frank Leboeuf says England got the job done in what he calls the Three Lions' best game so far.

Do you think there should be a third-place playoff like at the World Cup?

Marcotti: Are you kidding?!?! No. And they should get rid of it at the World Cup too. It's just sad. OK, if you want to have it at the World Cup for guys who didn't get to play much, fine. That's the World Cup. No way should they have something like this at the Euros.

Ogden: No. It's just the worst game in football, almost like a punishment for losing the semifinal. Nobody wants to be there and, after a long tournament, the clubs who pay the players' wages are entitled to want their holidays to start rather than be delayed another three or four days by a meaningless fixture.

Olley: No. That playoff is game is almost always a bitter afterthought for everyone involved. You've just suffered one of the toughest defeats of your lives and a few days later you're back to play for a bronze medal. These expanded tournaments are already long enough, don't make the semifinal losers hang around longer than they have to.

Marsden: No way. Most club sides are already back in preseason, Europe's major leagues kick off in a month and the beaten semifinalists are devastated at being eliminated. Let them have some holiday time with friends and family.

Laurens: Please, leave me alone ...

play1:19Burley: Watkins will never forget Euro 2024 semifinal winner

Craig Burley and Steve McManaman reflect on Ollie Watkins' late 90th-minute winner in England's 2-1 win over the Netherlands.

Based on what you've seen so far, what is going to be the key thing that decides the final?

Marcotti: I'll give you two: one for Spain, one for England. For Spain, it's matching up to stop the England players who can create out of nothing. England have more individual matchwinners -- Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Cole Palmer, Bellingham, Kane (heck, chuck Watkins in there too if you like after Wednesday night) -- who can get goals out of nothing, without a fancy build-up. That means alert defending and, on paper, Spain's back four is nothing to write home about, even with Robin Le Normand and Dani Carvajal returning from suspension.

For England, it's disrupting or neutering Spain's possession game without allowing the wingers to take players on, one-vs.-one. And no, the solution isn't just more defenders and midfielders.

Ogden: Getting the ball off Spain and doing something useful with it while you have it. It sounds simple, but it really isn't. Spain have been light years ahead of the rest with the use of the ball at Euro 2024. While the rest have tended to prioritise athleticism and power over possession, relying on individual stars to make the difference, Spain have been the team with the most cohesive plan. England can win, but Spain will have to play badly for that to happen.

Olley: The midfield. It is always the midfield with England. They habitually don't keep the ball well enough, which is why Gareth Southgate made the point on Wednesday night that England have very rarely had as much as 58.5% possession against a team like Netherlands in a big tournament game. Asked about the prospect of beating Spain, Southgate began his reply by saying: "We'll need to get the ball off them first." Teenager Kobbie Mainoo was excellent alongside Declan Rice in the first half against the Dutch but Spain are by some distance the strongest test of that new-look midfield pairing.

Laurens: This final will be won by a special player doing something special. That's how the semifinals were won: Olmo, Lamine, Watkins did something special and their teams went through. So who will step up? It will come down to individual brilliance; a moment of sheer genius. Collectively, the England back three and Spain's organisation will be solid. Neither team will be too adventurous so it will be down to one moment. Let's see who provides it.

Marsden: Spain coach Luis de la Fuente says these two sides are very different, which means there are loads of areas to keep an eye on. The obvious battles will be Spain's wingers Nico Williams and Yamal up against Kyle Walker and, possibly, Luke Shaw. It will also be interesting to see how England plan to deal with Rodri and Fabián Ruiz. Spain have been so much more effective, though -- creating 96 chances to England's 48 -- that it's hard to see Southgate being able to completely nullify them. France, arguably a better defensive unit, could not. But, to slip in to manager speak, it may also come down to one moment of magic or a mistake.

play1:00The numbers to know ahead of Spain vs. England at the Euro 2024 final

Take a quick glance at some of the background numbers of both Spain and England ahead of their Euro 2024 final match.

Final chance to change your prediction: who wins it?

Marcotti: After 60 years of failure, England are due. Spain have been phenomenal in this tournament and, if you were to award it on points, like in figure skating, they'd have it locked up. But England's combination of individual matchwinners and Southgate's safety-first approach gives them the slightest of edges.

Ogden: Spain. The only way to beat them is with a high-intensity pressing game and every player having the energy to maintain that for 90, maybe 120 minutes. After a long season, that isn't going to happen. England have been taken to extra time twice in the knockout stages and will have had 24 hours less recovery time than Spain. These are significant details.

Marsden: After the group stage I had Spain or France beating England in the final (we will ignore I later tipped France to beat Spain) so will stick with a La Roja win on Sunday. Regardless of the fact they have been the best side so far and more fun to watch, what they benefit from is having a defined style and a positional balance across the pitch that England, who have better players, still lack.

Olley: My pre-tournament pick, France, are out so maybe it is best to go with the team that beat them: Spain. They have shown more quality against better sides than England did in their easier half of the draw. I wouldn't mind if this prediction was also incorrect, however.

Laurens: It's coming home, I've said it all along! It is England's turn to finally have a parade in London and celebrate a major tournament win. I don't know how they will do it, because Spain are better than them, but as we have seen so far in this Euros, they always find a way. And they will find a way again in the final.

Source: espn.co.uk

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