Stekelenburg the hero as Everton clinch draw

Maarten Stekelenburg has been to the final of the World Cup in an impressive career spanning 14 years, but he won’t have played many games better than this. Playing against a dominant Manchester City side, the Dutch keeper saved two penalties and made a string of top-drawer saves as Everton held on for a 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium, defying all the odds in the process.

It didn’t take long to work out who was the superior team. Leroy Sane, playing with pace and skill, wreaked havoc for Bryan Oviedo, breezing past him as if he wasn’t there. Kevin de Bruyne sprayed the ball around in attack, and David Silva was everywhere, collecting the ball on the edge of the box and distributing it as he saw fit. Everton held on, but they had no presence in attack.

Things only got worse for them as the game went on. Their attack looked less dangerous by the minute, and as the half started to draw to a close it seemed as if something had to give. Gerard Deulofeu was offside almost every time he found the ball, and Yannick Bolasie’s delivery rarely hit the mark. Romelu Lukaku, in such good form throughout Everton’s rise up the table, was non-existent due to City’s dominance, and it seemed only a matter of time before the goal came.

Then came the first penalty. Silva made a dangerous run into the area, and as he looked to get in behind Seamus Coleman and Phil Jagielka he was tripped. Jagielka was the culprit, mindlessly stretching out his leg into Silva’s path, and a lead for the hosts seemed to be the only possible outcome. Enter Stekelenburg, who dived well to bat away de Bruyne’s effort, keeping the game scoreless against all odds. They were still afloat, but they seemed to be on borrowed time as the break came and went.

The second half immediately took up a similar rhythm to the first, with City dominating possession and still looking to penetrate Everton’s solid defensive front. Deulofeu forced a solid save from Claudio Bravo to win Everton their first corner of the game, but the hosts were still on top and did not look like being threatened. Then, less than twenty minutes into the second half, it was Everton who broke the deadlock.

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Foul: Sergio Aguero (second from left) is brought down in the box by Phil Jagielka.

It started with Bolasie, who had drifted deeper into midfield as the game had worn on. He flicked an otherwise innocuous pass from Idrissa Gueye past his man, leaving Lukaku with half the field to himself, Gael Clichy the only man in his way. The Frenchman tried to corral him onto a tighter angle, but Lukaku was simply too quick. He created the opening, and drove a cool left-footed finish past Bravo into the back of the net.

If Manchester City had been going hard before, the goal forced them to turn it up a gear. They kept fighting and trying to get through, before another brain explosion from Jagielka looked to have handed them a leveller on a silver platter. If the first penalty was mindless, the second was even worse. Sergio Aguero looked to turn the Everton captain, and he was taken down by a wild hack as he looked to progress.

This time, it was Aguero who stepped up to the spot, as he had done so often before. This time, it seemed as if he could not miss. And yet, there was still a niggling doubt, the thought that maybe, just maybe, Stekelenburg could do it again. He could. Aguero’s penalty was a carbon copy of de Bruyne’s and the Dutchman was in a perfect position to make the save. Yet again, Manchester City had been denied. It just didn’t look like their day.

Then things happened very quickly, and within minutes the two combatants were back on level terms. Silva and Aguero played their way through the defence, and Stekelenburg was only just able to bat the ball away for a corner. Then, mere seconds after entering the game, Nolito was on the end of Silva’s perfect cross from the left wing. The ball was headed home into the bottom corner, the one which Stekelenburg couldn’t get.

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Job well done: Maarten Stekelenburg applauds the fans after a man-of-the-match performance.

The mission wasn’t over for City, but their intensity had left them. Stekelenburg made yet another fine save to deny de Bruyne from long range, but amidst the injury breaks and bookings for time-wasting the moment had passed. City were the better side on the day, but they simply couldn’t break through no matter how hard they tried. City were the better side on the day, but Stekelenburg was always there to deny them. It was just one of those days.

Manchester – Etihad Stadium
Manchester City 1 (Nolito 72)
Everton 1 (Lukaku 64)
Referee: Michael Oliver

Manchester City (3-4-2-1): Bravo – Stones, Otamendi, Clichy; Sane (Nolito 71), Fernandinho, Gundogan (Kompany 90), Sterling; de Bruyne, Silva; Iheanacho (Aguero 56).
Everton (4-3-3): Stekelenburg – Coleman, Jagielka, Williams, Oviedo; Gueye, Barry, Cleverley (Funes Mori 90+1); Bolasie (Mirallas 84), Lukaku, Deulofeu (McCarthy 57).

Top 5
1. Maarten Stekelenburg (Everton)
Stekelenburg was in incredible form, saving penalties from both de Bruyne and Aguero and knocking City back on countless occasions. He didn’t make any mistakes in his execution, and he was the only reason Everton were able to come away with a point in a tough fixture. A brilliant effort.
2. David Silva (Manchester City)
Silva was a dangerous presence throughout, roaming freely inside and outside the box and using his skill and experience to good effect. He was unlucky not to score on a couple of occasions when he found himself in dangerous positions, and his delivery was always accurate and effective.
3. Ashley Williams (Everton)
Williams didn’t make a mistake all day in central defence, cutting off cross after cross and making tackles when he needed to. He was not beaten, and his coolness and experience at the back was key as Everton looked to hold firm. He played well, and will take confidence from his efforts.
4. Leroy Sane (Manchester City)
Sane burst out of the blocks quickly, beating his man with incredible ease and proving a real threat for Everton’s defence. His work rate and ability to track back on defence was incredible, and the skill and poise he showed on the ball bodes very well for his future at the club.
5. Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City)
After a two-week absence de Bruyne was slightly rusty, but he was still able to find the ball in very dangerous positions and play some effective passes in behind. His first-half penalty was saved, but he was a key reason for City’s dominance and he made life very difficult for Everton.

2016-17 Premier League Preview – The middle of the pack

Crystal Palace

Manager: Alan Pardew
Captain: Scott Dann
Ground: Selhurst Park
Last Season: 15th
Top Scorer: Yannick Bolasie, Yohan Cabaye, Scott Dann, Connor Wickham (5)
Most Assists: Yannick Bolasie, Damien Delaney, Jason Puncheon, Connor Wickham (3)
Prediction: 16th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Julian Speroni, 13. Wayne Hennessey, Steve Mandanda.
Defenders:
2. Joel Ward, 6. Scott Dann, 19. Zeki Fryers, 23. Pape Souare, 27. Damien Delaney, 34. Martin Kelly, James Tomkins.
Midfielders:
7. Yohan Cabaye, 10. Yannick Bolasie, 11. Wilfried Zaha, 14. Lee Chung-yong, 15. Mile Jedinak, 18. James McArthur, 20. Jonny Williams, 22. Jordon Mutch, 26. Bakary Sako, 28. Joe Ledley, 38. Hiram Boateng, 42. Jason Puncheon, Andros Townsend.
Forwards:
9. Fraizer Campbell, 21. Connor Wickham, 32. Kwesi Appiah.

Crystal Palace were solid last season, making it to the final of the FA Cup and comfortably staying out of the relegation zone. Yohan Cabaye (pictured), Mile Jedinak, Joe Ledley and James McArthur provide a solid base in the centre of the park, and new signing Andros Townsend will provide plenty of width. The English international will compete with Yannick Bolasie, Wilfried Zaha and Jason Puncheon for a spot on the wings, and they will be looking to provide excellent delivery for Connor Wickham up front. The defence is solid, and new recruit James Tomkins will face stiff competition as he aims to start ahead of Damien Delaney at centre back. Scott Dann was in top form last season, and the new captain will look to keep this up as he anchors the defence. Steve Mandanda has been brought in from Marseille, and the French number two will replace Wayne Hennessey in goal.

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Crystal Palace are a solid side defensively, but there are some problems in attack. They were only able to score 39 goals last season, with centre back Dann finishing the season as one of the team’s top scorers. He was able to score as many goals as Wickham, who was Pardew’s main option in attack throughout the campaign. The losses of Marouane Chamakh, Emmanuel Adebayor and Dwight Gayle have left Palace devoid of the few attacking options they had at the end of last season, and unless they can find a new striker before the transfer window closes they will find it incredibly difficult to penetrate opposition defences. Cabaye, a defensive midfielder, has been functioning as the team’s main playmaker since his arrival from Paris Saint-Germain. The French international failed in this role during his first season at the club, and Palace will need him to deliver if they are to get anywhere this season.

Star Player: Yohan Cabaye

Cabaye has racked up nearly 50 international caps for the French national team, and he has gathered plenty of experience in both France and England. He was reunited with Pardew when he moved to Palace from French giants PSG at the start of last season, and he is still good enough to take on the best players in the world. He will be a constant presence in midfield throughout the campaign, and Palace will be hoping he can deliver.

Key Player: Scott Dann

Dann moved to Crystal Palace from Blackburn Rovers midway through the 2013-14 season, and he has slotted effortlessly into the centre of defence at the club. He is a good leader, and he has replaced Jedinak as captain after showing great form last season. He is the best player Palace have in defence, and if he fails to step up they will struggle to keep their opponents out.

One to watch: Wilfried Zaha

Zaha made his debut for England in 2012, and he has been on the scene for such a long time that it is hard to believe that he is still only 23. He was unsuccessful during a brief spell at Manchester United, but he still has plenty of potential and could take Crystal Palace to greater heights as he continues to develop. He has been a regular over the last couple of seasons, and he will play a big role again.

Likely team (4-2-3-1): Mandanda – Ward, Dann, Tomkins, Souare; McArthur, Jedinak; Zaha, Cabaye, Bolasie; Wickham.

Stoke City

Manager: Mark Hughes
Captain: Ryan Shawcross
Ground: Bet365 Stadium
Last Season: 9th
Top Scorer: Marko Arnautovic (11)
Most Assists: Marko Arnautovic, Xherdan Shaqiri (6)
Prediction: 9th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Jack Butland, 24. Shay Given, 29. Jakob Haugaard, 35. Daniel Bachmann.
Defenders:
2. Phil Bardsley, 3. Erik Pieters, 5. Marc Muniesa, 8. Glen Johnson, 12. Marc Wilson, 17. Ryan Shawcross, 20. Geoff Cameron, 23. Dionatan Teixeira, 26. Philipp Wollscheid.
Midfielders:
4. Joe Allen, 6. Glenn Whelan, 7. Stephen Ireland, 14. Ibrahim Afellay, 16. Charlie Adam, 21. Giannelli Imbula, 22. Xherdan Shaqiri, 34. Ollie Shenton, Ramadhan Sobhi.
Forwards:
10. Marko Arnautovic, 11. Joselu, 18. Mame Biram Diouf, 19. Jonathan Walters, 25. Peter Crouch, 27. Bojan.

Stoke City have been consistent performers in the Premier League for a long time, and they have not looked like being relegated since their return to the top flight in 2008. Mark Hughes has guided the club to three consecutive ninth-place finishes since taking over in 2013, and this consistency looks set to continue. Joe Allen has joined the club from Liverpool after showing impressive form at Euro 2016, and he will form an effective combination with Giannelli Imbula and Glenn Whelan in the centre of midfield. Ryan Shawcross is one of the most consistent defenders in the Premier League, and he will combine with Philipp Wollscheid to ensure that not much gets through. Jack Butland is still very young and will continue to develop over the course of the season, and the English international will provide an excellent safety net for the back four. Marko Arnautovic and Xherdan Shaqiri (pictured) are both incredibly talented players, and they should cause plenty of problems for opposition defences.

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Stoke have been in need of a quality target up front for years, but no amount of money has done the trick since their return to the Premier League. Arnautovic was the main scoring option last season, and while he netted 11 times from the left wing Hughes was only able to get a total of 21 goals out of Bojan, Mame Biram Diouf, Jonathan Walters and Joselu. Stoke were barely able to manage more than a goal a game last season, and if they are looking to improve they will need to find a player who can get them the goals they need. There is not a lot of time left before the season kicks off, and if they cannot find a new target up front they will struggle. The defence was fairly leaky last season, and while some of this was due to an injury to Shawcross they will need to ensure that their defensive woes do not become a recurring problem. There are some things which could go wrong for Stoke as they look to finish in the top half of the table for a fourth consecutive season, but they are a fairly well-rounded side and are unlikely to drop off significantly.

Star Player: Xherdan Shaqiri

Shaqiri has played for Basel, Bayern Munich and Inter Milan, and the Swiss winger became a record signing for the Potters when he was signed from the Italian giants in 2015. He is not tall, but he makes up for it with pace, skill and an ability to put the ball into dangerous positions. He has the ability to take down another team on his own, and he could be a massive influence this season.

Key Player: Marko Arnautovic

Arnautovic led Stoke for both goals and assists last season, and the Austrian international has the ability to cause plenty of problems for opposition defences over the course of this campaign. He has plenty of skill and will look to present himself as a target for Shaqiri, who will function as the team’s main playmaker. He is Stoke’s best scoring option, and he will need to maintain his output.

One to watch: Ramadhan Sobhi

Sobhi is exceptionally talented, and the young Egyptian playmaker will be looking to make an impact for his new club after moving to the Premier League from Al Ahly. He made his Egyptian debut at just 17, and his signing could prove to be a massive coup for Stoke City in years to come. He is unlikely to feature too heavily this season, but it will be interesting to see if he can make the most of his chances.

Likely team (4-2-3-1): Butland – Johnson, Shawcross, Wollscheid, Pieters; Allen, Imbula; Shaqiri, Afellay, Arnautovic; Bojan.

Swansea City

Manager: Francesco Guidolin
Captain: Ashley Williams
Ground: Liberty Stadium
Last Season: 12th
Top Scorer: Andre Ayew (12)
Most Assists: Kyle Naughton, Gylfi Sigurdsson (3)
Prediction: 12th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Lukasz Fabianski, 13. Kristoffer Nordfeldt, 19. Mark Birighitti, 25. Gerhard Tremmel.
Defenders:
2. Jordi Amat, 3. Neil Taylor, 5. Mike van der Hoorn, 6. Ashley Williams, 14. Franck Tabanou, 22. Angel Rangel, 26. Kyle Naughton, 33. Federico Fernandez, 35. Steven Kingsley.
Midfielders:
4. Ki Sung-yueng, 7. Leon Britton, 8. Leroy Fer, 10. Andre Ayew, 12. Nathan Dyer, 15. Wayne Routledge, 20. Jefferson Montero, 23. Gylfi Sigurdsson, 24. Jack Cork, 30. Josh Sheehan, 53. Adam King, 56. Jay Fulton.
Forwards:
9. Fernando Llorente, 11. Marvin Emnes, 17. Modou Barrow, 62. Oliver McBurnie.

Swansea started last season poorly, and they were facing a relegation battle before Francesco Guidolin, a relative unknown outside of Italy, stepped in. The experienced Italian guided the Swans to safety over the second half of the season, recording wins over Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool on the way to a twelfth-placed finish. Andre Ayew and Gylfi Sigurdsson (pictured) scored 23 goals between them last season, and they will be complemented by new signing Fernando Llorente. Jack Cork is a solid presence in midfield, and he will be ably supported by Leroy Fer, Ki Sung-yueng and Leon Britton. New signing Mike van der Hoorn will bolster the defence, where he will play alongside captain Ashley Williams, and Lukasz Fabianski will be very hard to beat in goal.

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Swansea are very solid down back, but there are some issues in attack which need to be fixed. Bafetimbi Gomis has been loaned out to Marseille, and with Eder making a permanent move to Lille the Swans have been left with just four genuine strikers on their books. Llorente has been brought in to fix the problem, but he did not play regularly in stints at Juventus and Sevilla and is short on match practice. He reached his peak years ago during his time at Athletic Bilbao, and he is likely to be taking on a very heavy burden with little support. Neither Modou Barrow nor Marvin Emnes were regular options last season, and the lack of bench depth will make Llorente’s job very tough. Swansea struggled last season before Guidolin came to the club, and there is no way of knowing that this will not happen again. They have a solid base, but they could be very inconsistent.

Star Player: Gylfi Sigurdsson

Sigurdsson was a key member of the Icelandic side that made the quarter-finals of Euro 2016, and he has developed into one of the Premier League’s best attacking midfielders. HHehnbHe is a skilled playmaker, and he managed to score 11 times over the course of last season in a more attacking role. He is an excellent player, and he can have a big impact this season with his skill and his eye for goal.

Key Player: Ashley Williams

Williams has plenty of experience at both club and international level, and he has been in charge of Swansea’s defence for a long time. He led Wales to the semi-finals of the Euros, and he will be a key member of Swansea’s team as they look to improve on last season. If he is unable to perform it will be very difficult for the Swans, who need their defence to hold firm if they are to succeed.

One to watch: Mike van der Hoorn

Swansea may have uncovered a hidden gem in van der Hoorn, an imposing central defender who is still developing and has the potential to become one of the world’s best. He is not particularly well-known outside of the Netherlands, but he is strong in the air and should be able to immediately compete for a place in the first-team.

Likely team (4-2-3-1): Fabianski – Rangel, van der Hoorn, Williams, Taylor; Cork, Ki; Routledge, Sigurdsson, Ayew; Llorente.

Watford

Manager: Walter Mazzarri
Captain: Troy Deeney
Ground: Vicarage Road
Last Season: 13th
Top Scorer: Odion Ighalo (15)
Most Assists: Troy Deeney (7)
Prediction: 15th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Heurelho Gomes, 13. Rene Gilmartin, 34. Giedrius Arlauskis, Costel Pantilimon.
Defenders:
2. Allan Nyom, 3. Miguel Britos, 5. Sebastian Prodl, 14. Juan Carlos Paredes, 15. Craig Cathcart, 18. Juan Camilo Zuniga, 25. Jose Holebas, 26. Brice Dja Djedje, 27. Christian Kabasele, 31. Tommie Hoban, Essaid Belkalem.
Midfielders:
4. Mario Suarez, 7. Nordin Amrabat, 8. Valon Behrami, 16. Abdoulaye Doucoure, 17. Adlene Guedioura, 21. Ikechi Anya, 23. Ben Watson, 28. Sean Murray, 29. Etienne Capoue.
Forwards:
9. Troy Deeney, 10. Isaac Success, 19. Jerome Sinclair, 24. Odion Ighalo, Matej Vydra.

Watford comfortably avoided relegation in their return to the top-flight, with Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney (pictured) causing plenty of problems for opposition defences. Quique Flores has since made way, and new manager Walter Mazzarri has wasted no time in leaving his mark on the team. Brice Dja Djedje has come in from Marseille, and Christian Kabasele has been added to the defence after showing brilliant form at Genk. Kabasele will play alongside Craig Cathcart and Miguel Britos in the centre of defence, while wing backs Dja Djedje and Juan Camilo Zuniga will look to provide width and create a connection between defence and attack. Heurelho Gomes is an experienced presence in goal, and the Brazilian international will look to perform as well as he did last season. The midfield of Ben Watson, Etienne Capoue, Mario Suarez and Valon Behrami is very solid, and Deeney and Ighalo will provide plenty of bite in attack. Watford have a very well-rounded side, and they should be consistent throughout.

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Watford are fairly solid in all areas, but they are too reliant on Deeney and Ighalo for goals and this could prove costly. The two provided 28 goals between them over the course of last season, and while they were prolific their teammates were only able to contribute 12 between them. No other player scored more than two goals, and this over-reliance on the strikers could prove costly as the season progresses. Capoue, Suarez and Behrami, while experienced, are all defensive midfielders, and Mazzarri lacks a real connection between defence and attack. This could be particularly costly as Ighalo and Deeney are the key to Watford’s chances this season, and if they are not involved in the game then the team will have huge problems. The defence is not as strong as it could be, and the inexperience of Kabasele and Dja Djedje could prove costly. There is a quality gap between Watford and the big clubs that will be difficult to breach, and if the strikers don’t fire they could find themselves in a relegation battle.

Star Player: Troy Deeney

Deeney has been one of Watford’s most consistent performers since he joined the club in 2010, and he netted 13 goals on their return to the Premier League. He showed last season that he is capable of mixing with the best in the world, and there is no reason why he cannot continue to form a dominant strike partnership with Ighalo this time around.

Key Player: Valon Behrami

With the departure of Almen Abdi to Sheffield Wednesday the Swiss international will be more influential than ever, with Behrami set to act as the side’s main playmaker in addition to his defensive duties. Watford are in need of a link between defence and attack, and if Behrami cannot deliver in this role then Mazzari will have some big problems to deal with.

One to watch: Christian Kabasele

Kabasele came from nowhere to take a place in Belgium’s squad at Euro 2016, and the centre back should slot easily into Watford’s defence. He is not a well-known quantity, but he showed great form at Genk and has the physical qualities to succeed in the Premier League. He can be a dangerous presence at set pieces, and it will be interesting to see how he performs.

Likely team (3-5-2): Gomes – Kabasele, Cathcart, Britos; Dja Djedje, Suarez, Behrami, Capoue, Zuniga; Deeney, Ighalo.

West Bromwich Albion

Manager: Tony Pulis
Captain: Darren Fletcher
Ground: The Hawthorns
Last Season: 14th
Top Scorer: Salomon Rondon (9)
Most Assists: Chris Brunt, Darren Fletcher, Craig Gardner, James Morrison (3)
Prediction: 13th

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Ben Foster, 13. Boaz Myhill, 38. Jack Rose.
Defenders:
3. Jonas Olsson, 4. James Chester, 6. Jonny Evans, 15. Sebastian Pocognoli, 16. Cristian Gamboa, 23. Gareth McAuley, 25. Craig Dawson.
Midfielders:
5. Claudio Yacob, 7. James Morrison, 8. Craig Gardner, 10. Matt Phillips, 11. Chris Brunt, 14. James McClean, 19. Callum McManaman, 24. Darren Fletcher, 47. Sam Field.
Forwards:
9. Salomon Rondon, 17. Rickie Lambert, 18. Saido Berahino, 45. Jonathan Leko.

West Bromich Albion have been a constant presence in the Premier League for a long time, and they were solid last season under the guidance of experienced Welsh manager Tony Pulis. The Baggies have an excellent defence, with James Chester, Jonas Olsson and Gareth McAuley battling it out to start in the heart of the back four. Manchester United youth product Jonny Evans is a top-quality player at left back, and Craig Dawson will be a constant presence on the right. English international Ben Foster has plenty of experience in goal, and he will ensure that not much gets through. Darren Fletcher and Claudio Yacob are solid in the centre of midfield, and new signing Matt Phillips has the potential to do plenty of damage on a wing. Saido Berahino is one of the most promising players in English football, and he will form a dangerous partnership with Salomon Rondon (pictured).

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Pulis has plenty of experience at the highest level, but ever since he guided Stoke City to promotion in 2008 his sides have been unable to put the ball in the back of the net. Only Aston Villa, who went through four different managers and finished with just three wins, scored fewer goals than the Baggies last season. Rondon was excellent, scoring nine times, but Berahino could not back up the great form he showed early on in his career. Rickie Lambert was nowhere near his best, and it is likely that the 34-year-old will be unable to return to the form he showed a few seasons ago. There is no-one creating chances in the middle of the park, and while the Baggies will be defensively solid they lack a link between midfield and attack. Pulis will take them to safety, but they are unlikely to get close to the top half of the table.

Star Player: Salomon Rondon

Rondon is a top-quality player in attack, and he has the potential to cause plenty of problems for opposition defences. He has plenty of experience of European competitions, and the Venezuelan international immediately made his mark in his first season in England. He netted nine goals despite a poor supply chain, and if he can combine well with Berahino the Baggies will be hard to beat.

Key Player: Darren Fletcher

Fletcher spent 13 seasons at Manchester United, making over 200 league appearances and featuring over 60 times in Europe. He has also made 73 appearances for Scotland, and his vast experience at both club and international level will serve West Brom well over the course of the season. He will be a constant presence in the centre of the park, and he will look to serve as a calming influence.

One to watch: Jonathan Leko

Leko made his Premier League debut last season at the age of 16, racking up five league appearances and starting in three games. He is quick, skilful, and terrorised opposition defences late in the season when given the opportunity. He is a dangerous presence up front, and he is good enough to push for a place in the starting line-up this season. He is still only 17, and is a very exciting prospect.

Likely team (4-3-3): Foster – Dawson, McAuley, Olsson, Evans; Gardner, Yacob, Fletcher; Phillips, Rondon, Berahino.

Wales come from behind to take out Belgium

This tournament has been one in which underdogs have flourished, and Wales are now one game away from the final of Euro 2016 after a 3-1 victory over Belgium in Lille. Belgium came into the match in great form following a 4-0 thrashing of Hungary, and they asserted themselves in the opening stanza. Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne were both closely checked by the Welsh defence, and Yannick Carrasco was able to flourish on the right wing, finding plenty of space and creating some excellent chances. Belgium should have scored early on after a chaotic piece of play in which three shots were blocked by the Welsh in rapid succession. Carrasco started it when the ball fell to him out the back, but Wayne Hennessey was ready to make the save. Up stepped Thomas Meunier, whose shot passed Hennessey only to be blocked by James Chester, who was sitting in the goalmouth with plenty of support from his teammates. The danger hadn’t passed, and Neil Taylor was forced to deflect Hazard’s attempt over the bar for a corner.

The Welsh were under pressure, and soon they cracked. It was Radja Nainggolan who scored the goal with a thunderous one-time strike from long range, but it was Hazard who was at the centre of the set up play. The midfield maestro drove Joe Allen back towards the box before playing a look away pass to Nainggolan, who had plenty of space available to him. The shot found the top corner, and Hennessey could only manage to get his fingertips on the ball as it found the back of the net. The Welsh regrouped and consolidated, but all they had to show for it was an excellent volley from Taylor which Thibaut Courtois had done very well to save. Gareth Bale had been kept quiet, and the Belgians still looked in control. Then Ashley Williams scored, and the game was turned on its head.

The goal came from a corner, with Aaron Ramsey putting an excellent ball into the centre of the box for Williams, who converted easily. Jordan Lukaku was caught out of position as the ball sailed over his head, and the Welsh captain did not have to do much to drive his header past Courtois into the back of the net. The Welsh were back on level footing, and they looked far more comfortable as the first half drew to a close. Ramsey was everywhere, and his run around the ground was putting Belgium under plenty of pressure. Belgium wrested control back away from the Welsh after the break, and they soon had the defence on the back foot. Meunier looked dangerous when he pushed forward in attack, and Romelu Lukaku was unable to capitalise on a perfectly placed cross from the Belgian right back. Hazard threatened to score when he weaved through the Welsh defence to find space, but his shot was drilled across goal. Then Wales scored again, taking the momentum away from Belgium and putting the underdogs firmly in the driver’s seat.

The goal came out of nowhere, with Ramsey the catalyst. Bale’s long ball from inside his own half found Ramsey on the wing, and the Arsenal star took a brilliant touch to control the ball. He looked inside and crossed for Hal Robson-Kanu, who twisted and turned to put himself one-on-one with Courtois. He worked Meunier out of the contest, and Jason Denayer ran past him in an attempt to win the ball back. Marouane Fellaini was out of position, and Robson-Kanu was able to beat Courtois with ease.

Belgium pushed for the leveller, but the Welsh defence was very effective and the leveller was not going to come. Fellaini had some great chances after some strong set-up play, but he was all bark and no bite, promising much but failing to deliver. The Welsh put the icing on the cake with less than five minutes to go through Sam Vokes, who connected with a brilliant cross from Chris Gunter to guide the ball into the back of the net. It was a brilliant victory, one that was hard-fought but classy at the same time. The Welsh played with determination and had the skill to back it up, and they thoroughly deserve their spot in the last four, underdogs or not.

Lille – Stade Pierre-Mauroy
Wales 3 (A Williams 31, Robson-Kanu 55, Vokes 86)
Belgium 1 (Nainggolan 13)
Referee: Damir Skomina (Svn)

Wales (3-5-2): Hennessey – Chester, A Williams, Davies; Gunter, Allen, Ledley (King 78), Ramsey (Collins 90), Taylor; Robson-Kanu (Vokes 80), Bale.
Belgium (4-2-3-1): Courtois – Meunier, Alderweireld, Denayer, J Lukaku (Mertens 75); Nainggolan, Witsel; Carrasco (Fellaini 46), de Bruyne, Hazard; R Lukaku (Batshuayi 83)

Top 5
1. Aaron Ramsey (Wales)
Ramsey provided two assists and was the life of the Welsh team, buzzing with energy for ninety minutes and causing plenty of problems for the Belgians. He was at the centre of one of the greatest injustices of the night when he was booked for an innocuous handball, and while he will miss the semi-final because of the booking he can take some comfort from his brilliant performance.
2. Ashley Williams (Wales)
Williams was very solid at the heart of the Welsh defence, and he showed great leadership in continually warding off the Belgians. He scored the equaliser for Wales and he proved to be a huge threat for the Belgian defence, getting into dangerous positions and finding space at set pieces. He played well, and will continue to add strength to the Welsh defence in the semi-finals.
3. Thomas Meunier (Belgium)
Meunier played an excellent game from right back, pushing forward well and asking plenty of questions of the Welsh with his probing crosses. He was able to drift between attack and defence effortlessly, and he was Belgium’s best on the night. He was mostly solid from a defensive standpoint, and he didn’t let much through.
4. Hal Robson-Kanu (Wales)
Robson-Kanu was a big threat throughout with his pace and ability to find space in dangerous positions. He outmanoeuvred three Belgian players to score the goal that put the Welsh ahead, and a goal was just reward for a very strong effort throughout the game. He played well, and should keep his place for the semi-finals.
5. Kevin de Bruyne (Belgium)
De Bruyne had a strong game in attacking midfield, and he was at the centre of Belgium’s attack. He created some excellent chances through his set pieces, and he was able to open up plenty of space for both himself and his teammates. He played well, and he can hold his head high despite a disappointing loss.

Substitutes fire as England get key victory

Daniel Sturridge picked up the ball outside the penalty area from Danny Rose. It was injury time, and the score was tied at 1-1. He stood still for a moment, collecting himself and looking for options. Eventually he moved. He played the ball to Jamie Vardy, England’s sole scorer and Leicester’s hero as they triumphed in the Premier League. Vardy did not have much time to react but he flicked it on to Dele Alli. Alli was closed off and dispossessed by a spirited Welsh defence, but Sturridge had run through and was able to collect the ball in a brilliant position. He took a touch, leaving the Welsh defender who came to him floundering, and with a calm finish into the bottom corner he delivered England a come-from-behind victory that sets them up well for the rest of their campaign.

This clash, between England and Wales, was one of the most highly anticipated of the group stage, and there was plenty of feeling between the two sides. Wales went in with plenty of confidence after a first-up victory over Slovakia, but England were able to push them back early. Raheem Sterling should have scored when he found himself with a golden opportunity, a cross from Adam Lallana landing perfectly at his feet. He could not hit the target, showing the poor form and lack of confidence which riddled his Premier League performances with Manchester City. England had other quality chances, and Gary Cahill missed a wonderful opportunity when his marker lost his footing in the box. His header went straight at Hennessey, and it was easily scooped up by the Welsh keeper. England could have had a penalty a few minutes later, but Ben Davies’ handball went unnoticed by the officials. England dominated possession, but while they had some good chances they looked ineffective against the Welsh defence. In the end it was Wales who hit the front, just when it seemed that the sides would go into the interval locked at 0-0.

The goal came from nothing, with a fairly clumsy challenge from Wayne Rooney setting up a free kick from considerable distance for Gareth Bale. In the end, it was not the actions of Bale which were responsible for the goal but those of Joe Hart, whose attempt at a save pushed an easily stopped free kick into the bottom corner. Bale stepped back and put his foot through it, and somehow the English keeper could not push it away from his own goal. The ball trailed into the back of the net off Hart’s hands, and while the goal was down to a keeper error it did not matter for the Welsh. It was the first time Wales had scored against England for 32 years, and they were bound to celebrate.

Roy Hodgson was quick to make changes to his misfiring team at the break, and he removed Sterling and Harry Kane. They were replaced by Vardy and Sturridge, and while Wales continued to hold firm the pair showed initial promise. After about ten minutes, however, the game opened up, and Vardy had scored shortly afterwards. Sturridge’s cross from the left wing found a mass of bodies at the top of the six-yard box, and the ball spilled out to Vardy. It would have been harder for him to miss the goals, and while Wales appealed for offside replays showed that the last touch came off the head of Williams, not an English player. England continued to push, and without the one-goal deficit looming over their heads they played with less pressure. Rooney nearly set up a goal after his free kick bounced around the Welsh penalty area like a pinball, but eventually Eric Dier’s shot was blocked. Sturridge mishit a volley, and Hodgson banked on the youngest player in the tournament, Marcus Rashford, to deliver England a goal. Rooney took a brilliant touch to evade Aaron Ramsey, but was immediately swamped by three Welsh defenders and had his shot blocked.

Wales were fighting hard, and while England still dominated possession they were not finding many genuine scoring chances. Alli threatened to create a goal when he made a beautiful run through the Welsh defence, but his shot was blocked. Cahill’s header went over the bar, and the game looked destined for a draw until Sturridge scored to win them the game. Bale had the last attempt of the match when he was open for a header inside the box, but he missed and England’s triumph was confirmed.

Lens – Stade Bollaert Delelis
England 2 (Vardy 56, Sturridge 90+2)
Wales 1 (Bale 42)
Referee: Felix Brych (Ger)

England (4-3-3): Hart – Walker, Cahill, Smalling, Rose; Alli, Dier, Rooney; Lallana (Rashford 73), Kane (Vardy 46), Sterling (Sturridge 46).
Wales (5-3-2): Hennessey – Gunter, Chester, A Williams, Davies, Taylor; Ledley (Edwards 67), Ramsey, Allen; Robson-Kanu (J Williams 71), Bale.

Top 5
1. Wayne Rooney (England)
Rooney was in control throughout the game, controlling the tempo of England’s attack and distributing the ball from midfield as he saw fit. His corners and free kicks proved a constant threat for the Welsh defence, and he delivered a performance that showed just how good he can be. He had some great chances, and was England’s best player.
2. Dele Alli (England)
Alli played a very strong game in the centre of the park, and he was able to find plenty of space in attack throughout. He was always able to find the ball, and he showed moments of his extraordinary skill with the ball at his feet. He drifted effectively between attack and midfield, and his work in the final third caused plenty of problems for Wales.
3. Ashley Williams (Wales)
Williams made a couple of mistakes during the game, including setting up Jamie Vardy for England’s first goal, but he was solid down back and used his vast international experience to marshal a Welsh defence which was able to stand up to the English pressure for most of the game. Williams fought for every ball, and as captain he set a great example for the rest of his team.
4. Jamie Vardy (England)
Vardy entered the game at half-time, and he had an immediate impact. He injected plenty of pace into the English attack, and he scored roughly 10 minutes after coming on. His pace and positioning in attack turned the game in England’s favour, and he was able to take his chances well. He was one of England’s best, and it would not be a surprise to see him start against Slovakia.
5. Daniel Sturridge (England)
Sturridge scored the winner in injury time, and he was lively throughout the second half. His cross was the catalyst for Vardy’s goal, and he was able to handle the pressure late on when he found himself one-on-one with Hennessey. He had plenty of opportunities, and while some were not as well taken as they could have been he played very well and had a big impact.