The way the brackets shook out for the European Championship, one side was loaded with perennials _ France, Germany, Italy, England and Spain were all among one group of eight _ while a less heralded set _ Wales, Portugal, Belgium and Croatia _ all vied to be among the final four in France.
That moment has finally arrived with the semifinals Wednesday and Thursday, and the brackets have created a boxing-like feel of an undercard on one side before the main event on the other. The only difference of course, is there will be one last main event Sunday to claim the title and a spot in next year’s Confederations Cup in Russia.
The first match features the surprise of the tournament _ Wales _ facing Portugal. While the press have gleefully jumped on the storyline of Real Madrid superstars Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo facing each other, both teams have gotten this far because their respective supporting casts have made vital contributions.
Bale was every bit the talisman in guiding the Red Dragons atop their group in the first three matches, netting in each contest, but in the knockout rounds, the goals have come via an own goal, a defender and strikers not named Bale, though he has still been influential in those two victories.
Yet Bale’s burden will be heavier since he will be without Aaron Ramsey, who picked up his second yellow card in the quarterfinal win over Belgium and must sit out this match. Starting defender Ben Davies will also serve a one-match ban for his two cautions, but the rugged Welsh back line has admirably handled every challenge thrown at them thus far.
Portugal have yet to win a match in 90 minutes, and aside from Ronaldo’s one-match outburst against Hungary and shot-turned-assist on Ricardo Quaresma’s match-winner versus Croatia, there has not been many goals from the two-time Ballon d’Or recipient. Instead, it’s been unheralded players like Nani and teenage phenom Renato Sanches who have stepped up in key moments to keep A Seleccao going in this tournament.
The other semifinal has host France playing Germany in what has the potential to be a fast-paced offensive free-for-all. That would be in stark contrast to Germany’s 1-0 victory in the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals, but Les Bleus finally turned on the class in their clinical 5-2 demolition of Iceland that ended the small Nordic country’s mesmerizing run in the tournament.
Dimitri Payet, Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud have combined for 10 of France’s 11 goals in this tournament, and all three netted in Sunday’s triumph. While the trio has delivered the goods, they are also taking a huge step up in competition against Die Mannschaft.
The reigning World Cup champions grinded out a nervy nine-round penalty shootout victory over Italy, deserved winners after controlling much of the 120 minutes. Had it not been for Jerome Boateng’s moment of madness in the box that led to a handball and a penalty, Die Mannschaft could have avoided the extra half-hour of play and frayed nerves before Jonas Hector delivered the decisive goal from the spot.
The two matches provide the FanXT DFS player some flexibility in choosing players from all four sides since they appear on paper to be rather balanced. Additionally, some of the players unavailable _ primarily Ramsey but also Germany defender Mats Hummels and injured teammate Mario Gomez _ give a host of mid-priced quality options that allow for the selection of a pair of superstars.
In this instance, the Toni Kroos/Mesut Ozil option is again in play, while the French tandem of Greizmann and Payet are being used together for the first time. With a cagey contest of counterattacking likely between Wales and Portugal, bypassing Bale and Ronaldo to get more value players from the France-Germany match is the more logical play here.
This lineup is for use for the semifinal matches of the European Championship played July 6 and July 7, using a 4-4-2 formation and $90,000 salary cap in accordance with FanXT’s DFS contests.
Goalkeeper: Wayne Hennessey, Wales ($7,190). The Crystal Palace No. 1 has had a strong tournament for Wales and enters this match with 10 saves _ most among the remaining goalkeepers _ and has done so in four matches. There was also no shame in the goal he allowed in the 3-1 victory over Belgium, a rocket by Radja Nainggolan from 25 yards that was world-class. With the absence of Ramsey in Wales’ midfield, expect the Red Dragons to be slightly more compact, which means Hennessey could accumulate enough save points to overcome a potential goal allowed.
Defenders: Jonas Hector, Germany ($7,690). The 1. FC Koin outside back has been a steady anchor for Die Mannschaft and also cooly converted the winning penaltiy as Germany finally got past Italy in a major tournament. This may be a match where Germany will have to hit on the counter more often, which means there’s a good chance Hector can add to his team-best 33 crosses with hopes someone latches onto one of them for a goal.
Patrice Evra, France ($7,130). Hector’s counterpart at left back, the French veteran continues to get plenty of touches. He was somewhat anonymous in France’s rout of Iceland, but that’s also because the final 45 minutes were little more than a glorified friendly with the match well in hand. Facing Germany, however, requires the kind of nous the 35-year-old Juventus star can provide in droves.
Neil Taylor ($7,280) and Chris Gunter ($7,160), Wales. Since the Portugal-Wales match figures to be a cagey defensive-minded contest, the hedge is that both outside backs for the Red Dragons are going to find opportunities to push forward since Ramsey’s absence limits Wales’ ability to play through the middle for Gareth Bale. The two have accounted for more than half of their team’s crosses, and Taylor also has a goal to his credit in this tournament.
Midfielders: Toni Kroos OR Mesut Ozil ($10,130). Once again, it’s six of one or half-dozen of the other for the German midfielders. Ozil had a well-taken goal in the quarterfinals against Italy, though his penalty attempt in the shootout left much to be desired. Kroos converted his spot kick and had another all-around solid game versus the Azzurri. Ozil has been the more dangerous of the two going forward, and in what should be an open game given the amount of talent for both teams, the Arsenal playmaker could be the better choice here.
Nani, Portugal ($8,000). With Bale and Ronaldo possibly poised to cancel each other out, similar to how Bale and Eden Hazard did in Wales’ quarterfinal victory, Nani continues to be a low-cost, high-value pick in the midfield since he’s playing alongside Ronaldo up front. Nani has already parlayed his strong tournament in France into a move to Valencia, and with the Red Dragons without two key players in Ramsey and defender Ben Davies, there should be holes to exploit.
Renato Sanches, Portugal ($7,630). There are few times it makes sense to take a flyer on an 18-year-old at a major international tournament, but this feels like one of those times. The impending Bayern Munich midfielder is coming off his best match of the tournament, having netted the match-tying goal against Poland before Portugal prevailed on penalties. Sanches also boldly followed Ronaldo in taking his PK for A Seleccao’s first two attempts, and that confidence bodes well as Portugal tries to find offensive sources behind Ronaldo and Nani in attack. Sanches’ cap-friendly salary also provides some flexibility in selecting strikers.
Julian Draxler, Germany ($8,380). Draxler was dropped from Germany’s starting XI against Italy as Low opted to use a 3-5-2 formation to flood the midfield. Additionally, injuries to Mario Gomez and Sami Khedira make the Wolfsburg youngster a near-lock to retrun to Die Mannschaft’s first 11. Draxler was effective in a 48-minute stint off the bench and did convert a penalty to help Germany reach the semifinals.
Forwards: Dimitri Payet, France ($8,440). The West Ham striker continues to be a high-value player relative to his cost and is coming off another strong effort in which he had a goal and an assist against Iceland. In the running for the tournament’s Golden Boot with three goals, Payet may wind up as its best player if the host country winds up lifting the trophy. He has taken at least three shots in every match, and four of his nine shots in the knockout rounds have been on target.
Antoine Griezmann, France ($10,750). Much like Payet, Griezmann has played so well of late he’s the best option among the higher-priced strikers remaining among the four teams. He has a tournament-high four goals and is also on the ball enough to add a pair of assists while working in simpatico with Payet and Olivier Giroud up front for Les Bleus. The Atletico Madrid striker had a somewhat anonymous performance in the 2014 World Cup loss to the eventual champions, but his current run of form coupled with some changes across Germany’s lineup means he should definitely have some chances to test Manuel Neuer.
Total salary: $89,780 ($220 left over.
By Chris Altruda (Follow @AlTruda73 on Twitter)