Portugal are European Champions for the first time in their history after defeating France 1-0 after extra-time. In a drab affair, former Swansea City flop Eder scored what would prove to be the only goal of the game after showing great control, strength and then a powerful shot from outside of the box.
Twelve years earlier the roles were reversed. Portugal were much fancied to win the 2004 tournament on home soil, and boasted the likes of Figo, Rui Costa, a young Cristiano Ronaldo and several members of José Mourinho’s Champions League winning Porto side. Greece, 80-1 outsiders, weren’t easy on the eye but won the final by beating the hosts 1-0 in the final. Here, Portugal were much shorter than 80-1, yet few tipped them to upset the hosts and favourites France.
Spineless. Pampered. Weak. Cowardly. Underachieving.
In the wake of England’s terrible defeat to Iceland, these sorts of words have become the linguistic norm when evaluating Hodgson’s side. With the manager gone and having fallen in the last 16 to a side featuring barely any significant names, the media and professional observers are tearing into the team for what is seen as the worst failure of an England side since the defeat to a semi-pro USA in 1950. It is a guttural cry against a talented team full of Premier League stars under performing on the big stage and shaming their fans and nation. Safe to say, it is a cry we have heard before.
Credit: Reuters via Dailymail.co.uk
The group stages of EURO 2016 are over, and we must all now live in the unsettling reality of not having any football for two whole days. Before we can begin our lives again with the Round of 16 fixtures, let us take a look back through the six groups and select some of the outstanding and noteworthy moments of the tournament so far.
Game of the Groups: Croatia 2-1 Spain
While Hungary and Portugal’s 3-3 draw was the most ridiculous and open game of the tournament, it was this concluding clash of Group D that stood at as the best game. While it was a shame that the wonderful Modric missed out, it was a game that delivered on nearly every level of footballing pleasure. For the dramatists, there was the controversy of penalties missed by both officials and kick takers that provoked genuine talking points after the game. There were also the mishaps of David de Gea, whose off-field antics were now matched in media attention by those on the pitch. Most of all however, it was a game between two of the best teams at the Euros who executed two different yet equally exhilarating tactical plans that created a flowing game of attacking football that pitched orchestrated passing against silky, swift counter-attacks: a closely-contested treat.
Best Team Performance: Italy vs Belgium
France 2-1 Albania – 10 June 2016
After a fairly uneventful first hour, I remarked that I hoped this wasn’t going to be a sign of things to come for the tournament. Then, right on cue, and a reason why I never win at the bookies, a Dmitri Payet-inspired France scored two dramatic late goals to snatch victory from the jaws of a draw, which ensured that the hosts got off to a winning start in front of an expectant Parisian crowd.
Germany 2-0 Ukraine – 12 June 2016
Rotation takes undeserved hit
Hodgson’s decision to change much of the first team for this final group game was questioned by many commentators as an unnecessary risk. The decision to use the depths of the squad should not be seem as abnormal, and the changes actually did little to change the fact that England dominated a third EURO game in a row. However, the decision to make so many changes does invite criticism if the result is not perfect, and so England’s rotated squad will take the hit for not getting the win. It is a shame that this result will get the biggest kicking because of the personnel, and will overlook that an English side dominated the possession in a major tournament game and played, let’s face it, the sort of fluid football that many have been demanding since the fall of McClaren.
Dier is essential
Substitutes take Sterling’s chance
Having survived the kneejerk calls to drop him, Raheem Sterling needed a strong forty-five minutes to justify his place. However, in a game where England had few clear chances against deep, impressive banks of Welsh defence, the Manchester City forward did not take his chance. Six yards out and on the end of a lovely cross from Lallana, he desperately poked his effort over when it looked easier to score. His general play was no better or worse than the forwards who replaced him at half-time – Vardy and Sturridge – but he did not take his glorious chance. In contrast, while their impact on general play was unremarkable, the Leicester and Liverpool strikers very much took their solo chances. In a game where little was available to them, these two snatched their opportunities. Sterling, once again, did not.
Coleman out-changed by Hodgson
It has been observed on many occasions before, but a team of talented sportspeople should only become a ‘golden generation’ when they actually triumph in a significant way. Thus, England’s much-discussed lineage of supposedly golden talent (one that never made it past the last-eight of a major tournament) are undeserving of the title, while Germany circa 2006-2014 (perennial semi-finalists before becoming world champions in Brazil) fit the bill more accurately. Despite this, the latest team to carry this honour/albatross around their necks is the current Belgium side: frequently ranked as one of the best two or three sides in world football, and boasting some of the most expensive and talented individuals to ever grace the modern game. Like England, they have earned this international title of ‘golden generation’ through no major international achievement, and their opening round defeat to Italy at EURO 2016 has provoked many questions over this side’s true quality.
Knee-jerking helps nobody
After conceding a last-minute equaliser, social media was quick to start bitterly reacting to seemingly another England failure. Amid some of the amusing observations, there were criticisms flung around so aghast and exaggerated it were as if England had left the tournament already. Negative reaction is fine and understandable, but to see significant media voices already bemoaning crippling player performances and timid management is excessive and unhelpful. Their thoughts may hold nuggets of truth, but are the product of a last-minute error in a game that, in truth, England dominated with significant examples of recent tactical advancements. There were also encouraging performances from Dier, Rooney and Lallana in particular. Errors change games though, and certainly alter the media and public mind-set with devastating ease.
Vardy Party against Wales?
In Part One, Patrick previewed groups A and B, containing the likes of favourites France, as well as Home Nations England and Wales. Here he previews groups C-F as well as picking his overall winners for the tournament.
Germany will likely cruise it, even if they do plump for faux hard man Emre Can at full-back and only have Mario Gomez as an out-and-out centre-forward. False nines are out of fashion tactically, but any side that contains Thomas Muller will carry significant threat going forward. There’s quality all over the park, in the form of Champions League winner Toni Kroos and new Bayern signing Mats Hummels, amongst others, and this will see the Germans into the latter stages.
Welcome, Northern Ireland while we’re at it! Michael O’Neill’s combative outfit will no doubt fancy their chances of making it out of a group without a second seed of the quality of Italy.
And so it’s upon us. After months- perhaps even years in some cases (Wales, I’m looking at you)- of waiting, Euro 2016 is set for lift off on Friday evening. Expectant fans across Europe await, with a sternly security conscious France putting final measures in place (for good reason) for the extravaganza of football that’s going to dominate TVs up and down the country over the next four weeks.
In many ways it’s a hermit’s dream. What better than three games of top level football per day, on average, for the foreseeable? Answer: little to nothing. Sorry, in advance, to anyone who watches the Chase or Pointless. Cancelled until further notice, thanks.