So it’s over. The teams have all gone home, some in jubilation, some in despair. But what have we learned? We’ve learnt that Cristiano Ronaldo will probably become a manager who screams at his players and pushes them back onto the pitch when they’re injured. Iceland’s thunder-clap will become a fashion around the footballing world. And of course England always underperform.
The tournament started out very cagey, all teams knew that a third place position could see them through to the next round and this brought out a defensive solidity in most teams. The smaller teams knew if they could snatch one win in three and keep their goal difference low they could progress. Teams like Croatia impressed with Modric scoring one of the best goals of the tournament. Wales showed they weren’t just a one man team as they progressed through on top of their group winning two out of three.
The most exciting match came in the group stages between Portugal and Hungary. With one of the few games to go above four goals in ninety minutes. A tense flurry of attacking intent from both teams brought out the best football. However this was a rare occurrence in the tournament with a lot of teams unable to score against very well-drilled defensive sides. England saw this is their 2-1 loss to the impressive Iceland.
The football may have been poor but the stories behind the over performing under dogs was the real entertainment. Iceland’s efforts in the tournament being a stand out but also Wales and a poor Italy sides both going a lot further than anyone expected. Ireland and Northern Ireland both securing their first wins in major tournaments as their fans become the best in the tournament. Irish fans sang Abba with Swedish fans, sung lullabies to babies and serenaded a French nun. Whereas Northern Ireland had one song which they kept on repeat. Will Grigg was indeed on fire, even if he never made it off the bench.
The French team were not their sparkling best in most matches, needing half-time changes of tactics and players to see them through most matches. Antoine Griezzman became the face of the tournament as he stepped out the shadow of Paul Pogba to dethrone him as France’s poster child. Moussa Sissoko was a surprise talent, looking more like a player who could win Newcastle the league than a man who helped them be relegated.
Portugal seemed like a team destined for a knockout in the semis as they have done for the last few tournaments. They never really showed any indication they could win it. However, just like Leicester this season they had the determination not to be beaten and kept going until they stepped through every opponent. If they had been put on the other side of the draw maybe they wouldn’t have won, but sometimes you just get lucky. Ronaldo showed his class throughout the tournament, with flick goals as well as headed goals dragging his team to the final. However it was Eder, the forgotten man, a player who hadn’t scored for Swansea at all suddenly came up with a goal worthy of final. A smash into the bottom corner after knocking away Laurent Koscienly like he was a child. Ronaldo’s willpower was apparent as he became as animated as his manager on the side lines. Ordering players around while he hobbled along the touch-line. Some will say that Ronaldo has won enough but I was happy for him, having to be stretchered off in the first half and have to watch your team play a final without you is hard for any player, especially if you’re their talisman.
Wales were another highlight. Gareth Bale showed that he could take better free-kicks than Ronaldo as he scored two of his three goals from set pieces. Aaron Ramsey showed his form this season for Arsenal was a dip as he was one of the Wales’s best players in the tournament and he was sorely missed in the semi-final against Portugal. Joe Allen could be looking at some big names approaching him with an outstanding performance for The Dragons. Ashley Williams also showed why he was the best pick for captain as he carried on playing in a match after his arm looked to be dislocated during a match but he marched on regardless.
Italy were a team written off, called the worst Italy team in ten years and not expected to pull up any trees. However i think Chelsea fans will be inspired by what they saw in Antonio Conte’s team as he shouted them to the semi-finals. The shrieking Italian created has shown he was one of the best managers at the tournament as he turned average players such as Grazziono Pelle and Candreva into super stars.
All in all the tournament was dud on the pitch but a brilliant tournament for an underdog story. Violence in Marseille overshadowed some of the early action but other than that the tournament was well-spirited and good fun for those who attended. Let’s hope that Russia in two years time can have a rise in the football standards and hope that the Russian fans aren’t out for a fight again.