At every major tournament there are teams we all think will achieve nothing or lack the ability to cause problems and shall surely be the beating stick, but then they surprise us; they defeat a household name; they push them to or beyond their limit. This year’s Euro is not any different and we have a few which have all stood out, some more than others. Even if they don’t make it to the next round, their performances were so good that despite their misfortune (if applicable) they’ve been mentioned here.
Many of us before the tournament had group A as probably the one group, in which the favourites would plough their more inferior opponents. However, this was not the case and Albania emerged as a true menace against both France and Switzerland. The Swiss managed a meagre 1-0 win. But such was the performance of the Albanians that by the second half we were all hoping they would pull a goal back, thus earning a draw. But it wasn’t to be and had it not been for some spectacular saves from Yann Sommer coupled with the Albanians’ obvious tournament inexperience and their inept finishing, it would have been. They created chances, defended relentlessly but an early mistake from Berisha cost them and they were never able to comeback.
France would be their next victim but again, inefficiency would be their downfall, in addition to eventual weariness and a defensive blunder in the 88th minute, which allowed Griezmann to score. Their inexperience showed minutes later anew: while they were committing men forward to get themselves an equaliser they lost the ball and was hit on the counter, thereby giving France a 2-0 win- a deceiving result for someone who merely checked the game’s score.
The Albanians, however, never threw in the towel and were determined to win their first point at a major tournament- a feat they achieved by upsetting Romania 1-0 in the final group game.
Despite making their debut, the Albanians toiled tirelessly and were tenacious in their efforts. They finished third in their group and may or may not make it to the next round. But whatever happens, they performed admirably and were intrepid.
Bale and company, also making their debut at the Euro, weren’t expected to have any success let alone be group winners nor did anyone think Bale would have three times as many goals as Ronaldo after three games but has so far turned in some scintillating performances. The likes of Bale, Allen and Ramsey have all been key.
They opened with a win against Slovakia, the goals coming through Bale from a superb 30-yard-free-kick and the “clubless” Robson-Kanu. They initially led the game but allowed Slovakia back in through loss of concentration. However, what was impressive in that game was their sheer will and energy to collect all three points and they laboured until the 81st minute, when their breakthrough came.
The game against England was expected to be a blow out for their English neighbours but once again their star man, Bale delivered a wonderful free kick goal but it wouldn’t last long as they later give up a cheap equaliser to Vardy and then succumbed to a late winner through Sturridge.
The loss to England was a bitter one but it didn’t deter them in their final game against the absolutely awful Russia- a team which didn’t deserve to be in the tournament.
Against Russia, the Welsh gave their best performance. They defeated them 3-0, playing some attractive attacking football, while keeping the Russians at bay. Once again, the will of the Welsh came into play and their desire to win their group was on display. They created numerous chances and had this game finished 4- or 5-0 it would have been well and truly deserved.
The Welsh is the first team in twenty years to advance to the next round on their tournament debut and another outstanding performance in the round of 16 could see them progress even further.
Bale has had a standout tournament and has considerably outshone his Real Madrid teammate, Cristiano Ronaldo. He has three goals, two of which came from beautiful free kicks, and an assist, while Ronaldo has failed to score a single goal or hit a free kick on target.
Another Euro debutant, who’ve also been a wonder. They frustrated Portugal in the group game opener, defended resolutely and earned themselves a draw in the end- their first point at a major competition. They could have earned the full three points against the Portuguese had it not been for feeble finishing, which again proved to be a problem for them against Hungary. They had their opportunities but just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net.
Nevertheless, they have performed valiantly and earned themselves two points on their debut and are sitting second in their group ahead of Portugal. If all goes well in their final group game against the insipid Austria- and a win is possible- they will most certainly qualify for the next round.
Ten percent of the Icelandic population travelled to France to watch their team’s debut and they must be proud of their players because they have been fearless.