Nine takeaways from Euro 2016

cr champThe final of the Euros wrapped up with Portugal coming out on top against host France, through Eder’s delightful goal in the 109th minute. The match embodied the general tone the tournament had set from the first whistle in Stade de France- drab. Both teams were anything but impressive throughout the championship but they did enough to make it into the final and there was very little to talk about during, except the invasion of the moths and of course Ronaldo’s unfortunate injury which led to him being stretchered off in the 26th minute.

As unexceptional as the tournament was, there are a few conclusions I drew from it. Here they are:

Portugal are a lucky team

The fact Portugal was able to lift the European Championship trophy speaks to the quality of the tournament we’ve seen this year. They did nothing in this championship that warranted them to reach the final- though the ridiculous formatting for the knockout round certainly made it easier for them to get to there.

In the group stages, the Portuguese failed to win a single game against lowly Iceland, Hungary and a very disappointing Austria, finished third but still qualified for the round of 16, where they needed extra time to beat group D champions Croatia, while in the quarter-finals they needed a penalty shootout against Poland to take them to the semi-finals, where they defeated the surprise of the tournament, debutants Wales 2-0 in regular time. For the final, despite losing Ronaldo in the 26th minute, they dragged the game on for extra time and delivered the K.O. to the French in the 109th minute.

Paul Pogba is not worth €120 million

Pogba, like Bale or any other player for that matter, isn’t worth such a ludicrous sum of money. Pogba is without a doubt an exceptional player but sometimes fails to live up to his potential, as was evident in his performance at this tournament. Any team willing to cough up that much money would be foolish. 

It’s shocking Real Madrid pulled out of the race to sign him but it makes sense financially and from a sporting perspective, since they’d have to sell at least three players to raise enough money (about €100 million) to sign him. Where’s the sense in giving up three to gain one?

Platini’s (ir)rationale

UEFA should immediately address the logic, or lack thereof, Platini used to draw teams against each other for the knockout rounds, as it was confusing and illogical. Also, the brackets ended up being too easy for some teams and difficult for others.

Sweden needs a new generation

It must be said: this Swedish team were a terrible bunch. They were unable to win, let alone score a goal at the tournament. A few years back they were always considered a menacing team but those days are long gone and they need a new generation of Larssons, Ljungbergs, etc.

Moussa Sissoko needs a new club

moussa.jpegSissoko wasn’t a starter for France in their group games or the first knockout round but
when Kante got suspended, he was brought into the team ahead of Cabaye and what a difference he made for the French. He brought more energy, pace and power to their midfield. He was key in keeping Germany at bay in the semi-final and led much of the counter-attacks against them; while in the final he was a source of headache for the Portuguese with quite a few powerful and dangerous runs with the ball into the box, one of which culminated in a wicked turn against Cedric on the right of the box to drive a shot towards goal, which Rui Patricio was able to parry.

Given his delightful display in the knockout stages and Newcastle being relegated, a move is almost certain and he should jump at the chance if he wishes to continue in the French team.

Germany is in need of strikers

The Germans lacked precision and ruthlessness in front of goal, which contributed to them being knocked out in the semi-final against an insipid French team. However, while it costed them specifically in that game, they were already having trouble throughout the tournament and only managed to score more than one goal in two games from their six- against Ukraine in the group stage and Slovakia in the round of 16. They created chances but they rarely had someone with the deftness of Klose and suffered.

CR VS Messi: A new debate

crmesRonaldo was crowned 2016 Euro champion with Portugal in his second ever final with the national team, while his counterpart Messi has led his Argentina to four finals in recent years and won none- his latest loss prompting him to retire from the national setup.

The win for Ronaldo will no doubt spark a new debate about which of the two is better. But what’s the point? Both players have their admirers and haters. We’ve also been unable to settle the Pele vs Maradona debate for generations now and we’ll probably be unable to settle this one. What is true, however, is they are both immensely talented players, who have done exceptionally well for both club and country.

Impressive tournament debutants

baleNewcomers Wales, Iceland and Albania all went went above and beyond in this championship. Albania was a menacing opponent in group A and caused their competitors a lot of headaches. They almost won a point against France and Switzerland and defeated Romania in their final group game but unfortunately missed out on the next round because eventual champions Portugal placed better in the table for third-placed teams.

Iceland managed to finish second in their group with a win (coming against Austria) and two draws, which meant they qualified for the knockout stages. They met and defeated group B runners up England but were then pummelled by France in the quarter-final.

Wales was certainly the most successful of the bunch, by virtue of winning their group, which included neighbours England, knocking out Northern Ireland in the round of 16, overturning a one-goal deficit against Belgium to win 3-1 in the quarter-final before losing to ultimate champions, Portugal in the semi-finals.

All three teams punched above their weight and were certainly a part of the [rare] positive moments in the tournament.

Renato Sanches and Raphael Guerriero

Renato Sanches could turn out to be a steal for Bayern at €35 million. His display for Portugal at the Euros was probably the best part of watching Portugal in this tournament. An absolutely powerful player, who can strike the ball with both feet, runs all game from box to box and is comfortable playing anywhere in midfield his coach tells him.

Guerriero, who will also be playing in the Bundesliga this coming season, gave Dortmund fans a preview of what they can expect from him: energetic runs down the flank, vicious crosses into the box and powerful and dangerous free kicks.

Both players will be a great addition to the Bundesliga.

The tournament is now over and though disappointing, it ensured that football fans all over didn’t suffer withdrawal syndrome after the club season ended.

 

 

 

 

Portugal: unworthy semi-finalists but potential champions

The European Championship is coming to a close and we already know three of the four semi-finalists: Portugal, Wales and Germany. It has been a long and drab tournament with the likes of Wales and Iceland making it somewhat bearable to watch, as they have been punching above their weight all tournament long, while others continually turn in subpar performances. One of such teams is Portugal.

Three games, no wins 

por_crThe Portuguese started the championship incredibly disappointing with a draw against lowly Iceland. In attack they looked at a loss for ideas and when the time came to stand tall in defence they fluffed it, allowing Bjarnason to convert the equaliser at the back-post. Following the game, Ronaldo in bad taste, accused the Icelandic team of playing too defensively but what he should have mentioned was how poorly his team had in fact played- failing to really test the goalkeeper.

They followed up the draw against Iceland with another draw against Austria, this time unable to score a goal- Ronaldo missed a penalty and several guilt-edged opportunities- further proof of how astonishingly disappointing the Portuguese have been.

Amazingly, they managed another draw in their final group game against Hungary, albeit far from a boring game. It was end-to-end attacking football for neutral fans but caused heart palpitations for fans of both teams; the game finished 3-3. The match, as entertaining as it was, sadly highlighted the holes in both teams’ defences.

The Portuguese ended the group stages with no wins and three points but somehow qualified for the round of 16.

Knockout stages and nothing has changed

Portuguese fans and ncr_quareseutral fans alike may have thought the worst was over but alas, it was merely wishful thinking and we were forced to endure 90 minutes of tortuous football from both teams, which then dragged on to extra time. We were luckily rescued in the 117th minute following a failed attack by the Croatians, which led to a quick counter-attack allowing Quaresma to head home the winning goal and thus put us out of our misery.

The Polish were up next in the quarter-final and after a quick start from the Poles and an eventual equaliser from Sanches, the game then boringly persisted, leaving us all in a stupor throughout the remaining 90 minutes and extra time. The game to be decided on penalties. It was going well for Poland until Blaszczykowski missed his penalty, giving Quaresma the chance to be the hero for Portugal.

The Portuguese are currently the only team in the final four that has failed to win in regular time and has left it mostly to luck but it is this luck, which could see them make the final and become eventual champions.

Croatia could go all the way

At every championship there is at least one team we expect to cause all sorts of problems for the household names and this year’s Euro had names such as Belgium, Poland and Croatia being tossed around for but only Croatia has really laid claim to that label and ran with it.

They had an impressive showing against Turkey in their opening game but only secured a narrow win through a brilliant Modric volleyed-goal, but they controlled the game, created chances and defended resolutely.

In their next game, they dashed into a two-goal lead against the Czech Republic but a few of their nitwit fans decided to interrupt the game by throwing flares onto the field, which ended up doing their team more harm than good and moments after the restart they conceded the equaliser. A disappointing end to what was an otherwise great performance from the Croatians.

croespThey went into the final game of the group in second, two points behind the Spanish. La Roja were expected to have a fairly easy game and to finish top of their group. However, that wasn’t the case and the Croats came out aggressive, pressed the Spaniards ad prevented them from playing their possession-based game. They also did well forcing Iniesta out of the game, not allowing the little wizard any chance to dictate play. Majority of the Spanish’s play came through either Silva or Fabregas and a combination between the two led to the eventual opening goal. It wouldn’t last long though, as the Croatians would hit Spain on a perfectly executed counterattack just before the half through Perisic, who galloped down the left wing, broke Juanfran’s ankles and whipped in a lovely cross for Kalinic, who flicked the ball pass De Gea.

In the second half, the Croats didn’t change their game plan and continued to press the Spaniards, creating loads of chances but just couldn’t finish. The referee almost gave Spain an opportunity to “restore the order” by awarding them an incorrect penalty but justice was served because Ramos hit his penalty straight at the goalkeeper and later, the Croatians would deliver the knockout punch of the night in the 88th minute from a blitz counterattack with the scorer of the first, Kalinic returning the favour for Perisic to beat De Gea at his near post.

The Croatians shocked La Roja by not only defeating them through some lovely football and steadfast defending but to finish as group winners, thus leaving Spain to face Italy in the next round.

perisicTheir performance was commendable considering they had to do without Modric, who was injured. Additionally, Brozovic was rested, neither Strinic nor Vida played and Mandzukic was replaced by Kalinic. It was an outstanding game for the Croats, who’ve really been performing amazingly in the championship and this win will have given them bags of confidence. Their winning the group was probably more a let off the hook for the Italians than it was for the Croatians.

They have a wealth of talent, the likes of Modric- he picked up his second Champions League trophy with Real Madrid this season; Rakitic- was key in helping Barcelona win the domestic double; Mandzukic- an erratic character but the Juventus man can be clinical and though he’s struggling to hit form in this tournament can still deliver an unexpected blow to opponents; Brozovic- an undoubtedly talented, energetic and creative midfielder; Perisic- the Inter Milan man is a talented attacker who has a few tricky moves and can deliver deadly crosses into the box; and then there are the stallions: Corluka and Srna. Additionally, they have young players, who possess bags of talent, like Rog, who had a tremendous game in midfield against Spain, which was his fourth game for the national team. There’s Jedvaj, another 20-year-old, who had a terrific game in defence against the Spanish- also his fourth appearance for Croatia. Kalinic started the game in place of Mandzukic and did what the Juve man had failed to in the previous two games- not only scoring but providing an assist. Pjaca also made his 9th start against Spain and turned in a tremendous performance on the right. They also have Real Madrid’s talented young midfielder, Kovacic, who can play in a range of midfield positions.

The Croatians have a well-balanced team of both youth and experienced players and they have showed us that they possess all the right ingredients to be our Cinderella at the ball and I’m looking forward to them fulfilling that role and making it all the way to the final.

The Euro’s most surprising teams

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.

Albania

albania euroMany 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.

Wales

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-baleyard-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.

Iceland

iceland porAnother 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.

The Euro’s most disappointing teams

europic1The 2016 European Championship hasn’t exactly set the footballing world ablaze, in terms of entertainment value. We have yet to see an absolutely thrilling match nor have we seen any true outstanding players nor have we seen the players, who were being touted as the probable standouts of the tournament, really deliver; they have all went missing. The big teams have all had a torrid time with only one team- Spain- really consistently delivering outstanding performances so far.

And yesterday’s match between Portugal and Austria was just another reminder of how incredibly, disappointing the competition has been to watch, with the only real animation up until now, the constant tumult of fan violence in and around the stadiums.

Portugal

Talk about a let down! Portugal heads this list and so does their superstar, Ronaldo. Fresh off a third Champion’s League triumph, his second with Real Madrid, the Portuguese was expected to take the competition by storm, while helping his team to qualify for the next round but he hasn’t been in form and his morbid attitude isn’t helping much.

Why does he feel the need to try and do it all on his own? It’s understandable that Portugal depends on him and he feels compelled to deliver but there are ten other players out there with him, all of whom are very competent, but instead of playing with them he tries to carry the entire weight of his country on his shoulders and it has so far paid no dividends. As the leader of a team, he’s expected to incite an atmosphere of resilience even in the face of disappointment and not become dejected or complain when things don’t go as planned. His inability at times to do that transmits to his teammates and reflects itself in the team’s performance; yesterday was no different and Portugal could only come away with a mere draw. They are now levelled on points with Iceland.

Realistically, the Portuguese have a chance of qualifying if they beat Hungary in the final match and of that much they are capable.

A lot of people would love to see the Portuguese qualify and Ronaldo finally turn in an impressive performance for them at a major tournament but truth be told at this level he’s been incredibly disappointing for them despite being their biggest, most decorated and most talented player.

Austria

Austria, after having an impressive, undefeated run in the qualifiers with nine wins and one draw and conceding a mere five goals to their 22 goals scored have been anything but thrilling. They look vapid and frankly well out of their depth in the competition. Their star player, Alaba has struggled to contribute anything of substance to his side’s endeavours, though much of that boils down to the positions Koller has chosen to deploy him. Defensively, they are fine but it’s in their attack that banality really lies and it’s a pity we didn’t get to see much of the spark we saw in their qualification campaign.

They were expected to be a real force in this group, with qualification for the round of 16 a given but based on their opening games they look unlikely to do so and will come up against debutants Iceland, who’ve not only played well but scored more goals and collected more points; they will prove tough opponents for the Austrians in the final group game. Any chance of even having at shot at qualification to the next round looks beyond reach.

 

Turkey

Much more was expected of the Turkish team for this competition, considering they have some gifted players the likes of: Calhanoglu, Turan, Sahin and Burak Yilmaz. They have failed to make a mark at the competition, haven’t scored a goal and looks utterly hopeless. This is the same team that managed to defeat Netherlands 3-0 at home and drew 1-1 in Holland along their way to qualifying for the championship but they have looked trite in attack and the defence has huge, gaping holes. The two players, Turan and Calhanoglu, who were expected to have an impact have both turned in lacklustre performances, with captain Turan going as far as apologising to his country for his and his team’s awful display against Croatia. They still have a chance of making it to the next round via a third place finish but they must defeat the Czech Republic and hope other results go their way. An advance into the next round would however be unfair as they have done nothing to deserve it.

Spain: The most convincing team yet

The last game of the day saw Spain take on Turkey

sspainThe game was surely the best of the day and probably the most outstanding performance by any team in the tournament thus far. Spain destroyed their Turkish opponents 3-0. Former Real Madrid player, Morata scored a double, while ex-Barcelona youngster, Nolito scored the other.

Spain looked like the complete team; their passing was delightful, the defence was firm and their finishing was razor sharp. They created chance after chance, testing the ability of Volkan Babacan with every one. The Turkish defence came under constant pressure and at times seemed out of their depth. They struggled to deal with Nolito’s quick feet and speed and had absolutely no answer to the ever radiant Iniesta. Alba’s overlaps were also dangerous.

Iniesta is the M-A-N

There are no more words left in the English language, which haven’t been used to describe Iniesta’s genius before and no one word can perfectly express his dexterity.

The Barca man controlled the game with his scintillating, well-weighted, inch-perfect passes and was the main creative hub of the team. He hardly put a foot wrong and ini_turhas yet to turn in a lax performance in this tournament. He has had a hand in every goal the Spanish have scored so far and will be pivotal in their attempt to complete the treble.

The complete team?

The brilliance of Iniesta aside, Del Bosque’s men looked sturdy and had variety to their game, much unlike the opener. They frustrated the Turkish with their passing and occasionally switched up the tempo through Nolito and Morata- a partnership looks to be developing between the two and alongside the prowess of Iniesta could be essential to La Roja. The defence also looks robust- from the central pairing of Pique and Ramos to the fullbacks and their menacing runs down the flank during the team’s attacks. It would be careless to not mention the contribution of Busquets, who at times is an unsung hero in the Spanish midfield. He labours diligently in midfield, snuffing out any and every attempt at an attack by opponents.

La Roja delivered the best and most convincing performance of any other favourites in the tournament and seem to be going from strength to strength. They weren’t touted as strong favourites but today’s performance provided the most compelling argument in their favour and if they put in another strong performance against a very tricky Croatian team, there’s no doubt they could go all the way.

 

Group stage openers down and still no clear favourite

Portugal and Iceland completed the “final” group stage opener of this year’s European Championship and yet there are no clear favourites.

A regular among favourites in tournaments and reigning world champions, Germany are along with defending champs, Spain and host, France the teams really being tipped as the teams best equipped to win the Euro.

France

The host, France are naturally the leading favourites by default, considering the tournament is on home soil but if we are to be honest, their opening game wasn’t at all impressive and without the inspiration of Payet, they’d probably have earned a mere draw against Romania.

The French looked anything but a cohesive unit and the man we all expected to be France’s star and a major force in midfield turned in a somewhat underwhelming performance. Yes, I’m looking at you Pogba. There was none of his clever shimmying or cheeky yet killer passes nor did we see his usual energetic runs from box to box. Things we’ve all gotten use to seeing from him week in, week out in Juventus’ midfield.

Defensively they are suspect and that was demonstrated by a clumsy tackle from Evra, which led to a penalty for Romania. Not to mention, the Romanians constantly cut through that defense like a knife through butter, creating far more opportunities than I had anticipated they would; chances they should’ve converted.

It was, however, important to start the opening game with a win and that they did. It was a win birthed from a moment of individual brilliance but a win that could also spur them on to become eventual champions.

Germany

Reigning world champs Germany turned in a strong performance against Ukraine but were still caused a great deal of trouble by most of their attack, especially in the first half and had it not been for the ever impressive Neuer and some magical, yet logic defying defending by Boateng, they may have finished the game levelled. Germany’s defence were, however missing their defensive leader, Mats Hummels and it manifested itself through Ukraine’s copious chances.

Nevertheless, Germany had some stand out performers, chiefly Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos. Based on stats by Squawka, he missed all of two passes in the entire game. He absolutely dominated the midfield. Özil also had an impressive game and his form with Arsenal has spilled over to the tournament, evidenced by his two assists.

The opening performance by Germany, though not as disciplined as we are accustomed to, delivered the all important win, which will probably propel them to the title. It was without a doubt the best performance by a favourite in the tournament thus far.

Spain

Defending champs Spain, who are hoping for a much better performance in this tournament following their debacle in the last World Cup, turned in a very patient, typical Spanish performance and rightly secured a narrow win over the Czech Republic.

The Spanish seemed to have recovered some of their swag that won them the 2012 European Championship but they are still struggling to put the ball in the net, a feat that could be detrimental to their hopes of retaining the title for a third straight tournament, but their aptitude to keep possession and frustrate opponents has been their fortitude during their run of three successive International titles and it could be what fires them to a third consecutive European title.

Are there any others worth mentioning?

England is a name also being thrown around as potential favourites- mostly by the British media. Their opener against Russia was a testy one- probably more in the stands and streets than on the pitch.

The English dominated the game and should’ve rightly won but for a terrible lapse in defense which allowed Russia to take a point late on. That said, if the English are unable to finish their chances and their defense is going to be plagued by such costly lapses then the role of favourites should be given to someone else because if they come up against a defensively stronger and more creative opponent they will struggle and they will lose. Roy Hodgson has some assessment to do before they come up against the Welsh, mainly benching Sterling, starting or eventually bringing on Vardy as a late substitute and choosing a better person to take the corners. They are however, a group that has piqued my interest and I’ll be watching their next game against Wales closely.

Italy, as always, are considered favourites in any tournament even if they have nothing special about them and this tournament is no different. Such is the Italians effectiveness. They have a knack for turning in awful performances but still manage to grind out the win. Something we’ve seen on countless occasions. The effectivity of the Italians came in to play in their opener against Belgium. It was a solid performance from the Azzuri and their wing backs caused Belgium all sorts of trouble and the likes of Giaccherini and Pelle, both considered on the average side were clinical. Another performance like this for the Italians in their next game will certainly see them qualify for the next round. After which, we can really discuss what their potential is as far as this tournament goes.

Dark horses?

Croatia and Poland are worth mentioning as the possible dark horses of the tournament. Both teams have a wealth of talent and their own superstars, who’ll probably draw the attention of their opponents leaving the other, younger talented players to wreak havoc.

But if one had to choose, Croatia would be hands down the pick to cause a likely upset. The wealth of talent they have in Modric- he picked up his second Champions League trophy with Real Madrid this season; Rakitic- was key in helping Barcelona win the domestic double; Mandzukic- an erratic character but a clinical striker nonetheless; Brozovic- an undoubtedly talented, energetic and creative midfielder; Perisic- despite Inter Milan’s average season, he’s still a talented attacker and he displayed that in the first game with a few tricky moves and some wonderful crosses into the box; and then there are the stallions: Corluka and Srna. Croatia has all the right ingredients to be our Cinderella at the ball and I’m looking forward to them fulfilling that role.