Takeaways from Real Madrid’s win against Lisbon

Real Madrid kickedrmavspo off the new Champions League season with a late, late win at home to Sporting Lisbon, who must be feeling hard-done after producing a good first half and early second half performance, while the hosts’ performance was subpar at best. However, the Madridista-never-say-die attitude coupled with Zidane’s second half substitutes and Ronaldo’s brilliant free kick produced a much needed victory.

There were some things that were on display during the game which are worth highlighting. Here are a few:

The BBC’s fluidity is being disrupted by injuriesbbc

Not long ago the BBC was being touted as the best attacking trio but have since been displaced by MSN. Injuries have been a colossal problem for Real Madrid’s attack in the past and Morata’s signing as well as holding onto Asensio was a step in the right direction to provide some cover when either member of the trio goes down injured. Benzema’s absence was obvious last season and is to some extent still noticeable- Morata hasn’t quite settled in completely as the out-and-out striker.

The BBC is lacking harmony and it was on full display last night. Miscommunication led to missed passes and less opportunities created among the three. Bale’s pass rate was a meagre 71.4%; Benzema had no shots on goal. It was necessary to substitute both in the second half and it paid off handsomely. It’s understandable that the trio needs more time to rediscover their form and it may take some time to find that fluidity as neither Benzema, Bale nor Ronaldo had a pre-season. Regaining fluidity will happen only if they can stay injury-free long enough.

James should be given a fair chance

The situation with James is bothersome. There are some reports that his attitude in training is rotten and that’s the main reason Zidane doesn’t believe in him as much. However, he has been in splendid form for Colombia and last night’s cameo saw some of his abilities on display. In the fifteen minutes he played he created three chances and provided the assist for the winning goal- it was a brilliant, well-placed cross from the left to find the head of Morata. If he can produce that in a quarter of an hour, imagine what he could in an hour or more. And for that reason, Zidane should give him a fair chance at proving himself and regaining the confidence and form he had during his first season with the club. Hopefully, James is willing to work hard- if the rumours are true- and not rest on his laurels.

Vazquez should work on his finishing

Lucas Vazquez appears to be a fan favourite and while that is absolutely justified he could endear himself even more to the fans IF he improves his shooting. After coming on for Bale in the 66th minute he created two wonderful chances for himself with some clever dribbling but his shots were weak. One could surmise that both chances were anaemic because they came from his weaker left foot but he’s also had some feeble shots on goal with his right. For example, in the Champions League final against Atletico and the European Super Cup against Sevilla he had clear cut chances which he fluffed; hit with no direction. The video below is just one visual illustration of Vazquez’s lack of ruthlessness in front of goal. If you wish to not watch the highlights in its entirety you can fast forward to 14:30. In the clip he had time and space and should have done much better with his opportunity. Further proof of his ineptitude in front of goal was his four goals in 25 appearances last season. The upside is that he’s still fairly young and can still develop that side of his game. He also provides the team with lovely crosses, draws plenty fouls with his dribbling and contributes defensively.

Last night’s performance won’t fly against Dortmund

Here’s the thing: on any given day, as long as Real Madrid are on song they are unbeatable. Yesterday’s showing also told us something: they can also win while not at their best. However, there are some opponents that will punish their mistakes and if luck is against them and the attack isn’t gelling then they won’t be able to out-score the opposition. Dortmund is one such opponent and if their start to the league season in addition to their opening performance against Legia Warsaw are anything to go by Los Blancos will fail if they turn in such a display against them. They must improve upon yesterday’s performance.

For laughs: Another Vazquez howler in front of goal

 

Is Real Madrid prepared for the transfer ban?

By now you must have heard- and if not, how’s that rock you’re living under? – that FIFA has upheld the ban against both Real Madrid and their city rival Atletico Madrid for “irregularities” in the signing of players under the age of 18.

What does that mean for Real Madrid?

In short, Los Blancos will be banned from making any signings in the next two transfer windows (Winter 2016/17 and Summer 2017). The club is currently preparing to appeal the ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS).

However, the ban means the club will only be allowed to renew existing players’ contracts, change coach, sell players, promote youth players and call back players from loan. They can’t however exercise buy-back clauses, which means the club will be unable to bring Jesé back – if they so desire- before the 2017/2018 winter transfer window and by then they’ll most likely have to pay a hefty price if his career has taken off.

Are they sufficiently prepared for the ban?

zizou-headacheThe real questions on every fans’ lips are:

i) Are the club really prepared for the ban?

ii) Did they reinforce the right positions? 

iii) Could they have done better to prepare themselves?

During the summer transfer window, the club signed only one player- Morata, whose buy-back clause the club exercised to bring him back from Juventus. Morata was certainly a good signing considering Los Merengues suffered in front of goal when Benzema was out injured. His signing provides the team with much needed cover in the attack. But was that the only position in the team that needed strengthening?

The defence in general is a major cause for concern

The ageing, intemperate, theatrically inclined Pepe, while still a good defender is a massive liability not only because of his theatrical and ill-disciplined behaviour on the field but he has become increasingly injury-prone in the last few seasons and will most likely fall victim to some injury that will keep him out of important games. And he isn’t the only player with injury problems either; his defensive partners are vulnerable too. Varane has faced many a injury problems- the most recent a knee injury that prevented him from participating in the European Championships with France. Then there is Ramos, who much like his Portuguese defensive partner, has had his fair share of injury problems- though not as bothersome as Pepe’s- and an allotment of disciplinary issues. And while Nacho can provide cover, he isn’t the best in the centre of defence.

A combination of injuries and disciplinary infractions could spell complete disaster for the club this season.

What about the fullback positions?

Danilo had a tough start to life at the Bernabéu and has also had a few injury set-backs but is still a relatively good defender and one could chalk his first season up to newcomer jitters- we all know the pressure players face at a club as colossal as Madrid- and the host of injuries he picked up. The right side of defence won’t be much of a problem provided Danilo finally settles in and barring a catastrophe, where both he and the exceptional Carvajal pick up long-term injuries at the same time. The left side, however poses a problem. Marcelo is the only player who suitably fills the position and while he has a lot of energy, there will come a time in the season when he either picks up an injury or Zidane wants to rest him to prevent fatigue and unnecessary injury. But who comes in for him? Coentrão will provide some cover but he seems to spend more time in the infirmary than he does out on the pitch and it’s that knack for picking up injuries that has really stunted his Madrid career and could pose a real problem on the left of defence. Admittedly, Nacho can play anywhere along the defence but again, he isn’t the best option in big games by a long shot.

Strength of the midfield and attack

The midfield is probably the most crowded yet imbalanced area for Real Madrid and one position that is lacking in depth was defensive midfield. The team needed a player who could not only complement Toni Kroos and Modric but also alleviate some of their defensive duties, something Casemiro does exceptionally well and his presence also allows Modric to push higher up the field and Toni to focus more on the attack. But what happens when the Brazilian suffers an injury? Lucas Silva’s heart anomaly has rendered him unavailable though he was scheduled to go on loan. Which therefore means the only backup available is a makeshift one- playing Toni in that position again. But as we saw under Ancelotti that brought no balance to the midfield and the team on many occasions had to rely on their ability to outscore opponents.

The likes of James, Isco, Asensio, Kovacic, Lucas Vazquez, Mariano and Morata will provide not only ample cover but also options for Zidane. The coach has options for the problems above, like promoting youth players but the pressing questions are, will they be ready and will he trust them enough?

There were areas the club needed to strengthen and they didn’t. They had the opportunity to do so in this transfer window and failed to do so- commenting (or rather lying to themselves) that “the squad was too good to improve”. This could pose a major threat to their ambitions of not only winning La Liga after four years of disappointment but also becoming the first club to defend their Champions League title since the competition was rebranded.

It was either imprudent or arrogant of them to neither sign players nor make an effort to sign players when they knew full-well that a transfer ban was looming and they may rue this missed chance.

 

Key areas Real Madrid needs to strengthen

laundeciLos Blancos closed out last season by lifting their 11th Champions League title against cross-town rivals, Atletico Madrid. They barely missed out on the league title to arch-rivals, Barcelona- finishing a point behind them- and was laughably thrown out of the Copa del Rey for fielding a suspended player – Denis Cheryshev – in the round of 32 against Cadiz.

The team for the most part last season was solid with mostly Benitez making bad decisions with personnel in the first half of the season. However, Zidane came in and made some changes, which resulted in better performances that culminated in a piece of silverware. Nonetheless, there are some key areas the team needs reinforcement to be able to compete in all five competitions (European Super Cup, La Liga, Copa del Rey, Club World Cup and Champions League) this season without being too fatigued, as well as when injuries hit there will be sufficient cover.

One of those positions is in defence. The team desperately needs one [or two] new central defender(s). Pepe should no longer be an option. While he is still a relatively decent defender, who is commanding in the air and still has some pace, his theatrics are becoming preposterous and are essentially against the values of Real Madrid. Additionally, he is at times prone to mistakes and has a hot head, which ultimately leads to more blunders. There were several times, for example, in the Champions league final, where had there been a “Pepe rule” in football, he would have been sent off, thus costing his team the title. Nacho, while a decent enough player, lacks consistency and sometimes makes clumsy challenges. Thus, Ramos and Varane (despite an up-and-down season) should be the go-to central pairing with two new recruits as back up. Players who would fit the bill are:

  • Aymeric Larporte- Athletic Bilbao: Laporte is Varane’s comrade and defensive partner in the French national team. He is a strong defender, who’s good in the air and can put in a great goal-denying tackle. He’s intelligent and reads the game well. He is sometimes weak in possession and could improve that side of his game. Laporte has however, recently signed an extension to his contract, which signals he’s probably going to stay for at least another season but surely a substantial bid from Madrid would probably force Bilbao into selling.
  • Jonathan Tah- Bayer Leverkusen: Though still relatively young, Tah has displayed qualities of an experienced defender atypical to players his age, playing in the same position. He was a strong, robust and energetic presence in Leverkusen’s defence last season. Tah reads the game brilliantly which allows him to intercept the ball well and standing at 6 ft 3 makes him incredibly strong in aerial duels. He does, however need to work on his passing, as last season he had a meagre 79% pass success rate.
  • Mustafi- Valencia CF: The young German had a strong season for los Che last season and played an integral role in Germany’s Euro 2016 opener against Ukraine. He is also versatile and can play as a right back. He is a fairly strong tackler, though at times overzealous, thus leading to unnecessary fouls. He is also good in the air.
  • Marquinhos- PSG: The young Brazilian central defender, who is equally comfortable playing as a right back, is quick, strong in possession and can pick out a lovely pass. Despite standing 6 feet tall, he does have problems in aerial duels, which could pose a problem against teams that like playing down the wings.

In the centre of midfield Real Madrid needs a player who can not only complement Toni Kroos and Modric but also alleviate some of the defensive duties they have to do. Casemiro does exceptionally well in that position but in the interest of not over exhausting him an equally capable backup should be signed. The likes of Pogba and Kante have been thrown around. However, los Blancos have ruled out a move for Pogba as his asking price of €100+ million is far too exorbitant and frankly, he isn’t worth it. Kante on the other hand, had an impeccable season for Leicester and would come at a cheaper price than his country man at around ₤30 million. However, Chelsea has confirmed they have signed the French man, which leaves the following players:

  • Grzegorz Krychowiak – Sevilla: The Polish player had an impressive tournament for Poland at the European Championship and is probably the most perfect candidate for the position. He is used to La Liga and wouldn’t need any time settling. He is powerful in the air, always ready to throw himself in front of a shot, very good at reading the game and intercepting opponents’ passes and his tackling is solid. He is however at times error-prone and can improve his concentration.
  • Johannes Geis – Schalke 04: The 22-year-old German wouldn’t be a bad choice either. He is a genius when it comes to dead ball situations- although he’d probably never be allowed to strike a ball on direct set-pieces if Ronaldo has any say. He can pick out a pass: short, long, diagonal, over the top, Geis can hit them all. He is strong in possession, tenacious in tackles and is usually highly concentrated in games, thus reducing his frequency in errors.
  • Christoph Kramer – Bayer Leverkusen: He won the 2014 World Cup with Germany, where he turned in a brilliant performance in the final as Khedira’s replacement.  He is an all-round very capable player in the duties of a defensive midfielder. His passing is secure, he’s not easily distracted and seldom makes a clumsy challenge. Additionally, Kramer stands at 6 ft 2 which makes him dominant in the air.

Real Madrid has so far failed to get anything going in the transfer window –Morata being the exception- and doesn’t appear like a team with a one year transfer ban looming. Defence and central [defensive] midfield are the two key areas the club lacks depth and needs to bolster before it’s too late, which could lead to panic buying and over-paying for players.

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.