Monday 11 July 2016

That Was Euro2016 That Was

All a bit grumpy, really. The sun barely shone over the stadia, stars barely shone on the pitch, and fans fought from first to last, in the group stages in Marseille and at the Fan Zone on the day of the final.

In between were heartwarming moments, shared via social media, chiefly Irish and Welsh fans serenading locals. And the extended format – 24 teams instead of the usual 16, gave us underdog heroics, especially from Wales and Iceland, the former giving us the goal of the tournament from Robson-Kanu, the latter giving us the Viking Clap that you will see and hear in a football stadium near you this season and beyond.

But there were few goals and only one really thrilling game – Hungary drawing 3-3 with eventual winners Portugal. Yet, without the expanded format, Portugal would not have emerged from their group. Finishing third as they did used to mean home time. Not so now. They won this thing despite only winning one game in 90 mins. But hey, the format ain’t their fault.

The shadow of the threat of terrorism hung over the event before the start, but the real risk and fear seemed to be on the football field. Oh, for the days of two strikers. Still there were stories, not least when Albania and Iceland registered their first wins in their first big international tournament, and Bale’s Wales nearly went all the way.

But this will forever be the year Portugal won a major tournament for the first time, and when Cristiano Ronaldo sealed his place among the ultra elite of world football.

They Finished 1st and Won Euro2016: PORTUGAL

No longer the bridesmaids. Or best men. Or whatever you call male people who always used to finish 2nd but have now won big.

The Golden Generation of Portuguese players – Figo, Deco, Pauleta, and that other fella all retired a while back without experiencing the glory this generation has bestowed on their nation.

And they iced the cake in the final without their main man, lynchpin, star turn, or whatever you call the guy who makes a team tick, who stands head and shoulders above the rest, talent-wise.

When Ronaldo’s leg could take no more, and he sat dejected on the field, seemingly oblivious to the fluttering not flattering attentions of a consoling moth, his nation must have thought their hopes of glory were over.

Not so.

This team has shown there will be life after Ronaldo, not that we should expect him to hang up his international boots until after the next World Cup at least.

Sure, they won just one game in 90 mins (v Wales), drew all their Group games and finished 3rd in what was a fairly weak looking group. But they did what they needed to do and come away with the trophy, the title and the legendary status.

They may never win a tournament again, but that doesn’t matter. England’s heroes of 1966 have been dining out on that victory for 50 years. This crop of Portuguese can expect the freedom of their country until their dying day, so had best watch their waistlines.

They Finished 2nd: FRANCE

Hosting it used to be the best way of winning it for France. Not so now.

Despite having the Golden Boot winner in their ranks and possibly the best array of player-for-player talent to pick from (the Germans possibly better) on Sunday we witnessed the players pick up their silver medals and immediately rip them from around their necks.

Their Group was easy and they sailed through it. Ireland and Iceland in the first stages of the knock-outs was friendly too. Germany in the semis was their biggest challenge and they sailed through.

But Payet started the tournament well but faded. Pogba flattered to deceive. He will become a great but he is not there yet. Up front Gignac and Giroud are far from a world-class duo, but add Griezmann and the Triple G looks stronger.

So the hosts continue to go through a drought. Indeed, France in the World Cup of 1998 remain the last host nation to win a major football tournament involving European teams. Here’s the list of failures: 2014 Brazil, 2012 Poland/Ukraine, 2010 South Africa, 2008 Austria/Switzerland, 2006 Germany, 2004 Portugal, 2002 Japan/South Korea, 2000 Belgium/Netherlands.

Don’t bet too much on Russia winning the World Cup in 2018 then.

Euro2016 Final: France 0-1 Portugal (AET)

The tears of Ronaldo. Tears of misery and despair after he was forced to hobble off in the first half following a clumsy challenge from Payet that seemed to aggravate the thigh injury that Ronaldo suffered in pre-tournament training.

The tears of joy as hobbling along the sidelines barking orders like an assistant manager he witnessed the marvelllous Eder from outside the area, drill the unstoppable beyond the outstretched arms of Lloris. The Portuguese held out for the final ten and more tears flowed when the final whistle was blown.

What had gone before was to the script of many finals. Keeping it tight. Don’t make a mistake. Don’t be the villain. Payet risked that with the injury to Ronaldo that threatened to extinguish all interest in the game. Portugal’s star man gone, surely they would fold. Not so. Instead, France misfired. Griezmann the golden boot winner would not have won it had he repeated tonight’s performance during the rest of the tournamnent. An easy header that should have been buried, the most glaring miss. Gignac mis-hit a shot onto the post and across the six yard box. But chances were at a premium for both sides until Eder… oh Eder… how you fired yourself into Portuguese legend status.

Sunday 10 July 2016

Euro 2016 Final Predictions

This is the 4th major tournament to receive the Armchair treatment, and here's how my predictions have gone:

2010 World Cup:
Predicted: HOLLAND to bt Italy
Actual: Spain bt HOLLAND

2012 Euros
Predicted: GERMANY to bt Croatia
Actual: Spain bt Italy

2014 World Cup
Predicted: ARGENTINA to bt Brazil
Actual: Germany bt ARGENTINA

2016 Euros
Predicted: FRANCE to bt Spain
Actual: ????

So, I've yet to correctly predict the winner, but for the third tournament out of 4, I have predicted one of the finalists. The fact that both previous correct finalist predictions have lost does not bode well for FRANCE. I'm sticking with them to win it today, so lump on PORTUGAL then...

They Finished 3rd: GERMANY

So the player who is destined to become the World Cup's top scorer, Thomas Muller, still hasn't scored in a European Championship game. And it's his failure that perhaps explains why the World Champions failed to win this thing.

They were strong everywhere else, but with the poacher Klose in international retirement, onus for the goals fell on Muller's shoulders and he failed to deliver.

Ozil and Schweinsteiger were their usual brilliant selves in midfield, but you sensed when Mario Gomez was ruled out of the tournament by injury, Germany's hopes of winning it went home with it.

Euro2016 Semi Final: Germany 0-2 France

Here's what happens when you don't make your possession count. You lose.

Germany were so dominant in the first half here, passing and moving and moving and passing. And yet they could not break through. Missing the poacher Klose more than ever.

And in the second France made them pay. The pacy Griezmann putting them to the sword and steering his nation to what will be an emotional final in Paris on Sunday.