Best of Euro 2016: The underdogs

Portugal’s triumph over France was a continuation of one of the big trends of the tournament as the odds were upset at Euro 2016 again and again. Fernando Santos’ side were the big beneficiaries, making the most of their rather limited squad to orchestrate a huge shock, even with Cristiano Ronaldo missing for most of the match. But perhaps even more memorable than the exploits of Portugal were those of Wales and Iceland before them - as well as the success of the likes of Northern Ireland and Hungary in making the last 16.
Reaching the semi-finals was a task many thought beyond Chris Coleman’s side but with Gareth Bale scoring in every group match and Coleman’s smart tactics, including a three-man defence, unsettling many an opponent, they quickly made an impact on the tournament. Their stunning comeback win over Belgium in Lille, winning the quarter-final 3-1, was one of the best performances of the tournament and contained within it the standalone moment of the whole thing: Hal Robson-Kanu’s astonishing Cruyff turn and finish. The fact Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey were both named in the team of the tournament says it all about the impact Wales made.
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And what, then, of Iceland? The smallest country ever to appear at the European Championship shocked the world by making the quarter-finals and the win that got them there - a monumental 2-1 defeat of England in the last-16 - was the single biggest result of the tournament. Put aside country loyalty and there was something thrilling, and very funny, about little Iceland knocking out the country which invented the game, with the highest paid coach at the finals.
Both teams also made a huge impact off the pitch, but more on that later…

Worst of Euro 2016: The lack of goals

When Greece won Euro 2004 courtesy of a single goal against Portugal, having bored their way to the final, fears were raised that it was ushering in a new era of defensive mentalities. Now, with Portugal having beaten France 1-0 in the final after keeping things tight and unspectacular, the same fear has returned. Certainly this tournament was one where reactive, cautious football was rewarded and the dominance of counter-attacking was confirmed after Leicester’s Premier League title win. Northern Ireland made the last-16, after all.
The knockout stages loosened up a bit after a group stage which saw the majority of goals concentrated in the last 15 minutes of matches. But France’s 5-2 win over Iceland played a big role in this and it was ultimately the exception rather than the rule. Portugal’s triumph was a great story in so many ways, but the tournament got the final it deserved, sadly.
So does this mark a period of dominance for defensive football? We shall see. It was only four years after Greece won the Euros that Pep Guardiola was appointed Barcelona boss and a whole new culture was born. But what we can say for certain at this point is that counter-attacking is king.

Best of Euro 2016: The fans

With many matches failing to excite, entertainment was found in the stands and around the host cities as the vast majority of supporters (more below on those we don’t include in that category) brought colour, passion and humour to proceedings, with the Republic of Ireland fans kicking things off with a charm offensive directed at the hosts.
The Northern Ireland anthem "Will Grigg’s on Fire" was picked up by supporters of all colours, either verbatim or adapted for local heroes, and it was being sung even into the final days of the competition by German, French and Welsh supporters. Wales fans also made an anthem out of "Don’t take me home" as their amazing journey into the semi-finals continued and England’s wilted. It reverberated all around Lyon before and after their semi-final loss to Portugal.
But most catchy of all, the Iceland thunderclap which was the signature cultural note of the whole tournament. An obscure ritual before Euro 2016 kicked off, by the night of the final UEFA had a person in the stadium cajoling both sets of supporters to do their own. France had embraced it even in beating Iceland and then made it a centre-piece of their celebrations following their win over Germany in the semis. It was heard in streets all over France too.

Worst of Euro 2016: England and Russia

Roy Hodgson watches England lose to Iceland

Image credit: Reuters

Not only arguably the two worst teams in the tournament, but also two of the worst sets of supporters in the tournament too. Group B eh? At least it had Wales as a saving grace. While it seemed that well-drilled sets of Russian hooligans were to blame for many of the nasty scenes in Marseille which scarred the early days of the Euros, England supporters were all too easily drawn into violence too and it was a warning for both countries when UEFA threatened their expulsion.
In terms of the football they played, Russia were the absolute pits. It is not for nothing that over 800,000 people have now signed a petition calling for the national team to be disbanded. Coach Leonid Slutsky looked positively relieved to have resigned as soon as possible after they picked up just one point in the group stages and that against… England.
Ah yes, England. Although praised by some for their ability to dominate possession in their group matches and create chances, the fact was that they couldn’t score enough and Roy Hodgson’s tactical failings were manifold. He gave Russia the initiative to score an equaliser after some negative changes, only just recovered from fielding the wrong starting XI against Wales, oversaw a 0-0 draw against Slovakia and then witnessed his team put in the most witless 70 minutes or so English football has ever seen. Desperately needing a goal after losing an early lead to go 2-1 down to Iceland, the players completely froze and hardly created any real chances of note. It was a shambolic end to a miserable campaign. Euro 2016 - and Wales in particular - were pleased to see the back of them.

Best of Euro 2016: Antoine Griezmann

Antoine Griezmann après France-Portugal

Image credit: AFP

Okay, so his tournament ended in the bitterest of disappointments but the France livewire lit up Euro 2016 with his goalscoring feats. He was rightly crowned player of the tournament on Monday and with six goals he had the highest tally for any player since Michel Platini scored nine in Euro ’84, and double his nearest challengers.
This was a tournament to launch him into football’s stratosphere and it all came about thanks to Ireland. Sort of. France were trailing 1-0 at half-time of their last-16 clash against the Irish and Didier Deschamps changed things up by moving Griezmann into the centre. He scored twice in the second half, once in the 5-2 thumping of Iceland in the quarter-finals and then twice against Germany in the semi-final. With these goals he showed off a range of attributes: a fantastic header against Ireland, a quick run and dinked finish against Iceland and a predatory poke against Germany.
A superstar was born in France, even if Griezmann did lose the European Championship final to go with the Champions League final.
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