Final thoughts on Euro 2016

Before the semi-finals of Euro 2016, I did an article about my thoughts on the tournament up to that point. Now that the tournament is over, I wanted to quickly revisit this by adding a few more thoughts. some of these may be an expansion on my original 6 thoughts, but some will be entirely new.

Deserving Champions?

First of all, congratulations to Portugal on winning the European Championship. They may not have been playing pretty football (more on that below) but hey have now done something that the golden generation of Pauleta, Luis Figo and Rui Costa never managed, winning the country’s first ever major international tournament. What makes this even more impressive is that they have done so by beating the host nation, who were clear favourites, having lost their star player – and captain no less – within the first half hour.

That said, many people have questioned whether they deserved to be in the final in the first place. Throughout the tournament, they only won a single game within 90 minutes (the semi-final against Wales) and finished their group with 3 draws, qualifying 3rd behind Hungary and Iceland.

I made it clear in my last article that I didn’t agree with the way the tournament was set up to allow many of the 3rd placed teams to qualify as it didn’t encourage positive play and going for the win. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say Portugal don’t deserve to be champions – by the rules of the tournament they did what was necessary and won fair and square – I hope that this encourages UEFA to review the format ahead of Euro 2020.

Be positive

This may be a historic tournament for a number of teams (1st appearance in a major tournament for a number of teams, 1st major tournament victory for Portugal) but for many, it’s not a tournament that will live long in the memory. Over the course of 51 matches, there were just 108 goals (2.12 per match). Euro 2012 averaged 2.45 per match (76 from 31 games), Euro 2008 managed 2.48 per match (77 from 31) and even Euro 2004 – when defensively minded Greece won the tournament – managed 77 goals from 31 matches. 22 matches were goalless at halfway and not many of those were particularly thrilling.

20 goals (18.5%) were scored from the 85th minute onward, clearly the teams were capable of playing attractive attacking football, but it seems that many of them chose to sit back and defend. Portugal’s solid, defensive approach is certainly impressive (they are unbeaten in 14 competitive games under Fernando Santos), but it won’t be winning them many fans.

I am firmly of the opinion that this was due to the ability of teams to qualify for the knockouts by being one of the best 3rd place finishers. 3 points gave a good chance of qualification, 4 points (1 win and 1 draw) guaranteed it. Hopefully if this is changed going forward, we will see more goals and much more exciting games in the next tournament.

Stop the hating

Now, unfortunately, it’s time for a little rant.

As much as I agree with having the right to voice your opinion, I did get sick of seeing all the hate going round online during the tournament. I understand that Cristiano Ronaldo is not the most popular of players, but the levels of hate I saw towards him, even after his injury, was ridiculous!

And it wasn’t even all directed at certain teams and players, but even the sport as a whole. I consider myself first and foremost a rugby union fan, but I do love a number of other sports and will willingly watch – and enjoy – even more sports. Though I still try to watch on a regular basis, I will admit that I have been somewhat put off of football in recent years due to the ridiculous wages and the actions of the players on the pitch, such as simulation and attempting to influence the referee (thankfully there has been very little of this in this tournament). However I still don’t feel that there is any need for all the “my sport is amazing, your sport is ****” posts that have been going around during the tournament. Everybody loves a bit of inter-sport banter, but a number of people took this too far. As a fan, you are representing your sport as much, if not more, than the players. I’m sorry to say that I’ve seen a fair few rugby fans moaning about everyone talking about football and it being all over the TV. I’m sure they wouldn’t appreciate football fans acting like that when the 6 Nations or the Rugby World Cup comes around.

Treat others how you would want to be treated. If you’re not interested in the tournament, then just change the channel, it’s as simple as that!

Rant over.

 

So what are your thoughts? Do you think I’ve missed anything, or do you think the complete opposite? Let me know, I love to hear other people’s opinions!

6 Thoughts on Euro 2016

After France’s victory last night over everybody’s new second team, Iceland, we are down to the final 4 teams in Euro 2016. Portugal take on Wales tomorrow night for a chance to take on either Germany or the French for a place in Sunday night’s final.

With that in mind, I decided it was time to have a look back at this year’s tournament and give my thoughts on what has, on the whole, been a good tournament. Before I go any further, I want to make clear that I have not been watching religiously this year. A number of matches were missed due to work and other commitments, and I’ve fallen asleep on the sofa during a fair few of the later kickoffs (unfortunately not the England v Iceland game). So don’t consider this a comprehensive review of the tournament, rather the ramblings of a casual observer.

Fan Power

As with all big tournaments, the actions of the fans go a long way to determining how successful the event will be. In the early days of this tournament, it looked like Euro 2016 would be remembered more for the antics of hooligans from a number of countries than for the actual football. In total, 8 of the 24 countries involved in this year’s tournament were charged by UEFA due to the behaviour of their fans, which included throwing flares and other objects onto the pitch and also violence, most notably from the Russian and English ‘fans’. In my opinion, the idiots involved in these events were likely not fans on the whole, as I can see no reason why anyone would want to tarnish the image of a sport they love. Attending a tournament like this can be a once in a lifetime opportunity for many people, and I feel sorry for anyone who had their experience ruined by the antics of these hooligans.

Thankfully, as the tournament has progressed, the behaviour of the fans has improved and we have seen much more positivity in the media surrounding the fans’ performance. The fans of a number of countries, such as the Irish, have also come in from praise for both the atmosphere they helped create at matches and their general performances in public. As a rugby fan, the performance of the fans is something that I am very proud of in my sport, so I hope this will be the last time we hereof crowd trouble in football.

Even more years of hurt

Being a fan of the England national football team is a hard and often thankless job. Every 2 years we have to build ourselves up from a tournament disappointment, have a strong qualifying campaign and friendly performances build up our hopes to a point where we think “This could be our year”… then watch a series of poor performances culminating in an early exit even more demoralising than the one before. I saw a tweet last night that Iceland could concede 5 or 6 goals against France and still come out with more pride than England did in this tournament, and I think it would be a struggle to find someone who would disagree with the sentiment.

The Premier League is arguably one of the best leagues in the world, if only the same could be said about the national team. The team is made up of a bunch of overpaid and over-hyped players who believe they deserve the win purely because they are England. Unfortunately nowhere near enough of them show enough pride in the shirt they are wearing. As good as Iceland were, not a single player or coach in the England team came out looking good.

Their shortcomings were heightened when you compare with the achievements of the Welsh in this same tournament. Wales arguably have fewer players at ‘top’ teams and playing regularly in top competitions, however they came in with a clear game-plan and a fairly settled starting XI and have actually looked like a team. As a result, they are pushing for a place in the final, whereas the England players are back at home with their Ferraris and diamond-encrusted bathrooms.

Bigger is better

This year’s tournament saw an expansion in the number of teams qualifying for the finals from 16 to 24. This has been a massive success! A number of these teams have come out and taken their chance to entertain at a major tournament, and as a result have been involved in some of the best matches over the last few months.

Hungary had already guaranteed themselves a place in the knockout stages by the time they faced Portugal, but still chose to push for the win, resulting in an exciting 3-3 draw and what was surely an emotional roller coaster for Portuguese fans. And just when they thought they could celebrate, Iceland got a late winner to push them down to 3rd in the group.

By contrast, a number of ‘better’ teams have struggled throughout the tournament. France’s campaign could have been very different had it not been for a couple of very late goals in group games, whilst Portugal and Croatia took over 100 minutes to register a shot on target in their last 16 match (or so I heard, I was soon snoring on the sofa).

Probably the 2 biggest success stories have been those of tournament debutantes Iceland and Wales. Both have shown that pride in the jersey and a willingness to play as a team can take you a long way in a tournament. Unfortunately Iceland came up against a French team in fine form in their quarter-final, but the Welsh will certainly feel that they have a every chance of beating Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal tomorrow night, and good luck to them!

Where’s the incentive?

As great as it has been seeing an expanded tournament, I think it would be a good idea for organisers to look at how the groups are arranged and how teams qualify for the knockouts. In this tournament, the top 2 teams in this group qualified, and then the top 4 of the 6 third placed finishers also qualified. Now I personally had 2 problems with this qualifying format:

My first problem is that by letting 3 out of 4 teams in a group have a chance of qualifying, it meant that 3 draws would likely be enough to see a team through, as was the case with Portugal. These major tournaments should be encouraging positive play to the point that even 4 or 5 points may not be enough to guarantee a place in the knockouts.

My other issue with this format is that this then means teams are not just competing with the other 3 teams in their group, but also with teams in other groups. As is the nature of these tournaments, as much as the organisers try to balance the groups, there will always be some groups that are stronger than others. The Republic of Ireland qualified 3rd from a group containing Italy, Belgium and Sweden. By contrast, Group A was made up of Hungary, Iceland, Portugal and Austria. With all due respect to those teams, that seems like a group which the Irish could have comfortably qualified from, possibly even won.

I don’t have the answer on how to improve this moving forward, but i think someone needs to have a look at the options available to see if this can be improved moving forwards.

Giving yellow card suspensions the red card

It’s generally accepted that totting up 2 yellow cards in a tournament will lead to a 1-match ban, I have no problem with that. My issue here comes from the fact that, unlike most major tournaments, the slate is not wiped clean after the group stages, but instead after the quarter-finals. As a result, we are seeing a number of influential players missing the chance to appear in a semi-final, an opportunity they may never get again. Wales will be without Ben Davies and star midfielder Aaron Ramsey against Portugal, who will themselves be missing William Carvalho. In the other semi, the Germans must take on a dangerous French attack without Mats Hummels. Going into the quarter-finals, there were as many as 45 players one booking away from missing a possible semi-final, so it could be seen as a surprise that only 4 players fell foul of the 2nd yellow at this stage in the competition.

I can see the logic here, to wipe the slate when they do means that it would require a red card in the semis for a player to miss the final. However I feel that it would be a better option to make it 3 yellows before a suspension and wipe the slate before the semis, or to go back to wiping the slate clean after the group stages. In an age where referees are only to happy to brandish the yellow, it is far too easy to accumulate 2 yellows over 5 matches, especially when there is the possibility of 2 of those games going to extra time.

As I stated earlier, it’s the fans who make the tournament a success, unfortunately they have paid significant money to watch the best players in Europe, which they are now being denied. To me, that’s just not right.

 

So what next?

So there are my thoughts on what has come so far in the tournament. Now it’s time for the all-important predictions for the rest of the tournament:

Portugal 2-1 Wales       As much as I want Wales to win, I think that the loss of Davies and especially Ramsey will be the deciding factor here. Wouldn’t be surprised to see another Bale free kick find the back of the net.

Germany 0-1 France       France look like they may have clicked going forward, whereas the Germans have struggled to reach the level we expect of them. Hummels’ suspension, as well as injuries to Sami Khedira and Mario Gomez, will give the French an advantage in front of their home supporters.

Portugal 0-2 France       Portugal ave benefited from being on the weaker side of the knockouts and I expect this to show when they come up against better opposition. Spurred on by their home fans, this game should be easier for France than their semi final.