Goal line clearances, slow burning battles and football for the head, not the heart…
Defence on top
We start with the unavoidable: there have not been many goals in the first round of matches. 1-0 has been the most popular score line thus far, and while there have been no goal-less draws, France’s dramatic Payet inspired defeat of Romania and Wales topsy-turvy victory over Slovakia have been the only games to provide more than 2 goals.
However, there are still reasons to celebrate: for those of us used to the goal-feasts served up week after week in the Premier League, here there has been the chance to enjoy the art of defending. Italy, and their all-Juve’ backline somewhat predictably gave a masterclass in their highly impressive defeat of Belgium.
There have also been some outstanding moments of individual defensive brilliance, so in lieu of a ‘best goals so far’ (we know, we know, there are contenders), we present the three best goal-line clearances of the tournament so far:
- Jerome Boateng for Germany vs. Ukraine
The best of the lot: with Manuel Neuer beaten, the ex-City man Boateng somehow managed to tangle and then untangle his legs before hoisting the ball off the line while falling backwards into the goal. As any Sunday league player will tell you, such manoeuvres are liable to end with the defender kicking the ball up and into their own face and being credited with an own goal to boot.
- Ben Davies for Wales vs. Slovakia
A close second for the Spurs man, this clearance was almost as impressive for the level of alertness displayed so early in the game as it was for technique. This is surely the most pro-active goal-line clearance we will see in Euro 2016. Replays clearly showed Davies sprinting towards the line as Marek Hamsik left the last of the Wales defenders in his wake before unleashing what appeared to be an unstoppable shot. Amid Saturday’s celebrations, no doubt one or two Wales fans will have spared a thought for how different things could have been were it not for the left-back’s intervention.
- Cesc Fabregas for Spain vs. Czech Republic
Finally we see why Cesc was saving his energy all season! An important intervention and one that may have prevented Spain avoiding a galling defeat in their first game, as happened in the 2010 World Cup against Switzerland.
A competitive tournament – curse or cure?
Much criticism was levelled at Uefa for the enlarged tournament format for Euro 2016. While most (including this writer) were pleasantly surprised by the openness and increased competitiveness of the qualifying, there was still skepticism as to whether more teams would lead to more fun at the finals.
While there may not have been too unabashed, care-free football, what has stood out in the opening games is that no one has been outclassed. To date Euro 2016 seems like it could be a very competitive tournament, a high quality tournament, albeit one that is yet to explode into life. Only a handful of sides have lost by more than one goal and in truth only Northern Ireland have truly looked out of their depth. However, Michael O’Neill appears to be a manager of sufficient integrity to get a reaction out of his team, even if they seem to have left themselves a mountain to climb in a tough Group C.
We know all these players, we see them almost weekly in Champions League and Premier action, or so we think.
Amid some underperforming high profile names in the opening games (Griezmann and Lukaku among them), there have been some intriguing, promising performances from players plying their trade in some less glamorous surroundings. Fabian Schar scored and looked a pleasingly assured presence at centre back for Switzerland, but will surely face sterner tests ahead.
Sightings of Wales’ Johnny Williams in the Premier League have been few and far between, but he ran the show for Wales. Meanwhile Jeff Hendrick played a huge part in Ireland’s draw with Sweden and but for the crossbar he would have had a memorable goal to crown his performance. Bartosz Kapustka impressed for Poland and if Armando Sadiku could have added goals to a tireless performance for the ten men of Albania, then he would surely be mentioned as a potential recruit for middling Premier League sides this summer.
Biggest disappointment so far
That there was no growling touch-line face-off between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Roy Keane during Ireland vs Sweden: where’s the passion boys?
Perhaps it was a case of both of them knowing when they had met their match, but on second thoughts, just think of the quips Lawro’ would have made if they had squared up a la Rino Gattuso and Joe Jordan: it would have been like all his birthday’s and Christmases at once.
Andrew Grillo, The Sweeper Football Blog