6 Abiding Memories from Euro 2016

Payet sets trend for fashionable late drama – France 2 – 1 Romania, 10th June 2016

 

 Remember the start of the tournament? Remember when we were full of hope that goals would rain like… like well, rain in an English summer? The opening game had been intriguing if not explosive and in this sense, was an omen of what was to follow for much of the next four weeks. After gaining a lead and then throwing it quickly away, hosts France were in danger of an underwhelming opening result in what still looked like a forgiving group A.

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Dimitri Payet however, was not prepared for things to play out this way. On 89 minutes, perhaps just as Romania thought they had escaped with the draw they came for, Payet picked up the ball just outside the penalty area and verily spanked it into the top corner with a swish of his left boot. The tournament would start as it ended with French tears, but at this point we could just appreciate a player on top of his game. Glenn Hoddle may well have said it had “swaz” on it, Robbie Savage would have no doubt appreciated the “whip”, either way it was a fantastic goal.

In the end of course, it would be a late goal that would inflict a cruel, cruel victory on the hosts. When it mattered most, Payet, nor Pogba or even Griezmann could provide the magic they needed. Oh for simpler, more idealistic times.

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Xherdan Shaqiri’s spinning scissor kick, Switzerland 1 – 1 Poland, 25th June 2016

Euro 2016 was a tournament with a number of good goals, but not that many great goals. Aside from Payet (see above) and Robson-Kanu (below) there was a dearth of goals so identifiable that they will stand the test of time, goals that if you were still a kid you would make a priority of recreating in the garden, park, at football training, at break time, in the dining room or  whenever something spherical was in reach.

Xherdan Shaqiri’s goal against Poland was special for all manner of reasons – for being his first of the tournament, because it was a goal that kept his side in the competition, but mainly for the pure spectacular technique on display.

Like a character (probably Chun Li) from Streetfighter 2, the Stoke City forward rose majestically in the air, as if in slow motion, just outside the area, twisting his body and reaching super-human levels of elevation. A perfect connection and the ball beat Lukaz Fabianski; ricocheting off the inside of the post on the way in. This writer was probably not alone in shouting some garbled exclamation at the sheer spectacle of it, despite having no Swiss ancestry. As long as players keep doing things like this, kids will keep wanting to play football, even if this is one best replicated with a crash helmet secured, or cushions lined up to ease the landing.

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Gareth Bale having a Wale (sic) of a time – various

While Shaqiri’s strike was (marginally) more spectacular, Hal Robson-Kanu’s now immortal goal against Belgium in the quarter final was more decisive and will undoubtedly mean more to his countrymen. The Cruyff turn that sent three Belgians careering towards the corner flag, and the impeccably cool finish that followed in many ways defined the Welsh and their great run to the semi final.

However, the most abiding image for this writer was that of the great talisman Gareth Bale barely suppressing an enormous grin at any number of press-conferences throughout the tournament. Bale was a team player throughout and while Chris Coleman’s side were much more than a one man band, he was the face of it all. Bale started his career as a left back and it showed in how comfortable he is in any part of the pitch and how willing he is to do whatever needs doing for the good of his team mates.

More than anything, in these time of money, super agents, disgusting transfer fees and constant hyperbole, it is heartening that the most expensive player of all time (for now), who has won 2 European Cups in 3 years with Real Madrid, can constantly look so delighted to be at a tournament with his country.

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Iceland ‘Thunderclap’ with fans, England 1 – 2 Iceland, 27th June 2016

 Soon (already?) to be tirelessly imitated, but never bettered – the Iceland fan clap was undoubtedly the fan move of the tournament. There were various names for it; the imaginative “viking” clap, the literal “HUH” clap and the now widely recognised and agreed upon “thunderclap”. A disturbing and awesome (in the original sense) spectacle in the group games, the tournament reached ‘peak’ clap with the most famous victory in Icelandic footballing history.

While many England followers (‘fans’ may still be a little strong at this point) were still in a vague sense of shock at the sheer depth of ineptitude in England’s performance, then there was a feeling that at least it wasn’t Portugal, or Germany or, God forbid, Wales who had made such fools of Roy Hodgson’s team; it was of course Iceland.

If we are talking about ‘fairytales’ then we should talk about Iceland, not Wales (who finished 2nd in a tough qualifying group and top of Group B). Iceland made it through play-offs in qualifying and while they were unbeaten in their group, only made it through to the knockouts with a last gasp winner against Austria. The memory of the whole team stood in front of their fans to join in with the thunderclap will live long in the memory. This was the feel good moment of Euro 2016, unless you had genuine belief that England would avoid disappointment once more.

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Antonio Conte’s righteous fury – Italy 2- 0 Spain, 27th June 2016

 With 74 minutes of the round of 16 clash gone, Italy were deservedly 1-0 up and in control against reigning champions Spain. Emmanule Giaccherini (who’d had a pretty good tournament so far) mis-controlled a regulation pass. The ball trickled off the pitch towards the technical area, and towards Italy coach Antonio Conte.

Conte, who for the entirety of the game (and the duration of each of their 3 group games) had been stood bawling at his players, a one man cartoon fight encompassed by his own personal dust cloud with limbs flailing out from within. Italy had, its true, retained their usual master-of-the-dark-arts status (particularly in their win over Belgium) but it is quite clear that what happened next was not cynical time wasting, but a beautifully furious display of Conte and his team’s will to win.

Conte was so angry, so incensed that his player could potentially fail to see out the game efficiently, that he could not contain himself. Perched on the edge of his technical area, he swiped a loafered right foot at the ball that sent it careering off into the distance – while all the while managing to continue screaming at his players.

Footage has also emerged of Conte shouting to his defenders that he would “kill them” after allowing Romelu Lukaku a chance in the group game against Belgium; it is likely to be quite a lot of fun having him in the Premier League next season.

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Cristiano – human after all? France 0 – 1 Portugal AET, 10th July 2016

Maybe he had the last laugh by fooling everyone into thinking he was the most ridiculous, egotistical, selfish (as well as one of the most brilliant) footballers ever to play the game. Maybe Ronaldo wasn’t injured, he just thought it would just be a great script, or maybe he is human after all.

After a final exceptionally depressing in its mediocrity, there were feelings of conflict over one of the most famous sportsmen in the world. Who could not feel for Ronaldo when, realising that his tournament was over barely a quarter of the way into the final, he appeared to be a broken man; the tears, the grimacing, the sense of outrage seemed real this time.

But then the twist; the unlikeliest of championship final victories. Portugal pulled through, France did not do enough and Eder’s exceptional strike made the difference. Throughout extra time a creeping sense of dread seemed to grow in the stadium, doubts surfaced and somehow a night that should have been a moment of national redemption would turn into a nightmare

This result was in many ways reflective of a tournament that offered a lot of football, but a reduction in quality lower level of quality; the downsides of the World Cup without the cross-continental exoticism. In the end a team who finished third in their group became champions.

Euro 2016, if anything was the tournament where “game-management” was king. Forget individual brilliance, here’s to Portugal- the greatest game managers in Europe.

 

Andrew Grillo, The Sweeper Football Blog

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