With the Group Stage now concluded, I thought I would share some of my thoughts on the tournament so far:
Team of the Group Stage
For me the stand out team so far has been Croatia, who would have claimed maximum points if they hadn’t let their concentration drop after the suspension of their game against the Czech Republic, brought about by trouble by their own fans. Any team that can overcome an in-form Spain without two of their key players has to be doing something right. Honourable mentions to Hungary and Iceland, both of whom have surprised everyone.
But for a late injury time equalizer gifted by England, Russia would have exited the tournament with no points. Dishonourable mentions to Ukraine and Romania who hardly set the tournament on fire with their performances.
A close call between Dmitri Payet and Gareth Bale but I would probably just go for the West Ham United star based on the drama and excitement of his late winner against Romania after having set up the opener and another good goal against Albania.
Most Disappointing Player
Unfortunately there were quite a few candidates in this one but I would go with Zlatan who missed an open goal and exited the tournament and international football without so much as a whimper. Lewandowski escapes based on Poland still being in the tournament and the role he plays in creating space for others. Cristiano Ronaldo probably did enough against Hungary and has been pure entertainment on many different levels throughout.
I was tempted to say Payet or Griezmann for France thanks to the drama, certainly Ronaldo’s back-heel volley against Hungary was pure class but my personal favourite was Hamsik’s stunning strike against Russia.
Having spent several days in Nice with them I have to declare personal bias on this one but the Northern Ireland fans have been an absolute joy. Even over a week later I still have ‘Will Grigg’s on Fire’ ringing in my ears.
Other things that have been particular noticeable in the tournament:
Bluntness of vaunted attacks- not just the lack of goals by some of the big names, but generally speaking those teams that were expected to score lots of goals have largely disappointed.
Resolute defending by ‘lesser’ teams- this may of course be one of the underlying reasons behind the above, but there has been some well organised and solid defences.
Late Goals- I have lost count of the number of games that were decided in the last five minutes or in added time, the tournament has certainly offered a fair share of drama.
Surprise Results / Finishes- the two obviously go hand in hand but the surprise results have led to Croatia, Wales and Hungary topping groups and Iceland finishing second ahead of Portugal and Austria.
Missed Penalties – there seem to have been a lot of missed penalties in key moments which have gone on to influence the result.
Same Old England – as the French say ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’; despite guarded optimism before the tournament based on some exciting young players, England’s performances have been far from inspiring, despite a late winner against Wales they reverted to type against Slovenia and ultimately managed to finish second in a group they should have won. We can count ourselves fortunate to ‘only’ have Iceland in the Round of 16, but would any England fan be surprised if we find a way to make that one harder than it looks on paper?
New Format – I was fairly sceptical about the new format ahead of the tournament and there have been some examples of teams settling for what they have; but the format has led to some exciting underdog stories and ultimately was responsible for that nail-biting final group match between Ireland and Italy.
Does the tournament need a superstar? Usually there is a stand out player in a finals tournament but other than Payet and Bale, as mentioned above, and possibly a few others, one hasn’t really emerged as of yet. Perhaps with the number of candidates for teams of the tournament so far, the tournament doesn’t really need one.
Those are just my thoughts on what I have found to be an enthralling tournament so far; I would of course be interested in hearing anyone else’s thoughts and opinions either in the comments below or to firstname.lastname@example.org.