World and European football have been dogged with scandal let alone the threat of drama from extremists and French unions in the lead up to the biggest tournament in the European game but the first round is history and it’s been nothing short of fantastic.
The French, moody like all latin countries, are now firmly behind their team after a solid win in the opening fixture. Dimitri Payet securing a win after the modest opening ceremony with a blast worthy of the stage. I fully understand if you rewatch the video below over and over. Payet’s goal came in the final few moments against Romania after the French had dominated the game but couldn’t turn chances into goals.
Switzerland, Croatia, Poland, Germany and Spain did what was expected by winning their opening fixtures while Wales excelled and England, rather predictably, let their fans down. Austria, dark horses for some, were played off the park by Hungary.
A poor first round isn’t the be all and end all though in the 24 team European Championships as 4 of the third placed teams qualify for the next round after the group stages, so there’s still lots to play for in the next two games of the group stages.
England will be the most disappointed of the seeded teams after conceding in the 93rd minute of their match with Russia. The fan trouble will only add to their concerns after UEFA issued a fine and suspended disqualification for the Russians after they their fans set off a flare during the match. Wales’ megastar Gareth Bale scored on his debut to the 2nd biggest stage in international football with a somewhat tame free kick down the middle of the goal which the Slovakian goalkeeper will have a few restless nights over if they fail to make the next round. Next up the two British nations meet with anything less than a win spelling disaster for England.
Germany offered a mediocre, yet workman-like performance by their standards which proved sufficient to see off a gutsy Ukraine side. A fantastic goal-line clearance by Boateng was required to prevent the eastern Europeans from scoring before Schweinsteiger put the fixture to bed with a sensational volley on the break.
Spain struggled through their match but emerged triumphant, the defending champions at least not looking like the same team that were dethroned at the World Cup by a rampant Netherlands. Ironically, the Dutch didn’t qualify for the Euros.
The most disappointing match by a country mile for the neutral will have been the 1-1 draw between Ireland and Sweden. The hype surrounding Zlatan is enough to pull even the most even-keeled fan into a debate about his future but in this match he barely featured. Ireland dominated proceedings, chances created, even scored both the goals, admittedly Zlatan did provide the cross for Brady to put the ball in his own net but his contributions were limited mostly to deft touches and aimless, half-hearted walks around the center-circle. Sweden and Zlatan will need to double their efforts to remain in the competition when they face Italy who dismantled the Belgians in what must be the best international game since Germany thrashed Brazil at the 2014 World Cup.
The Belgians arrived as FIFA’s 2nd ranked team and that’s as good as they got. Italy, written off by most, played an intelligent counter-attacking match relying on wing backs to provide width and then working as a team to defend with most players behind the ball. Conte had his players running up and down the field as a unit with the Juventus players, Buffon and his defenders, putting up a solid wall the Belgians just could not breach. Talented individuals like Lukaku and Hazard looked lost, the former never really a great player in build-up play and the latter trying very hard to deliver to an expecting public but just not able to replicate his 2015 Chelsea form on this stage. Kevin de Bruyne, the third prong in the Belgian attack was remarkably quiet and unproductive.
Croatia’s Luka Modric scored another beautiful volley, more controlled and unbelievably well placed from so far out but bonus points are on offer if you can spot the fan who joins in the celebrations at the corner flag. It remains to be seen if the authorities take any action against Croatia but the security forces might want to investigate how this happened.
Christiano Ronaldo lead his charges in the round’s final match against Iceland in a game as one-sided as a Pepe challenge. The game was a contrast in styles more than a match and despite Iceland’s recent good form the style of play leaves quite a bit to be desired. The highlight of the Icelandic game is the unique spine-chilling chant from their travelling support. Both sides will regret not taking the chances to take all the points on offer.
The tournament is off to a roaring success with no scoreless draws, 20 goals, a few free kick goals, the odd header and a bucket load of volleys. Let’s hope the open attacking football continues for the rest of the tournament. If I’ve missed something or you don’t agree with my assessments, leave a message or hit me up on Twitter to chat about it. Until the next time.