As we enter the penultimate set of fixtures, it is fair to say that Euro 2016 has not been short of surprises and short comings. The smaller nations have shown the so-called ‘bigger teams’ that the gulf in class isn’t as prevalent as once thought. Maybe this is down to the severe lack of quality shown by the better teams at the tournament or maybe it is due to the conservative approach adopted by most of the teams in France this year. Whatever it may be, it raises the question of what has prevailed at this tournament: a team’s ethics or it’s reputation. This is underlined no more so by Wednesday’s clash at the Stade des Lumières as the darkest of dark horses at Euro 2016 faces off against the one-man-show: Wales versus Portugal. However, looking back at the tournament so far it would suggest that the odds are stacked well against Ronaldo’s regiment. But why have the lesser teams caused such an upset at the tournament?
Take England vs Iceland: Footballing stalwarts facing a country with the population of Leicester and once you take out the countries women, children, elderly and volcanologists you are left with a 23-man team. A surprisingly impressive 23-man team, who defied all odds to overcome the English ego. That result at the Allianz Riviera will be a shadow over English football forever more, a result that erupted a country into outrage and another into hysteria. However, it realistically should never have happened. The tournament’s worst kept secret was Iceland’s long throw and rigid 4-4-2 approach. So, Roy Hodgson confidently exclaimed before the match: “Certainly I’ve been watching Iceland and you’d have to be a bit blind not to realise that Gunnarsson is a real weapon for them. So these are things we will be aware of and will prepare for.”, yet England struggled to defend the Iceland missile into the box and ultimately succumbed to a 5th minute Ragnar Sigurdsson goal. Nevertheless, there was still the majority of the match left for the indomitable England team to respond, a presumably easy task on paper. But the next 85 minutes were as surprising as the reinclusion of Raheem Sterling into the starting 11, as an absent England became bereft of ideas on how to break down two solid banks of four and a frontline duo. As the match progressed, England became more disjointed, lost and amateurish but were finally put out of their misery as the final whistle blew on their Euro 2016 dreams and, unsurprisingly, Hodgson’s tenure as manager.
So, as we near the conclusion of this fascinatingly mediocre tournament, its reasonable to suggest that Euro 2016 has been a defining tournament for world football. It has highlighted that reputation will no longer win you a match against a team who know how to stick to a solid plan. It can even frustrate the most reputable players. “Iceland didn’t try anything When they don’t try to play and just defend, defend, defend, this in my opinion shows a small mentality and they are not going to do anything in this competion.” These are the infamous words said by Cristiano Ronaldo after Iceland gained a point against his Portugal team and, to some extent, we do agree with him. Team ethics may not produce the most exciting of football at times but every now and then it can surprise everyone and cause an eruption.
by Kieran Hamill