UEFA European Championship 2016 – Review

Howdy, guys and girls!

I thought it’d be worth doing a review on UEFA European Championship 2016, so here it is! Feel free to post your own thoughts below.


The hosts will be disappointed to have failed to win this tournament. There’s no shame in being runners-up, but considering that they’d fought their way to the final past the likes of Germany, they’ll be disappointed to have lost against a Portuguese side that they could have, and should have, beaten. Deschamps did well in the tournament, all things considered, learning from any mistakes he made. His attack was free-flowing, and amongst the best in the tournament, with Griezmann, Giroud, and Payet in particular looking impressive. Defensively, though, there are still huge question marks over this side. Admittedly, they were missing lots of players – I’d love to see how good they are when their centre-back pairing is Zouma and Varane! – but the likes of Umtiti and Mangala are very scary defenders, prone to mistakes. I still think that this French side has the capacity to be the best in Europe, given time, but perhaps this tournament just came a bit too soon for them. Overall, they’ve been impressive, though.


I don’t honestly think that the Swiss could have done more than they did in this tournament. They used their players to the best of their ability, but their complete lack of a goal-scorer is a huge problem for them. Shaqiri’s equaliser against Poland was my personal goal of the tournament – amazing technique – but it showed what the Swiss had to do to stay in games against half-decent teams. Under Hitzfeld, they had years of experience and class; he could arrange for the Swiss to win games tactically. Petkovic isn’t as strong in that regard, so even though the Swiss maintained their “we’re hard to beat” stance rather well, their attack looks more and more toothless as time goes by. I think they’d have to consider their performance in this tournament a success, but it was frustrating to watch them in general.


I think that Albania did themselves proud at this tournament. They couldn’t have given any more than they did, really. They fought tremendously hard in each of their games, and only individual errors cost them in their two defeats. Their overall play, tactically and individually, was admirable. Yes, they were weak when it came to converting their chances, but they’ve been immense, all things considered. Perhaps now that they’ve appeared at a major tournament, many of their players that have been lured to playing for other nations can now be lured back to help usher in a bright future for Albanian football. As far as I am concerned, it’s all positives for them.


Unlike Albania, Romania had a truly shocking tournament, even losing to the afore-mentioned. Boss Iordanescu didn’t seem to think that things were too bad for Romania, but they really are. There are next to no academy players coming through there due to a lack of financial support. The domestic league of Romania is suffering as a result, hence few good Romanian teams being around nowadays. As a knock-on effect, their national team is bereft of quality. They’ll never lack in tenacity, nor belief, but they just don’t have the personnel required to hurt teams nowadays. Throughout their entire campaign, they looked completely toothless, and if they don’t sort themselves out ASAP, they’ll be in a very dark place for years to come.


Wales are another success story of this tournament, inexplicably reaching the semi-final before being beaten by the eventual winners, Portugal. Despite possessing a mere handful of very good players, Wales were utterly exemplary throughout the tournament with their determination, belief, consistency, and trust in their manager. They were supported superbly by their passionate fans, and they deserved all of the success that they got because of how impressively they played. Beating Northern Ireland may not be much of a feather in their caps, but beating a vastly superior Belgium certainly was, particularly because they deserved to. I have nothing but respect for the Welsh because of their efforts at this competition, and teams will think twice before regarding them as an “easy win” in future now. They should be able to maintain their current position within European football as the spine of their team is going to be there for years to come. I’ve not seen any promising youngsters coming through that could take them to the next level, but only time will tell if that happens or not. They’ve certainly got the platform on which to make something of themselves, so it’ll be interesting to see whether they manage it or not.


Another tournament, another fiasco from England. Where to even begin with this disastrous campaign? Dreadful goalkeeping, lack of confidence, lack of width, poor management – everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. The squad wasn’t varied enough. The team had no confidence. England are prone to bottling anyway, as we all know, but to choke against Iceland was simply embarrassing at this level. I have massive respect for Iceland as a football team, just as I did when I watched their current crop coming through at U21 level, but there’s simply no way that they should beat England in the manner that they did. I can accept freak results happening in games sometimes, because that’s the nature of the beast, but Iceland were not troubled by England whatsoever since they took a 2-1 lead, which was very early on in the game. England have no identity on the pitch, and their lack of confidence makes them easy prey for most teams nowadays. It’s very hard to imagine how things are going to get better for England in the near future, particularly with no sight of a new manager in sight. Massively overpaid foreign manager to be hurriedly drafted in before England embarrasses themselves again, anybody? I believe Blanc is looking for a new job…


I felt that Slovakia could have given more at this tournament. Well, perhaps I am being unfair; I don’t mean that they were lazy, just that they seemed a bit mentally unprepared for this competition. What I mean by that is that they seemed to fall to pieces whenever they conceded a goal. Prior to such occasions, I thought that they were good on the ball, pacey, and capable of causing problems. As soon as they conceded a goal, they had 10-15 minute spells where they couldn’t keep the ball, and tended to concede again. If they adjust themselves mentally, they’re capable of doing better than they’ve done. I still don’t think that they’d have beaten Germany in this tournament, mind you. However, I don’t believe that they’d have been facing Germany had they kept their cool against Wales. It’s hardly the end of the line for Slovakia, though – the core of this team will be there for a while yet – so there’s more to come from them, I feel, if they can sort their mentalities out.


And speaking of “end of the line” – here’s Russia, who were a truly despondent, depressing, leaderless, and utterly pointless team at this tournament. They looked clueless in possession of the ball, threatened very few times in any of their games, and had no additional level to go to. They looked bland, predictable, and unsure of how to handle any of the teams that they encountered. Frankly, they were lucky to get a point against England, having been outplayed for the entire game. They have a lot of players that won’t be here next time, and not enough talent coming through to replace them. I think that Russia are in a really bad place right now as they have no identity, spirit, belief, or quality. In my view, they’re going to find it unbelievably difficult to progress as a footballing nation for years to come.


I suppose any tournament that Germany fails to win has to be deemed a failure for such an outstanding footballing nation, but I don’t think that they could have done more with the players available to them. I still think that they’re a bit calamitous at the back (Boateng is clumsy, and Hummels isn’t as great as people make out that he is) and their full-backs are more a hindrance than a help when it comes to defending. As a unit, they look very solid, and their midfield looks superb. They have serious problems with no strikers, though – Gomez probably won’t make it to another tournament now. I don’t think that Germany have the class to play the Spanish way, to be honest. Mind you, I’m not sure that the Spanish have that level of class nowadays, either! Germany can’t beat good teams with 6 midfielders on the pitch; let me put it to you that way. They’re never going to be easy to beat, and they have some very promising players coming through, so I don’t doubt that they’ll continue to be a top side in Europe, though I don’t see them winning anything until they get a proper striker.


Poland can view this tournament as a success, given how far they progressed. They did the best that they could with the players available to them, and they were a handful for each team they faced. If I had to criticise them, it would be their inconsistency within games. I thought that they were very good for spells, but they seemed to disappear when under a period of sustained pressure. Still, the future looks good for them with the spine of their team there for years to come, and plenty of promising youngsters coming through. If they can get a good playmaker in their squad to dictate the tempo, then this team could be dark horses for years to come, particularly with Milik and Lewandowski up front.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland are yet another side that have done themselves proud at this tournament. I honestly don’t feel that they’ve got a single good player nowadays, but their unbelievable team spirit, fight, and support propelled them to the next round. You won’t find many more united teams than Northern Ireland, and they were a shining example of how to play as a team to embarrassing sides like England and Russia. Despite having nothing to work with, I thought that Northern Ireland were superb, and that they exceeded what was realistically possible for them. If they can keep hold of their impressive manager, then they’re capable of causing more shocks in years to come.


I honestly don’t think I was more gutted at this tournament than when Croatia made a premature exit. They played some of the best football in the competition, never looked out of control, and could have scored four goals in each of the group stage games they played in. Portugal managed to deal with them in the knockout stages via impressive tactics, but Croatia were a team I really wanted to do well. They’ve got some superb players, and a plethora of talented youngsters coming through. As long as some of their fans stop being prats, the future is very bright for Croatian football because they look superb. I genuinely feel that they’d have made the final if they’d beaten Portugal, and that they’d have played out a great game of football against France. Ivan Perisic was easily the player of the tournament, for me.


Spain did exactly what I expected of them at this tournament, and I suppose I should be grateful for that. The bad news for them is that if I can predict what they’re going to do, opposing sides can too. Turkey and the Czechs were never going to be too troubling for the Spanish, but Croatia were because they were better, simply put. Spain lacked any kind of creativity in the final third – other than the immaculate Iniesta – with David Silva in particular disappointing. They were too predictable, horribly susceptible to pacey counter-attacks, and too slow to trouble teams. Italy was always going to beat them, and I was astounded to see people going the other way. Italy’s organisation etc. makes them a nightmare for Spain at all times, and so it proved in this tournament. Del Bosque has gone now, though, so perhaps it’s time for a new manager with fresh ideas. I honestly don’t know who it should be, but perhaps they need to play a more orthodox 4-4-2 and see where they stand in Europe because their current style no longer works because they don’t have good enough players to make it so. There are still good players here, but they need some major reworking before they can be trusted to achieve anything.


I’m not really sure that Turkey could have given any more than they did at this competition. They had the best man to lead them at the helm, and some wonderful players in their squad. Defensively, they’re little more than brutes, which is a big weakness of theirs. It didn’t help that a couple of their key players didn’t bother showing up, either. However, their team spirit was good, and I thought that they managed to upset sides more than people expected them to. They need to have more talented youngsters coming through, but as long as Fatih Terim is at the helm, this will be a tough Turkish side to face.

Czech Republic

The Czechs are about to enter a pretty dark period, in my view. Cech has retired, and they lack quality in every area of the pitch. Rosicky and Plasil are the only players in their squad that can dictate the tempo of a game, and they’re both on their way out; this was surely their last major tournament. They don’t have much coming through, either, so it’s hard to imagine anything good coming for the Czechs. They look ok on the break, but they really struggle to break teams down, and take their chances. They’re running out of good players, and I don’t expect to see them get anywhere for a while.


I have to confess that I was really disappointed with Ukraine at this competition. I appreciate that they rely an awful lot on Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko, but it was literally the case that they were the only two trying for Ukraine at this tournament. Barring a superb first-half against Germany, Ukraine was appalling in this tournament. In fact, I’d only view neighbours Russia as being worse than them right now. They were short of ideas, incapable of handling teams with better tactics, and ultimately suffered from a massive loss of confidence, and variety. They need the likes of Zinchenko to really step up if they’re to become a decent side in Europe again because what they’ve just shown in France is really very poor, all things considered.


As far as I am concerned, Italy was the team of the tournament. Their flexibility on the pitch was unrivalled by any other team in the competition, which is largely down to boss Conte, who looks very, very good. Italy managed to make a royal nuisance of themselves in a tournament where they supposedly lacked the personnel to manage such, and that in itself is worthy of massive respect, in my view. They barely conceded goals, and managed to frustrate every side that they faced whilst threatening far more than people expected them to. I was sorry to see them exit the tournament against Germany (which was one of the worst penalty shootouts I have ever seen!) because their overall displays were very good, and they deserved far more than that for their efforts. Unfortunately, I do think that they’ll go backwards under “new” boss Ventura, who has a pretty old mindset when it comes to tactics, and that might be the end of Italy as a force for the near future. The right manager can unlock some serious potential within this team , though.


One person cost Belgium this tournament; boss Wilmots. I had my reservations about him pre-tournament, and he’s denied his own country the chance of glory yet again. I’ve never seen a side so littered with attacking talent playing so defensively. They were too reliant on their individuals, and not strong enough collectively. Fielding centre-backs at full-back is getting old, and it cost them against Wales. The absence of Kompany made it easy for teams to score against them, too. Basically, in every game where Belgium needed to be strong tactically, they were horribly outplayed. Wilmots was a decent forward in his day, but that doesn’t make him a good manager – and it showed. They weren’t good enough tactically to beat teams, and his players weren’t doing what they were supposed to, which I think is because he’s not reigning them in when they’re messing things up. Belgium have a wonderful squad right now; probably one of the top two in Europe, to be honest. However, they’re not going to win tournaments without a better manager, so Belgium really need to review that situation ahead of their World Cup Qualifying Campaign because there’s no way that this Belgian side should be losing to the likes of Wales.

Republic of Ireland

Ireland did what I expected of them in this tournament, down to the last. They fought extremely hard, ruffled feathers, were not afraid to be physical, were dogged tactically, but lacked the quality when it mattered most. You’ll never be able to fault an Irish team because of how hard they work, but beating a side like France was always going to be too much for them. As per usual, on merit alone, Ireland should have won the tournament. However, it’s quality that wins games, and they simply don’t have enough of it. Worryingly enough, another “golden generation” is all but gone, and I don’t see much in the way of replacements, so Ireland need to evaluate things sooner rather than later to avoid a World Cup Qualifying campaign failure.


Sweden have lost too many good players over the past few years to retirement, and that will most likely continue in the near future. They’ve got some very promising youngsters coming through, but they don’t really have the structure in place to get the best out of them – yet. Defensively, this team never seems to be able to contain other teams. However, when it comes to attacking, and getting at teams, they tend to do rather well. I think that they need more mobility when moving forward, and that they need more risk-takers in midfield, but they’re coming through, so I think that Sweden will be better in the future than they were here. They were in a group with teams that were either better than they were, or better tactically than they were, so it was never going to end well for them. You can’t fault their efforts, but much like Ireland, they didn’t have the required quality when it mattered.


Hungary were another success story of this tournament, actually winning their group against all odds. Considering that a portion of this team was basically built on players whose best days are behind them, they did ridiculously well in this competition. They were undone by a vastly superior Belgian side eventually, but they were far from shamed with some enthusiastic and confident displays leading to heroic wins. A derby win against Austria, a 3-3 draw against Portugal, and finishing at the top of the group? I honestly don’t think that Hungary could have asked for more here. They don’t have the finishers in their squad to be a force in years to come, but they do have promising youngsters coming through in other areas, so I think that they’ll still be a very tough side to actually beat for the majority of European opposition.


Iceland were absolutely superb in this competition. From the word “go”, they played with real fire and spirit. They never once gave up against anyone, including France when losing the game heavily, and they won the hearts of everybody, in my view. They demonstrated real passion, and a simple level of effectiveness with their best ever group of players, and they reaped the benefits of that, heroically overcoming a superior English side in arguably their best ever win. Iceland have a great squad of players at the moment that will be there for years to come, and I can only see them getting better with time if they can replace veteran boss Lagerback, who was instrumental in their progress over the years. This tiny island has done itself massive favours in the world of football, and they deserve the utmost respect for everything that they’ve achieved here, against all odds.


I wrote in my preview of this tournament that Portugal were a big tournament team, which is perfectly true. However, even I didn’t think that they’d actually manage to win the competition, so a massive congratulations to them for that! It wasn’t pretty, but Santos’ gritty approach saw them win their first major tournament, which is extremely good for them. They’re going to have to deal with some great players moving on because they’re in the twilight of their careers, but they’ve got the youth to manage that. I’m not quite as taken with Renato Sanches as everybody else is yet, but I can see how he could become a world-class player with the right mentor. Does he remind anybody else of Anderson when he first came onto the scene? I think that they’re twins! Let’s hope Sanches has a more productive career. Still, Portugal have a lot of positives for the future (don’t forget that they won the last U21 Championship too) so they’re on Cloud Nine at the moment, and rightly so. I’d love to see them playing more entertaining football, but hey, it’s whatever works! They’re a very dangerous side to play against because they can defend and attack well, depending on their approach, and because of their dogged nature, I feel that they’ve deserved to win this tournament.


Austria were a disappointment at this tournament. I wrote in my preview that I was concerned at how they’d approached pre-tournament friendlies, and those concerns became very real when I saw them competing. They weren’t attacking often enough, so they weren’t damaging teams, and were often caught out at the back because they’re not good at defending. I still think that they were robbed against Hungary (it was never a red card!), but they’ve only got themselves to blame for not doing more here. The players are there, and the appetite is there; I guess that their manager just didn’t trust them enough when it mattered. I think that they’ll be rightly disappointed to have failed to qualify for the next round, but that there’s enough to work with in their squad to keep making steps on the European stage because this is a very good side, underneath it all.


The UEFA European Championship 2016 in France took a lot of criticism from various quarters surrounding the new format. Personally, I’m somewhat on the fence as to how successful it was. People have said that teams were more defensive, knowing that third was a possibility. Perhaps those people should watch the other major tournaments where teams do that either way, because it’s nothing new. The only team that I saw play for third place was Portugal, and that was when they were drawing 3-3 with Hungary, and the likelihood was that that result would see them progress, which it did. Everybody else went for points, and thus the usual tournament approach was maintained. I like how this tournament gave smaller footballing nations the chance to shine, and look what happened – Wales and Iceland managed to ruffle plenty of feathers – so how can that ever be perceived as a negative? If it does anything, it encourages competitiveness, and unsettles the bigger teams, and I’m all for that. If people are so concerned about the standard of football then they should bring in a rule whereby teams are awarded a point for every two goals that they score in a game or something. You’ll never stop teams from playing defensively, though – they’re not stupid enough to engage good teams in open games because they’ll get ripped apart – so the arguments against the current format because of such are a bit silly, in my opinion. I liked seeing smaller teams give it their best, and earn the rewards for doing so, and I’m finding it hard to view that as a negative. At the end of the day, football is a tactical game, and teams require different ways of approaching games in order to actually win them.  If they can’t handle that, then they really shouldn’t be playing football at all, in my view.

Now, I’m not going to criticise a team that has won this tournament, because it’s winners that are remembered, after all. I didn’t enjoy watching Portugal play, but let’s face it – they played to their strengths, and it won them the tournament. What else could you ask for? Football can’t always be pretty, sadly. From that perspective, I think that the tournament failed, because teams like France, Croatia, and Italy were more deserving of winning it than Portugal, in my humble opinion. Again, though, it’s efficiency that counts, and that’s why Portugal are now the best team in Europe. If the format was amended in a different way, then perhaps this could have been avoided, but there’ll always be that argument, I suspect.

Overall, I thought that France did a good job of hosting the competition, that there were some very good games, and that the spectacle overall was enjoyable. There are things that could be changed, but for what it was, I enjoyed the UEFA European Championship this time around.

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