Welcome to the Virgin Media Midweek Kick-off! UEFA Euro 2016 finally finished last Sunday, so we asked sports writers Matt Blake and Stuart Hood if the tournament was a flop or not…
YES! It was the worst ever
“Many of the stars we expected to shine barely twinkled” – Matt Blake, sports writer, Virgin Media
From an English point of view, obviously
Well, if you're an England fan, of course it disappointed. We had high hopes for this young England team and they collapsed. But they didn't just collapse in the way we've learned to expect England teams to in major competitions. No, they collapsed more dramatically than the post-Brexit pound. In fact, they were so soul-crushingly awful against Iceland that it almost felt intentional – a conspiracy to rival resigning politicians and Illuminati triangles on money. Of course, had England actually worked some triangles on the pitch – one of the most basic tactical principles in football – it probably wouldn't have happened.
History made it worse
We always knew where we stood with the England of old. You know, the teams that basically consisted of the same players – the tried Lampards, the tested Terrys, the war-weary Gerrards. We always expected them to come unstuck at some point, maybe in a quarter-final. Probably on penalties, and probably against Germany or Portugal. But then came the Roy-volution. With an emphasis on all-out attack with five strikers, an average age of 25, and just three relics from the UEFA Euro 2012 campaign, it promised to be a new dawn for English football. It wasn't. The Roy-volution should not have been televised.
The stars didn’t show up
Many of the stars we expected to shine barely twinkled. It was meant to be the tournament of Paul Pogba, Cristiano Ronaldo, and maybe Thomas Müller. Müller, who won the Golden Boot at the last World Cup, couldn't get a single goal. Pogba will have Manchester United fans wondering if he's worth the record-breaking £100m transfer fee they're probably about to put up for him. Then Ronaldo: when the most important moment in his international career finally came, he got hurt, cried, then danced about in the technical area like a toddler desperate for the loo. Sure, his team won, but we were all losers.
Where were the moments?
The 51 games produced 108 goals – an average of 2.11 goals a game. That's below the 2.45 of UEFA Euro 2012 and the 2.7 at the World Cup in 2014. Of course, it's not all about goals. Major tournaments are also remembered for stand-out moments of brilliance – Van Basten's volley against USSR (1988); Gazza’s Scots-slaying screamer and “dentist’s chair” celebration (1996); Trezeguet’s Golden Goal versus Italy (2000). But UEFA Euro 2016 will be best remembered (Icelandic and Welsh heroics aside) for a chant about a Northern Irish striker who never came on, a scratch ‘n’ sniff and a fame-hungry moth.
The final could’ve saved it, but didn’t
France were meant to win from the beginning, with the bevvy of star talent, a nation behind them and a kit like Sonic the Hedgehog. Portugal, on the other hand, were the most disliked underdogs since Greece at UEFA Euro 2004, winning just one game inside 90 minutes. Against Wales. They were terrible. They wouldn’t have even made the knockout phase had UEFA not changed the rules (they came third in their group). Then, with Ronaldo’s injury, their rudder fell off, handing France their chance to cast them truly adrift. But instead, it seemed to lull Les Bleus into a false sense of security, sucking the urgency out of them… and Portugal pretty much won by default. It was a disappointing end to a disappointing tournament. That moth was funny, though, wasn’t he?
Agree with Matt?
NO! It hit the back of the net
“If the Premier League was exceptional, Euro 2016 was, too” – Stuart Hood, sports writer, Virgin Media
Have you forgotten UEFA Euro 2004?
Yes, football fans have notoriously short memories. But if we all take a deep breath and have a little think, surely we can all remember that it can and has been worse than this? I’m talking about UEFA Euro 2004, a tournament that was won by an unheralded and stubborn Greek side who chalked up back-to-back-to-back 1-0 victories in the quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals. Worse still, that tournament did not feature Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Scotland or Wales, and England got turfed out on penalties.
The underdogs have barked
You know those people who attempt to argue that right is wrong and black is white? Well, they are the sort of people who will spend 20 minutes telling you why Leicester’s Premier League win was “the most exciting of all time”, because Claudio Ranieri’s plucky underdogs loaded the status quo into a shredder and chopped it up into dozens of tiny pieces. And then they’ll spend the next 20 telling you that this summer’s Euros were “the most disappointing ever” because plucky underdogs like Iceland and Wales loaded the status quo into a shredder and chopped it up into dozens of tiny pieces. You can’t have your cake while simultaneously munching down everyone else’s, folks. If last season’s Premier League was exceptional, UEFA Euro 2016 was, too.
The fans excelled themselves
The play on the pitch may have been up and down, but the performances of the many thousands of men, women and children who backed their nations from the stands never wavered (bar a few mindless idiots). The atmosphere at the semi-final between France and Germany was as good as any game I can remember. The passionate masses that bellowed their love for Wales and Republic of Ireland were magnificent, and then there were the breakout stars of the show. If you can visit a football ground in the next 12 months without hearing either a modified version of Northern Ireland’s “Will Grigg’s on fire” chant or Iceland’s Viking clap-grunt I’ll be astonished.
The late, late show
I don’t know about you, but I like my football to come with a side of pulse-raising, stranger-hugging euphoria. This means I love late goals and penalty shoot-outs, and these are the areas where UEFA Euro 2016 came into its own. Not only did 26 of the tournament’s 108 goals come in the 80th minute or later, two of the quarter-finals and one of the last 16 ties were decided on nerve-shredding penalties. How can you possibly describe those ratios as disappointing?
The cream rose to the top
I’ve just been through football’s rules with a fine-toothed comb and it turns out that it’s not a popularity contest. So while Ronaldo’s cheeky winks and perma-petulance might mean he’s not the sort of guy you’d vote for on The X Factor, his 300+ club goals, two FIFA Ballon d’Or trophies, three UEFA Champions League medals and 61 international goals mean that it’s impossible to deny that he’s the greatest European player of his generation (or arguably all time). And while you might hope Portugal’s soufflé fails to rise on The Great British Bake Off, the fact they reached the final of UEFA Euro 2004, the semi-finals of World Cup 2006, the quarter-finals of UEFA Euro 2008 and the semi-finals of UEFA Euro 2012 means they are the very deserving champions of a very interesting tournament.
Agree with Stuart?
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