24 European nations competing head-to-head at the most popular sport in the world, battling for the coveted title of European Champion! Re-live all the drama, thrills and excitement in this game by game diary of France 2016, from the unbelievable tension of the French opener against Romania all the way through to the crowning of a shocking champion.
France 2016: A Game by Game Diary
Let the Games Begin!
With the European championship being expanded from 16 teams to 24 there were some concerns about diluting the overall talent level, although the overall competitiveness of the qualifying stages suggested we had no need to worry on that score. In the end, the results were anything but lopsided. Plus, although having 16 of 24 teams move on to the knockout stages reduced the difficulty of advancing, it also kept a lot more teams in the mix right through the group stages. Even down to the end of match day three most teams still had something to play for which made for plenty of excitement and drama. In the end, we got our usual quota of surprise results, thrilling finishes and compelling storylines, all coming together to produce one of the most entertaining European Championships ever.
France 2 Romania 1
I watched Dimitri Payet a lot this past year and he always looked good, but never that good. He was twice as good as anyone else on the pitch even before he scored that incredible winner. France will be tough to stop with him playing that well alongside all their other stars. But their defense looks sketchy, at best, and I think they’ll need to get Sagna attacking more if they want to beat the better teams.
Romania, on the other hand, was quite a surprise. I think everyone assumed they’d just sit back and hope for a break on the counter but give them credit, they pressed hard, played open, and almost took advantage of a French team clearly nervous throughout the opening match. It will be interesting to see, though, because if they can keep that intensity up against the Swiss and Albanians they could sneak into second place. No points for Griezmann or Pogba, although both had their chances. Man of the match: Payet, obviously.
Switzerland 1 Albania 0
Not sure if the Albanians were better than expected or the Swiss were worse, but I didn’t see much from that match that made me think either of those teams are dangerous. An assist for Shaqiri. Man of the match: Granit Xhaka (he’s going to look good in Arsenal colours this fall).
Wales 2 Slovakia 1
Now Wales and Slovakia, on the other hand, what a game! There were some stretches where it was just punt and hope, but with Allen and Ramsey in the midfield working with Bale up front the Welsh are going to be tough to stop. And Williams and Davies were amazing at the back. The Slovaks were still clearly more skilled overall, and could easily beat anyone in this group, but they seemed undisciplined and moody. And Skrtel, as always, is a red card/suspension waiting to happen. He could very well end up costing them. A great free kick goal for Bale, came close to a couple more, and should have had an easy assist if Ramsey hadn’t been too tired to shoot with a minute or two left. Man of the match: Ashley Williams.
England 1 Russia 1
Oh, England, you little tease. Fairly typical, in the end. Lots of possession, good chances, no finish, give up a heartbreaker in the end. What was different was how creative they looked and how offensively Hodgson set things up. Having Rooney play central midfield against a stronger side would be a risk but it worked pretty well today. But why exactly did he have Kane, his biggest aerial threat, taking corner kicks rather than receiving them? Bizarre. Of course, I felt the same about Dier taking that free kick and then he scored, so what do I know? And Sterling was his usual self – always looking dangerous but never amounting to much. Despite the disappointing finish, though, a pretty positive start for England and if they can keep pushing their fullbacks that far up against better teams they’ll always have a chance. Russia, on the other hand, looks terrible. Lucky to get a point, and they might not get any more. Man of the match: Most were saying Dier, but for me it was Kyle Walker.
Turkey vs Croatia – This could amount to an elimination game when all is said and done.
Poland vs Northern Ireland – First look at the Lewandowski-led Polish, my personal pick for darkhorse of the tourney.
Germany vs Ukraine – the Germans looked shaky in the last few friendlies, now we’ll see if they simply turn things up a notch now that it counts or if those results actually meant something.