We are more than half way through the games at Euro 2016 and the real tournament is about to begin, it’s knockout football everybody!!!
Before I start the group stage review, I thought I would take some time out to compliment the increase of the Euros to 24 teams. It has received a lot of criticism from some quarters, who seem to think that group stage football is never a cagey affair, with many lacklustre games, these people have clearly remembered previous tournaments with rose tinted glasses, and this Euros is no different to pretty much every major international competition.
What I really love about the Euros so far, is that there hasn’t been a single game which has been meaningless (only Ukraine eliminated after two games), such a rarity in competitions like this. I’m not sure that the four third place teams going through is the best format in the world, however it does create a different dynamic and means that it gives smaller sides a real chance of going through.
I think that the games overall in the group stages have been ok but not great, this may be due to the new format meaning teams see a point as a massive result or more likely it is because there is a greater number of small nations who if they were to play fluent attacking football would be blown away by their bigger counterparts, and I’m sorry, if you can’t break down a team who parks the bus, then that is entirely your fault. It may be sore on the eye but it is a more than valid way to play.
What is remarkable about this Euros has been the astoundingly high amount of late goals in the group stages. The other great thing about the Euros has been that there have been very few games which have been totally one sided (only three games won by 3 goals or more out of 36), which in a Euros with so many small nations is truly great and shows that the increase in size was justified.
I’ll talk about each group and how each country did in their respective group.
France were the class of the group, however I wouldn’t describe their performances as class whatsoever. You look at the French team and it has class all over it, however you couldn’t see any of that on the pitch. Dimitri Payet has dragged France through kicking and screaming to the next round and Didier Deschamps should be building a monument to him as we speak, because he has very much saved his ass in the group stages.
I tipped France to win the tournament, they have a piss easy group, they have the most favourable draw and they are the host country, yet they aren’t really playing like it. France have been the better team in each of their three games, however I don’t really believe that they deserved to win any of their games. They got lucky with a screamer against Romania, two stoppage time goals against a plucky Romania and then a pathetic display against Switzerland; it really has been terrible so far from France.
Deschamps seems totally unable to make in game changes, standing on the touchline like a lost boy, hoping that someone does something special. He’s got it wrong in all of his games, yet has been lucky. I also have to seriously question his decision to call up Gignac, who looks like he is totally lost and looks totally out of shape and hopefully. France are lucky that it is a long tournament and they’ve got a good run to the semis (Ireland and then likely to be England), however based on what they have shown they are nowhere near good enough to win this.
Switzerland look pretty meh, they’re a meh team, who won’t really do anything in the competition and were pretty lucky to draw such an easy group. In a sense they got lucky that they didn’t truly push France in the final game because of the lop-sidedness of the last 16 draw, however I would be very surprised if the Swiss were able to get beyond the quarters. They have Poland in the last 16, a decent draw but not one that I would expect them to win.
Albania were pretty unlucky to go out, they didn’t deserve to lose to France and were slightly unlucky against the Swiss, however the biggest reason they went out was poor game management. Winning against Romania, with a reasonable chance to go through as a third place team, except for the fact that they have a -2 goal difference… They were taking the ball into the corner… Yes 3 points with a -2 GD may well have been enough, but in all likelihood it wasn’t going to get them through, yet instead of pushing for that extra goal or two, they accepted the result. This seems obvious in hindsight (they finished 6th of the 3rd place teams) but if you looked at the other teams who could finish third, the best Albania would ever finish was fourth and even that would have been a big push.
Romania will look back at this Euros and be pretty gutted about their performance. A draw against the Swiss was solid, they were unlucky to not get one against France and then all they needed to do was get a win against Albania and they would have got through comfortably in third, they’ll be very disappointed at that.
I got the teams who went through spot on in this group, not really surprising; it was one of the easiest to predict groups.
Imagine little Wales winning their group at the Euros! It does help when goalkeepers keep throwing shitty free kicks into their nets. Wales can only beat what is in front of them and as lacklustre as Russia and to a lesser extent Slovakia were they got their job done, they were of course helped by England making an arse of it. Despite scoring three goals, I don’t feel Bale has been that great, Ramsey has driven the team forward. Wales play Northern Ireland in the next round, a fantastic draw which they should comfortably win. Wales then will play the winner of Belgium v Hungary, not too bad for a quarter final, and that is the benefit of winning the group, they are on the easy side of the draw and get the benefits of that. If Wales can get Bale playing to his level and are able to keep everyone fit, then I guess you never know.
Classic England! Get drawn in an incredibly easy group, yet still manage to come in second! Brilliant! What can be said about England? Well they are good at passing the ball in front of the opposition defence, beyond that…well they haven’t really shown anything. That is the problem with England, they have a manager who is fairly conservative, they have a squad full of ordinary players, they have no special player and worst of all they have no penetration or end product. England have got lucky with their draw, it couldn’t have got much better than Iceland, however if they can’t score against Slovakia and have to rely on a goalkeeping gaffe to score against a pitiful Russia side, then who says they are going to be able to get a goal against a solid Iceland team? Ultimately we shall see, if they do get through Iceland (which they should) they will likely come up against France (who are much better than them) and then if by miracle they make it to the semis then they will be up against Spain, Germany or Italy (all of whom are better than England).
The question for England is what is considered successful? This isn’t really a talented England side; the fact that Raheem Sterling has been a starter tells you everything. A quarter final should be considered the minimum and after narrowly avoiding Portugal that should be achievable, however beyond that I just can’t see it. It is England’s punishment for not winning the group, because if they had been on the other side of the draw, they would have had a real good chance of making the final.
Slovakia somehow made the last 16… It isn’t often a team looks so mediocre, has limited quality, yet makes it through comfortably. One of the worst teams to make the last 16, to be honest if it wasn’t for Russia being so terrible then I don’t think they get anywhere near the next round. They play Germany in the next round, a team who has struggled to score against teams who park the bus. If Germany get one goal then they will win, the longer it stays nil nil, the better it is for Slovakia. They will need Hamsik to be on his game, sadly for them I think they might get hammered because Germany are due thumping a team.
Russia were the worst team at this Euros. A team taken apart by minnows, a team who didn’t seem to know how to defend and a team who for some reason looked totally disinterested. The fact that the biggest memory people will have of Russia at this Euros is the behaviour of their thuggish fans is a true embarrassment for their country and their team.
I had England winning, Wales in second and Russia going through as a third, so 0/3… I don’t think anyone expected Russia to be so horrible, but Slovakia going through was certainly a shock for me.
Germany haven’t looked right since they won the World Cup. They were poor in qualifying and have backed that up by having a poor start to the Euros. You can see that they are a really good team and they have an excellent squad, however there is a distinct lack of goals in the squad. The lack of an actual striker is really hurting Germany currently and Muller’s lack of goals is making that situation all the worse. This is fine when you are playing teams who you should be beating, however when they come up against a better team they are really going to struggle and will be punished at the other end.
Germany play Slovakia in the next round which is a really good draw for them. Slovakia will park the bus; the question is whether Germany can break them down. They will go through this match; sadly for Germany they get the winner of the Spain-Italy match, which will be very difficult. If Germany can find their shooting boots then they could add a Euro title to their World crown, however as things stand Germany (much like France) have to make big improvements if they are to do something here.
Poland have done a job, they have won 7 points so far (joint most in the groups) yet still finished second. Ironically finishing second was actually the better result in this group. It’s hard to say how Poland are doing, I had expected more to be honest and if they are to do something Lewandowski really needs to start contributing. Poland have a tie against Switzerland in the last 16 and I expect them to win through that match, they will then meet the winner of Portugal-Croatia, a match that they won’t be expected to win, however if they can get through then their path to the final isn’t too bad.
I can’t believe that Northern Ireland actually managed to make it through to the last 16, they have a terrible squad. It goes to show that a good team spirit can take you further than a number of talented individuals who don’t gel. Northern Ireland really shouldn’t go any further, however they have been lucky and fallen into a match against Wales who they could probably beat, especially with it being a home nation rivalry. It is one of the worst ties of the last 16 but it is also one of the ones I am looking forward to the most, it should be a belter.
Ukraine must be so happy that Russia showed up to the Euros to save them from being considered the most embarrassing team at the tournament. Saying that, Ukraine were terrible and managed to be the only team to not win a single point, quite the feat really in a twenty four team tournament.
I had Germany in first and Poland in second; I didn’t however think that either Northern Ireland or Ukraine would make it, which was obviously wrong.
I didn’t see Croatia winning this group, even half way through the match against Spain I didn’t see Croatia winning this group, and yet that’s exactly what they did. Croatia have probably been the best team so far in this year’s Euros in my opinion. They were solid against Turkey, excellent against the Czechs, put in a great fight against Spain to pick up an unlikely win and best of all; they have played some really nice football whilst doing so. The only criticism of Croatia which I can have is the crowd trouble in the Czech Republic game, something which almost certainly cost Croatia from taking all three points.
Croatia have a tough tie against Portugal in the next round (very unlucky when they almost had Iceland). The good thing for Croatia however is that they are on the good side of the draw and if they are able to get past Portugal then their path to the final is favourable. If you crowned the champion after the group stages, then Croatia would be your European champion, if they are able to keep their form up then they might be taking that crown at the end as well.
Spain were chugging along fine, then came the match against Croatia, a Croatia team who rested a bunch of players who were on bookings and despite Spain putting out a full team and dominating the first half still managed to become careless and throw away the result. It shouldn’t have been a big deal but the way the teams have fallen, it has made the side which Spain have fallen on incredibly difficult, which is totally their fault. Despite all that, Spain have looked really good in the Euros so far, they look sharp. The issue with Spain of course is that they are liable to the odd defensive mishap (such as over attacking a Croatian team when a draw was a good result) and if Morata isn’t on it they don’t really look like scoring.
Spain have the best tie of the last 16 as they take on Italy, in a classic heavyweight clash. Poor Spain will have to beat Italy, Germany and then France just to make the final, it’s a hard path but with a chance to make history it couldn’t really be any other way.
Turkey were one of the most disappointing teams in the Euros, I was amazed when they beat the Czechs, and for all the world it looked like they were destined to go through, something they didn’t really deserve. They have a good team and should really have done better but instead they were very underwhelming.
I was very disappointed with the Czech Republic; I thought they could have an outside chance of a sneaky little run in the tournament. They were doing fine and then inexplicably lost to Turkey in the last game, I’m not really sure what went wrong here, although it seems like a very similar situation to what happened to Romania.
I had Spain winning, Czechs second and the Croatians going through as a third place team, so another 0/3… Predictions are tough.
Italy took this group comfortably, winning it after two games. You can’t take their game against Ireland seriously; they put out a second team and looked totally disinterested. If you look at their first two games, you see what Italy can actually do. They stifle teams; they are disciplined and are willing to play the dirty side of the game. I had Italy making the semis and I haven’t seen anything so far which makes me think they couldn’t achieve that.
Having said that, they do play Spain in the next round which is incredibly tough, Italy do match up well against Spain, they will be able to stifle Spain’s attacking game and frustrate them, then hit them on the counter when they least expect it. A really tough game to call and is definitely the best tie of the last 16. Italy’s route to the final couldn’t be any harder, so if they are to win it, it will be quite the achievement.
Belgium have looked pretty lacklustre, they dominated a poor Irish side and struggled to put away a poorer Sweden. When you look at their squad it is hard to see why the team isn’t playing better, they have great players throughout, yet don’t really seem like a team. Apparently it is the manager’s fault, but something clearly isn’t right there. Belgium were very lucky as they ended up on the fantastic side of the draw, where to reach the semis they have to beat Hungary and (probably) Wales, I think anyone would take that at the start of the competition. Once they make the semis they will play a good side, however by that point everything will be up in the air, they have a great chance despite themselves.
I can’t believe that Ireland managed to make it to the last 16! I had them as the worst side in the competition when I wrote my preview and I struggled to see them winning more than a point and here they are in the last 16. They got super lucky with Sweden being very underwhelming and then Italy not caring what the result of their match was, couldn’t have got much better really. Ireland play France, they will lose to France but the fact they got out the group with this group of players in what was a very tough group is an achievement in itself.
Sweden were really poor, another one of those disappointing teams who just didn’t show up at all at these Euros. Not a single Swedish player scored in the Euros and they didn’t even have a shot on target in their first two games, that’s terrible.
I had Italy in first, Belgium in second and then Sweden going through as a third place team, and I never thought that Ireland had a chance but I’m happy to be wrong about that.
A really exciting group which I couldn’t have seen being won by Hungary, yet here we are. Fair play to Hungary who beat Austria in a big shock, only to play out the game of the tournament in a 3-3 thriller against Portugal. There are no star names in this Hungary team, so for them to have done what they have done is quite remarkable really. I don’t see them beating Belgium in the next round, however I also thought they would be nowhere in this group, so maybe they shall prove me wrong again.
Iceland, a country of just over three hundred thousand people, came second in a group in a European Championship… Truly incredible. They may have played incredibly defensive football, but who really cares, this is a country whose population is the size of a small city! I don’t really know what to say, it is quite remarkable that they were actually able to do this. I had them going through in third, however to go through in second and to have not lost a game yet despite playing Austria and Portugal is truly immense. They play England in the next round, which is a tough tie, however they match up well against England (who struggle to break teams down), they’ll have a slim chance but with their team spirit you just never know.
Portugal managed to get through with three draws and were super lucky that Iceland got a last minute goal against Austria, so that Portugal have now landed in the good half of the draw. Portugal are essentially the Ronaldo show, he’s basically dragged the team through kicking and screaming once again. Ronaldo hasn’t even been that great, yet without him they really would be nowhere. Portugal have a really good chance to win this now, they have a tough match against Croatia but after that their route to the final is very favourable, if they can get the team playing then they definitely they have a chance of winning it all.
I have always been of the opinion that this Euros would throw up an unexpected winner, I thought that team would be Austria… I even had them making the final… Couldn’t really have been anymore wrong. Austria were easily one of the worst and most disappointing teams in this Euros, yes they were unlucky against Iceland, however they were terrible in their other two games. The players just didn’t show up, utter disappointment.
I had Austria winning, Portugal second and Iceland in third, so disastrously wrong here… Who would make predictions?
So here’s how I think the quarters will line up:
Poland v Croatia
Wales v Belgium
Germany v Italy
France v England
The hardest games to predict are Croatia-Portugal and Italy-Spain which are both very close. If you’re looking for a big shock then I would look at Iceland beating a fairly poor England side, I would favour England but I don’t think it’s a given.
I’m going to go for a Belgium-France final, not that I think either team is doing well, however I think they will improve as the tournament progresses and will get better as the knockout stage gets into full swing, both also have good runs to the semis.
If it works out like this (or if Portugal or Spain go through) then I think you have some really tasty quarter final ties here. It should be really good to watch.
So what did you think of the Euro 2016 group stages? Are you cheering on the diddy teams? Are you hoping that England lose to Iceland? Or are you just glad you’ll get to see more handsome Giroud? Well leave a comment and share those thoughts!