Thursday,23 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1303, (14 - 20 July 2016)
Thursday,23 November, 2017
Issue 1303, (14 - 20 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Not the best of Euros

Portugal are the new European football champions but the final, like the tournament, was uninspiring, Alaa Abdel-Ghani reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

They won one game out of seven in 90 minutes and they’re the champions.

Portugal shocked hosts France in the Euro 2016 final on Sunday to win their first major tournament thanks to substitute Eder’s superb extra-time strike.

Portugal couldn’t do it with the golden generation of Luis Figo and Rui Costa. And they didn’t do it with Cristiano Ronaldo, at least not in the final after he limped off in the 25th minute.

But even without the magnificent CR7 — who can now lay claim to a major international trophy that his giant rival Lionel Messi cannot match — Portugal defended well, their goalkeeper Rui Patricio had a great game and they scored an excellent goal.

Portugal were not the best on the eye but they are taking the trophy home, an amazing story for a team who weren’t fancied before or during the tournament. It was France which started as favourites but ended the month-long tournament as bridesmaid. France wanted to add to their two European championships and you would think on paper it was one of the easier finals they could get but they weren’t able to finish it off.

To lose a final is one thing. To lose it as favourites is another. But to lose it as the host nation has to be the biggest blow. Too bad for the French who needed a boost after those horrific terrorist attacks of last year, especially the assault which killed 130 people in November.

But on Sunday, France lost to the better team which really wasn’t the best team. But who was? This was quite a boring European championship. The standard of football, the excitement level and the number of great games certainly did not match those we have seen in previous tournaments.

It was pretty dull a lot of the time with much of the excitement coming from the smaller teams. The quality was poor. Teams came to France not to get beaten.

UEFA took a gamble extending the competition from 16 countries to 24 but it did not pay off.  The many uninspiring games were due to the increase. It diluted the competition, much like what happened when the World Cup increased from 24 to 32 countries. What do you expect when every Tom, Dick and Harry qualifies?

The new system in Euro 2016 allowed a lot of third-placed teams to go through, and not all of them were that good. Teams came into the competition in cautious mood, knowing that if they didn’t make any dreadful mistakes and picked up a few ties, they could go to the second round. Portugal, for example, got through with three draws, finished third in their group, and ended up winning the whole show. So, whereas teams like Albania added colour to Euro 2016, the competition worked far better with 16 teams.

UEFA also produced a system which bunched together too many of the big hitters in the knockout stages. In one half of the draw was Wales, Belgium and Portugal but the other had Germany, France, Italy, England and Spain. It became Davids and Goliaths, very unbalanced.

The tournament would have been better if they had been spread around more evenly. We might have ended up with a better quality of game.

In a tournament of few truly memorable matches, England’s defeat by Iceland was without doubt the standout game of the tournament. If England could have picked any team in the last 16, they would have wanted to face Iceland. But England just fell apart. They were humiliated and the debacle was such a shock, it will long live in memory. Once again, England came into a major tournament with too much hype attached to it, the result of a very exciting Premier League that the national team has yet to match.

Iceland, though, recorded the greatest single result in their history with their shock 2-1 victory over England to secure a place in the quarter finals. This is a country with just over 300,000 people and no football history to talk about. It just goes to show what you can do when you build properly from scratch, coupled with spirit and resolve.

Iceland also produced Gudmundur Benediktsson who may not mean a lot to you. But his voice certainly will. Benediktsson is the Icelandic commentator who became everyone’s favourite TV personality when they saw/heard his hysterical reaction to his nation’s last minute winner over Austria. Benediktsson’s high-pitched crescendo reached new levels of shrill against England.

Other nations underachieved, including the two-time defending champion Spain whose era is definitely over.  And Germany were not the Germany of old; they even missed some penalties.

In so many games, the best was left for last. There were 20 goals scored in the 85th minute or later, compared to just eight in Poland and Ukraine four years ago.

The Golden Boot went to Antoine Griezmann who scored both goals against Germany to take his tally for the tournament to six - twice as many goals as anyone else and the second highest tally for one player at a single European Championship, bested only by Michel Platini with nine at Euro 1984.

While the games were so-so, some of the goals were so unbelievable. There were pile drivers by Zoltan Gera, Marek Hansik, Gareth Bale, Eder, Eric Dier, Radja Nainggolan (twice) and Luca Modric.  Xeherdan Shaqiri provided a flying scissor-kick and Ronaldo a bullet header. Again, Ronaldo and Nikola Kalinic scored with their heels and Hal Robson-Kanu delighted with a Cruyff-like turn.

In the build-up to the tournament, there were huge security concerns following the terrorist attacks of last year. The job of policing 10 stadiums in 10 cities made security a nervy enterprise. That the final was played at the Stade de France which was one of the targets last year during France’s friendly against Germany, must have brought back awful memories of that night, but showed that the French would not be cowed into submission by terrorism.

The tournament got off with a bang – riots, that is. The football was threatened to be overshadowed by ugly scenes of violence as Russian and English fans clashed in Marseille and other cities immediately before and after the tournament began, resulting in a number of supporters seriously injured. Things got so bad that UEFA warned the English and Russian federations that their teams could be disqualified from Euro 2016 if there was further violence by their supporters.

Towards the start of the tournament there were strikes in France and protests in Paris over a labour reform bill. At least 75,000 demonstrators, some violent, convened in the capital which resulted in almost 60 arrests and 29 police officers among 40 people injured. Not the most encouraging of starts to the tournament but the fracas died down just in the nick of time.

The atmosphere in the stadiums was the opposite. Every game, near sell-outs, was vibrant in the stands, the way football should be.

On the whole, the sportsmanship throughout was excellent. There was very little confrontation, the game was largely played in the right spirit — only three sendings-off in 50 matches — and the refereeing was also very good.

But Euro 2016 on the whole has not been the best. The football was too cautious and the structure unwieldy. It was a tame affair which lacked spark. It’s telling that even though this was the sixth Euros final to go to extra time it was the first to end goalless after 90 minutes.

The final promised so much and had its moments, especially when each side hit the woodwork; France at the end of normal time and Portugal after 108 minutes.

 But it was not a great game. It lived up to how the tournament went: unspectacular and of modest entertainment.

You’d be tempted to say that the final was what the tournament deserved.

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