Following a tournament which had moments of sheer brilliance, sheer disappointment and sheer madness, it was 2004 finalists Portugal who were crowned European Champions for the first time with Eder’s long-range effort enough to beat hosts France in the final. Portugal’s shock triumph as well as the successes of minnows Wales and Iceland were just a couple of the major surprises at this year’s Euros. I look back over the tournament and provide my Euro 2016 Awards…
Award 1 – Match of the Tournament:
3rd: France 5-2 Iceland
After beating England in the Round of 16, Iceland faced the hosts in what proved to be a step too far for the country with a population the same as Leicester. It took Olivier Giroud 12 minutes to open the scoring, getting in behind the Icelandic defence before finishing well past Hannes Halldórsson. Paul Pogma made it 2-0 soon after, heading in to score his first France goal since October 2014. Dimitri Payet made it 3-0 and Antoine Griezmann 4-0 before half-time, the Atleti forward with a quality chipped finish. Kolbeinn Sigthorsson pulled one back for Iceland before Giroud headed in to make it 5-1, with Birkir Bjarnason scoring a second for Iceland late on.
2nd: Hungary 3-3 Portugal
The best game of a somewhat dull group stages was this thrilling encounter in Group F. Portugal were desperate for a win having drawn against Iceland and Austria in their two opening games, whilst Hungary wanted to confirm top spot in the group after registering a victory over Austria and a draw against Iceland. Zoltan Gera scored a rasping left-footed half-volley, before Cristiano Ronaldo slipped in Nani to equalise. After the break, Balazs Dzsudzsak’s deflected free-kick beat Rui Patricio to restore Hungary’s lead but Ronaldo equalised with an equisite heel-flick. Dzsudzsak then scored a second, another deflected strike, before Ronaldo equalised yet again with a quality header to complete the scoring in this end-to-end epic.
1st: Wales 3-1 Belgium
This famous victory was the greatest in Wales’ history as they beat the Red Devils in the match of the tournament to go through to a first major semi-final. Radja Nainggolan gave Belgium the lead with a blistering strike after 13 minutes but then it was all about the Red Dragons. Aaron Ramsey, who played brilliantly throughout the tournament, saw his corner headed home emphatically by skipper Ashley Williams on the half-hour mark to level it up. In the second half, Ramsey then squared the ball to Hal Robson-Kanu, whose mesmerising Cryuff-turn eluded three Belgium defenders as he slotted past Thibaut Courtois to give the Welsh the lead. Despite Belgium having some chances, most notably for the Premier League’s Marouanne Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku, Wales sealed victory when Chris Gunter’s right-wing cross was deftly glanced into the far corner by Sam Vokes with just five minutes to play, cue wild celebrations among the Welsh fans.
Award 2 – Player of the Tournament:
3rd: Dimitri Payet (France)
The West Ham wizard was in blistering form during the group stages. It was his rasping strike in the final minute which won the tournament opener for France against Romania, a game in which the 29-year-old ran the show and was named man of the match. Payet then sealed the hosts’ second game against Albania with another tidy finish deep into injury time. Against Switzerland, he then was inches from scoring the goal of the tournament after connecting sweetly with Moussa Sissoko’s cross, only to see his effort crash off the underside of the bar and away. The Hammer continued to impress in the knockout phases, with his lovely finish against Iceland effectively the winner in the 5-2 victory.
2nd: Gareth Bale (Wales)
It didn’t take the Real Madrid star long to announce himself at his country’s first major tournament for 58 years as he whipped in a freekick against Slovakia after just 10 minutes. Bale continued to be Wales’ predominant threat as many expected him to be as he scored a second freekick of the tournament, a joint-record across all European Championships from any player, against England, thanks largely to the poor goalkeeping by Joe Hart. The Welsh winger then bagged his third goal of the tournament with a slotted finish against Russia. In the knockout stages, Bale maintained his fine form, delivering a deadly cross which Gareth McAuley turned into his own net. Although he did not score or assist in either the quarter-final or semi-final, he still posed a serious threat, especially to the Portuguese defence, and was the most likely to make a breakthrough. A fantastic first international tournament for Bale.
1st: Antoine Griezmann (France)
There was a sense of expectation on the Atletico Madrid forward going into the tournament as one of the hosts’ star players, alongside Paul Pogba. But the pair struggled in the opening game and were subsequently dropped for France’s second game against Albania. Manager Didier Deschamps brought Griezmann on, though, and it proved to be an inspired decision as the 25-year-old scored a cool header in the 90th minute to win the game. It was in the knockout stages that Griezmann really announced himself on the scene with two goals in quick succession enough for France to advance against the Republic of Ireland. Griezmann then scored a wonderful goal against Iceland, dinking the goalkeeper marvellously, and went on to score both goals in the semi-final victory over Germany. Unfortunately for former Real Sociedad player, he was unable to replicate these performances in a poor final and therefore ends the season having lost in both the European Championships and Champions League finals.
Award 3 – Young Player of the Tournament:
3rd: Joshua Kimmich (Germany)
The versatile Bayern Munich player had a fantastic tournament at right-back for the world champions. Replacing the experienced Benedict Howedes for the Northern Ireland game, the 21-year-old played four games in this tournament. He looked comfortable on the ball, as one would expect from a Bayern Munich and Germany player, providing both an attacking threat and defensive cover. At just 21, he looked incredibly composed and may be Germany’s long-term replacement to the legendary Philipp Lahm.
2nd: Kingsley Coman (France)
Although he did not play a hugely prominent part in France’s run to the final, this exciting young winger provided plenty of moments of flair and optimism for the hosts. The 20-year-old, who has already nine domestic titles under his belt, was often used as an impact substitute by Deschamps, with his pace, dribbling and trickery causing problems for opposing defenders. Coman also recorded the fastest speed of any player in the tournament, with a speed of 32.8km/h clocked. The Juventus man certainly has a very bright future ahead of him.
1st: Renato Sanchez (Portugal)
The Young Player of the Tournament, though, was the Portugal midfielder, who played a pivotal role in his nation’s triumph. The 18-year-old wonderkid was the subject of a €35m move to Bayern Munich before the tournament started, with potential add-ons taking the deal up to €80m. With such a price tag comes a certain level of expectation, but Sanchez delivered. As a player able to play across the midfield, Sanchez provided Portugal’s attack with plenty to work with and broke many records. Some of those records include the youngest European Championship scorer in the knockout stages and the youngest Portuguese player at a major tournament, breaking Cristiano Ronaldo’s 12 year record. Sanchez was awarded man of the match against Croatia in the Round of 16 and again against Poland in the quarter-finals, in which he scored Portugal’s goal and converted his penalty in the shootout. Bayern Munich may have got a bargain at the price they paid for this exceptionally talented young player.
Award 4 – Fans of the Tournament:
Having waited 58 years to see their country at a major international football tournament, it was no surprise that Wales followed en mass to support the Red Dragons. Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau was blasted out on many occasions by the Welsh supporters, most prominently at the end of the quarter-final victory over Belgium. Phenomenal.
2nd: Northern Ireland
Like Wales, Northern Ireland had not competed at a major tournament for many years, with their last successful qualification for Mexico ’86. 30 years on and how the Northern Irish fans made themselves heard! They received incredibly positive press, alongside their southern neighbours, and by all accounts were a joy to have at the tournament. They will, though, be most remembered for the song about their unused Wigan striker, Will Grigg’s On Fire!
The best fans at Euro 2016 were without doubt the Icelandic. With their country, with a population similar to that of Leicester (around 300,000), around 10% of the country travelled to France to support their team. 99.8% of the country’s TV audience tuned in to watch the famous victory over England, whilst the rest of the channels accumulated 298 viewers between them! Inside the stadia, meanwhile, the Viking Clap generated huge media coverage as the players and fans joined in unison for a spine-tingling battle cry!
Award 5 – Flop of the Tournament:
3rd: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
The self-proclaimed ‘God’ of football had the expectations of a nation on his shoulders as Sweden faced a daunting group which included Belgium, Italy and the Republic of Ireland. Despite forcing Ciaran Clark to put into his own net in the Group E opener, that was as good as it got for Zlatan, who failed to score in the tournament as his Sweden side crashed out picking up just one point in a poor campaign.
2nd: Thomas Muller
The Bayern Munich forward went into the tournament looking to put to bed a poor European Championship record but came out the other end with a dreadful record, with the 26-year-old failing to score in France. This means his record now stands at 0 goals in 11 matches! The 2010 World Cup Golden Boot winner, who has a remarkably impressive 10 goals in 13 World Cup appearances, had the chance to score in the quarter-final shootout with Italy, but saw his weak penalty saved by Gianluigi Buffon.
Roy Hodgson’s men entered the tournament with a perfect qualifying record of 10 wins from 10 games. They had beaten three of the eventual semi-finalists in the seven months prior to the tournament and were victorious over the other semi-finalists, Wales, in the group stages. Despite dominating possession in all of their games, they lacked creativity and venom as they conceded a late equaliser to Russia in the opening game. Against Wales, Joe Hart was at fault as he allowed Gareth Bale’s speculative freekick to squirm in before substitutes Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge rescued the Three Lions. Slovakia could not be broken down and it meant that England progressed in second place. Many thought that drawing Iceland in the Round of 16 was a lucky break for England, especially when captain Wayne Rooney tucked away a third-minute penalty. But Iceland came back, through a combination of terrible defending from Aron Gunnarsson’s long throw-in (with Rooney marking big defender Kari Arnason) and even worse goalkeeping from Joe Hart, once again. And Harry Kane’s set pieces… well, let’s not even go there!
Award 6 – Surprise of the Tournament:
Many people, myself included, were simply delighted for Iceland to have reached their first major tournament. Then when they gained a point from behind in their opening game against Portugal, much to Cristiano Ronaldo’s annoyance, they gained a lot of support as many people’s ‘second team.’ However, the surprise of Iceland’s draw with Portugal was soon laid to rest as they earned a draw against Hungary before snatching a dramatic late winner against Austria to send the minnows through to the knockout phases. Despite a nightmare start, Iceland defied the odds and beat England in the biggest match in their history. Although they were humbled by France in the quarter-final, I don’t think many expected Iceland to reach the knockout stages, let alone reach the quarter-finals.
In their first major tournament since a young Pele burst onto the scene in 1958, Wales recorded their best ever performance as they surprisingly reached the semi-finals. Many tipped the Red Dragons to advance beyond the group stages, with Group B being completed by England, Russia and Slovakia, probably finishing second in the group behind England, or as one of the best third-placed finishers. Wales opened their campaign with a hard-fought victory over Slovakia but were cruelly defeated by England as Daniel Sturridge struck late. However, they bounced back admirably as they breezed past Russia 3-0, progressing as group winners. Facing Northern Ireland in the Round of 16, Wales went through after a poor performance as Gareth McAuley turned Bale’s cross into his own net. In the quarters, the fairy-tale continued as Wales played unbelievably well to sweep aside Belgium. Despite falling behind, Wales came back strongly and won 3-1, sending them sailing through to the semi-finals, where a disappointing display meant their tournament was over, losing 2-0 to champions Portugal.
Portugal were a major surprise package for two reasons. Despite drawing what was a relatively straightforward group on paper, Portugal failed to register a single victory in the group stages. They opened with a 1-1 draw against Iceland, then drew 0-0 with Austria (Ronaldo’s penalty costing victory) and finished the group with an enthralling 3-3 draw against Hungary. The three draws were just enough to send Portugal through to the knockout phases as one of the best third-placed teams. Portugal continued to remain uninspiring, though, as a late, late Quaresma goal in extra time was enough to see off Croatia in the Round of 16 and penalties were needed to get past Poland. In the semi-final against Wales, Portugal won their only match within 90 minutes, with Cristiano Ronaldo inspiring a 2-0 victory. In the final, with the hosts France the clear favourites, Portugal’s chances were dealt a massive blow with captain Ronaldo forced off injured after 25 minutes. However, Eder’s goal in extra time proved to be the difference and the team who could only muster three draws in a group with Iceland, Hungary and Austria were crowned European champions for the first time, despite odds of 18-1 before the tournament started.
Award 7 – Goal of the Tournament:
3rd: Antoine Griezmann vs Iceland
This brilliant goal in the drubbing of Iceland put the result of the quarter-final beyond any doubt as it put the hosts four up before the interval. It had both elements of an elegant team move as well as a smart finish. Following a fluid, fourteen-pass move, Olivier Giroud’s deft touch set Griezmann through on goal, one-on-one with Hannes Halldórsson. The Atletico Madrid forward then delightfully chipped the ball over the goalkeeper and into the back of the net. The goal simply oozed class.
2nd: Xherdan Shaqiri vs Poland
It was incredibly difficult picking between the top two goals of the tournament. Unfortunately for Shaqiri, he has just come up short! This was probably the single most brilliant piece of skill in the tournament, with the Swiss winger producing the goods with eight minutes to go of his side’s Round of 16 match against Poland. After captain Stephan Lichsteiner’s cross was not properly cleared, the ball fell to Shaqiri just outside the 18-yard-box. The Stoke player then launched himself in the air and released a phenomenal overhead kick which nestled into the bottom corner. Incredible technique and a truly sublime goal.
1st: Hal Robson-Kanu vs Belgium
However, the goal of the tournament was scored by unattached Wales forward Hal Robson-Kanu. The goal was not only a truly remarkable piece of play by the Welshman but also had huge significance for his country, with it being the winner which sent Wales through to the semi-finals. After Aaron Ramsey was released down the right channel by Gareth Bale, his cross found Robson-Kanu in the penalty box. With his back to goal, the 27-year-old produced an exquisite Cryuff-turn to bamboozle three Belgian defenders, presenting himself with a glorious opportunity. Faced one-on-one with Thibaut Courtois, Robson-Kanu remained unfazed and finished coolly to put his side in front. An historic goal for more reasons than one.
Award 8 – Worst Moment of the Tournament:
3rd: Ronaldo’s Injury in Final
There is no doubt that Cristiano Ronaldo is one egotistical man indeed, but there is no doubting his ability as a footballer. And hence when he was injured by Dimitri Payet’s strong tackle and was visibly distraught as he sat on the pitch, there was a feeling of sheer sympathy for the Real Madrid forward. However, one football fan was delighted that Ronaldo was so upset because his bet that Ronaldo would be seen crying live on TV came in after just 20 minutes!
2nd: England & Russia Fans in Marseille
Even before the big kick-off between France and Romania, the tournament was at threat of being marred by off-field incidents. Most notably, the trouble between English and Russian fans in Marseille in the build-up to their Group B game created the most headlines. Although many English fans were impeccably behaved and enjoyed their visit to France, unfortunately some England fans and lots of Russia fans seemed determined to cause as much trouble and chaos as possible.
1st: Croatia Fans vs Czech Republic
The worst moment of the tournament, though, was the scenes which unfolded towards the end of the Group D encounter. Despite still leading against the Czechs when Croatia conceded with 15 minutes left, Croatian fans stirred trouble and, with around five minutes left, threw flares and fireworks onto the pitch. English referee Mark Clattenburg handled the situation remarkably well as he stopped play as the events played out, with one steward appearing to be hit by an exploding firework. Things got worse for Croatia as Clattenburg awarded a last-minute penalty to Czech Republic, who duly equalised.
Award 9 – Best Off-Field Moment of the Tournament:
3rd: Paris Fan Zone vs Germany
With tens of thousands of fans crammed into the Paris Fan Zone at the Eiffel Tower, it was no surprise that the place erupted when Antoine Griezmann’s two goals went in. The relief released when the penalty was converted as well as the jubilation displayed when he poked his second past Manuel Neuer was unrivalled throughout the tournament and epitomised the national unity behind their team, especially after the events that have unfolded in the country over the past year.
2nd: Conte vs Spain
The dynamic Italian coach was on top form in the Round of 16 match against Spain, with his touchline antics both entertaining and slightly bizarre at times. Antonio Conte’s crazy behaviours reached their climax when a misplaced pass by one of his players came to him on the sideline. Through his frustration at gifting away possession, Conte instinctively booted the ball down the line, much to the anger of the Spanish side, but to the great entertainment of spectators. When Grazianno Pelle sealed victory with a late second goal, Conte could not contain his excitement as he celebrated by jumping upon and climbing the dugout. Chelsea fans have a lot to look forward to this season…
1st: Ronaldo vs France
The single best off-field moment of the tournament, though, came as a result of one of the worst moments. With arguably the world’s greatest player being forced off injured so early on in the final, many thought that any slim chance of Portugal being crowned champions of Europe was totally nullified. However, the injury seemed to inspire his team-mates on to win for their captain, who was urging, encouraging, leading and organising his team from the sidelines alongside manager Fernando Santos. It was as if Ronaldo knew he could still have a major influence on the outcome of the match and was determined to help push his beloved Portugal over the line and surprise the hosts. Was this a sign of things to come once Cristiano hangs up his boots?
Award 10 – Most Bizarre Moment of the Tournament:
3rd: Moth Invasion
With the stage set for the conclusion of a memorable, if not totally pulsating, tournament, the build-up to the grand final between France and Portugal was somewhat overshadowed in an incredibly unexpected way. As the kick-off approached closer and closer, the stadium became filled with moths, moths and more moths! The peculiar invasion reached a climax during the game itself, when one landed on the face of a tearful Cristiano Ronaldo, who was sat down injured, leading to the inevitable creation of many Twitter accounts for the famous insect!
2nd: Zaza Penalty
After a 1-1 draw after normal time between Germany and Italy, with Mesut Ozil opening the scoring for the Germans before Leonardo Bonucci scored his first career penalty 12 minutes from time, and a goalless additional 30 minutes of extra time, a penalty shoot-out was required to determine the winner of this quarter-final encounter. Both sides scored their opening penalties with Lorenzo Insigne and Toni Kroos finding the net but then up stepped Simone Zaza. The Italian striker was brought on with just moments to go simply for his penalties but this substitution from Antonio Conte severely backfired when Zaza performed the most outrageous, dancing, ridiculous run-up before lashing a wild left-footed shot high over the crossbar. It proved costly as Italy went on to lose 6-5 on penalties.
1st: France vs Switzerland
The final award of the Euro 2016 awards goes to the Group A match between Switzerland and the hosts France. The actual game of football was rather dull and uninspiring, with France knowing they would top the group and Switzerland knowing a draw would see them progress through to the knockout phases too. However, the match did have its fair share of drama and quirky instances. The problems started in the days up to the match, with the pitch being re-laid but unable to be trained on and became farcical during the game itself as five Swiss shirts had to be replaced due to being ripped (new Arsenal signing Granit Xhaka ended the game in his third shirt!) and the game also needed stopping in order to replace the ball, which popped following a challenge with Valon Behrami stepping on the ball and popping it!