After a bustling four-and-a-bit weeks in France, the European Championships are over and Portugal outlasted everyone to lift the Henri Delaunay Trophy. Full of tactical football, defensive football and the ever so fleeting flicker of genius, it has been a tournament that flattered to deceive and revealed that the gap to the top is not as wide as many perceived it to be.
Before it started, many had hoped that we would see an exciting young French team, which we saw in spurts, or the resurgence of the world champions but Germany were poor without Mario Gomez in the side, which is a statement within itself. Others thought Spain could roll back the years but they only managed it for one evening, or England to end the hurt but they instead decided to inflict more of it.
There have been a lot of criticism for the lack of high-level coaching in international football and that’s entirely justified. The difference between someone like Antonio Conte of Italy, who took a underwhelming side on paper and made them look like a powerhouse that could even switch formations at a whim without losing much, to Marc Wilmots of Belgium, who turned a superstar team into a disheveled bunch of Sunday footballers, was incredibly stark.
What also stood out was the difficulty of the bigger sides with prominent talents struggling to break down an organised defence. Germany, France, Spain, Belgium and England were all lacking ideas against teams that set up shop to stop them from scoring and the lack of ideas were startling at times, with some getting lucky and some bombarding the opponent until they finally allowed one to trickle home.
That’s also being a little unkind to some of the smaller nations in Europe that showed exactly why they qualified and that they can go with the best of them. Iceland were so well drilled, Wales’ counter-attacks were often so efficient, Hungary were not afraid to have a go at anyone, they all showed off that they have much more than people gave them credit for.
Attacking prowess was really at an all-time low in this tournament, with even star number nines struggling to have a big impact. A lot of teams leading up to the tournament looked short of strikers but even the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Harry Kane, who have had fantastic seasons at club level, failed to make a huge impact.
In fact, only four strikers made the top 10 goalscorers list, which would include Antoine Griezmann, Alvaro Morata, Olivier Giroud and Mario Gomez. Others like Nani, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale were used as forwards but aren’t natural central players that we have seen in years gone by.
Instead, it was defences that reigned supreme and some of the real standouts of the tournament were centre backs. Leonardo Bonucci was sensational as both a custodian at the back as well as a creative force, Jerome Boateng showed how much he’s grown in the past year as a frighteningly athletic defender and Pepe reminded everyone that even though he picks up the bad reputation as a diver, he is also a world class centre back.
Overall, it was entertaining and had its moments but Euro 2016 never really burst into life the way many hoped it would. There were some standout games and some heroically memorable performances but it never quite pushed itself over the average barrier it set itself from the off.
Shamefully, this tournament will also be marred by fan unrest at the start of the tournament and the scenes we saw at the end of the England and Russia game in Marseille. On the other side of the coin, many won’t forget the scenes of both Republic of Ireland fans and Northern Ireland fans gave, especially the latter rocking stadiums about a striker that never saw a minute of play.
It will be remembered for a long time though, reminding everyone again what you can achieve in football. Even with a lower standard of player to choose from, even against some of the best in the world and even when your star man is out for the count, you can still pull something a little special out of the bag.