With the first round of group matches concluded, Eric Krakauer looks at best and worst of Euro 2016, so far.
Much has been said about the dearth of talent stymieing the current crop of Italian players. When Antonio Conte announced his tournament squad, the overall consensus from fans and the soccer punditry, alike, was that Italy would probably crash-out of the tournament early. However, a terrific tactical display against heavily favored Belgium most likely changed some minds. What the Italians lack in talent, they more than make up in discipline and hard work, and in their first game they evidenced the sort of organization not often seen in national team set-ups. Of course, what worked against Belgium won’t necessarily work against Sweden and Ireland. The Italians were able to capitalize on the counter because the onus was on the Belgians to attack. Ireland and Sweden need points but will not leave as much room at the back for the Italians to exploit. Still, with three points locked up, Conte and his men will be happy just grinding out a couple of ties.
Silver: Dimitri Payet
Going into the tournament, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann were the two players that everyone expected to carry France all the way to the title. That may very well still be the case, but all eyes are now also on Dimitri Payet. Already a standout player with Marseille, Payet announced himself to most soccer fans with his stellar performances for West Ham, this season. Payet’s rich vein of form continued against a plucky Romanian side, which, for the most part, rendered Pogba and Griezmann relatively ineffective. Mostly relegated to the wings, but responsible for virtually everything that France did well offensively, Payet capped an excellent showing with an even better late winner, which saved the hosts some blushes.
Perhaps only Northern Ireland entered Euro 2016 with lower expectations than Hungary. Mostly comprised of unknowns and complimented by the oldest player in the tournament (goalkeeper, Gabor Kiraly is 40), Hungary only made it to the European Championships on the back of a very fortunate humdrum playoff win against Norway. Thus, a two-nil win over Austria, a tournament dark horse, was not only unexpected, but arguably the shocker of the tournament, so far. Now, the Hungarians are in very good shape to progress to the knockout stages, while Austria faces an uphill battle, with a wounded Portugal and a confident Iceland ahead.
Tin: Cristiano Ronaldo
Even Cristiano Ronaldo’s most ardent acolytes will have trouble defending the Portuguese captain after his latest bout of nauseating petulance. Reacting to the effusive manner with which the Icelandic players celebrated their surprising tie against Portugal, Ronaldo accused the islanders of having a “small mentality,” before adding that they were “not going to do anything in the competition.” The comments mark a new low for a man whose career has often been blighted by his penchant for unsavory remarks. Understandably, Ronaldo is paying for being such a sore loser, having elicited contempt from everyone not associated with his national team. The episode also followed a relatively poor performance from the captain, who appeared more concerned with personal glory than the benefit of his team, given his shoot first, pass later approach to the game.
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