With the second round of group matches concluded, Eric Krakauer looks at best and worst on display.
Before Euro 2016 kicked-off, most pundits included Spain among the tournament favorites; yet, there was some doubt whether Vincente Del Bosque would be able to revive a team that left such a poor impression two years ago in Brazil. After easily dispatching Turkey on Friday, it’s safe to say that that doubt has been dispelled. The Spaniards are back to their tournament winning form, and seem to have addressed the scoring problem that proved the only real obstacle to a deep run. Alvaro Morata bagged two against Turkey and has asserted himself as Spain’s striker of the present and future, while at 29, Nolito is finally living up to the potential that he has been chasing since his youth days at Barcelona. Needless to say, Diego Costa is not missed. Spain has not lost a European Championship game since 2004, and it looks like that streak may continue past this year’s quadrennial.
Silver: Ricardo Carvalho
For many, Ricardo Carvalho’s inclusion in Portugal’s 23-man squad was a referendum on the lack of quality Portuguese center-backs. However, in two games, the 38 year old has not only been Portugal’s best player, but has also been among the tournament’s best defenders. Against Austria, Carvalho’s exceptional reading of the game and suffocating man-marking proved that speed is not always an essential attribute for defenders, unlike the ability to build from the back, which the Monaco stalwart does immaculately. If Portugal progresses onto the knockout stages, don’t be surprised if the oldest field player at Euro 2016 makes it into the team of the tourney.
Bronze: Roy Hodson
Roy Hodgson has taken his licks since becoming England manager. Most recently, the 68 year old has been cajoled for trying to shoehorn Wayne Rooney into a team that is rich with young talent, which has led to some questionable tactical decisions. Those decisions were dissected after the tie against Russia, and would probably have been under the microscope, once again, had England not come from behind to defeat Wales. Bringing on Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge at the start of the second half (as well as Marcus Rashford, later on) proved shrewd moves on Hodgson’s part, and showed that the Londoner is willing to tinker with his tactics. The substitutions may also foreshadow some adjustments to the lineup when England faces Slovakia.
Having remained undefeated during the qualification campaign, Austria entered Euro 2016 as one of the tournament dark horses. In fact, some suggested that it was Austria and not Portugal that was the team to beat in Group F; thus, a shocking opening loss to Hungary set-up a mouth-watering clash against Ronaldo and company. As it turned out, the Austrians never looked like they believed they could beat the Portuguese. Instead of taking the game to the Portugal, as one would expect from a team with its back to the wall, Austria resorted to sitting back and bypassing its midfield by thumping the ball forward. The strategy hardly troubled the Portuguese and limited Austria’s best player, David Alaba, to a mere 12 passes.
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