Biggest Euros lack class but has drama, upsets - and fans make up

"We know we are not the best team in the world but we are not a pushover either," Portugal coach Fernando Santos said in the run-up to Sunday's Euro 2016 final against hosts France.

The assessment pretty well summed up the biggest ever continental tournament which started a month ago with a record 24 teams.

With very few exceptions the 50 matches before the final lacked true class. Only the few upsets, some late goals and some occasional flashes of individual brilliance got the fans roaring.

France's Antoine Griezmann stood out as tournament top scorer with six goals before the final, Portugal's superstar Cristiano Ronaldo had an up-and-down tournament but scored when it mattered while his Real Madrid team-mate Gareth Bale played a leading role in getting Wales into the semis in their debut performance.

Wales and tiny quarter-finalists Iceland were the surprise packages who like many others preached that the collective is more important than the individual.

"Team spirit and togetherness," as Wales manager Chris Coleman put it, seemed like the most used word, and the stars themselves did not tire to point out that they were nothing without their team-mates.

Team spirit was not the only cliche commonly used. The other one was the old saying that attack wins matches while defence wins titles.

A low goal average of 2.17 per cent before the final - or 107 in total - showed that not only newcomers like Albania had a safety-first approach first and foremost.

But Albania were also the only novice to bow out while Slovakia and Northern Ireland at least made the last 16.

There Iceland caused the upset of tournament, beating a red-faced England 2-1 - with a TV audience of 99.8 per cent watching in Iceland and UEFA saying that only 298 Icelanders, from an overall population of 330,000 of which some 10,000 came to France, were watching a different programme.

Roy Hodgson meanwhile stepped down as manager shortly after the final whistle as England's hopes once again vanished early.

So did Belgium's as the former top ranked team brimming with talent was humbled 3-1 by Wales as Bale and company acted true to Coleman's motto, "Don't be afraid to have dreams."

England made headlines over the unruly behaviour of their fans in the streets of Marseille in the run-up to the first game with Russia. But there was also a group of some 150 well-trained Russians who came to Marseille for trouble only, and an attack on England fans in the stadium earned Russia a suspended disqualifcation from the tournament.

That raised concerns about the safety for foreign visitors at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. By then the host team will need a dramatic improvement after going home winless after the group stage.

Also on the plane home early were Sweden and the Czech Republic whose top players Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Petr Cech quit their international career.

Two-time reigning champions Spain didn't last much longer, outclassed 2-0 by Italy in what could be the end of the glorious tiki taka era. Italy then lost for the first time ever against Germany at a major event, in 18 penalties, but the world champions themselves had only a few days to be happy before being beaten themselves for the first time in 58 years by France, in the semis.

The hosts rode their luck early though, beating Romania 2-1 in the 89th minute and Albania 2-0 in the 90th and injury time but rebounded by drubbing Iceland 5-2 and then beating Germany despite being outplayed for most of the game.

Portugal were unconvincing as well, drawing all three group games to scrape through as one of the third-placed teams, then needing extra time to oust fancied Croatia (whose fans fought among themselves earlier in another event of fan violence) and penalties to stop Poland.

The often dour matches raised questions about the 24-team format, but given UEFA's record revenue of 1.93 billion euros (up 34 per cent from 2012) there will be no way back, with UEFA vice-president Angel Maria Villar Llona naming the new teams "a breath of fresh air."

The tournament largely saved face through France's run into the final which lifted the home nation some eight months after the terror attacks in Paris, with Griezmann insisting "It's our duty to win matches for the French public."

The often great atmosphere - created by visiting teams' fans, most notably Iceland with their famous "huh" chant, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Wales - also contributed.

"Through France – through this tournament – Europe has demonstrated its will to overcome and its love of life," Villar Llona said.

Last update: Sat, 09/07/2016 - 12:23
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