Euro 2016 started with a bang in the first game of the tournament thanks to Dimitri Payet’s wonderful goal and concluded yesterday with Portugal and Iceland’s entertaining draw. Every team has shown what they are made of in the first game and what fans should expect further down the line as the group stage progresses.
Here are some of the highlights from the tournament so far:
GROUP A – France wasn’t great by any means on opening day and managed to secure a victory late thanks to Payet’s left-footed wonder strike. The hosts were better than Romania for majority of the game but my main takeaways from the game were that Romania is much better than I expected and France slightly worse. This may just be me but I can’t consider any nation a favorite when your main striker is Olivier Giroud. Yes, he scored the first goal for France but I just don’t trust him to carry France in the latter stages of the tournament. France is clearly going to be carried by the trio of Payet/Pogba/Griezmann and if those guys excel so will the host nation.
Second place will be hotly contested between Romania and Switzerland, with Albania looking like the team with no hope in the group. Based on the first game and the quality they displayed I would put Romania to finish above the Swiss, who barely saw off a 10-man Albania for 2/3 of the game – not impressive.
GROUP B – Wales sit atop the group after Matchday 1 thanks to their narrow victory over Slovakia (although Slovakia is beating Russia 2:0 in the second half as I’m writing this). England dominated the game against Russia only to allow a last-second equalizer in the 93rd minute and allow critics yet again to crush Roy Hodgson’s tactics. Hodgson started Lallana and Sterling on either side of Harry Kane and while Lallana was better than Sterling neither should warrant a start in the second game. Sterling, in fact, showed over and over again that he should be considered one of the worst transfers in modern football history – all pace and no skill or touch on the ball. Assuming Hodgson starts either Vardy or Sturridge (neither got a minute in the first game) instead of Sterling, England should be fine to progress.
Wales and Slovakia should fight it out for the second place, with the Welsh having much better chances considering they beat Slovakia already. In all honesty Wales will go as far as Gareth Bale takes them, no more and certainly no less.
GROUP C – Germany opened their account at the Euros with a hard earned victory over a good Ukraine side. The result (2:0 in favor of the world champions) was not indicative of the chances Ukraine had, especially in the first half, where they put “Die Manschaft” under major pressure and showed everyone else there are chinks in the armor. That being said, those chances went to waste and instead it was Germany who tightened the grip in the second half and capped it off with a late Schweinsteiger clincher.
In the other group game Poland squeezed through by a 1:0 scoreline over a gritty and offensively challenged Northern Ireland squad. It was a forgettable game for the Poles too, as they will need a performance to grab anything against Germany in the second game. Germany should get all 9 points here with Ukraine and Poland fighting it out for the second place.
GROUP D – Defending champions Spain looked anything but impressive in an uninspiring victory over a meek Czech Republic side, who at no point looked like troubling Spain. Gerard Pique’s late header gave Spain 3 points but overall they didn’t create enough chances to impress anyone. They will get out of the group stage based on quality within the team but if the performance doesn’t improve it’s not even guaranteed they will finish top of the group.
The other match in the group saw Croatia get the 3 points thanks to a sublime volley by their diminutive superstar Luka Modric.
The goal itself highlighted a Croatian performance that should have seen a couple other goals for sure against a Turkey side that had one of the worst performances thus far at the Euros. There is quality in this Turkey team but they showed none of it, as Croatia dominated the whole game. It seems almost certain now that Spain and Croatia should easily get through but crazier things have happened. Turkey can’t afford another loss in their next match against Spain and that in itself ought to produce a much better display from a side that made it to the semis four years ago.
GROUP E – Most dominant performance (in my opinion) of Matchday 1 came from a team not many expected anything out of – Italy. The Italians came into the tournament with a weaker squad and more questions about them than at any point over the last 20 years. The midfield is missing several players due to injuries and up front the likes of Graziano Pelle and Eder are expected to score the goals. With all due respect to those two, they are not in the same hemisphere with the legends of yesteryear like Del Piero, Vieri and Baggio. Italian strength is all about the defense that is made up of 4 Juve players: Buffon, Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini. Their quality was on full display in that impressive victory against the favored Belgians, as they shut down the likes of Lukaku, De Bruyne and Hazard without allowing many clear cut chances.
Speaking of Belgium, they were one of the dark horses coming into the tournament. A deserving 0:2 defeat to Italy will certainly ground the team and lower the expectations. They still have enough quality to get out of the group because the two other teams alongside them, Sweden and Ireland, showed very little in their entertaining draw. Italy and Belgium should have enough based on what we’ve seen to finish first and second in the group, respectively.
GROUP F – Talk about a group where nothing went as expected. Portugal drew with newcomers Iceland while a potential dark horse Austria lost 2:0 to Hungary. The group is now wide open and to be frank any of the four teams can advance based on their play in the first games. Ronaldo needs to focus more on scoring goals himself and a little less time about how Iceland celebrates their first goal at any major tournament.
In the meantime Austria needs to recover and recover quickly, as a huge matchup with Portugal looms on Saturday. Another loss there and Austria can forget about advancing to the round of 16, even as one of the top 4 third placed teams, hard to imagine three points should be enough.
Player of the tournament (thus far): Dimitri Payet (France)
Relatively unknown player making a name for himself: Raphael Guerreiro (Portugal)
Goal of the tournament: Luka Modric (Croatia)
Goalie of the tournament: Hannes Halldorsson (Iceland)