Euro 2016: Opening Matches Winners & Losers

 

Winners

Dimitri Payet

A man of the match display for France, rounded off with a wonder goal to win the game with time running out.  The tournament opener had threatened to end in frustration and possible French inquest before Payet’s swung his left boot and saved the day.  His emotional tears at the end showed just how much it meant to him, and to his nation.

France

Didn’t fully click in to gear but got the win the host nation craved.  Frustration may have been avoided but the weaknesses at the back, as well as a lack of cutting edge in spite of the talents on display, were there for all to see.  But the late, great winner for the hosts on opening day sets them, and the tournament, up for a great start.

Wales

Exuberance and enthusiasm on the pitch and in the stands led to a fabulous win for the Welsh.  It got even better that evening when England failed to beat Russia, leaving Wales on top of the group.  An impressive Euro debut for Wales.

Luka Modric

A virtuoso display from a fine player got the reward it deserved when Modric volleyed home a superb winner for Croatia against Turkey.

Antonio Conte

With Italy supposedly arriving with a squad a bit shorter on real start quality than is usually the case, in the magnificent win over Belgium Antonia Conte had managed to produce a team playing with an exciting vibrancy on the break and a steadfast, robust defence.  They stifled Belgium’s array of talents for long periods, aided by the cohesive and obdurate defensive unit lifted straight out of Juventus.  With arguably the sternest test in their group out of the way, Italy are now looking well placed for a good run in the tournament.

Manuel Neuer

When Ukraine decided to really test Germany, they created several very good chances and were a little unlucky not to force an equaliser.  That they didn’t was largely down to the skills of Neuer, who made some excellent saves to keep them out and provided the platform for victory.

Gerard Pique

After Spain had created numerous opportunities but failed to make that decisive blow, it was left to a defender to finally break the deadlock to take the points for Spain.  La Furia Roja will need to be a bit more clinical as the tournament progresses as the weakness up front has been an issue ever since David Villa left the set up, but for now Pique ensured the points went to Spain, and their glorious run of results in the European Championship continued.

Adam Szalai

Hungary’s striker had managed to get through the whole of last season without scoring for either Hannover or Hoffenheim – his two clubs in the season just gone.  For Hungary he hadn’t scored in 18 months.  But he picked his moment well to reward the faith of Bernd Storck, his national team manager.  He scored Hungary’s opener in the “Habsburg Derby” against Austria with a well taken finish after some delightful approach play.  It set his team up for what had initially seemed an unlikely victory.

Iceland

Ronaldo may have complained about their approach, but Iceland delighted the neutrals with a passionate and controlled performance to snatch a point from Portugal.  They rode their luck at times with Portugal wasting several good chances, but deservedly held out for a famous result in spite of the last gasp free-kick threat from you know who.  10% of the Icelandic population where in the stadium to witness it as well, as if to ram home the point that they are by far the smallest nation by population ever to reach the European finals.

 

Losers

Bogdan Stancu

He tucked away Romania’s penalty nicely, but the earlier golden chances he’d scuffed meant that Romania missed the opportunity to cause a real shock against the hosts.

Lorik Cana

He was almost rescued by a sterling effort from his teammates who came so close to snatching a point against Switzerland, but the recklessness of Cana’s two first half yellow cards left his team very much in the lurch.

Martin Skrtel

Amidst the disappointment of losing to Wales, Skrtel was lucky not to concede a penalty and a red card with an elbow that escaped punishment.  He was eventually booked late on after repeated fouls in what was not the best of days for Slovakia’s captain.

England’s Defence

Having got into a winning position in a match they should have been comfortably ahead in, to concede so late was a real killer for England.  That it came after a corner had been dealt with, only to fail to close down the rebound allowing the decisive cross to find its way into the England box, just added to the frustration.

Ciaran Clark

He was of course rather unfortunate, and was in a position where he had to try and deal with Ibrahimovic’s cross across the face of the Irish goal, but the particular frustration for Clark will be that his own goal was the only “shot” on target against Ireland, and it hadn’t even be struck by a Swede.

Belgium’s strikers

A lacklustre display from both Romelu Lukaku and his late replacement Divack Origi, meant that Belgium were unable to take any of the handful of chances they crafted against Italy on Monday night.  Against a defence as strong as the Azzurri’s, when the chances come along they need to be gobbled up.  Lukaku and Origi both had the chances to get Belgium back in a match they had been strongly favoured to win.  The chances were good ones.  The finishing wasn’t.

Belgium

A team of such talents bears the hallmark of a potential wasted opportunity for Belgium.  They may have some terrific players, but they are far from a terrific team.  That fact was exposed by a brilliant display from Italy who showed that a team needs to be greater than the sum of its parts.  For Marc Wilmots, the under pressure Belgian coach, the struggle has always been to find a way to get the most out of such a skilled set of players.  He appears no closer to doing so than in the World Cup two years ago.

Austria

Having almost taken the lead over Hungary in the first 30 seconds of the match when David Alaba hit a post, Austria gradually became increasingly lethargic and uninspired even before they were rather harshly reduced to 10 men.  They became increasingly ragged and failed to live up to their pre-tournament expectations against what had been widely regarded as one of the weakest teams in the tournament.  Having qualified in fine style, Austria are in danger of throwing it away in very quick order.

Cristiano Ronaldo

He showed only flashed of his talent and missed more than one golden opportunity to add to Portugal’s lead.  But worst of all it was rounded off in typical sore-loser style with complaints about Iceland’s lack of ambition and stifling game plan.  There had seemed to be a certain inevitability about the protracted stoppage time free-kicks Ronaldo was lining up.  After the first had hit a hand and the second was placed much nearer goal the feeling that Iceland’s resistance was about to broken at the very end was hard to resist.  But Ronaldo fluffed his lines again and hit the wall once more to seal Portugal’s disappointment.