Euro 2016 seems to be getting something of a bad rap right now. True, it hasn’t all been total football and non-stop flair, but there’s been more than enough in the way of drama, skill and inspiring stories to make this tournament a genuinely great one. Here are five of our favourite things about France’s summer spectacle.
The rebirth of Nani
We saw glimpses of Nani’s terrific technical ability during his seven seasons in the Manchester United side and more recently at Sporting Lisbon and Fenerbahce, but there’s no doubting that inconsistency has prevented the hugely talented winger from reaching his full potential at club level – at least so far.
This summer, though, the 29-year-old appeared to leave his faults at the door, producing a string of superb displays for Portugal, with inch-perfect passes, tricky footwork and three excellent finishes which helped A Selecao reach the knockouts, and overcome a difficult Wales side.
— STV Sport (@STVSport) July 6, 2016
Having just penned a deal with Spanish side Valencia, anyone who watched the winger this summer would struggle to say he didn’t deserve a crack at La Liga, or indeed, his first taste of silverware for the Portuguese national side.
The most memorable penalty shoot-out
Seeing Germany win on penalties is not new. In fact, the last time they lost a shoot-out at a major tournament, the UK had just won Eurovision thanks to the cheesy sounds of Brotherhood of Man and Kevin Keegan was polishing his brand new Football Writers’ Footballer of the Year award. In short, it was 1976.
However, this one was rather different. Joachim Low’s men fluffed their lines three times in the first five penalties, only for Italy to do the same, with Simone Zaza’s oddly hypnotic run-up and dismal spot-kick the most memorable of the misses.
It wasn’t quite as fun once both sides got their act together, but Germany edged it via the dramatic medium of sudden-death as Manuel Neuer got a firm glove to Matteo Darmian’s effort, while Jonas Hector did the business for Die Mannschaft. Reports that Joachim Low went home for a celebratory scratch-and-sniff remain unconfirmed.
Hungary v Portugal
Despite the common view that Fernando Santos’ men were efficient, not exciting, they were involved in the most exciting fixture of the tournament, as Portugal came from behind three times to sneak a vital point against Hungary and book their place in the last 16.
Zoltan Gera’s blast-from-the-past thunderbolt opened the scoring, before Nani opened his account with the slickest of near-post finishes. Balazs Dzsudzak then took it in turns to score a pair of goals each, with the 3-3 draw sending both sides into the knockouts.
Oh, and most importantly, Gabor Kiraly’s rather unique free-kick technique. We’re not sure it’ll catch on.
— M O R E N O V S K I (@morenovski) June 24, 2016
It was the summer of late drama
There were just the 15 goals scored after the 85-minute mark in a tournament which gave us last-gasp drama right from the very first game, when Dimitri Payet saw off Romania with an 89th-minute wondergoal.
The chance of another late – and possibly great – goal kept fans glued to their seats, even during some of the tournament’s less scintillating offerings (Wales v Northern Ireland, anyone?). And those 11th-hour strikes continued to flow, as the ice-cool Graziano Pelle saw off Spain and Ricardo Quaresma left Croatia heartbroken.
It also gave us the iconic image of this man’s tears during Wales’ last-gasp defeat to England. Though one suspects this passionate chap was rather happier following the quarter-finals!
I truly wonder how excited this Wales fan is right now. Where ever he may be, I hope he’s crying tears of joy! pic.twitter.com/ni3KSclA1J
— Bobby Tarantino (@Lalo_Medina10) July 1, 2016
And talking of Wales…
The underdogs triumphed
OK, we didn’t quite have a Leicester City-style title triumph, which is sure to disappoint the punter who stuck 50p on San Marino winning the Euros during qualifying at 7500/1. But this was still a summer when determined, well-organised teams with a healthy dose of skill left the tournament big boys reeling.
Iceland outclassed tournament dark horses Austria, drew with eventual winners Portugal and edged past England, with a mixture of grit and great finishing which many of the continent’s most illustrious sides could learn from.
Meanwhile, Wales snubbed the tika-taka rulebook which had seen Spain win hearts in Euro 2008 and 2012, with Coleman’s men becoming everyone’s second team with their inventive, counter-attacking style which combined wing wizardry with set-piece prowess and a tightly-knit team spirit.
Add in debutants Northern Ireland and Slovakia reaching the knockouts and Albania recording a first ever victory at a major tournament, and it becomes clear that togetherness was truly what made this summer’s tournament great.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.