Euro 2016: Who have been the heroes and villains so far?
There’s nothing quite like a major international tournament to make or break a player’s reputation. And with the eyes of the world on France this summer, a number of those involved have already had a memorable impact for the best – and worst – of reasons.
From underperforming giants to goalscoring firsts, and rash red cards to tracksuited titans, here are the three finest heroes and biggest villains of Euro 2016 so far.
Gabor Kiraly (Hungary)
Okay, we know he conceded a penalty against Iceland, but compared to his heroics against Portugal – and trendsetting sportswear – it’s a minor blip amidst a set of incredible achievements for the 40-year-old stopper.
Not only did he become the oldest player ever to play in a European Championships this summer, but the Szombathely-born keeper also produced an incredible clean sheet against Austria, who drew their first blank in a competitive game since September 2013.
He’s even introduced a fashion craze with his classic jogging bottoms, with Canadian sports presenters paying tribute to him ahead of the Iceland game. And the Kiraly look could sweep the continent if Hungary can reach the Euro 2016 final at 33/1.
Gareth Bale (Wales)
The only player to score in all three group games at Euro 2016, the Real Madrid star has probably been the player of the tournament so far.
His spectacular free-kicks opened the scoring against both England and Slovakia before the wing wizard crowned victory over Russia with a beautifully-dinked finish past Igor Akinfeev (more on him later).
With Wales underdogs, few expected Bale would have a realistic chance of finishing as the tournament’s top goalscorer, but his odds have tumbled from 50/1 before the tournament to just 4/1, with the former Spurs man currently joint-top scorer.
Armando Sadiku (Albania)
The general view outside of this proud Balkan nation was that Albania’s greatest achievement would be in reaching the Euros and that Gianni De Biasi’s men would be easy pickings for the group-mates of France, Switzerland and Romania.
However, after narrow – and rather unfortunate – defeats to the former two, Shqiponjat produced a superb performance to defeat Romania 1-0, with Sadiku heading home Albania’s first ever goal at a major tournament.
The 25-year-old will be keeping his fingers crossed that his side will make it through as one of the best third-placed teams, though one of their own players may have cost them that chance.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
The three-time Ballon d’Or winner has never been football’s most tactful personality, but following Portugal’s 1-1 draw with tournament newboys Iceland in Saint-Etienne, he threw a tantrum which most two-year-olds would feel ashamed of.
Claiming that Iceland have a “small mentality” and will “do nothing” at the Euros is embarrassing at any time, but with two games now gone and Selecao currently below the Nordic outfit in Group F, even the uber-confident Ronaldo may be regretting his outburst.
Still, he has the chance to redeem himself tonight with a goal anytime against Hungary at 8/11. And while his comments were petty, at least he didn’t get sent off in his country’s first ever half of football at a major tournament. So, step forward…
Lorik Cana (Albania)
Oh, Lorik. The 32-year-old was a key man in Albania’s journey to the Euros, as he captained the side throughout qualifying, including that memorable 1-0 win in Portugal.
But the most experienced member of the Shqiponjat side also proved to be its most reckless, picking up two needless yellow cards in the first 36 minutes of their opener with Switzerland.
He sat out the following game against France and failed to regain his starting place against Romania, as a Cana-less Albania outplayed and outclassed Tricolorii in their first ever Euros victory. We wouldn’t bet against someone else getting the captain’s armband in future.
Igor Akinfeev (Russia)
It might seem harsh to include a player who neither insulted an entire nation’s mentality or collected two yellow cards in the time it takes to boil a pan of pasta, but we might as well add poor performances to the unholy trinity of sins in this section.
Russian keeper Akinfeev became the first – and so far only – to ship six goals during the group stage in Euro 2016, as he made a host of errors. Lobbed by Aaron Ramsey in no-man’s-land against Wales and flapping helplessly when beaten by Slovakia’s Vladimir Weiss, it’s been a nightmare tournament for a stopper whose reputation has taken a battering.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.