Saturday 24 September 2016

The great, the good and the 'what might have been' from Euro 2016

Published 12/07/2016 | 02:30

THE book is closed on Euro 2016 and, after five weeks in France, Daniel McDonnell looks back on the competition and dishes out some awards. Give all the winners an Icelandic clap by way of congratulations.

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PLAYER OF THE TOURNAMENT

Antoine Griezmann has moved into another bracket during this competition and yet, when it came to the crunch, he was subdued by a durable Portugese outfit that frustrated their way to the title. Pepe missed the semi final but he was excellent in the quarter finals and rose to the occasion in the Stade de France when Ronaldo's injury stiffened the task.

Given the personality of the tournament, a defensive winner is probably appropriate.

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BREAKTHROUGH STAR

He plays for Bayern Munich so it's not like he's emerged from under a rock but Joshua Kimmich impressed for Germany, a natural midfielder that shone at right back and can also perform in central defence. Kimmich is 21 so life is probably going to work out fairly well for him.

TOP SPEECH

At half-time in France's round of 16 tie with Ireland, the hosts were in real trouble. Antoine Griezmann was unhappy with his posting on the right flank and was urged to speak up by team-mates.

He told Didier Deschamps he wanted to move into the centre and the manager agreed to implement the switch. It helped Les Bleus get all the way to the final with Griezmann finishing as top scorer.

COMMENTARY GOLD 1

In the minutes after England's Iceland debacle, George Hamilton channeled the spirit of Norwegian commentator Bjørge Lillelien and mastering an impressive impersonation by throwing out the  'Maggie Thatcher, your guys took a hell of a beating' line. If it doesn't make you smile then consult a doctor.

GARY BREEN AWARD

This goes to Hal Robson-Kanu, the top 'unattached' player at the competition. After Breen's 2002 heroics, a dream move to Inter Milan almost materialised.

Robson-Kanu says he's been inundated with offers since his goal against Belgium. But he could still end up at somewhere like Wigan or Rotherham and that's the beauty of his achievement.

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GOAL OF THE TOURNAMENT

You suspect that when Xherdan Shaqiri finishes playing, he will take on the shape of a man who doesn't look capable of acrobatics. But the stocky Stoke star managed to contort his body to execute a superb acrobatic flick in the round of 16 encounter with Poland. The skill involved gave it the edge over long range thunderbolts from Dimitri Payet (France v Romania) and Radja Nainggolan (Wales v Belgium).

BEST THROW

Cristiano Ronaldo didn't enjoy being approached by a Portugese TV reporter when he was out for a stroll by the lake so he grabbed his microphone and tossed it into the water. It might not have been his finest hour but a Portugese journalist explained on Newstalk last Saturday that the station in question had broadcast an unflattering video of his late father earlier that week. So he can be forgiven.

WORST SANCTION

Security was understandably going to be a huge part of this tournament and, all things considered, the authorities did a good job. However, UEFA's decision to charge Wales for a breach of security by bringing their kids onto the pitch at the end of games is a spectacular example of overzealous officiating. The only pitch issue that the organisers should be exploring is the disgraceful state of the playing surfaces - with Lille the prime example - that affected the quality of matches.

SUB OF THE TOURNAMENT

By the end of the competition, Michael O'Neill was worn down. "I don't pick my teams based on what fans sing at games," he sighed, after being asked about Will Grigg's non-appearance in the defeat to Wales. The 'Will Grigg's on fire' song - taken from his club Wigan - was the Northern Ireland soundtrack of the summer even though the striker never got on the pitch.

He even got one of the loudest cheers at the homecoming, which is really taking things too far. Irish fans subbed Shane Long into the song, while down on their luck Belgian fans went with 'Wilmots is fired, our defence is terrified' after the loss to Wales. Late on Sunday night, Portugese fans walking through Paris were singing the Grigg version.

MOST DEFIANT COACH

Belgium's Marc Wilmots was undermined by his players through the competition, but is hanging onto his job following the dismal performance against Wales because it would cost €1m to make him leave.

Wilmots was at peak smugness following the win over Ireland which suggested that the show was back on the road. He hit out at people criticise because they will never have a good life. Like his goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois perhaps? After the Wales matc he said, "We made the same tactical mistakes as we did against Italy in the group stages. Against a 3-5-2 we played with the same tactics and encountered the same problems."

The writing is on the wall, surely?

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OUTSTANDING BOAT TRIP

In the book of English tournament meltdowns, the tale of Roy Hodgson taking a boat trip down the Seine instead of going to watch round of 16 opponent Iceland in their final group match will surely feature prominently. Better than that, the England staff who attended their game with Austria cheered the late Icelandic goal which confirmed that the underdogs would be their next hurdle.

COMMENTARY GOLD 2

On this theme, congratulations to ITV's Sam Matterface who cut into the coverage at the end of France's win over Ireland to announce that the hosts were into the next phase where they would 'probably play England.'

LEADING ADMINISTRATOR

No joy for John Delaney here after his riproaring showing in Poland four years ago. Step forward Igor Lebedev, a member of the Russian Football Union executive committee in addition to an MP for the Liberal Democratic party. After his country's hooligans attacked England fans after their opening game draw, the culmination of a nasty few days led by troublemakers from both parties, Lebedev tweeted in defence of the organised goons.

"I don't see anything wrong with the fans fighting," he said. "Quite the opposite, well done lads, keep it up! I don’t understand those politicians and officials who are criticising our fans. We should defend them, and then we can sort it out when they come home." Sports minister Vitaly Mutko was also in denial with a worrying lack of accountability ahead of the 2018 World Cup.

POST MORTEM OF TOURNAMENT

Elsewhere, Russia are actually capable of introspection.

Coach  Leonid Slutsky, who was shown the door after their awful contribution to the competition, pulled no punches on the reason for their failure. After their 3-0 loss to Wales confirmed their fate, a delegation of players came to his hotel room where they chatted until 9am the following morning.

"The players and I very frankly evaluated our level and we all said it together: 'We're s**t'", he said. “We need to accept this fact. Like alcoholics have to say ‘Yes, I am an alcoholic,’ It’s an absolutely necessary part of the recovery."

Bravo.

WISH YOU WERE HERE

This was supposed to be Michel Platini's finest hour and the organisers have made it consistently clear that he features in their hearts and minds while glossing over the conduct that landed him in his current predicament. Friday's tournament wrap press conference finished up with acting UEFA President Ángel María Villar Llona declaring that 'France's hosting of Euro 2016 is down to one man' - Platini.

And winning a narrow vote, of course, but maybe he's right given how these things tend to play out. Last November, the Spaniard was fined and warned for misconduct during the investigation into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

SLIDING DOORS MOMENT

Croatia were excellent in the group stage where their concluding win over Spain set up a round of 16 tie with Portugal on the easy side of the draw. They produced their poorest performance of the tournament but Ivan Perisic still hit the post with three minutes remaining of extra-time. Portugal broke immediately to score the winner. Oh what could have been

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