I’m not even going to pretend that I enjoy Portugal’s style of play but there’s nothing worthy of condemnation in it. Criticised by their native media, Fernando Santos identified his squad’s limitations and devised a philosophy designed to win the matches.
They struggled to get out of the group stage, failing to win a match but their obduracy was perfectly suited to knockout football: make your opponent work for openings and hit them on the break. The way the Portuguese played was very reminiscent of Mourinho’s Chelsea and Inter days.
France, the favourites, weren’t as incisive as before. Giroud played well, Sissoko even better but they couldn’t fashion as many clear openings. When Gignac scuffed his shot onto the post in the dying minutes of normal time, you knew it wasn’t to be their night.
Eder’s winning goal came with warnings, the French crossbar had barely stopped wobbling from a free kick moments before. Clattenburg is being criticised for not awarding a free kick to France in the build-up but that strikes me as looking to deflect attention away from some poor defending from Umtiti and then Koscielny.
It was a disappointing end to the tournament for the host nation, one in which they had played well after a slow start. Griezmann may have finished top scorer but he would happily trade that in for a winner’s medal this morning. It will be interesting to see where Deschamps goes from here with the XI.
With a third of his squad 30 or the wrong side of it, he has to rebuild, particularly with both full backs creaking when the Portuguese attacked at pace. With the next World Cup two years away and a tough qualifying group, he will be rebuilding as well as getting the players used to facing competitive matches from here on in.
And what of Ronaldo? You may not like the man but seeing a player withdrawn that early on a big occasion is never pleasant, particularly one of that quality. Unless you support the other team, then you feel a boost. The French players didn’t, peculiarly enough. They became almost subdued for a while; instead of pinging passes around, they were still on top for spells but lacking the verve that your opponents losing their best player ought to bring.
And if we’re honest, the tournament got the winners it deserved. Italy were refreshing, attacking with style and defending confidently. Germany, we knew would be a good side but lack a goalscorer. Hosts France were decent whilst Iceland and Wales were a breath of fresh air. But that’s 5 teams out of 32; the remainder were distinctly average or just plain poor.
Enjoyable matches? Italy v Belgium, Italy v Ireland, Italy v Spain, Iceland v France, Germany v Italy, Wales v Belgium; I’m struggling now but there are possibly one or two others I’ve missed off.
It was, overall, a poor tournament. Tactically dour with the fear of losing over-ruling attacking aspirations. Pass, pass, pass; possession, possession, possession; all with little end product.
Arsenal Players At The Euros
This is my view of the tournament for the players.
FRANCE: Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny
They will both be largely pleased with their contributions. Giroud rediscovered his goal touch in the lead-up to the tournament and established a fine partnership with Antoine Griezmann. That gives Arsène something to think about with, I suspect, Alexis of the current squad most likely to replicate that role. However, it doesn’t preclude Wenger from dipping into the transfer market to strengthen the front line. (8/10)
Koscielny, despite last night’s error, was impressive. With Rami and Umtiti both relatively inexperienced at this level, he provided good leadership at the back, something he can seem reticent to do at Arsenal. Perhaps this will have brought him out of his shell. His club performances are good and continually improving but he’s always seemed reluctant to take charge; maybe he just isn’t captain material in that sense. (8/10)
WALES: Aaron Ramsey
A revelation. Liberated by Chris Coleman and played in his favoured more central role, he shone for the Welsh. Their defeat to Portugal arguably proved that he was more important to their progress than Gareth Bale, not that the headline writers will agree.
Will Arsène tweak formation to free his spirit from the flanks? Much depends on whether he believes we will be more productive in front of goal with a strike partnership in which case, Ramsey is still likely to be patrolling the right side of the pitch.
You feel 2016/17 may be a decisive season in his Arsenal career. (9/10)
GERMANY: Mesut Özil
If you ignore the penalties, there is a strong case for Özil to be considered Player of the Tournament. He won’t be: Griezmann and Payet both scored more but Özil was pivotal in Germany’s run to the semi-final. The Germans creativity focussed around the Arsenal man, with the effortless gliding into space and willingness to come for the ball a continuation from his club form.
Despite that, I still wouldn’t let him anywhere near a penalty kick. (9/10)
CZECH REPUBLIC: Petr Cech
OK, so Tomas Rosicky was listed as an Arsenal player but by the tournament’s first game, he’d been released. I love the style of his football and am disappointed we were robbed of his prime years through injury. That he ended the tournament injured summed it all up. (5/10)
Cech was OK as the Czechs limped home, bottom of their group. A solitary point amid the madness in Saint-Etienne was hugely disappointing. Vulnerable to long-range shooting which I hope is not a sign of things to come. (Too much respect for a rating: I want to remember the good times)
SWITZERLAND: Granit Xhaka
A tidy tournament, emphasizing his range of passing. He was willing to mix the defensive side of his game whilst always looking for an attacking option when the ball was at his feet. It’s an interesting combination but like Mesut Özil, I’d keep him away from penalty kicks… (7/10)
POLAND: Wojciech Szczesny
Honestly, did nothing to convince me that Arsenal have made the wrong decision in looking to loan him out with a view to a permanent move to Rome. Injury cost him his place and I thought Lukasz Fabianski looked the better goalkeeper. (4/10)
ENGLAND: Jack Wilshere
Barely worth Jack going, to be honest. 12 minutes against Russia, 55 against Slovakia and 45 in the Iceland debacle. Nothing of note and frankly the only benefit is that he got a little match sharpness ahead of pre-season training. (1/10 – but no England player scored more than 1/10, with plenty getting zero.)
England were hopeless, even by our low standards.