EURO 2016: The minnows make a mark

Teams like Hungary, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have played industrious football, working hard, with players running the extra mile to support team-mates. They have played with heart, causing trouble to pedigreed sides.

Antoine Griezmann has taken over the goal-scoring duties for France.   -  Reuters

EURO 2016 has had its share of surprises and great goals, rubbishing the pre-tournament fear of a watered-down competition. The smaller teams have left a lasting impression, going toe-to-toe with the big names of European and World football.

Against this backdrop, it was disappointing to see Ronaldo, one of the premier players in the world, complaining about the “small team” mentality of the Icelanders, who deservedly held Portugal to a draw in a group stage game.

 

“They scored a goal, they created two chances in the 90 minutes and otherwise they got every player behind the ball, they put the bus in the net so it’s difficult when one team don’t try but Portugal try and play football and try to win the game,” Ronaldo said after failing to make a mark in the game in Saint-Etienne. “We should have three points but we are OK. I thought they’d won the EUROs the way they celebrated at the end, it was unbelievable. When they don’t try to play and just defend, defend, defend this in my opinion shows a small mentality and they are not going to do anything in the competition.”

The Real Madrid forward should stay away from such distractions and let his game do the talking.

Iceland, qualifying as the number two team from Group F (ahead of Portugal, which made it to the pre-quarters as one of the four best third-placed teams), proved that every team that works hard enough is entitled to play at the highest stage. I think there is no room for comments like that of Ronaldo’s in a football tournament. Every team, every player is there for a reason and they have already proved themselves, by navigating through a tough qualifying stage. All of them are winners!

Teams like Hungary, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have played industrious football, working hard, with players running the extra mile to support team-mates. They have played with heart, causing trouble to pedigreed sides. Realistically, though, these teams have overachieved and their fans back home will be mighty proud of their players for making it to the knockout stage of the competition.

Now coming to the bigger boys of the tournament — they have had their share of problems and no team has looked at ease, playing a decisive brand of football. Players, coming after a long gruelling League season, have often looked jaded with teams failing to play as cohesive units, thereby bringing down the overall quality on display.

Strikers, often playing as lone rangers upfront in 4-2-3-1 systems, have failed to find their footing and goals have been hard to come by. Established forwards like Robert Lewandowski, Arsenal’s Oliver Giroud have so far failed to set the score-charts on fire, with midfielders and wingers heavily contributing to the task of scoring.

For France and Didier Deschamps, the profligacy of Giroud has been a cause of concern and the hosts have made it to the last eight banking on the strikes of second striker Antoine Griezmann and West Ham midfielder Dimitri Payet.

England too, a team packed with strikers, are yet to find their scoring boots. The last-minute equaliser, in the group game against Wales, gave the English a huge psychological boost but Roy Hodgson’s premiere duo, Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane, coming to the tournament after a marvellous EPL season, has looked a trifle tired, often failing to finish moves. Daniel Sturridge looks to be in sparkling form, but the Liverpool striker, with his long list of injuries, is best used sparingly.

Mario Gotze, playing as a false No. 9 for Germany, has also been a disappointment and the manager Joachim Loew correctly dropped him to the bench for the last 16 game against Slovakia.

Belgium, by far, have the best individuals amongst all the squads, but the team is yet to start playing as a well-organised unit. Hopefully, the later stages of the competition will see players and teams coming out of their shackle, thereby offering more free-flowing, goal-ridden games.