Euro 2016 has taken its last bow, leaving football fans all over the world frustrated and relieved at the same time.
The 24 team expansion format was criticised from the beginning, and rightly so. It’s fair to say that not all 24 teams that went into the competition were capable of producing beautiful displays of football.
The main issue wasn’t the fact that the teams weren’t of a high enough calibre, but that UEFA enabled third place teams to qualify for the knockout rounds from the group stage.
This ridiculous rule allowed teams to sit back and defend, protecting a clean sheet for a draw over anything else. The new law devalued the tournament and the football on display was of poor quality.
The football on display did fans everywhere a massive disservice as Euro 2016 had a chance to be a classic. The winners of the last three World Cups have all come from Europe, and this mid-cycle tournament could have been a celebration of all the elite talent in the continent.
This apparently failed to materialise, and while the competition and its new look can be considered a bust, the European Championships continued the trend of unbelievable tales in 2016.
Football fans around the globe witnessed the ultimate triumph of Leicester City battling against the brink of relegation and coming back the next season to win the Premier League title. The Foxes’ success has marked 2016 as a special year, and Iceland and Wales added even more memorable tales to the year.
Iceland made their debut in a major tournament and qualified for the quarterfinals, sending shockwaves across the planet. Their game plan and style were built around hard work as a team, just like Leicester. It paid off for the tiny country as they went on to the Quarter Finals and thrilled their fans.
The debutants defeated what many thought was England’s best team at a major tournament in recent memory. Even after conceding early on from a silly, ill-advised penalty, Iceland battled back with their hard work and team spirit to score twice and advance past England to the knockout stages.
The Three Lions obviously failed to pay enough respect to the unity and passion of the Icelandic players and paid the price.
Wales were another team spinning a human Cinderella story that universally captured hearts. Manager, Chris Coleman built his side in the bowels of English football and the grit the players gained from England’s lower leagues was evident in their terrific displays.
The toughness coupled with the high amounts of skill and passion present within the Welsh team’s ranks made a formidable attacking outfit that put three goals past Belgium in the quarterfinal.
The Belgium game added to the Welsh tale of triumph and success as the heralded “golden generation” of Belgium fell to pieces in the face of Welsh teamwork and tactical masterclass.
The Welsh lads very clearly wore their hearts on their sleeves for their country as they fought for every loose ball and always looked to put the Belgians to the sword. Their passion was palpable, and the discord between the opposing team of individuals was evident for all to see. With all their superstar pedigree, Belgium could not fathom a way to defeat the power of passion and pride present in the Welsh team.
Portugal was the antithesis of everything that made 2016 a wonderfully memorable season for the ages. Fernando Santos’ men sucked the joy out of the final and emphasised the flaws in UEFA’s new look Euro, but football as a whole has been rewarded with incredible stories of passion and unity.