A dull tournament you say? Well there was still plenty of drama to pick from as I choose my top ten moments from Euro 2016…
10. Germany Bad At Penalties? Not Quite Bad Enough
We watched three penalty shoot-outs at Euro 2016, and arguably the most entertaining was when the quarter-final between Germany and Italy went the distance.
The outcome was surely inevitable, Germany never lose on spot-kicks, right? Well, after Thomas Muller’s effort was saved, Mesut Ozil hit the post and Bastian Schweinsteiger blazed the ball over the bar, you wondered whether the unthinkable would actually happen. Germany had missed more penalties in one shootout than in their history.
But Italy’s efforts were equally as bad, it was almost laughable. Simone Zaza’s comedy run up led to him smashing it way too high, Graziano Pelle indicated he was going to chip it before putting the ball horribly wide and Leonardo Bonucci could not beat Manuel Neuer for a second time after scoring from the spot in normal time.
The shootout was eventually decided in the ninth round of kicks as Matteo Darmian’s tame effort was saved and Jonas Hector scored to send Germany through. They still haven’t lost on penalties since the the Euro 1976 final, but this really was one of the worst shootouts you will ever see.
9. Late Goals Galore
During the early stages of the tournament, it wasn’t really worth turning on the TV until the 80th minute of games, as that was when you were only realistically going to see a goal!
We got accustomed to seeing the ball hit the back of the net in injury time and teams celebrating late winners/equalisers. For the neutral and fans of the team that scored, it was dramatically brilliant.
After a week of football, nearly 60% of the goals scored had been scored after the 80th minute, with 12 of 21 games providing late drama. France (twice), Wales, Spain, England and Italy all experienced euphoria as they netted late winners, with Russia and the Czech Republic getting the same feeling from late equalisers.
The latest of all the goals came in the 96th minute of Northern Ireland vs Ukraine, with the Green and White Army’s Niall McGinn smashing home to make it 2-0. And people have labelled the tournament dull!
8. Will Grigg’s On Fire
The chant of the season was taken into Euro 2016, as stadiums around France were filled with fans chanting about a Wigan striker who has a severe case of heatstroke.
Will Grigg became an internet sensation when Latics fans created/stole the song after he scored 25 League One goals in 2015-16 to fire them (no pun intended) to promotion. Sung to the tune of Freed From Desire by Gala, it was the chant of tournament.
The whole of the continent took Northern Ireland fans to their hearts, as they passionately cheered on their team’s superb run to the round of 16. The sea of green and white was a sight to behold, and the highlight was when they stayed behind for at least an hour after the 1-0 defeat to Germany to continuing singing “Will Grigg’s on fire, you’re defence is terrified!”.
It filled the fan parks even when Northern Ireland had been knocked out and games in which they did not even feature. And the strangest thing is that the man himself never even made it onto the pitch.
7. Xherdan Shaqiri Gets Switzerland Scissoring
Who doesn’t love a superb overhead kick? We almost got one in the final but Ricardo Quaresma’s attempt was saved, so we had to settle with Xherdan Shaqiri’s spectacular goal against Poland in the Round of 16. But that was more than enough. It was incredible.
It was going to take something special to unlock a Polish defence that was yet to concede a goal at the tournament, and the Stoke City midfielder came up with a moment of magic to equalise after Jakub Blaszczykowski had put Poland ahead.
Shaqiri only had a moment to make up his mind on a ball looping away from him. If he had taken a touch to control, the resolute Polish defence would have crowded him out and marshalled him away. Instead, he produced a stunning 18 yard overhead volley that left the defenders and supporters mesmerised.
Switzerland may have gone on to lose the match on penalties, but Shaqiri’s goal was most certainly up there with the best at the tournament.
6. The Ronaldo Show
Admittedly, it was quite funny watching Cristiano Ronaldo do everything but score in Portugal’s 0-0 draw with Austria in the group stages. He hit the post, missed a late penalty and was consistently thwarted by Austria keeper Robert Almer.
But Ronaldo returned with a bang in the next game against Hungary, effectively single handedly qualifying the eventual champions for the knockout stages when at times it looked as though they might be eliminated.
The 31 year old had thrown a reporter’s microphone in the river before the match, and cut cut a forlorn and frustrated figure after Hungary took the lead three times in the game, but he played a part in all three of Portugal’s equalisers.
His piercing through ball set up Nani’s goal, and then Ronaldo got two of his own – first a cheeky deft flick that made him the first player to score in four different European Championship finals tournaments, and then a powerful header to send his side through. It was one of the games of the tournament featuring one of the best solo performances too.
5. Brady Sends Ireland Mad
Following a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Belgium, the Republic of Ireland looked certain to be heading home as they needed a win against a strong and confident Italy side in their final group game. But departing Azzuri manager Antonio Conte made a number of changes for the match with his side already through, and Ireland dominated without finding that elusive goal.
Daryl Murphy saw a header tipped over and James McClean could, and probably should, have had a penalty when Federico Bernardeschi barged to the ground inside the box. Wes Hoolahan wasted a golden opportunity when he was gifted the ball on the edge of the box, and it looked like their last chance had come and gone – until Robbie Brady proved otherwise.
The Norwich man brilliantly headed home Hoolahan’s cross in the 85th minute to spark wild celebrations from the Republic players, bench and supporters under the closed roof at Lille’s Stade Pierre Mauroy, which had largely been taken over by the Boys in Green.
It meant they qualified for the Round of 16 as one of the best third place teams, and faced hosts France who they surprisingly took the lead against – Brady again the goalscorer, this time from the penalty spot. An Antoine Griezmann double went on to knock them out, but the celebrations against the Italians will live long in the memory.
4. Payet Begins With A Bang
They were pre-tournament favourites, but after all the hype, France were pretty underwhelming in the opening game against France. They had few clear cut chances, but just about deserved to take the lead when Olivier Giroud headed home in the 57th minute.
But after Bogdan Stancu’s penalty levelled the scores just eight minutes later, the clock began to tick down and it seemed as though the French would begin with a draw.
That was until West Ham’s Dimitri Payet picked the ball up along the right edge of the penalty area, where he pushed the ball inside before unleashing a left-footed rocket that rose into the far corner. It capped a brilliant individual display, and sent the Stade de France crazy with joy.
Payet endeared himself to fans further by shedding tears when Didier Deschamps brought him off to an immense ovation in stoppage-time. For me, it was the goal of the tournament.
3. Eder The Unlikely Hero
Had it not been for the new format, Portugal wouldn’t have even qualified for the knockout stage, but after getting there, they surprised many by making it all the way to final.
But still, facing hosts France who had just beaten the world champions made Fernando Santos’ team massive underdogs, and their likelihood of winning the final seemed to decrease even more when talisman Cristiano Ronaldo was taken off through injury early in the game.
But Portugal held on and took the game to extra-time, where they stunned everyone by winning the game and the tournament. Who got the infamous goal? Nani? Youngster Renato Sanches? Super sub Ricardo Quaresma? No, it was Eder. Yes, Swansea City flop Eder.
The 28 year old only came on in the 79th minute having previously played under 20 minutes at the tournament, but fired home a superb goal from outside the box to to win Portugal their first ever major tournament. This from a man who failed to score in 15 Swansea appearances last season before being shipped off to Lille on loan. Incredible.
2. Hal Robson-Cruyffnu
From one unlikely hero to another. Wales’ journey at Euro 2016, their first major tournament in 58 years, was epic. Despite losing to England, they topped Group B and then defeated Northern Ireland in the Round of 16.
In the quarter-finals, they came up against Belgium. The highest ranked nation at the tournament, but who Wales had taken four points in two games off in qualifying. Radja Nainggolan’s superb strike gave Belgium the lead, but Chris Coleman’s men fought back.
First, skipper Ashley Williams powered a header into the bottom corner to make it 1-1 at half-time, before we witnessed a moment of magic from the unlikeliest of magicians. Hal Robson-Kanu, released by Reading at the end of the season, received the ball from Aaron Ramsey and bamboozled the three defenders surrounding him with a graceful Cruyff turn which allowed him the space to calmly finish past Thibaut Courtois.
Welsh celebrations reached stratospheric levels and Robbie Savage went mad in BBC commentary as we tried to take this historic moment in. After watching HRK for seven years though, I can tell you he really is absolute sh*t.
1. Iceland Capture Our Hearts
Four years ago Iceland were ranked 131st in the world, and even going into Euro 2016 they were the lowest ranked team in the competition (34th). They are the smallest country to ever compete at a European Championships, with population of just over 330,000, but made history by reaching the quarter-finals.
They finished second in Group F after not losing a game, drawing with Portugal and Hungary before beating Austria thanks to Arnor Ingvi Traustason’s 94th minute winner. Then came the biggest game in their history against England in the Round of 16, and goals from Ragnar Sigurdsson and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson meant they completed the biggest shock of the tournament by beating the embarrassed Three Lions.
Their journey may have come to an end with a 5-2 thrashing at the hands of France, but they made memories that will never be forgotten. Their incredible team spirit, much like Wales’, was admired by all, and everyone began to cheer for Iceland.
The enchanting CLAP which was one of the images of the tournament, has already started to be used by other teams such as France. Finally, who can forget Gudmundur Benediktsson, the brilliantly passionate commentator, who yelled, screamed and cried down his microphone following the wins against Austria and England?!
For me, Iceland’s fairy-tale was one the best story of the tournament.
Are their any moments and best bits I have forgotten? Leave your memories of Euro 2016 in the comments below!