Monday, 27 June 2016

Euro 2016 Report Card: Group Stage eliminations

Michael: Jon, I’m working on that Euro thing now, honest.

Jon: Much like rather a lot of people at the moment!

Michael: Ever made a stupid joke that seemed really funny, then events sort of kill it? TV Tropes refers to this as a Funny Aneurysm moment, which refers to a plot twist in Buffy The Vampire Slayer. My “no chance of an early Brexit” gag about the English chances in the Euros certainly feels like one now!

We shouldn’t mention Brexit though, Jon’s a Welsh socialist, it’s been hard on him.

And given his wife is from Northern Ireland, the Euros might have been hard on him too!

Gav: I’ve been reading The Mutation of Time, mostly.

Michael: Is that by Stephen Hawking?

Gav: (laughs) No, its a Doctor Who novel.


No togetherness, no goals, no team work, no spirit, no interest, and so, no sadness in their early exit.

Michael: Well, I said Ukraine were known for matches were they did everything but put the damned ball in the net, so this time they decided to go a step further and have matches where they did nothing as well.

Jon: I’ve never been so happy at a 0-0 draw as I was with Germany and Poland.

Michael: I think I know what’s coming…

Jon: WILL GRI- ahem, no. Because it meant that we wouldn’t be subjected to the rerun of the most horrifically dull game of international football in decades. The horror of Switzerland v Ukraine in 2006.  Apparently many who fell asleep watching it have yet to wake up.

Michael: *shivers in horror at the memory*

Jon: But now we’ve got the 18 certificate memories out of the way, it’s time to activate smug mode for the first time.

Michael: For the first time? Honestly, imagine someone being smug...

Jon: Not that I’m going to say I was right a lot but… I was right. It takes special circumstances and a poor team to be eliminated with the qualification rules for the knockout stages but Ukraine managed it. A perfect storm of results with Germany and Poland both winning their first games, then drawing combined with Northern Ireland showing what made them a tenacious, awkward opponent in qualification saw them become the only team to know they’d be departing before the first week of the tournament was done. And by the end of the third game the only side goalless and pointless.

Michael: I should have stuck to that perceived bias against Ukrainian sides, really. Although I don’t actually recall Pyatov making any huge errors, so it turns out the Achilles heel of the team was just a natural part of a failing body rather than the exception.

Did they pick the wrong midfield this time? It could be that the big stars, Yarmolenko and Konplyanka, were under pressure to shine and suffered stage fright. It could be they aren’t as good as we think they are. Or it could be a case of Zlatan syndrome, where talents are unable to raise the mediocre standards of the rest of the team on their own.

Jon: That game against Northern Ireland was always going to be the crucial one and perhaps they were a touch unfortunate that Michael O’Neill sprang a complete tactical surprise by dropping Lafferty and making five changes from the team who lost so tamely to Poland. But that’s the managerial sharpness that’s enabled him to bring his country to a tournament for the first time in thirty years and I’ll mention that more when we come to look at Northern Ireland’s tournament. Ukraine didn’t deal with that; losing fairly straightforwardly to Germany was to be expected but with Yarmalenko and Konplyanka subdued by the hard work of Jonny Evans and Aaron Hughes there was no real threat to the always well-organised Northern Irish defence.

Michael: They even lost to Poland. For the first time in sixteen years.

Jon: It’s Ukraine’s major weakness haunting them; the lack of goals in the side. With the head to head rule and the draw in the other game they were gone. As I said; always have a look at goal scoring potential when assessing a side’s chances in tournament football because it’s a vital resource when luck or refereeing decisions go against you. And Ukraine… well, they had nothing to draw on after falling victim to a set piece goal, particularly with Fomenko’s conservative strategies. Where that leaves a manager who comfortable negotiated qualifying is anyone’s guess.

Michael: It leaves him blaming squad unity and morale (two things, incidentally, picked up by yours truly as potential issues pre-tournament in our preview), and dusting up his CV for a new horizon. IN other words, he’s gone. Well, he contradicted earlier reports that he’d jumped, but apparently his contract was up anyway. So someone else will get to lead Ukraine into a dangerous World Cup qualifying group, alongside Croatia, Iceland, Turkey, Finland and newcomers Kosovo. I have my doubts you’ll hear much about Ukraine in the 2018 World Cup previews.

Joao: Ukraine was the worst team in Euro 2016, the only one who couldn’t get a single point. Perhaps they would have preferred not qualifying at all, instead of doing it to lose every match?

Their recent past was even worse than Russia’s.Both finished bottom of their Euro 2016 groups, but Russia was second placed in the qualifiers while Ukraine was only third, and Russia got one point while Ukraine got none. Russia at least qualified to the 2014 World Cup, while Ukraine missed it. Russia also qualified to Euro 2012 and not automatically like Ukraine did. And they got 4 points there while Ukraine only got 3. And both missed the 2010 World Cup. And in Euro 2008 Russia was semifinalist while Ukraine missed it too. The last and only “good” Ukraine was in the 2006 World Cup when they reached the quarter finals.

What about the future, is Ukraine’s future more promising that Russia’s? Like Russia, they too are almost out of next year’s under 21 Euro, which will be their 10th miss in 12 editions (before that they were part of the USSR). Their under-20 team played three of the last eight World Cups, but never went further than the last 16 round. And they are already out of next year’s edition. It seems that both Eastern Europe’s powers are in similar situations, with unimpressive recent past results and without good reasons to believe that in the near future things will get significantly better.

Gav: They were in an impossible group.

Michael: Due to the might of Germany? And Polish Power of course?

Gav: Yes, and Northern Ireland being there too, who are very good.

Michael: That’ll be the Davis Effect.

Gav: Of course!

Michael: Mind you, Ukraine were Northern Ireland’s only victims of the tournament.

Gav: Claude Puel any good?

Michael: No.

Gav: Damn.

What Went Wrong – Everything.
What Went Right – Nothing.
Moment of their tournament – They had a chance against Germany at one point.

Expert View

“Northern Ireland claimed a deserved victory to send Ukraine out of Euro 2016 after what was arguably the team's worst outing at a major international competition. Mykhaylo Fomenko's side never looked like they could impose their game on their opponents, let alone win one. Ukraine's performance was too predictable, one-dimensional and short of ideas.” Alex Sereda, Ukraine Exit Euro 2016 with a whimper, ESPN 17 June 2016

"When we played the two games with Cyprus and Wales [in March] we saw that the situation wasn't very good. And after that in our Ukrainian championship we had the incident with Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk, which didn't help our players be united. Whatever we tried to do, we couldn't intervene to get rid of this problem." Mikhail Fomenko, FourFourTwo, 21 June 2016

What Gav Has Been Doing instead of Writing up his section

Gav: I want to watch more movies like Hell Drivers! When looking for older films to watch, people always suggest the best of the best. Casablanca for example. Everyone’s heard of that. Not these above average ones.

Michael: Well, “old films” is a hell of a wide option!

Gav: British, character driven. Good casting.

Michael: Have I mentioned The Wrong Box before? [A British comedy drama from the 1960s directed by Bryan Forbes, starring Michael Caine, John Mills, Peter Cook and a whole bunch of others.]

Gav: You may have done. Looks good though. Great cast.

Michael: Actually I love it because its daft and full of cameos.

Gav: Nice. 6 or 7 out of 10 is what I’m after.

Michael: Also, the Titfield Thunderbolt, and the one about the man and his traction engine.

Gav: Ah, Fred Dibnah?

Michael: The Iron Maiden!


Michael: With singing like that, good advice!

It’s actually a film with Michael Craig, before he was in one of the least appreciated Doctor Who stories.

Gav: William Hartnell just said “Slut”! In this film, I mean.

Michael: Have you seen the original Brighton Rock?

Gav: No.

Michael: William Hartnell’s very good in it. As is Richard Attenborough.

Gav: I’m not against watching the classics, I just feel like I’d rather watch more obscure stuff. Drowned out by the classics.

Michael: In that case...

Jon: Oh no.

Gav: What?

Jon: You’ve done it now.

Michael: There is a great, fun film from the 1970s...

Jon: Knew it. Thanks Gav, I’d only just stopped hearing about it.

Michael: Called The Eagle Has Landed. It’s one of my favourite films. Used to watch it all the time with my grandfather. Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland and Jean Marsh are plotting to assassinate Winston Churchill during World War Two, on a mission from Robert Duvall, and only JR Ewing from Dallas and the girl from the Railway Children can stop them. I love it.

Gav: I’m going to watch it!

Jon: Lucky you.

Gav: There’s a kind of security about older films, like they don’t push things as far as modern movies do, but that makes things more interesting/surprising when they do.

Michael: So, if anyone knows any cool films from the 1950s-60s that aren’t well known classics, tell Gav on Twitter.


Spirited in chunks but unable to score except from a penalty.

Gav: (during each game) 1-1 would be a good result for Romania!

Michael: In the opening match, Romania missed two amazing chances. One producing a world class save from Lloris. The game was far more entertaining than anyone expected, and also, near the peak of Romania’s performances in the tournament.

Jon: Well that was a fairly predictable group.

Michael: Ahem.

Jon: What?

Michael *points*

Jon: Only one of us putting Romania fourth?

Michael: *smug*

Jon: However, only one of us put Albania in second…

Michael: Bloody French and their last minute winners!

Jon: Talking of which… back to the Romanians. I said that third place sounded about right for them… turns out I was overestimating them. The writing was really on the wall for them in that first game. In general terms they gave France a good test, energetic and matching them physically. Trouble was they looked impotent from open play and only liable to score from a set piece. And that’s the story of their tournament. For all of the good work the likes of Alibec , Stancu and Stanciu were of little direct trouble to defences in open play which meant they were relying on their defence and set piece goals. They conceded as many goals to France as they did in the entirety of their qualifying campaign and only scored from the penalty spot. They came away with no clean sheets and only two penalties.

Gav: They didn’t get many breaks from Mr Victor Kassai, until the moment when he had to give a penalty.

Michael: It looked like he was going to turn it down, until he suddenly jumped as though someone yelled in his earpiece.

Gav: That was funny.  Sadly, he let France just foul Andone on the edge of the box with no punishment.

Jon: This was what undid them in the crunch game against Albania; dominant in possession but with little idea of how to break down an obdurate Albanian defence. One spectacular effort straight at the keeper, one shot against the bar and an unlucky offside was all they had to offer in the game they needed to win to have a chance of going through.

Fundamentally though I stand by my reading of the group – France did just enough to go through in a group where they found it tough to break teams down but none of the other sides really had the attacking quality to test them.

Michael: Romania were more attacking than I had imagined. I feel like that’s damning them with faint praise. They showed signs of promise at times, but a complete lack of cutting edge, and when they fell behind to Albania, they never looked like coming back.

Joao: Romania really has no excuse for finishing bottom of this group with only one point, not even some refereeing decisions against them.

I think this was their worst ever Euro campaign. They may have had a 0-1-2 in 1984, but back then the group stage was already the last 8, and it was a very strong group, with Portugal, Spain and West Germany. And they may have had a 0-0-3 in 1996, but back then the group stage was already the last 16, and again it was a very strong group, with France, Spain and Bulgaria (that only two years earlier reached the World Cup semis). This time they were eliminated in the last 24, against Albania! Romania only won ONE of its SIXTEEN Euro matches, which was “acceptable” when these matches were against Spain, Germany, Portugal, France, 1996 Bulgaria, Italy, and Holland... However, it becomes really embarrassing when now they’re also losing against Albania. They only scored twice, from penalty kicks, and their impressive defence in the qualifiers wasn’t so impressive anymore.

They don’t have an impossible 2018 World Cup qualification group, with Denmark, Poland, Montenegro, Armenia and Kazakhstan.

Still, I don’t think they can advance from it, and I hope they won’t.

What went Wrong – Goals.
What went Right – Passion, intent.
Their moment – Scoring the penalty against France.

“Let us not forget Romania played really well. They are unfortunate and have lost because Dimitri Payet happened.” Thierry Henry


Bloody awful.

Note – Due to the political situation of Gav being an Estonian resident, the part of Gavin Mills will be played by the snooker commentators sketch from The Mitchell and Webb look.

Gav: Oh, and that’s a bad miss.

Jon: *looks at the Group B prediction table*

*looks at the actual Group B table*

So, er… anyone mention that Wales would finish top and Hodgson’s conservative nature might play against England?

Michael: Oh god, we’re never going to hear the end of this…


Michael *buries head in hands* Can we have the Will Grigg song back please?

Anyway, we’re supposed to be talking about Russia!

Jon: The team we absolutely walloped 3-0 to avenge 2003?

Michael: Aye…

Jon: Oh, alright then… Did I mention we thumped them 3-0?

Michael: Only about seven thousand, six hundred and ninety eight times so far.

Jon: Is that all? The greatest performance in football history and I’ve clearly not said enough about it…

Gav: Oh, and that’s a bad miss!

Jon: So anyway, Russia... kudos to Gav here for being the only one to correctly predict that Russia would finish bottom. If only he’d had more faith in the genius of the Southampton youth system he’d have got the entire group correct. I guess he thought the Lallana effect could counter the Bale force of nature. Joao’s pointing out that they were the worst performing member of Group B in qualifying was more of an omen than we thought. Oh, and finally this should be evidence that Michael should listen to his own instincts more when he said that ‘if life has taught me anything , it’s that Russia at major tournaments always let you down.’

Michael: It’s always the over-analysis which makes one stumble.

Russia do always let you down, as well. Euro 2012, crash out to Greece and the Czechs. And not the Czech Republic of Nedved, Poborsky and, err, Milan Baros. No, the Pilar and Jiracek Republic, and where are they nowadays? Exactly. In 2014, they crashed out to Algeria, but I had foreseen this and made a small writers bet with Jon on that one. Here, my own instincts, which I overlooked, proved correct, but I’d have listened to them far more if I’d realised they were going to lose their entire midfield before the tournament started.

Jon: Me, obviously, I’m going to pin it entirely on the Dzagoev injury. Well, partly. Obviously losing their main creative force just before the tournament was far from ideal but there appeared to be no plan B. The Russian plan of attack seemed to largely consist of crossing from deep and hoping that their height advantage brought them chances, much like the infamous tactics of Wimbledon of the 80s and early 90s. England’s conservatism and poor substitutions meant this tactic got them out of jail with a draw in the first leg but the poverty of it was exposed by the excellence of Hamsik for Slovakia and a rampant Wales side. It’s easy to put the last one down to Wales taking advantage of Russia leaving space as they needed to attack after an early Welsh goal...

Michael: Space? Space? In a devastating result for Russian football, the Red Army was crushed by the hordes of Bale, who used the fjords of time and relative dimensions in space between the Russian midfield to pounce time and again!

Jon: More accurate to say that the Russians were clearly second best in each of their games with their aged defence exposed by agile, speedy forwards and their plan of attack primitive and relatively simple to defend against.  Slutsky appeared out of his depth, bereft of ideas and solutions to obvious weaknesses. Their defence regularly left space for opposition forwards and failed to cope when opponents pressed them. Were it not for England’s attacking ineffectiveness in the final third and a hit and hope cross they’d be going home with no points and frankly even no points seems a generous reward for a weak display.

Michael: Not to over egg the pudding, but I suspect I might have just, ever so slightly, have overestimated Slutsky. The three games suggest he never learnt a single thing from the tournament. He played his three strikers, with Smolov and Kokorin as wingers, and the result was that instead of three competent players, you had none, as those two couldn’t play in the wings of a front three, and Dzyuba had no ammunition handed to him throughout the tournament, bar snippets he snapped at. I think the 4-3-3 might have worked sans Dzagoev, but it needed the right players to work, and Slutsky showed no sign whatsoever of knowing what.

Plus, when Dzyuba tired, as did happen, there was no fresh attackers left on the bench to join in the fray.

He was also reliant on an aging and slow defence, and that left entire veldts open for attacks to exploit in games.

Jon: Slutsky’s resignation hours after the final game just seemed to be pre-empting the inevitable; he must hope that Putin’s run out of polonium and isn’t minded to re-open the gulags. Where he’d have a picture of Dzagoev by his bedside and weep when he recalls how he might still be alive and free if not for the fragility of metatarsal bones.

And then he might have the glimmer of an idea of how devastated I was that Dzagoev didn’t play. ;-)

Michael: You know that Dzagoev got injured playing for CSKA Moscow, who Slutsky manages?

Jon: Damn him!

Michael: So awful, Wales beat them. 3-0.

Joao: I’m having a look at their stats; Russia had two shots on goal in each of its three matches.
The only teams behind them in the shots on goal table are the ones that have only played two matches yet, maybe when they all play their third, Russia will be the last. From these 6 shots on goal they scored two goals, not bad.

But Russia’s problems are a lot bigger than 3 bad matches. In the 2014 World Cup, they were also eliminated in the group stages, without a single win. In Euro 2012, they had a super start with a 4-1 win against Czech Republic, but after that, they couldn’t win again and were also eliminated in the group stages. And in the 2010 World Cup, they weren’t even there; they were eliminated in the playoffs by Slovenia. So, they had four disastrous tournaments after the Euro 2008 semis, which kind of resembles Leonid Slutsky’s four disastrous seasons with CSKA Moscow. :roll: These 2010-2016 results (1-4-4) mean that their “current” players aren’t good enough, advancing from a Euro or World Cup group is beyond their skills, even simply winning a single match against anyone is already an achievement.

What about their “future” players, do they have any youth teams results that suggest that the next crop of players will be more successful than the previous? Their under-21 national team is almost out of next years’ Euro, which will be their ninth miss in ten tournaments. The only time they actually qualified, in 2013, they got a … 0-0-3. Their under-20 national team is even worse; they can’t reach a World Cup since 1995, and they’re already out of next years’ edition. So, not only they had a disastrous recent past, their future doesn’t seem bright either.

Gav: Oh, and that’s a bad miss.

What Went Right – Uhm...they scored two goals.
Went Went Wrong – The tactics, the shape, the defence, we could go on here...
Their moment: scoring in the 92nd minute against England.

Czech Republic

The cycle of Czech in and outs continues, as 2016 proves to be a bad year like 2008 and 2000. However, the Czechs shouldn’t be too downhearted – this suggests they’re going to be ace in 2020!

Jon: Regular readers of this blog might be noticing an emerging theme and it’s this. Dinosaurs and spaceships are the coolest things ever.  Michael was right.

Michael *activates smug mode* I was right, I was right, I was right...

Jon: What was that you said about smugness?

Michael: Oh, I support Partick Thistle, it’s all about small moments...

Jon: Purely on history my wise comrade pointed out a pattern to the Czech appearances at the Euros…

1996 – KO stages 2000 – group stage exit 2004 – KO stages 2008 – group stage exit 2012 – KO stage 2016 – group stage exit?

Being smart enough to listen to young people I joined Michael in predicting that they’d finish bottom of a fairly tough group. In the event both Croatia and Spain lived up to their billing, so anything higher than third was always going to be a tough ask. They held Spain until the final five minutes through a combination of fortune and assiduous defending and were soundly beaten by Turkey. In between they were outplayed by Croatia for 70 minutes to an almost embarrassing degree but somehow contrived to scramble a draw with a last second penalty. It’s that little spark of obduracy that makes me sympathetic enough to say their presence was more worthwhile than the Ukraine but honestly… they more than lived up to our advance billing.

Michael: Unlike some other teams, I’d almost suggest that the Czechs had a good manager but weak team, and therefore their 1 point and 2 goals were far more than they’d have achieved with lesser men at the helm. Sadly, the Czechs have their best manager of the last decade at the same time they had their worst team this decade.

Pavel Vrba, as of writing, is still with the Czech side, and has a big job on hand with a tricky World Cup qualifying group, and the need to replace Tomas Rosicky and Petr Cech in the national side. Still, when Vrba left the Plzen job, the fans held up a banner which read “always remember it wasn’t wasted time”. Hopefully, by the time he leaves the Czech job, their fans will think the same.

Joao: Michael mentioned their yo-yo performance pattern, I noticed it too, but I thought that the “weak” 2016 would be finishing third, and it could still be enough to advance.

It wasn’t, they finished fourth.

They “almost” held Spain to a 0-0 in the first match, or “almost” equalized after Piqué’s goal. Then they “almost” reversed a 0-2 disadvantage against Croatia to a 3-2 win. But “almost” means that they couldn’t do it… which was kind of natural. It wasn’t so “natural” anymore to lose against Turkey, a team that was only third in the qualifying group that Czech Republic won, and that was a lot worse against Croatia and Spain than Czech Republic was. But at the end of the day none of this matters, Czech Republic is out with only one point.

Michael: They looked like they could hold Spain for 85 minutes, then they looked like they had spirit in an improbable comeback against Croatia. But when push came to show, Turkey happened.

Where it Went Wrong – Turkey.
Where it Went Right – The first half against Spain.
Their moment – Equalising in a maelstrom against Croatia.


Dark horse candidates for the title show the world.

Michael: Well, called that one wrong.

Jon: Football is a bloody wonderful game. It blends athleticism and skill with great dollops of drama and fortune. It unites (and often divides) people who have little in common bar a shared irritation with Ronaldo and provides us with memories to cherish down the years. And even better than that, even though you may do acres of research, comb through history with the eye of an Edward Gibbon or an AJP Taylor and provide a logical, cogent analysis it can make you look bloody stupid and have you looking foolish whilst the likes of Paul Merson or Robbie Savage strike lucky by being correct by the law of averages (though this doesn’t often happen). Smug mode was a default up to the last day of qualifying, with me predicting four of four group winners correctly. And then Austria happened. Both Michal and I, dazzled by a fine qualifying campaign, predicted great things and I even dared to say they’d finish top of the group.

So Mr Collins, of well earned jinxing fame, where did it all go wrong?

Michael: Well earned jinxing fame? Well, I oughta..

Jon: *laughs maniacally*

Michael: It started with an upset, a disallowed goal and a red card. It peaked with a creditable draw against the Portuguese, despite the actions of a non-friendly referee. It ended with a climatic goal for minnows after a game full of Austrian chances, which aided Portugal’s status as Euro 2016 favourites.
Many of their stars underperformed, Arnautovic and the like. Dragovic had a tournament to forget. Alaba was played out of position and looked uncomfortable. The manager has gotten a lot of flack for this.

Joao: If we consider their entire Euro 2016 campaign, nine wins, two draws and two defeats from thirteen matches is very good, they were the best Austrian team in a long time, maybe even the best ever Austrian team.

That doesn’t mean that they couldn’t do even better than this. For instance, Dragovic is a great candidate for the worst player of the tournament, with his red card in the first match, then Austria getting its only point and clean sheet precisely when he hasn’t played, and then returned to miss a penalty kick and see his team concede two goals and lose again. It’s also strange that they haven’t used their top scorer Janko for longer.

So, what’s next for Austria? They have an “easy” 2018 World Cup qualifying group, with Wales, Serbia, Ireland, Moldova and Georgia. But Hungary and Iceland also seemed “easy” opponents and Austria lost against both, while “easy” Wales are Ireland are still alive in Euro 2016… and Serbia has the best players in this group, if they can play as a team nobody here will be able to stop them. It’s unlikely that Austria will be able to get another 9-1-0 here or something close to that. But I expect to see them again in Euro 2020.

They’re getting good results in youth football, their under-21 national team has a good chance to qualify for next years’ Euro, and their under-20 national team qualified for three of the last five World Cups, and may qualify for the next edition as well, they’re already in Europe’s final 8 and all they need is to be one of the top 5. So, unlike the “rotten” Eastern giants, I actually see a bright future for Austria.

What Went Wrong – Expectations
What Went Right – Your guess is as good as mine.
Their moment – Ronaldo missing a penalty. Sums it up.


Sunday 19th, 10pm

Michael: Yus! Albania win… they’ve got a chance of going through!

Jon: Hmmm, three points and minus two goal difference… needs a fair bit of luck.

Michael: They’re going to prove me right I’m telling you! Top of the third place standings right now!

Monday 20th, 10pm

Jon:  Well, that’s Slovakia through ahead of them…

Michael: Bah, always likely. Still second in the third place standings!

Tuesday 21st 10pm

Michael: Bloody Michael McGovern. Bloody useless Czechs!

Wednesday 22nd 10pm

Michael: *weeps*.  Bloody Ronaldo! Sodding Republic of Ireland!

Jon: ‘Told you so’ is never a good look is it?

Well… as with Ukraine and Romania I wondered where the goals would come from and that’s pretty much how it worked out. Albania lived up to their billing as a tough side to break down; the Swiss relied on a keeping error from a set piece for their goal and France looked laboured for 90 minutes before breaking through with their only shots on target in injury time. This wasn’t a team for the connoisseur of flowing, attacking football; chances at a premium throughout these games. Like Michael O’Neill di Biasi worked out how to get the most out of a limited amount of talent and it came close to paying off for him.  But like Northern Ireland this is a team which always needs to score the first goal as it’s equipped to keep things tight rather than make comebacks.

Michael: I admit that Albania as dark horse last sixteen picks was one of my riskier picks,  not agreed with by large swathes of football pundits, and yet, they came so close to upsetting the designated order of football. But for last minute heartbreak against France, or failing to take any of four good chances against the Swiss they’d have been in the last sixteen. It was a defeat with honour for the tournament debutantes.

They missed a whole bucket of chances – before and after their goal – however which might have turned “near miss” into “massive success”. “If” is the saddest word in the dictionary though.

Shame for Albania, they did well, but couldn’t score. 

Joao:  I’d say that they were the only eliminated team so far that can still consider its campaign a success. In qualifiers + final stage, they won 5 of their 11 matches, plus 2 draws and 4 defeats, and they have a goal difference of +3 (11-8), although one of these wins and the 3 goals were from a court decision. Finishing above teams like Denmark and Serbia in the qualifiers, and now above Romania too, was much more than what I expected from them, and I don’t expect it to happen again frequently in the near future.

Gav: BBC Four had a hard hitting documentary about Romania and Albania at Euro 2016. It was like that Zidane film, like just a whole match. Very arty.

Michael: Sounds pretentious

Gav: Ah, you’ve seen it. Only they had Albania score – that’s not very realistic. This match was knock out, but it turned out to be “knock both teams out”.

Joao: They can forget about the 2018 World Cup, with Spain and Italy in their qualifying group.

What Went Right – Effort.
What Went Wrong – Talent.
Their moment – Their first ever win.


Sweden  had no shots on target for 185 minutes, and their only goal was an Irish own goal.

Jon: And with the final whistle of a limp loss international football as we knew it came to an end as Zlatan began his quest to boldly redefine the possibilities of international retirement. Not even the Mighty Zlatan could rescue his nation in this tournament as they finished bottom of the group with a single point to their name, and that only scrambled by an own goal. That’s it; the sole highlight of Sweden’s tournament was an own goal. Editors of tournament highlights are likely to miss them out altogether.

This might be a portrait of what awaits Portugal in two years time with Ronaldo’s likely decline. Over-reliant on a superstar on the verge of collecting his footballing pension they had precious little creativity in the side and although they were never bad enough to be thumped they didn’t really threaten to win a game either. This is a team that failed to have a shot on target in its first two games and mustered just three in its last one. Whilst acknowledging that there was limited talent to work with it also should be said that Hamren didn’t have any solutions to the big problem of a declining superstar. With the French and a Dutch side with a point to prove in their World Cup qualifying group the future’s looking bleak.

Joao:  Sweden was very disappointing. I thought that maybe they could disturb Belgium and/or Italy, and in the end they were even lucky to get one point against Ireland, in a game they hadn’t a single shot on goal. That happened again in the next game against Italy, and against Belgium they finally did it thrice, which is still pathetic, that in 270 minutes of football they only managed to shot on goal thrice – worst team in the tournament in this department. This Erik Hamrén is a bad coach; I don’t think Sweden should keep him any longer. Four years ago he was also eliminated in the Euro group stage, but at least that group stage was already the last 16 round and the group was also maybe stronger than this one. Then two years ago he couldn’t even qualify to the World Cup. And now he qualified to Euro 2016, but only in third place behind Austria and Russia, and the bad results continued in the final tournament. It was Sweden’s worst ever Euro (in Euro 2000 they were also defeated by Italy and Belgium and got a draw against the other team, Turkey… but that was already the last 16 round, not the last 24).

I think that Sweden may have a bright future in the following years. They’ll finally get rid of that parasite Ibrahimovic. They are the current under-21 European champions, they just have to use these players, and they’ll have a strong national team for the next years.  The next under-21 batch also seems to be good, they’re currently above Spain in the qualifiers, and two points behind Croatia, but Croatia already played an extra match compared to these two. Under-20 doesn’t seem to be a level that they’re good, the last time they qualified to a World Cup was in… 1991!  The senior team road to the 2018 World Cup will be hard, with Holland and France in their group (and also Bulgaria, Belarus and Luxembourg). But maybe Sweden can finish at least second and then win a playoff against another second placed team. If teams like Czech Republic, Iceland and Turkey all finished above Holland in the last cycle, why can’t Sweden in the next?

Michael: Joao has a far brighter impression of Swedish future than I do. Dull, toothless, and with Ibrahimovic looking properly old for the first time in his career, Sweden produced nothing of note. I have nothing to say about them, really.

Gav: Sweden were actually at the tournament? 

Michael: Yes, and now Zlatan has retired from international football?

Gav: Are we sure he hadn't actually retired a few weeks ago?

What Went Right – That own goal.
What Went Wrong – Everything else.
Their moment – The Nainggolan goal which eliminated them.


Comeback kings leaving it just too late...

Michael: As usual, Turkey left it to the bitter death to resurrect their tournament prospects, and, as in 2008, it involved eliminating the Czech Republic. However, this time, Fatih Terim’s men could not repeat the heroics of 2008, as they themselves were then beaten out at the death by a late goal for the Republic of Ireland in an entirely different game.

Trouble is, Turkey left it far too late, and didn’t score enough goals in their Lazarus like 2-0 over the Czechs in the final day.

But it could be said they were otherwise unlucky, victims of draw and circumstance.

Jon: You can pretty much sum up Turkey’s tournament with Arda Turan; offered little through the first two games before coming good just too late. In four Euro finals appearances they’ve never won their opening game; Croatia’s 1-0 win flattered the Turks with only the crossbar saving them from an absolute thumping.  You can say they were unfortunate to have Spain and Croatia, quite possibly the toughest pair of top seeds, but they never seemed to make Croatia or Spain work hard for their victories either – they didn’t stretch either of those sides and again, 3-0 flattered the Turks if anything. Ugur Meleke may well have been ungenerous in saying the Turks were the worst side at the tournament after the Spanish game (because hey, we had to endure Ukraine and Sweden too) but you couldn’t say he was far off. Terim was actually compelled to apologise for his team’s performance; you rather suspect that the dressing room afterwards would’ve been fairly similar in tone and content to what George Osborne said to David Cameron the morning after the EU referendum.

Of course, when Terim listened to Michael and actually introduced Emre Mor things got a whole lot better. Mor’s performance against the Czechs was undoubtedly their tournament highlight as he created their first goal and caused the Czechs headaches all game. If Terim had had the courage to start him in the first two games perhaps Turkey wouldn’t have faced the agony of waiting for other results to come in before being eliminated. Turan might now not impose his talents on a major tournament but the compensation for a disappointing tournament might well be the emergence of a new and exciting talent on the international stage.

Joao: It’s funny that some months ago they avoided the playoffs as the best third placed team, and probably playing against “weakened already qualified teams” helped. They had no problem with it then.

Now they expected to advance because Italy was supposed to defeat, or at least not lose, against Ireland. Italy couldn’t do it, and used a “weakened already qualified team” according to them, so now they’re furious.

Turkey is another Eastern giant, like Russia and Ukraine, with bad recent results, and no indication that things will get significantly better in the near future. After their Euro 2008 semis, they missed the 2010 World Cup (behind Spain and… Bosnia), then they also missed Euro 2012 (eliminated by Croatia in the playoffs after finishing second behind Germany in the group), and finally they missed the 2014 World Cup (fourth behind Holland, Romania and Hungary). Their qualification to Euro 2016 had more to do with the tournament expansion than with a significant improvement in their level, since they were only 3rd placed in their qualifying group, which wouldn’t be enough with only 16 spots instead of 24. Probably they won’t make it to the 2018 World Cup too, and they may be back in Euro 2020, again because the number of spots is so big now.

Their youth football results are also disastrous. After reaching the under-21 Euro in 2000 (where they got a 0-0-3) they missed the next eight editions, and probably will miss next year’s edition as well. And their under-20 national team only qualified for one of the last 5 World Cups, as hosts, and is already out of next year’s edition too.

They can try to compensate this weakness of their youth system with players like Yunus Malli that they attract to their senior national team after playing youth football for Germany, but I don’t see them becoming a football superpower with Germany’s (or anyone’s) leftovers, these players can be extras.

Michael: I do feel bad for Turkey though. Undone by a bolt from the blue, and then they tried to take on Spain at Spain’s own game. And swiftly proved why so few people ever try that...

What Went Wrong – Not scoring enough goals in the final game
What Went Right – Emre Mor.
Their moment -  The final win.


Michael: I fell over reading Roy Hodgson’s comments. “We’re not frightened of France” (paraphrased) – what happened to his old talking things down method?

Jon: *raises eyebrow* For him that’s a declaration of war.

“I’m not frightened of anyone. If we do end up playing France, it’ll be interesting. They’ll be asking questions of us when we get the ball and we might be able to show we are quite a good counter-attacking team.”

Michael: By his standards, that’s practically the speech from Henry V.

Jon: I wouldn’t be taking a win against Iceland for granted either…