An enjoyable opening weekend to Euro 2016, from a footballing point of view anyway, saw the hosts claim a dramatic late victory with a wonder strike from Dimitri Payet on Friday evening.
There were more brilliant goals to follow; Modric’s excellent technique to volley Croatia to victory on Sunday and Bale and Dier’s free kicks the day before were the pick of the bunch.
Germany were underwhelming but good enough to see off the meek threat of the Ukraine.
The world champions looked suspect at the back without Mats Hummels and the retired ex-captain Philip Lahm. Joachim Loew’s men are weak in both full-back positions and I can’t see them making it past the semi-finals this year.
Russia and Northern Ireland seemed to be competing for the title of most inept attacking team of the tournament with Michael O’Neill’s side just edging it after Russia produced an injury-time equaliser with their first effort on goal against England. Roy Hodgson’s unconvincing game management cost England a very rare opening win to a tournament as everyone with eyes could see that Jamie Vardy should have replaced a tired looking Harry Kane as Russia pushed further forward in the last twenty minutes.
There was an audible groan from the Marseilles crowd when James Milner came on for Raheem Sterling, who put in an almost promising but ultimately immature performance yet again, and it was Milner’s rash charge that prompted the cross which lead to Berezovsky’s looped header in the 91st minute.
Wales’ rollicking end-to-end match against Slovakia was the best game so far, and it sets up a mouth watering match against England on Thursday afternoon. Hal Robson-Kanu’s winning goal should be enough to see Wales through to the knockout stages with the new 24 team format allowing four third placed teams to progress. Chris Coleman’s international reputation is rising after the way he changed this match at the point when Slovakia were dominating; Robson-Kanu provided an extra body up front and Ledley gave an injection of energy and purpose in midfield, and these inspired, positive substitutions are what gave Wales the 2-1 win.