An action packed week of Euro 2016 football has seen Italy emerge as potential winners of this tournament. Billed as one of the worst Azzurri sides in History beforehand, the Italians have now won both their games without conceding a goal. They brushed aside the well-fancied but utterly inept Belgians, proving that the collective is more important than the individual.
Antonio Conte is probably the best manager in this competition, something which may give Italy the edge over other nations. His own Juventus defensive unit of Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini and Buffon is highly organised and difficult to break down.
Premier League winners Leicester City’s organisation and team spirit was a triumph over individual talent and overpaid superstar player culture. Maybe this Euro’s will follow a similar pattern?
The ultimate example of this was Iceland’s 1-1 draw with Ronaldo’s pouting and moaning Portugal side. With only 50,000 men of football playing age in the country, Iceland showed incredible grit and togetherness to record their first ever point in an International tournament.
Albania, who were excellent against Switzerland with 10 men, managed to hold France to 0-0 until Griezmann’s 90th minute opener, while Northern Ireland produced the shock of the tournament by making five changes to their side and beating Ukraine 2-0 amidst a dramatic hailstorm.
It’s been a brilliant Euro’s with some amazing goals. Many journalists and pundits predicted a cagey and boring group phase because of the new format but the opening matches turned out to be the most exciting, with teams going all out for the win because three points puts you in such a strong position. Some of the second round of games were a bit more cautious as teams who had won their opening match realised that a draw and one point is not such a bad result; this is something which defined Wales’ poor showing against England and Germany and Poland’s 0-0 draw.
Roy Hodgson’s substitutions at half-time have been widely regarded as a tactical master-class but I tend to think he just started the game with the wrong players. Sturridge and Vardy’s goals won it for England, true, but it could have been a more comfortable game for England if the out-of-form Sterling had not started the match. If Hodgson persists with Sterling and Kane against Slovakia then he will have learned nothing from the game in Lens.
Spain are now the bookmakers favourites after cruising through their first two matches. A third straight European Championship victory is not beyond Del Bosque’s men. Spain are a more complex team to define, and they don’t easily fit into my rather simplistic narrative of the organised team versus the talented individuals. The Spanish are a team full of talented players defined by the playing style and personnel of Barcelona, a highly organised unit who have become superstars because of their success at club and international level.
Maybe their humiliation in the Brazil World Cup will give them sufficient motivation to go all the way this time.