The first round of the 2016 European Championship group stage has concluded. Some teams surprised, while others disappointed, but every game had its exciting moments. Here are some of the most notable so far as Round 2 gets underway.
France 2 – 1 Romania: The Hosts Leave It Late
Coming into the tournament as hosts and favorites, France should have made easy work of their Balkan opponents. Instead, the Romanians came out fighting and stifled the French attack for much of the game. It was only a spectacular goal from man of the match Dimitri Payet in the 89th minute that made the difference between the two sides. France will be happy with the three points, but know that their team performances must be better if they’re going to make a deep run. Meanwhile, Romania impressed despite the loss, and can head into their next match against Switzerland confident that they can get a result.
England 1 – 1 Russia: The Three Lions Can’t Finish
In a match marred by violence between fans, England looked far better than their Russian counterparts. Despite the oddity that was Harry Kane taking corners, England were dominant, and took the lead in the second half through an Eric Dier free kick. However, their inability to finish more chances left the door open, and Russia capitalized when Vasili Berezutski nicked a goal in second half stoppage time to end the match as a draw. Though England will surely be disappointed with the result, their solid play through most of the match should make them optimistic going forward.
Belgium 0 – 2 Italy: Tactics Conquer Talent
Probably the most anticipated match of the round, Belgium vs. Italy featured two teams with almost opposite descriptions. The Belgians had their golden generation of star players, but faced problems of mismanagement and lack of team chemistry. The Italians had their least talented squad in decades but a solid defense and soon-to-be Chelsea manager Antonio Conte calling the shots. It was Conte’s strategy that won the game for Italy, whose 5-3-2 formation neutralized Belgian wingers Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne, and allowed Emanuele Giaccherini to score for the Azzurri before Graziano Pelle finished the game late on. Even if they don’t have the same talent as in years past, the Italians are a team to watch out for going forward.
Portugal 1 – 1 Iceland: David vs. Ronaldo
Portugal is a country of more than 10 million, with a star studded squad that includes one of the best players in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo. Iceland is a country of just over 300 thousand, with a squad consisting of only a few players from Europe’s top leagues. The match started just how you would expect, with Portugal dominating. Entering the second half down 1-0, Iceland couldn’t handle the Portuguese attack and continued to struggle. It was looking like the first potential blowout of the tournament, but after a moment of horrendous Portuguese defending, all of a sudden Iceland were level. The equalizing goal brought the Iceland fans in the stadium (8% of the country’s population) and players to life. For the rest of the match, Iceland defended strongly and even created a few chances to win the game themselves. If these minnows of Europe keep up the determination and intensity, more upsets are likely to follow.