Euros have been a bit of a damp squib this time around.
Northern Europe has
had a wet and cloudy June and this seems to have been reflected on
the field of France 2016.
The free-flowing football of Brazil 2014 is a bit of a memory, perhaps a telling comment on the tactics-heavy European teams.
With the possible exception of Portugal's 3-3 draw with Hungary, there have been no
standout games which ebbed and flowed to keep the neutrals
enthralled. There have been a couple of thrashings – France racing
to a 4-0 half-time lead over Iceland or Belgium thumping Hungary 4-0 for instance, and some very
clinical, high-quality football – Italy in the group stage most
notably, but not a lot to write home about.
format, three times the size of the eight country Euro '92 in
Sweden, has led to some teams deliberately playing for draws (Slovakia
against England), fielding weakened elevens (Italy v Eire) or even
happily losing 1-0 (Northern Ireland against Germany).
The knock-out stage
was supposed to add some spice to the mix and has done to a small
extent – Wales' surprising 3-1 dismissal of Belgium woke the
continent up even more than Iceland's 2-1 win over a soporific and
Then Germany and Italy provided some welcome
comedy in their penalty shoot-out after an exhausting 120 minutes.
remembered their lines as host nation to the relief of most football
followers and put in a bravura performance to eliminate the Viking
upstarts. The lack of an on-fire host nation, in sharp contrast to their outstanding team when they hosted the World Cup in 1998, has probably hurt the tournament.
The Champs-Elysees may yet become a sea of red, white and blue on Sunday night, an echo of 1984, 1998 and 2000, but Les Bleus have only two games left in which to impress.
Euro 2000 lingers in the mind as a colourful
tournament decided by a rollercoaster final, Euro 2004 had the
fairytale of a minnow, Greece, cheekily stealing the crown with
unashamedly entertainment-free tactics.
Euro 2008 was
nourished by the exciting emergence of the Spanish tiki-taka dynasty and in
2012 La Roja's 4-0 thrashing of Italy in the final was the stuff of
On paper a 24-team
field in 2016 should have provided a fertile patch for great stories
and indeed the tales of Wales and Iceland will live long in the
Just ask the
citizens of those formerly minnow nations and they will tell you. I
have an Icelandic friend who said despite many experiences, a wife
and children, his country's run to the quarter-finals was the
happiest time of his life.
And Welsh football
has had nothing to sing about since 1958 for goodness' sake.
therefore that the dragons lost their fire-breathing lungs last night
in Lyon when they needed it most. Portugal had been there for the
taking having stumbled into the semis after finishing third in their
group and not winning a single game in 90 minutes.
The shallow Welsh
squad was sadly exposed last night with the yellow-card absences of
defensive rock Ben Davies and their midfield schemer Aaron Ramsey.
How wrong is this
rule every tournament? Yet again the authorities' po-faced
insistence on an imaginary ideal of fair play has deprived the big
matches of some of their key actors.
Play in the league
and you only miss a game after five yellows, so why after only two in
tournaments? Ramsey's second caution, earned for a handball against
Belgium, was a harsh call at the time whose consequences cruelly blunted his
nation's big shot at glory.
The French have it in their hands to rescue Euro 2016 and make it a championship to remember. Didier Deschamps' men certainly should have the motivation to turn on the power against the Germans in Marseille tonight.
Les Bleus were knocked out the World Cup semi-finals by the Mannschaft in 1982 and '86 and most recently were knocked out by their old nemesis in Brazil 2014.
The '82 semi is the one which is referred to most readily in the press for good reason. That was one of the most emotional football matches in history.
France threw away a 3-1 lead in extra-time to lose on penalties in a match most recalled for Harald 'Toni' Schumacher's flying and unpunished kick on French striker Patrick Battiston.
The trauma was immense for the French players, who gained some comfort back however by winning Euro 1984 at home.
Yet the '82 semi-final loss remains a thorn in French football consciousness, a pain invoked every time France play Germany in knock-out football.
The Dutch felt the same trauma when they lost the 1974 World Cup final in Munich to West Germany, and only exorcised their demons in the semi-final of Euro 1988 in Hamburg.
If France want to similarly slay the ghost of Seville 1982, then tonight in Marseille is their chance.
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile