Chris Hatherall celebrates the Euro 2016 wow factor.
Player of the tournament: Antoine Griezmann
You could make a case for Gareth Bale, Dimitri Payet, and Cristiano Ronaldo but in reality French forward Griezmann was head and shoulders above the lot of them (not bad for a player who is only 1.75m tall and who went into the tournament having missed a penalty in the Champions League final).
Griezmann’s performances, full of creative intent, thoughtful and clever movement and exquisite finishing, have captivated audiences in France and awakened the wider football public to his quality.
Often starting attacks from deep, Griezmann’s ability to create space, beat players and move the ball quickly have been a feature of France’s play — and his goals have included left foot and right foot finishes, penalties and even a header.
He appears to be a player who has everything. So at the age of 25, and yet to play for one of Europe’s true giants, there may be more to come in the ensuing years.
It is worth noting he was given excellent support by the unselfish Olivier Giroud ahead of him, who was willing to work hard to provide his partner with space and goalscoring opportunities.
How different would this tournament have been had Karim Benzema, with a bigger ego and profile, been available for selection and left Griezmann in the shadows? Sometimes fate works in mysterious ways.
Team of the tournament:
Lloris (France); Kimmich (Germany), Pepe (Portugal), Bonucci (Italy), Evra (France); Pogba (France) Ramsey (Wales), Payet (France), Bale (Wales); Ronaldo (Portugal), Griezmann (France).
Hazard (Belgium), Kroos (Germany), Nainggolan (Belgium), Modric (Croatia), Hendrick (Ireland), Hector (Germany), Matuidi (France).
Goal of the tournament: Xherdan Shaqiri — Switzerland v Poland
While goals were hard to come by in the tournament, there were some worthy contenders to consider.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s superbly-executed back-heel flick against Hungary, for instance, Radja Nainggolan’s long-range screamer against Wales, and Griezmann’s sumptuous chip against Iceland spring to mind.
But who would have thought the best goal of Euro 2016 would have been scored by a guy from Stoke City?
Xherdan Shaqiri’s spectacular long-range scissor-kick against Poland in the last 16 had to be seen to be believed. It wasn’t enough to save Switzerland from elimination but it was a moment when every person inside the stadium in St Etienne let out a collective ‘wow’. Pure magic.
Key moment of the tournament
What would have happened to France in this tournament if Dimitri Payet had not scored that last-gasp goal from outside the box in the 89th minute against Romania, to earn his side a late victory?
That one moment won over a whole nation and changed the atmosphere of the tournament in a second; it was crucial in building the momentum which took France to the final.
Magic moment of the tournament
Every Irish fan will remember where they were when Robbie Brady scored the goal which beat mighty Italy and sent the Republic into the last 16. Bringing back memories of the World Cup in 1994 when Big Jack’s men humbled Italy in the Giants Stadium in New Jersey, Brady struck in the 85th minute, with a brave header past Salvatore Sirigu from an inch-perfect Wes Hoolahan cross.
Cue absolute bedlam as grown men shed tears of joy all around the Stade Pierre-Mauroy.
Save of the tournament
There have been some very good goalkeeping performances at Euro 2016 — from Michael McGovern for Northern Ireland against Germany to eye-catching saves from Hugo Lloris (notably in the semi-final against Germany), Manuel Neuer, Darren Randolph, and Wayne Hennessey.
But, and this may be lead to trouble with the goalkeepers’ union, the best save of the tournament wasn’t even made by a keeper — but by Germany defender Jerome Boateng. His acrobatic goal-line clearance as he fell backward into the net against Ukraine was out of this world.
Story of the tournament
It has to be Iceland. Wales deserve a mention for their remarkable run to the semi-finals under Chris Coleman, a fairytale story which would be the greatest told in France this summer if not for the efforts of a nation of just 330,000 inhabitants which knocked out England and reached the last eight.
The huge intensity and competitiveness of the Iceland players on the pitch, such a contrast to their relaxed, friendly and unassuming attitude off it, won hearts and minds and made their journey all the sweeter.
Add in the ‘Viking thunderclap’ chant that took the tournament by storm (we’re all dreading lower league sides copying it next season) plus a nutty commentator who became an internet hit and it’s easy to see why we loved them.
Villains of the tournament
The balaclava-wearing hooligans of Russia were unwelcome visitors but let’s stick to football and go for Uefa themselves following a ludicrous decision to sanction Wales for allowing the players’ children to join them on the pitch. What fools.
Host city of the tournament
Lille hosted the Republic’s Italy party, Bordeaux was rocking when Wales were in town and the stadium at Marseille is a stunner. But if you’re going to pick one venue to return to on holiday, Nice has it all. With nearly 2,000 bars and restaurants, a design-led new stadium, beach clubs, atmospheric old town and up-market places to stay like iconic Hotel La Perouse on the seafront, it will probably be almost as good when the football isn’t in town..
Fans of the tournament
Well, there’s only one choice isn’t there? The Boys in Green took France by storm, winning the affection of a nation with their good behaviour, good deeds and good craic.
They were the kings of social media too as clips of the boys in action spread like wildfire across the web. Whether they were singing lullabies to babies on the Metro, helping an elderly couple change a tyre, or chanting ‘clean up for the Boys in Green’ as they collected litter, YouTube loved them.
Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, even awarded supporters from the Republic and Northern Ireland with an honorary medal for their behaviour. Enough said.
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