As the dust finally settles on what came across as quite an underwhelming tournament in France, we can now look at how football finally won on the day. Before the tournament, much was made on the terrorism threat after the Paris attacks on the 13th November 2015, and although there were controlled explosions outside of the grounds, the terrorists didn’t win. Instead, the tournament will be remembered as the year of the underdog.
In a season that has seen Leicester win the league, this tournament continued that same pattern, with the teams dubbed as ‘making up the numbers’ turning up and producing some great football. Before the tournament, much was made over the players many reckoned would steal the show: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney, Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller. Instead, unknowns such as Gabor Kiraly, who’s tracksuits took everybody by storm, Will Grigg, who was on fire, Hal Robson-Kanu who had underperformed for Reading for so many years, played out of his skin, Joe Allen who many dubbed the ‘Welsh Pirlo’ truly live up to that namesake.
YouTube Video of fans singing Will Griggs on fire, by Krimola
The giants of football such as England, Spain, Belgium and even Germany did not live up to the expectation that many set, with England crashing out to Iceland, Spain being beaten by an Italy side that had been written off by their own fans, and a Belgium side that had been dark horses before the tournament, seemed to be a team of individuals rather than united. Although Germany may have reached the semi-final, their team never looked like it got out of third gear, and instead relied on their history of being a powerhouse to carry them through the tournament.
Instead, fans were treated to the exciting teams such as Wales, Northern Ireland, Iceland, Ireland, Albania and more, who played purely for their country. Northern Ireland defied the odds, progressing from a group which included Germany and Poland, and got knocked out to eventual semi-finalists Wales. Iceland as we know beat a very sorry England side, and showed that a small nation can go far if their belief is there, something echoed by Wales who made it to the semi-finals, only to be beaten by eventual winners Portugal.
The tournament showed that no matter what, football would win, even with the threat of terrorism. Only sport can manage to unite a country, and although France did not manage to win the big prize, it certainly looked good for their future. With such a young squad, their time will come, and the defeat can only help them in the future. But for 2016, it truly has to be the year of Cristiano Ronaldo. At a time when Lionel Messi has announced his international retirement for Argentina, only Ronaldo could propel himself and his country to the final. When people look back, the tournament will be remembered for two things: the underdogs fighting to compete and closing the gap between themselves and footballing giants, and Ronaldo finally propelling himself as one of the world’s best football players.