France

Euro 2016 Team of the Tournament

Goalkeeper: Rui Patricio (Portugal)

This year’s Euros showcased some of the finest goalkeepers in the world, but the likes of Manuel Neuer, Thibaut Courtois and David De Gea were all outshone by Portugal’s Rui Patricio.

Patricio kept four clean sheets from seven matches – the joint highest amount, and also made the second highest amount of saves (20) at the tournament.

In addition, the Sporting Lisbon stopper made more saves in a Euro final since 1980.

Right-back: Bacary Sagna (France)

Over the last year or so, Bacary Sagna has revitalised his career. The Frenchman has overthrown Pablo Zabaleta to be Manchester City’s first-choice right-back and he used that to his advantage to be one of the top performers at the Euros, too.

Throughout the course of the tournament, Sagna made 38 clearances, seven interceptions and won seven tackles.

Furthermore, Sagna showed his creative side with assists such as the delectable whipped cross that Antoine Griezmann guided in to drag France level against the Republic of Ireland.

Centre back: Pepe (Portugal)

Euro 2016 will probably be remembered as a very defensive tournament, and the best defender on show in France was Portugal’s Pepe.

The Brazilian-born Real Madrid centre back has a reputation for being a hothead but he was composed at the heart of A Selecao’s defence as they shocked everyone to be crowned champions, where Pepe was the Man of the Match in the final.

In the final, Pepe made 17 interceptions, seven defensive headers, won five aerial duels, five blocks and nine tackles.

Centre back: Ashley Williams (Wales)

Much of the talk from the Welsh camp from the word go at the Euros was how much passion the squad possessed and Ashley Williams demonstrated that more than most.

None more so than when he appeared to be injured against the Northern Ireland but refused to be substituted and was then fit to face Belgium a matter of days later.

In said Belgium match he scored to get his country level and then showed guile and, that word, passion, to drag Wales over the line, much like he did in every other game.

Left-back: Raphael Guerreiro (Portugal)

Portugal may have had worries with regards to the left-hand side of their defence ahead of the Euros when Fabio Coentrao was ruled out with injury, but young prodigy Raphael Guerreiro stepped up to the plate and then some.

Like defensive partner Pepe, Guerreiro is not native Portuguese, ironically he was born in France, who Portugal beat in the final, and he looked at home throughout the tournament.

His numbers make for impressive reading: 17 clearances, 14 interceptions, 10 tackles won, eight chances created and one assist and one Young Player of the Tournament nomination for good measure.

Centre midfielder: Aaron Ramsey (Wales)

Prior to Euro 2016 Gareth Bale was often touted as the man that would make Wales tick if they were to make an impact, however it was Aaron Ramsey who really shone.

Ramsey registered the joint highest amount of assists at the Euros with a tally of four, with two of them coming in Wales’ huge win over Belgium to send them to their first ever semi-final.

The Arsenal midfielder was also vital in the 3-0 win over Russia which won Group B for Wales. He scored one goal and assisted another to earn a Man of the Match award.

It wasn't just Ramsey's peroxide blonde hair that stood out at Euro 2016 as his performances lit up the tournament

It wasn’t just Ramsey’s peroxide blonde hair that stood out at Euro 2016 as his performances lit up the tournament

Centre midfielder: Toni Kroos (Germany)

Toni Kroos was one of, if not the, best German performers two years ago as Die Mannschaft became the world champions and the midfield maestro was on top form again two years later.

Kroos bossed the show in Germany’s opening encounter against Ukraine, creating the most chances and notching an assist and he continued to dominate the midfield in every other match like he does all too often.

Bayern Munich must rue the day they let him go to Real Madrid for just £20 million.

Centre midfielder: Renato Sanches (Portugal)

Eyebrows were raised when Bayern Munich announced the signing of 18-year-old Renato Sanches for 35 million Euros but it seems like they have signed up a gem of a player.

Sanches won the Young Player of the Tournament at the Euros for a number of dazzling displays in the middle of the park for Portugal.

He really caught the eye though when he rifled in a sensational strike against Poland and it may go down as the moment he announced himself onto the European stage.

Right winger: Dmitri Payet (France)

Dmitri Payet got the Euros off to an electrifying start with a last-gasp winner against Romania with a thumping effort and carried on in the same vein as hosts France went all the way to the final.

Payet then sealed a 2-0 victory against Albania, scoring again in second-half stoppage time and almost broke the deadlock in the 0-0 draw against Switzerland despite only coming on as a second-half substitute.

The West Ham man was hugely influential in the 5-2 demolition of Iceland to boot and he ended his summer with three goals and two assists.

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Striker: Antoine Griezmann (France)

It took Griezmann longer than expected to make a serious impact on Euro 2016, but once he found his scoring touch, it took something special to stop him.

Griezmann only managed one goal in his first three games in the Group Stages and it looked like the pre-tournament Golden Boot favourite would have a tournament to forget.

But then he netted two against the Republic of Ireland in the last 16, then he netted against Iceland and he soon had another brace vs Germany to send France to the final.

Left winger: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

At times the egotistical Cristiano Ronaldo was humbled by underwhelming performances, but when it mattered the big man stood up to the occasion.

Ronaldo netted a brace against Hungary when Portugal needed a result to qualify from their group, including one that almost won goal of the tournament, but his showing in the semi-final versus Wales was his best.

He powered in a header to give Portugal the lead shortly after the half-time break and three minutes later Nani turned in a shot of Ronaldo’s to make the result secure.

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Top Five Flops Of The Euros So Far

The Group Stage of Euro 2016 has now been and gone, so BenjaminWillsBlog has taken a look at five players who have as yet failed to live up to the pre-tournament hype.

1) Antoine Griezmann – France

When Antoine Griezmann came off the bench to head France into a last-gasp lead against Albania it seemed like the Euros was about to burst into life for one of the continent’s top talents, however it has not yet been the case.

Atletico Madrid’s main man suffered a frustrating 90 minutes on opening night as Olivier Giroud and Dmitri Payet were needed to rescue the hosts and Griezmann was promptly dropped for the Albania game.

His goal got him back in the line-up against Switzerland, but again the Frenchman was ineffective as he has yet to get a proper foothold on this tournament which is underwhelming from a man many backed to win the Golden Boot.

2) Harry Kane – England

Harry Kane has been the top English goalscorer for each of the past two seasons, the current Three Lions squad is attacking and exciting, so, put the two together and you have a perfect blend, right? It would appear not.

At his club, Tottenham Hotspur, boy wonder Kane is used to being the main man, he plays on his own up front for Spurs, but with his country he finds himself deployed as part of a three-man attack and has so far struggled to find his scoring boots due to lack of service and perhaps is not suited to others doing the dirty work for him.

After unexpectedly failing to win Group B England find themselves on the harder half of the tournament table, and Kane will need to remember where the back of the net is if the Three Lions want to make a serious impression on this year’s Euros.

3) Paul Pogba – France

Since 1996, the Player of the Tournament at the European Championships has had two things in common: they were centre midfielders, and their country were crowned champions.

Paul Pogba and France were both tipped for glory this summer, both still might get their crowning glory, but neither have been entirely convincing as yet. The Juventus man has shown flashes of brilliance, in the first-half of France’s 2-1 win over Romania and during the 0-0 draw with Switzerland, but for a man touted as one of the best in the world and expected to command a fee of £70 million, the mercurial midfielder has not quite been firing on all cylinders.

Pogba will need to kick it up a notch if he wants to emulate his childhood hero Zinedine Zidane, who was the best player as France won Euro 2000.

4) Thomas Muller – Germany

The Germans. Ruthless, clinical, efficient, and any other cliche you want to use, none apply to Thomas Muller this summer.

He may only be 26-years-old, but Muller is as experienced as they come. The forward has 32 international goals in 74 caps, and a World Cup winners’ medal, but despite this he has never scored in a Euros, and that stat does not look like being wiped out any time soon.

Muller’s role is that of a Raumdeuter – a ‘space investigator’ in real terms – Mario Gotze as a false nine is supposed to create space for the supporting Muller, but so far the mean defences of Poland, and especially Northern Ireland, have managed to snuff out the Bayern Munich man out, leaving him ineffective.

5) Robert Lewandowski – Poland

This is new territory for Robert Lewandowski. Since his first season as a professional in the Polish second division with Znicz Pruszkow in 2006-07 he has scored fewer than 15 goals in a campaign only twice, but now when representing his country his magic touch seems to have worn a bit thin.

Lewandowski scored 30 goals in 32 matches for his club, Bayern in the Bundesliga last season and went into the Euros in hot form but after four games in France he has scored no goals and had just the one shot on target.

Despite one of the world’s hottest strikers blowing cold Poland have made it to the quarter-finals, getting on the scoresheet a grand total of three times in the process, but they need their star man to show up sooner rather than later, otherwise a great opportunity for history may go up in smoke.

Euro 2016 Team of the Group Stage

Goalkeeper: Michael McGovern (Northern Ireland)

International tournaments are a great way for lesser-known players to advertise themselves on the big stage and no-one has made the most of this quite like Michael McGovern.

McGovern is currently a free agent after leaving Scottish Premiership outfit Hamilton when his contract expired and should have no problem finding a new club due to his outing at the Euros.

Northern Ireland’s goalkeeper has made the second highest amount of saves (16) in the three games he has played and half of them (eight) came in the Germany game where impressively the Green and White Army only succumbed to a 1-0 loss, thanks to McGovern.

Right-back: Elseid Hysaj (Albania)

The 24-team Euros has allowed players from unfashionable European nations to shine, it is a shame we will see no more of Albania and their right-back Elseid Hysaj who has been a shining light in an average team.

Albania finished as one of the six third-placed teams but their goal difference of minus two led to them being one of the unfortunate pair, alongside Turkey, who did not do enough to secure a place in the last 16 of the competition.

Hysaj, who plays his club football in Serie A for Napoli, came into his own though, he defended well and was key for Albania going forward too. In the 1-0 loss to Switzerland he played a sensational through ball to Armando Siduku who fired straight at the keeper and similar occurred just over a week later when Ermir Lenjani blasted over the bar from point-blank range when picked out by Hysaj.

Centre back: Leonardo Bonucci (Italy)

Isn’t it great when a team lives up to the stereotype? Italy, the ‘tournament team you should never write off’ that are ‘built on solid defences’, have been, well, the typically efficient side that have been built on a solid defence that punish teams on the counter-attack.

Leonardo Bonucci, who is a serious target for Chelsea – the team Italy boss Antonio Conte will manage at the end of the Euros, has been the true rock and leader of the traditional sturdy Azzurri.

Bonucci even played a part in one of the goals of the championship to this point as well. A sensational directed ball landed at the feet of Emanuele Giaccherini with the most pinpoint precision and the ex-Sunderland winger was left with the simple task of tucking home past Thibaut Courtois.

Centre back: Jerome Boateng (Germany)

It takes a special defender to prevent a near-certain goal from going in but that is exactly what Jerome Boateng did, but that is what Jerome Boateng is.

Germany had taken an early lead in their Group C opener against Ukraine but looked certain to concede when the Bayern Munich deflected a cross towards his own goal but somehow the 27-year-old adjusted his body and cleared the ball away from danger.

Boateng did not put a foot wrong in the 0-0 draw with Poland or the 1-0 win over Northern Ireland either. Germany are one of only two teams to have not conceded a goal yet at Euro 2016.

Left-back: Jordi Alba (Spain)

Jordi Alba truly burst onto the scene with his dazzling displays at the last Euros and if he carries on in this vain, he will be among the nominees for the top player prize again without a doubt.

Alba’s best showing so far included a wonderful assist that lead Spain’s second goal that meant they had got into an unassailable lead against Turkey.

Centre midfielder: Andres Iniesta (Spain)

At Euro 2012, Spain won their third trophy in a row and Andres Iniesta was crowned the Player of the Tournament, four years later, he is at it again.

It took La Roja 87 minutes to break down the Czech Republic but the defensive tactic of the Czechs allowed Iniesta to caress the Stadium Municipal in Toulouse, and it was indeed him that finally unlocked the opposition defence with a floated delivery that Gerard Pique converted to get the Spanish out of jail.

The Turkey game four days later was even easier for Iniesta and it was the Barcelona playmaker the provided perhaps the highlight of the match, a defence-splitting pass that set club and country colleague Jordi Alba on his way to square in a cross for Alvaro Morata to convert.

Centre midfielder: Toni Kroos (Germany)

Toni Kroos was one of, if not the, best German performers two years ago as Die Mannschaft became the world champions and the midfield maestro has not let up this summer.

In Germany’s opening encounter, Kroos made 112 passes, five more than Ukraine’s top three passers combined and set up Shkodran Mustafi’s header from a free-kick in what was a real sight to behold – one of the world’s best having a stroll in the park.

Bayern Munich must rue the day they let him go to Real Madrid for just £20 million.

Centre midfielder: Luka Modric (Croatia)

Kroos has not been the only Real Madrid centre midfielder to shine at these Euros, Luka Modric has made a serious impression as well.

Modric originally made an impact on the Euros when his dipping volley beat Turkish goalkeeper Volkan Babacan all ends up and during that game he also made more passes and had more touches than any other man on the pitch.

Croatia are normally considered ‘dark horses’ , but thanks to the likes of Modric they won Group D ahead of Spain and now, thanks to being on a kinder half of the tournament table, they may well go all the way.

Right forward: Dmitri Payet (France)

Dmitri Payet may have scored the goal of the tournament on the night it all kicked off and it was justified after a really bright evening for the West Ham man.

France were understandably cagey in their first game, but Payet made things happen. Olivier Giroud scored a trademark header as a result of a superb cross from him and then the free-kick master proved he was just as good in normal play as he smacked a bending shot past a despairing Ciprian Tatarusanu as the game entered the 90th minute to give the hosts an opening day win.

Payet then sealed a 2-0 victory against Albania, scoring again in second-half stoppage time. The winger was only used as a substitute in the 0-0 draw with fellow Group A qualifiers Switzerland but hit the bar with a rasping effort just moments after coming on.

Striker: Alvaro Morata (Spain)

It took a long while for the Euros to start seeing plenty of goals, especially from strikers, but after a poor first game against the Czech Republic, Morata remembered where the back of the net was.

Morata, who recently re-joined Real Madrid after they activated his buy-back clause from Juventus, was the first player to score more than once in a match when he netted a brace in Spain’s dominant 3-0 win over Turkey.

Croatia felt the brunt of him too in the final round of group games when he tapped in the opener. Morata is currently the joint-top goalscorer at Euro 2016.

Left forward: Ivan Perisic (Croatia)

Initially, Ivan Perisic got people talking for being a winger who was unorthodoxly sporting the number four for Croatia, but now his football is the sole focus, and with good reason.

After just two games, he has a pair of goals and one assist to his name as Croatia somewhat unexpectedly topped Group C ahead of one of the pre-tournament favourites, Spain.

Perisic exploded onto the tournament with an accurate effort into Petr Cech’s far post after a cheeky step-over in Croatia’s 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic and then he was the star of the show against Spain. Nikola Kalinic’s goal came about as a result of a Perisic cross and then the Inter Milan forward put himself on the back pages with an 87th-minute winner.

 

Switzerland 2-5 France: Sorry Switzerland flattened by France

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France all but secured their passage through to the next round with a resounding 2-5 win over neighbours Switzerland in the highest scoring game of the World Cup thus far. Olivier Giroud, Blaise Matuidi, Mathieu Valbuena, Karim Benzema and Moussa Sissoko provided the France goals in a largely one-sided affair.

Two goals in two minutes killed Switzerland off early on in the match. The first coming when Giroud headed in Valbuena’s corner. Diego Benaglio could have done better with it but had a defender in his way that may have put him off.

Benaglio appeared to still be dwelling on the last goal but found himself picking the ball out of his net soon after. Just 13 seconds from the kick-off, France were two goals to the good. A dreadful pass by Valon Behrami was snatched upon by Benzema who fed Matuidi on his left who beat Benaglio at his near post.

It was 0-3 five minutes before half time when France broke on the counter attack. An intelligent pass from Raphael Varane found Giroud who bursted down the left and squared it to Valbuena who tapped home the third.

Les Blues should have even been four up at the break but Benzema had a penalty saved well by Benaglio after Johan Djourou fouled him in the box. Yohan Cabaye hit a rebound onto the post and out from close range.

They did have their fourth after 67 minutes though when substitute Paul Pogba’s silky pass with the outside of the boot was finished by Benzema through Benaglio’s legs after Phillipe Senderos’ attempted clearance contacted with nothing but air.

France had a fifth six minutes later when Moussa Sissoko slotted in first time. Gohkan Inler lost the ball in the midfield, France worked it to Benzema on the edge of the box who found the Newcastle man with a pass that resembled Pele’s to Carlos Alberto in the 1970 World Cup final and like Alberto, Sissoko scored with consummate ease.

Switzerland did hit back with a consolation in the last ten minutes thanks to the first goal scored from a direct free-kick with Blerim Dzemaili taking the honour. It was fortunate though as the French wall allowed it to drift through them when it should have been blocked easily.

Granit Xhaka scored a second for the Swiss three minutes from time, sweeping home a controlled volley but it was too little too late for Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side.

Benzema did in fact score again when he curled home a fantastic effort from the edge of box but, in a minor blow to his Golden Boot chances, the final whistle had already gone.

Change needed for England? Again?

Following what looks to be England’s latest failing at a major tournament, there are yet again calls for major overhaul.

After the 2010 World Cup in South Africa where England crashed out in the last 16 with a 4-1 hammering by rivals Germany, the Three Lions were encouraged to base their style on the tiki-taka of Spain who went on to win the coveted trophy.

St George’s Park was built with this philosophy grained into it and the effects have been predicted to come to fruition for the Qatar World Cup in 2022.

The problem now however is that tiki-taka looks tiki-toast after Spain themselves were dumped out the group stages this summer by The Netherlands and Chile.

To Roy Hodgson’s credit, England did play the positive attacking football in their opener against Italy and were arguably the better side but Uruguay was a different story as static, nervous England seemed to be back as the pressure looked to have got to them.

England need to create their own identity, possibly starting with a new Captain.

Steven Gerrard has come into particular light as the 34-year-old has probably waved goodbye to the World Cup due to his age and it did not end on a high, his header setting up Liverpool teammate Luis Suarez’s winner to all but send England home.

Liverpool’s iconic hero has been a loyal servant to his country with some fantastic highs including scoring the equalizer in England’s famous 1-5 win over Germany in 2001, scoring a brilliant goal against Trinidad and Tobago at World Cup 2006 and of course his crucial World Cup qualifying goals against the likes of Croatia for 2010 and Poland for 2014.

Along with this though, he has had his lows including a dodgy back-pass at Euro 2004 against France which led to Thierry Henry being fouled for Zinedine Zidane’s winning penalty as well as the Uruguay gaffe.

If Gerrard is replaced, either by choice through International retirement, or by force as Hodgson continues to build for the future, who could replace him?

Joe Hart: The England goalkeeper would be a popular choice among fans as he is one of few England players who has a safe spot in Hodgson’s starting eleven.

Two time Premiership winner with Manchester City, Hart, has established himself as England’s number one after Robert Green’s high profile error against the United States at the last World Cup and then number two David James has since retired.

Hart is a known leader on the pitch, often seen barking instructions from his penalty box and is refreshingly honest in interviews, something that adheres to England supporters as he is one of very few players who embodies himself among fans as “one of them”.

It is a myth that England players do not care about their national side as much as the fans but Hart is a rare example of someone who truly proves this. Perfect Captain material.

Wearing his Hart on his shoulder: England's number one.

Wearing his Hart on his sleeve: England’s number one.

Gary Cahill: John Terry’s partner in the heart of Chelsea’s defense is starting to emerge from the former England Captain’s shadow.

Since joining Stamford Bridge from Bolton in 2012, Cahill has blossomed working with Terry and has picked up plenty more England caps to boot as he ‘s built up a solid partnership with Everton’s Phil Jagielka.

Along with this, Cahill has similar personality traits to his colleague such as on-pitch leadership and an equally similar playing style. The 28-year-old is often seen putting his body on the line for his team much like Terry (“Superman” dive vs Slovenia esque) in true English lion-heart style, something the Three Lions have missed since Terry’s acrimonious departure from the national fold.

Another positive of Cahill’s, he also does not come with the baggage of John Terry with his personal life stories of affairs and racist allegations.

New kid on the block: Cahill dives in-front of a shot.

New kid on the block: Cahill dives in-front of a shot.

Wayne Rooney: Expected to be the bookies and media favourite to replace Gerrard. The England poster boy is undoubtedly the star man.

94 caps and 40 goals would be an impressive return by anyone’s standard but the main criticism of “Wazza” is that he does not turn up on the big stage.

The Manchester United forward, 28, has only scored six goals in major tournaments (four at Euro 2004 where he was just 18, one at Euro 2012 which was a header from two yards against Ukraine, and his leveler against Uruguay) – his first World Cup goal at the third attempt.

Criticism of his attitude would also be a harm to him, frequent contract issues with his club where he seems to be constantly demanding more money does not portray him in a good light.

Many also believe that we have never seen what Rooney is truly capable of, citing that if he had more drive and determination he could have been one of the best players in the world, possibly even ever.

Rooney’s rant into a camera following a 0-0 draw with Algeria at the last World Cup will also live long in the memory of many an England supporter. “Nice to see your home fans boo you, that’s what loyal support is”, is not a sentence that endears you to fans well.

Despite all this though, Rooney is still seen as the man to lead England. Why? Because he is England’s best player and, after all, isn’t that what the Captain should be?

Wayne's World: England's next captain?

Wayne’s World: England’s next captain?

France 3-0 Honduras

A fiery encounter that will live long in the memory ended 3-0 to favourites France who earned a much deserved win against a physical Honduras side.

Karim Benzema was the star of the show, scoring two goals of his own and was unfortunate to have not claimed another.

France’s second goal of the game was one of the most bizarre in World Cup history. Benzema scoring a placed volley off the inside off the post which went across the goal-line and off the Goalkeeper Noel Valladares and into the net. Or so it seemed.

Benzema appealed to the referee and the goal was given, cue celebrations but when the crowd was shown the replay “no goal” flashed up on the goal-line technology system referring to when the ball hit the post, sparking uproar from Honduras fans, players and coaching staff but more replay showed after the ball hit Valladares it was in fact a goal.

Goal line technology played a vital role in France's second goal.

Goal line technology played a vital role in France’s second goal.

Number nine Benzema bagged his brace when he thundered in a rebound following Mathieu Debuchy’s blocked cannoned shot, Valladares had little chance having just stood up after diving for Debuchy’s drive.

The sub-plot of the first half was Wilson Palacios vs the world with Paul Pogba taking most of the brunt from the brute. Palacios and Pogba both picked up yellow cards when Palacios trampled on the Juventus youngster but Pogba gave as good he got, kicking out at the Stoke man. Both could have easily seen red.

Palacios did receive his marching orders soon after when he clattered into Pogba and gave away a penalty which Benzema dispatched with ease.

Les Blues hit the crossbar twice before that, Blaise Matuidi first after his shot was tipped onto the bar by the ‘keeper following Mathieu Valbuena’s free-kick being headed into his path and then Franck Ribery replacement Antoine Griezmann cracked a header against the woodwork after Patrice Evra’s cross.

Honduras caused little damage to France in terms of goal scoring opportunities with Hugo Lloris not having to make any major saves but the tackling from Luis Suarez’s side may have left a few bruises on French legs, a real horror show from Honduras at times.