Euro 2016 – First Round Review (Groups D-F)

Luka Modric

Modric was in fine form for Croatia.

Group D
Croatia 1-0 Turkey – Modric magic the difference

Croatia, the popular choice as a dark horse for this tournament, kicked things off with a comfortable 1-0 win against Turkey.

Luka Modric provided a piece of magic when his controlled and dipping volley beat Volkan Babacan. A brilliant piece of technique, worthy of winning most football matches.

While the Real Madrid orchestrator delivered a man of the match performance, his teammates Ivan Rakitic and Milan Badelj were also very good. Fiorentina’s Badelj delivered a composed and assured performance, which allowed Modric the time and space to dictate matters further up field.

The only gripe with Croatia’s performance was their lack of ruthlessness in the final third. Ivan Perisic and Darijo Srna both struck the crossbar in the second half while the former also had a couple of good opportunities. They’ll need to be more clinical if they are to fulfill the predictions of many.

Man of the Match: Luka Modric

 

Andres Iniesta

Iniesta provided the assist for Spain’s winner.

Spain 1-0 Czech Republic – Spain Pique at the death

Reigning champions, Spain needed an 87th minute winner from Gerard Pique to defeat a disciplined Czech Republic.

It was a typical Spain performance, led by a trademark showing by Andres Iniesta, as they tried to suffocate the opposition through controlled possession. The midfielder was the most incisive with his passes but Petr Cech was there to foil Spain’s efforts at goal.

Eventually, it was Iniesta who picked out Barcelona teammate, Pique, with a cross late on, which decided the game. But even then, the Czechs still nearly found an equaliser only to be thwarted by Spain’s confirmed number one, David De Gea.

The Spaniards dominance was proven by the stat that Cech played more passes than any of his teammates during the game. Meanwhile, former Arsenal teammate, Tomas Rosicky managed to play 89 minutes, more than four times the amount he accumulated during his final season with Arsenal.

Some supporters may find it dull to watch Spain play attack v defence like this but many opponents are likely to execute the same approach. Besides, performances like Iniesta’s will be worth the admission fee alone.

Man of the Match: Andres Iniesta

 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Ibrahimovic will need to do more in Sweden’s next match.

Group E
Sweden 1-1 Republic of Ireland – Hoolahandini not quite enough for impressive Irish 

Martin O’Neill’s side produced a positive performance against Sweden on Monday. Unfortunately, they were unable to take all three-points after Ciaran Clark was forced into an own goal by a cross from Zlatan Ibrahimovic who was generally quiet (on the pitch at least).

The first half saw Jeff Hendrick impress as the Derby man twice came close to opening the scoring. Andreas Isaksson saved his first attempt but the Swedish keeper was well beaten on the second, unlike the crossbar.

Wes Hoolahan’s very well-taken half-volley from Seamus Coleman’s cross gave the Irish a deserved 47th minute lead.

Despite the nature of the equaliser and the dropped points, Ireland can take a lot of confidence from their display and carry that momentum into their next match against a wounded Belgium on Saturday.

Sweden meanwhile, will be looking to Ibrahimovic for some much needed inspiration if they’re to stand any chance of progressing from Group E.

Man of the Match: Jeff Hendrick

 

Leonardo Bonucci

Bonucci was equally brilliant in his defending and distribution.

Belgium 0-2 Italy – Pellissimo by Conte’s Italy

God gave both managers lemons. Antonio Conte made the best lemonade he could while Marc Wilmots squeezed his into eyes and open cuts.

The future Chelsea manager arrived in France with an Italian squad that few feared. After this display, many will sit up and take notice of not only their speed and intensity but also the impact a quality coach can have on a side.

German journalist, Rafael Honigstein brilliantly summed up this fixture with, “a team without a coach (Belgium) v a coach without a team (Italy)”. His words were proven right by Italy’s wholehearted and passionate display against a disappointing and disjointed Belgian side.

Emmanuel Giaccherini opened the scoring when he controlled Leonardo Bonucci’s long ball before side footing past Thibaut Courtois after 32-minutes. Bonucci’s assist was the best of the tournament as the Juventus defender produced a defensive master class with his teammates, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and goalkeeping legend, Gianluigi Buffon.

Italy benefitted not only from the Juventus connection at the back – the strongest defence in these championships – but also the shift put in by wing-backs, Matteo Darmian and Marco Parolo.

Conte’s team lined up in a 3-5-2 formation but it almost became a 3-3-4 when they were attacking and more of a 4-4-2 when defending. Those transitions left Darmian understandably knackered after an hour as the Italians focused the majority of their attacks down the left. Darmian and Giaccherini were often doubling up on Laurent Ciman at right-back. The Montreal Impact player isn’t Marc Wilmots’ first choice and Conte exploited this weakness, particularly with the solid Jan Vertonghen on the other side at left-back.

However, Graziano Pelle’s game clinching goal would come from Vertonghen’s side, after Belgium had reverted to a three-man defence in search of an equaliser. Substitute Thiago Motta opened the field with an intelligent pass before Antonio Candreva calmly picked out Pelle to emphatically volley home.

Belgium will look at chances spurned by Romelu Lukaku and his replacement Divock Origi but the manner of both sides’ performances shouldn’t leave them feeling cheated in any way.

This supposed golden generation could come unstuck again if they don’t defeat Ireland in their next game, while Italy – who fielded the oldest starting XI in the history of the European Championships (31 years and 169 days) – take on Sweden.

Man of the Match: Leonard Bonucci

 

Kolbeinn Sigborsson

Kolbeinn Sigthorsson led the line for Iceland.

Group F
Portugal 1-1 Iceland – Supermarket keep Superstar quiet

Little Iceland deservedly avoided defeat against a Portugal side led by big superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

The three-time Ballon d’Or winner was unable to score despite his ten attempts at goal. He typically cut a frustrated figure as he watched Iceland cancel out Nani’s 31st minute opener.

Five-minutes after half-time, Birkir Bjanrnason capitalized on a mix-up between Vieirinha and Pepe in the Portuguese defence triggered by Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s movement. It was what Iceland’s hard work and graft warranted and they can now conceivably qualify as one of the top two from what is arguably the weakest group in the tournament.

Portugal will need to get back on track against Austria if we are to see any more attempts at goal by Ronaldo. The Real Madrid forward acted like a top student who was beaten by a classmate in an exam and pretended not to care. He was quoted after the game as saying:

“I thought they’d won the Euros the way they celebrated at the end. It was unbelievable. We tried hard to win the game and Iceland didn’t try anything. This, in my opinion, shows a small mentality and they are not going to do anything in the competition.”

Clearly he’s wrong. Iceland can’t possibly display a small mentality when the pool of available players (males aged 18-38) is so tiny. In fact, they should have a microscopic mentality given they have less than 50,000 candidates to choose from. It’s actually just over a 1 in 2000 chance of being in their country’s squad for a major international tournament. So to keep one of the world’s best players quiet and not lose to an established footballing nation with around 30 times the population probably deserves a little more respect than those comments and a refusal to shake hands. Perhaps, Ronaldo really is best off teaching his son how to pronounce the names of expensive cars instead of letting us all know how arrogant and narrow-minded he is.

Man of the Match: Kari Arnason

 

David Alaba

Alaba was unfortunate not to have scored within the first minute.

Austria 0-2 Hungary – Hungary break 52-year record

Hipster fancied Austria found themselves on the receiving end of one of the tournament’s bigger surprises.

Hungary were tipped as the whipping boys in Group F but that didn’t materialise here despite David Alaba and Austria deserving to be in front by half-time.

Versatile Alaba struck the post after just 30 seconds while Marko Arnautovic showed a deft touch that should have resulted in a goal not long before the break.

But the second half saw a very different Hungary side turn up and they took the lead just after the hour mark thanks to Adam Szalai. The tall striker linked up nicely with Laszlo Kleinheisler to send the Hungarian supporters delirious.

Just four-minutes later, Austria had a goal disallowed for a foul by Aleksandar Dragovic. The foul may have been correct but the resulting second yellow seemed very harsh.

Down to ten men, Austria tried to salvage a draw but it was Hungary who took advantage of the extra space afforded in the dying moments.

Zoltan Stieber latched onto a through ball to show Lukaku how it’s done as he lifted the ball over the advancing Robert Almer to seal the Hungarians’ first win at a European Championships since 1964.

Man of the Match: Balazs Dzsudzsak