The Icelandic tackling technique
There is an awful lot to love about Iceland. For a country that has never played in a major International football tournament before, they have acquitted themselves remarkably, playing to the final whistle and with a unity of purpose. If only England would take note. Apart from their underdog status that has seen them become the favourites of neutrals across the continent, the defensive tactics employed by Lars Lagerbäck’s side have drawn comment. Most notably in their final group game versus Austria, the Icelanders employed tactics more akin to the Rugby pitch, bearhugs being bestowed upon any industrious Austrian heading towards Hannes Halldorsson’s goal. The referee Szymon Marciniak decided to overlook most of these instances, until finally gifting Austria a penalty on the third or fourth occasion, only for Aleksandar Dragovich to strike the post. Against England the long throw proved effective as Ragnar Sigurdsson converted from Aron Gunnarsson’s flicked on missile into the box. Ultimately, Iceland have got to the quarter final on the strength of their defence, the speed of their counter-attack and their advocacy of unorthodox tactics. Despite the hurt we all feel, it is a phenomenal achievement from a nation with a population of just 300,000 people.
Defences on top
For a tournament blessed with the attacking talents of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Romelu Lukaku and Thomas Muller, it is fair to say that Euro 2016 has not delivered as many goals as expected. We were blessed in Brazil with Germany’s thrashing of the hosts and hence may have unrealistic expectations, but the lack of goals (only 7 in Group C) has defied pre-tournament expectations that the Italian defence would prove far superior to all others. The Germans are yet to concede a goal while Switzerland, Poland and Wales have also impressed. It will be interesting to see if the misfiring Lewandowski’s and Gotze’s can get on the scoresheet, if not, we may be destined for a tournament remembered for its relentless defence rather than its attacking prowess.
Struggles of the favourites
At the beginning of the Euro 2016, few would have looked beyond France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and perhaps England as genuine contenders for the semi-finals. The group stages and round of 16 put paid to these expectations. Neither Spain nor England will compete in the quarter finals, having failed to win their respective groups and exiting the competition in acrimonious fashion in the first knockout round. Additionally, the English and Spanish second-place finishes rendered the draw for the knockout stages unbalanced, with Germany, Italy, Spain, France and England all on one side. For quarter-finalists Poland, Belgium and Wales there has never been a better chance to reach their first final, given the apparent dearth of footballing powerhouses in their half of the draw. It is also telling that no team managed to secure three consecutive victories in the group stage and that no team has yet looked totally convincing. It appears difficult then to predict what will happen in the latter stages of the tournament, but considering what has happened up to this point, should we be surprised?
A notable aspect of this year’s tournament is the poor condition of certain pitches. The Stade de France, the Stade Velodrome in Marseille and Lille’s Stade Pierre-Mauroy have come in for particular criticism for the quality of their pitches, France boss Didier Deschamps describing the Marseille pitch as a ‘disaster’ citing an earlier AC/DC concert as a contributory factor. For the Rugby fans amongst you, the issues at the national stadium will likely come as no surprise, successive Six Nations tournaments having revealed the Stade de France pitch’s inability to withstand top-level sporting fixtures. As for the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, that a stadium that only opened in 2012 has these issues is shocking. UEFA obviously shared this opinion, for within an hour of the Ireland-Italy game concluding their pitch consultants began replacing the surface ahead of the last-16 tie between Germany and Slovakia.
By and large the officiating at the Euros has been impressive, there have been notable issues with the seeming inability of officials behind the goals to get involved in play, but generally the men-in-the-middle have allowed the games to flow well and have promoted a brand of football befitting of a major tournament. Generally, there appears to have been a determination to keep cards in the pocket and to give fouls only when truly necessary, a nice change from the recent precedent in the Premier League where you only need place a finger on an opponent and they will hit the deck. The Premier League officials, Mark Clattenburg and Martin Atkinson have both acquitted themselves well, having been given postings in round of 16 ties as did the Spaniard, Carlos Velasco Carballo. Sergei Karasev of Russia and Viktor Kassai of Hungary both deserve further use in this tournament although Szymon Marciniak and Pavel Kralovec have baffled at times with their decision making and will probably not gain any further appointments. That such a wide variety of countries have been represented in this tournament only attests to the strength in depth of European refereeing although I for one fear an Englishman refereeing a major final, as once again England fail to make it beyond the first knock out round.