Going by the first two rounds of group matches, traditional powerhouses are once again going to go the distance
The last time France hosted the European Championship, in 1984, Michel Platini scored nine goals as the hosts won the title.
Had circumstances been different, the most influential player in a magical midfield that the French called Le Carre Magique (the Magic Square) would have been at the centre of the Euro 2016 spectacle.
Instead, he’s serving a four-year ban for taking a payment of two million Swiss francs from FIFA in 2011. "My record will be beaten," he said on the eve of the tournament. "It’s made for that. Football is a never-ending story."
Italy coach Antonio Conte greets his players after the Euro 2016 match vs Sweden in Toulouse, France on Friday. Pic/AFP
It’s also a story that tends to repeat itself, or play out according to a familiar script. Since Platini’s glorious summer, only Denmark (1992) and Greece (2004) have been surprise winners of the tournament. And if the first two rounds of group matches were any indication, the traditional powerhouses are once again going to be the ones to watch. Spain, who are going for an unprecedented hat-trick – no other country has even won back-to-back titles – did everything but score for long periods of their match against Czech Republic. The Czechs offered next to nothing as an attacking force, but provided another example of the template required to frustrate a Spain.
Italy were given little chance to win this time. But what the Italians always have is big-tournament nous. As you would expect, Italy were superbly organised in defence, but they also attacked with verve when the opportunity presented itself.
Germany have reached at least the semi-final of every major tournament since the 2006 World Cup, and in Toni Kroos, they have a midfielder with the class to dominate the event like Gunter Netzer did in 1972. Ukrainians, might fancy an upset if Germany don’t sharpen their attacking edge.
The early frontrunner in the epic-fail category is Cristiano Ronaldo. After the 1-1 draw in Portugal’s opening game, he said: "Iceland don’t try to play, they just defend. Then they celebrate like they have won the Euros. This shows a small mentality." A bit of introspection wouldn’t hurt.
Dileep Premachandran is Wisden India's editor-in-chief
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