We are nearly at the end of the group stages of Euro 2016 and for some it’s been a tournament to remember already whilst for others, things can only get better.
ITALY ENJOYING THE “DOLCE VITA”
He may be about to jump ship and head to the Premier League to join Chelsea but Italy Head Coach Antonio Conte has turned jeers into cheers after his country qualified top of group E with a game to spare. Two wins out of two has seen the Azzurri transformed to become one of the favourites on the betting exchanges to lift the trophy on July 11. The 46-year-old has called for the country to get behind the team, having played in two matches where their support has been overwhelmed by that of the opposition. Next Monday they will be in the capital for their last 16 match at the imposing Stade de France; expect a sea of blue in the stands for this one.
— Italy (@azzurri) June 17, 2016
FRANCE AT THE SUMMIT BUT IMPROVEMENT IS NEEDED
The hosts are also into the knock-out phase after topping group A. A less than convincing 0-0 draw against Switzerland on Sunday night in Lille got Didier Deschamps’s men over the line. Les Bleus have failed to sparkle as a team so far despite having the player of the tournament, Dimitri Payet in their ranks. Midfielder Paul Pogba is trying too hard to live up to his star billing and defensively they look vulnerable. With the nation backing their team 100%, the momentum will surely continue to grow but a squad that looked the strongest on paper at the start of the tournament, will have to improve if they are to win another competition in their own country.
BELGIUM RECOVER AFTER DREADFUL START
Ranked number two in the world by Fifa, Belgium were everyone’s “dark horses” going into Euro 2016 but after a disastrous start against Italy where they were handsomely beaten, Marc Wilmot’s men finally found some form against the Republic of Ireland in Bordeaux on Saturday, to get their tournament back on track. Striker Romelu Lukaku came in for special criticism after their opening day defeat but the 23-year-old silenced the doubters with a brace against the men in green at the weekend. Wilmot has some of Europe’s best talent at his disposal, but trying to get them to fit into the perfect formation may ultimately hinder their progress in the competition.
Birkir Bjarnason and Armando Sadiku have written themselves into football folklore in both Iceland and Albania after scoring their respective countries first ever goals at a major tournament. The same can be said for both Gareth Bale (Wales) and Gareth McAuley (Northern Ireland) who have also made history in France. Let’s also spare a thought for the Republic of Ireland fans, whose flights to Bordeaux for the game on Saturday were delayed ensuring that many of them only arrived at half-time for their match against Belgium; the good news was that they hadn’t missed any goals, the bad news however, was that they arrived in time to see their team ship three in the second-half.
Steve Mitchell @barafundler