One round into the Euro 2016 tournament, all 24 teams have played once each. Some have impressed, some have disappointed, some have raised questions. If the first round of matches are a sign of things to come, we are waiting eagerly to see how the tournament will progress.
France toiled against Romania to earn an opening day victory, but had to rely on the mesmerising Dimitri Payet to ensure a fitting end to the opening act of Europe's biggest football carnival. An impressive England were denied a win by a last-gasp Russian equaliser as matters got volatile off the field. The Swiss, the Croats and the Germans all managed to avoid upsets and register regulation wins, as did defending champions Spain, though the latter had their hearts in their mouths until Gerrard Pique bailed them out late on.
Portugal could only manage a draw against Iceland and Hungary upset the odds by beating a talented Austrian side. In what was arguably the game of the round, Italy outwitted a star-studded Belgian side to mark a thorough performance.
So as we lie on the cusp of the second round of games, here is what the opening round of fixtures threw up
When Dimitri Payet scored that scorcher in the 89th minute to hand France a massive win in the opening match of the tournament, the tone was set for the rest of Euro 2016. Late drama has since been the order of the day and 31 per cent of all goals scored so far have come in the last ten minutes. Wales surged to the top of Group B thanks to a Hal Robson-Kanu goal in the 81st minute, before neighbours England found themselves at receiving end of a late strike — Virisi Berezutski's equaliser for Russia that left a bad taste in the mouths of the English fans.
Later, it was Spain who needed an 87th minute Gerrard Pique header to see them past a resilient Czech Republic side. Germany, Italy and Hungary also left it late to seal their wins after the games remained on a knife's edge for most part. More of the same, the fans would be hoping in the rounds to come.
Old is Gold
So far, it has been a tournament for the veterans to shine. The stage was set for some of the younger and brighter talents to set on fire, but it has instead been dominated by the old warhorses. Leading the way was Spain's Andres Iniesta. The Barcelona man put on an exhibition of attacking midfield play against the Czech Republic, capping it off with a sumptuous cross for Pique to head home. Aged 32, Iniesta had a passing accuracy of 90 per cent and had 110 touches in the game, as he ran the show for the defending champions.
Iniesta's performance and the eventual result overshadowed the performance of Czech center-backs Roman Hubnik and Tomas Sivok, both also 32, who completely thwarted Alvaro Morata. The defenders both won over 60 per cent of their duels in the game, almost helping the Czechs pull off an unlikely point.
Meanwhile, up against the towering Romelu Lukaku and a nimble Belgian attack comprising Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne, Italy's Andrea Barzagli was a rock. The 35-year-old used all his experience to nullify the pace and take the bite off the Belgian attack.
Russia's Berezutski, 32, and Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger, 31, both shone for their respective teams, scoring vital goals coming off the bench. A gentle reminder of the saying "Old is gold".
Off-field violence mars on-field fireworks
Different players have grabbed the limelight at various times of the tournament during the first round of matches, but off-field matters have almost always been making the headlines in the first week of Euro 2016. It all started off in Marseille when the police had to resort to using tear gas to curb a fight between England and Russian fans, a day before the two sides met. However, the events took a turn for the ugly when Russian fans clashed with their English counterparts at the Stade Velodrome after the game.
The streak of tiffs between the two sets of fans has since snowballed into a serious issue. UEFA had to intervene. The top authority for European football slapped a fine on the Russian football union and handed out a suspended ban. Russian spectators, who seemed upset at the ruling, have termed English fans as "girls" amid reports that a nationalist Russian football authority has given an open backing to their fans to continue the violence.
Little room for comebacks
The first round of games have seen some intriguing contests; high intensity games, emotionally charged matches, cold tactical battles, the first few days of Euro 2016 have seen it all. But there has been a pattern to it: In the 12 games played so far, the team that has taken the lead has never lost the game. In fact, teams scoring first have emerged victorious on nine out of the 12 times (an impressive 75 per cent victory rate).
With teams struggling to recover from a setback, scoring first has given teams an edge over the opponents, that previously might not have existed. This might change as the tournament progresses, but even as early as this has provided teams with a marker as to what is required of them. Score first to avoid defeat.
Faltering predators: Strikers are yet to hit full form
Things haven't gone to plan for the continent's top marksmen at Euro 2016. There have been seven shut-outs in twelve games thus far, but the more alarming statistic for the forwards is that they have contributed to only five out of 22 goals scored. Even of that, two came on the first match of all, involving France and Romania.
Surprisingly, even defenders have chipped in with four goals. The tournament has seen some stellar performances at the heart of the defence thus far, but the poor figures for the strikers show they probably aren't be doing enough.
Published Date: Jun 15, 2016 16:30 PM | Updated Date: Jun 15, 2016 17:15 PM