Now that every side has played two matches at Euro 2016, I feel that I have seen enough to make my initial judgements on the tournament. Although there will, undoubtedly, be more in store before the end of the competition, we have had our first look at the players and teams competing in France. I have split my analysis into four parts: the best team so far, the worst team so far, the surprise package of the tournament so far, and the most disappointing team so far.
Worst team so far:
Three teams in the tournament have failed to pick up a single point from their opening two games. Those teams are Albania, Ukraine, and Turkey. Few will have been surprised that Albania lost against the hosts, France, and Switzerland, but people will have been very disappointed that Ukraine failed to get a single point from their games, especially as one was against Northern Ireland. Turkey have also been surprisingly poor, as their players probably merit at least qualifying for the last 16 of the tournament in third place in their group. However, having opened their campaign against the holders, Spain, and Croatia, it is less surprising that they have struggled. Some of the teams which you would, perhaps, expect to be in the discussion for worst team have surprised people with their good performances. Iceland, for example, are unbeaten in their first two games, while Northern Ireland managed to pick up three points against Ukraine.
Albania were always going to be in for a difficult tournament, as they were put in a group with France, Switzerland, and Romania. However, although they lost both of their first two games, their performances were somewhat better than most people expected. An opening game defeat to Switzerland was respectable, seeing as they only lost 1-0 despite having had their captain sent off after less than half the game. They then held France for 87 minutes in their second match, and were very unlucky to fall to a 2-0 defeat after two late goals from Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet. Although Albania haven’t offered much in attack, they have defended soundly, and have at least lived up to people’s expectations with their performances, if not played slightly above expectations. Most people would have predicted Albania to have been thrashed by France and well beaten by Switzerland so, considering the players that Albania have at their disposal, they have not, by any means, disgraced themselves.
Ukraine have been one of the most disappointing sides in the competition so far when, with players such as Andriy Yarmalenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka available to call upon. However, they have failed to pick up a point so far, with defeats coming at the hands of Germany and, more surprisingly, Northern Ireland. The latter, in particular, was a very poor defeat for the ukrainians and they have now got almost no chance of getting through to the the last 16. This tournament will have to go down as a massive failure for them, as they went into the championships looking to qualify for the next round in second place, which is now impossible. They are still to score a goal, and have conceded two goals in each match. Their star players have also failed to live up to the expectation that comes with their names, and neither Yarmalenko nor Konoplyanka will look back on the tournament with much fondness. Ukraine will have to hope that they can muster a performance in their final match against Poland, otherwise they face the ignominy of leaving the tournament having been beaten in all three of their games.
Turkey have been another disappointing side in this year’s European Championships so far, having lost both of their opening games. However, despite having a wealth of talent available to them including Arda Turan, Nuri Şahin, and Burak Yılmaz. However, the group draw has not been favourable to Turkey, as they have been put in a group with Spain, Croatia, and the Czech Republic. Having played against Spain and croatia in their first two group stage matches, it is not surprising that Turkey failed to pick up any points. However, what is worrying for them is the margin of defeat against Spain.
After Álvaro Morata’s early goal, Turkey seemed to let their heads drop, and from that point onwards, Spain were able to craft goalscoring chances at will. It may actually have been lucky for Turkey that the final score was only 3-0, when it could have been far more embarrassing. Turkey will be playing for pride in their final match against the Czech Republic, as it is difficult to see them progressing through the group having lost their first two games, especially with their goal difference having taken a hit against Spain. However, for the turkish fans, there is a big difference between ending a tournament with three points and ending a tournament with no points, so the players owe their fans a performance.
Although they have only lost one of their opening games, the Republic of Ireland have to be in the discussion for the worst team of the tournament so far. Although a Wes Hoolahan goal secured Ireland a point against sweden in their opening game, they completely fell apart in their second game against Belgium. Although the central defensive pairing of Ciaran Clarke and John O’Shea managed to neutralise the threat of Zlatan Ibrahimović, but were unable to deal with the multiple attacking threats of Belgium, with Clarke in particular having a game he will not look back on fondly. Belgium were able to pick apart the defence with ease, and strolled to a 3-0 victory. The Republic of Ireland now face italy in their final group game, needing to pull off a shock victory to have any real chance of qualifying for the last 16. Ireland lack any real star players, but Shane Long and Seamus Coleman hold most of their country’s hopes on their shoulders, while their campaign has been hampered by the absence of Jon Walters through injury. Martin O’Neill has publicly said that his side will take their final group game to Italy in the hope of earning three points to carry them into the last 16 but, if truth be told, I fear that a gung-ho approach may end up condemning Ireland to another heavy defeat to send them home with a rather embarrassing goal difference.
None of the above teams have enjoyed a successful tournament thus far, although the Republic of Ireland did manage to secure themselves a point, at least. Albania have arguably the worst squad in the tournament, but their performances have not been as bad as their points tally suggests. Turkey have been very poor, particularly in their second game, though it would be difficult to brand them as the worst team at Euro 2016 so far because their two games have been against two of the better teams in the competition. In my opinion, Ukraine have been the worst team so far, as their squad list easily merits progression into the first knockout round of the tournament, with many people dubbing them as a surprise package who could go far in the competition. However, this has not materialised, and two defeats from two games – especially as one was against minnows, Northern Ireland, have all but ended their chances of progression, and the travelling faithful of Ukraine can feel slightly let down by their team’s performances. Unfortunately, not everybody can have a good tournament, and Ukraine have so far had the least success at Euro 2016.