Les Rendez Vous in France kicked off June 10 after much anticipation. 51 games and a 108 goals later, a new champion has been crowned.
However, Euro 2016 won’t be forgotten in a hurry. It was a tournament with twenty four teams participating, the first in the history of the competition, and one that saw all football jinxes broken. For emphasis’ sake:
– Not even Didier Deschamps was born the last time France beat Germany in a competitive game.
– Gigi Buffon, the oldest outfield playerin the tournament, wasn’t born the last time Germany beat Italy competitively.
– Fernando Santos was twenty, the last time Portugal beat France in an uncompetitive game.
– Vicente del Bosque was still a footballer the last time Italy beat Spain.
Things have changed now. Don Del Bosque has stepped down following the end of an era. Roy Hodgson resigned as England now carry the unwanted title of being the team to have played the most games in the Euros without lifting the trophy.
Antonio Conte is now at Chelsea starting a rebuilding process while Hemir Halgrimsson, the dentist coach of Iceland has now taken sole charge after he and Lars Lagerback masterminded perhaps one of the most fascinating fairytales in Euro history.
All these names put together golden moments that lit up the tournament.
I’ve compiled a list of some of the players (and managers alike) who made the Eiffel glow over the past month. Let’s take a look:
Perhaps, the most animated figure on the touchline at the tournament, Conte threatened to kill his players if they bottled it against Belgium according to reports.
It led to Xavi admitting the new Chelsea boss had built a team half Barcelona, half Atletico. He turned players like Emmanuele Giacherini, Eder, Marco Parolo and Antonio Candreva into world beaters.
He admitted his team lacked talent, and he made the best of it. He made lemonade out of lime. With a smile from Lady Luck and a lot less drama from Uncle Zaza, Conte could have masterminded an Italian job on the Euros.
An emotional man with the heart of a warrior and the demeanour of a gladiator, only Conte understood how he made his team tick and Chelsea fans are definitely in for a treat. For the players… I say no more.
The dragon, they called them. Wales, unlike their neighbours (you know who), travelled to France with a game plan, one that would see them play six games and none like their rivals.
However, central to that plan was a certain shooting star, the world’s most expensive player who duly lived up to that tag. Twice he cannoned home free kicks that would tilt the game in his country’s favour. More often he got involved in play for his team: Snapping at tackles, making interceptions, spreading elite passes (one reminiscent of Mesut Ozil) and performing key blocks as well.
He ensured his name was written in the sand of time. Not so many will forget that dipping free kick that Joe Hart couldn’t stop or that pass that sent Ramsey on his way against Russia.
He definitely was central in their Cinderella tournament, and the Welsh can only hope that he leads them to more success on and off the pitch, starting with qualification for a first World Cup since 1958. Never rule them out, because Bale is involved.
Il capitane, and now… an international trophy following his travails with the national team. He can just retire now and leave on a high.
However that isn’t Cristiano. He sets very high bars (just search for #CR7Bars on Twitter to see for yourself), he wants more, and now, he will head to Russia for his first Confederations Cup tournament. The silver ball recipient and prospective balon d’or winner (love him or loathe him), contributed 66.67 percent of his side’s goals at the tournament.
And while many would say he played a minor role in the final, he had his team set up for that moment. In fact his Diego Simeone demeanour on the bench, reminded one of Diego Maradona’s personality talk.
It may be his last Euros, given he will be 35 come 2020 but he can look back at the Eiffel and smile because it would be his most cherished moment.
Didier Deschamps & Dimitri Payet
The coach of the tournament, he is the stark opposite of Antonio Conte (hello Iron Man). He is much calmer and just like Conte, isn’t afraid to make big calls.
His decision to bring off Dimitri Payet wasn’t loved by many, but football enthusiasts would have felt Kingsley Coman should have started the game. His ability to unite the dressing room despite the ruckus that rocked the FFF after Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena contrived to let him down is unique.
That he managed to get a team, whose centre-forward was Olivier Giroud, to the final, is enough achievement. Arsene Wenger might need to tear a leaf from his book to learn how to utilize the Arsenal forward.
Deschamps is a legend and while he might be unable to fill a Zinedine Zidane or Michel Platini-sized boot in French hearts, he will be remembered for ushering a new era in French football; a period of discipline, and talent.
Simply put, he has made the French people believe again.
Who remembers France’s winning goal against Romania? The one that sunk Albania? That goal against Iceland? He lit the torch before handing it over to Antoine Greizmann.
So much so that the nation had their hearts in their mouths when he was subbed in the final. 50 odd million? I’d sure give it a thought. Of course you know who, right?
The irony is, while one was busy setting the tournament alight, the other was busy enduring a torrid time on the bench, like a man who was in bondage until he was set loose in the final.
The Italian Eder was an embodiment of his coach, all action, and combative while his Portuguese version, showed up only when he was needed the most.
From the first game against the Belgians, Eder epitomized everything Conte stood for:
some bit of aggression, speed, agility, craftiness and more.
So much for one name.
The wily 61-year old tactician who masterminded Portugal’s unlikely triumph in France admitted his side played ugly, but better win ugly than lose sexy he said.
He never seemed to care and stuck to his guns. He executed a perfect gameplan with the right tools. His reunion with Ronaldo and the respect he commanded in the dressing room made communicating instructions easier.
Little wonder they are unbeaten under him. He maximized the potential of his squad, with all 20 outfield players getting a look-in at some point or the other. The image of him and his star man on the touchline in the final moments echoed a father and son relationship that Ronaldo claimed he had lacked.
With the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign on the horizon, he’ll be hoping to mastermind yet another unlikely road to glory in Russia and for him, the work begins now.
This is the dawn of a new era and he will lead the nation into it.
The top scorer, and undoubtedly, the tournament’s best player; the Atletico Madrid forward was in the mood from start to finish.
And he basically took matters into his own hands, whenever it mattered (pun or no pun?) after having a taste of the bench following a below-par opening game. He looked more alive than the £100million player, and even earned the nickname Grizou along the way.
He made the nation believe, and even if they fell short, the prospect of he and a repentant and returning Karim Benzema will give the French hope for the future… and make some mouths watery. Football mouths of course.
Tosin Adesina is an ideal young man, a soccer aficionado. He prefers being called Fijasewa Arogunyo because that’s who the world would grow to know. He is a disciple of Pep Guardiola, a follower of Jurgen Klopp, a lover of Jose Mourinho, an admirer of Cholo Simeone, a fanatic of Carlo Ancelotti and an avid fan of Antonio Conte. You can connect with him on Twitter @teetunez