EURO 2016: What we Learned

While many viewed EURO 2016 as a rather dull tournament, the passion from the fans made up for some boring matches. Iceland with their “viking chant”, Northern Ireland supporters singing “Will Grigg‘s on fire” (even though he didn’t get a second on the pitch), and Wales with “Please don’t take me home” all put the tournament into perspective. Teams like England are used to this setting; it’s just another tournament to them. But to the small countries use this as an opportunity to burst onto the scene.

It’s been an exciting month filled with storylines that will last a lifetime. But what did we learn from this year’s EUROs?

EURO 2016: What we Learned

The third place qualification rule should stay, as well as the 24-team tournament

This was probably the biggest topic once the knockout stage started – the decision to allow the top four third place finishers advance to the knockout stage. Would competition be lowered? Will it lead to teams not fighting for the top two spots?

Admittedly yes, some teams did seem to know that third place is what their realistic goal should be. But that’s okay. If a country like Northern Ireland comes in with their biggest weapon being passion, that wouldn’t carry them far in the old format. Instead they crashed out in the round of 16 to eventual semi-finalists Wales.

Unfortunately, only one out of the four third-place teams that qualified won an elimination game. The one team that won  though, was Portugal; Champions of EURO 2016. In the first tournament where the best third-place finishing teams also go through, a team that finished in third place won the tournament.

Sometimes you have to look at how the beauty of the game flourishes off the field. One of the best parts about a match is the fans cheering for their team. Without 24 teams, there wouldn’t be smaller countries trying to make a name for themselves. Think about this: Do you know who Will Grigg is? You wouldn’t have if smaller teams weren’t given a shot.

Passion is a huge part of a tournament run

As I said earlier – passion only takes a team so far. It requires skill and a bit of luck, but the third component needed is that fire that drives a team to win.

While teams like Wales, Ireland, and Northern Ireland showed the world what good fans are; there is one example that shows how much passion plays a part in a team’s success.

June 27, 2016: The day Iceland defeated England 2-1. If you don’t know how much this victory meant to Iceland, watch this video of an Icelandic commentator reacting after Holbein Sigthorsson’s go-ahead goal. And if that isn’t enough, watch that same commentator a few days before after Iceland defeated Austria. Iceland, a country of 330,000 people, defeat one of the world’s biggest powerhouses. This is what a Cinderella team is made for. Without these stories, tournaments grow boring. However, these stories are driven by the love for their country. And that is something many sit back and smile at.

Another example though is Cristiano Ronaldo acting like a manager after being subbed off in the final. In what seems to be an MCL tear, Ronaldo was subbed off during the final. But he didn’t go to the locker room to be treated for his injury. He gave his all to the team – from the sideline. For the first time in Portugal’s history, the country brings home a major trophy.

Don’t listen to the critics

“Italy seems terrible, don’t they? On paper this should be a disappointing tournament.” I saw countless variations of this statement when the 23-man squad for Italy was released. Antonio Conte and his men were given no shot. But the Azzurri battled to the quarterfinals and only crashed out on penalties to Germany. Italy took the immense criticism they received by many and used it to their advantage. Playing to prove someone wrong brings it to a new level.

Portugal didn’t win a game in regulation until the semifinals. Many claimed they didn’t even remotely deserve to be in the finals Instead, they put their heads down and in the end got to lift the trophy.

Criticism is key to the growth of a country. You can’t improve if you don’t know what’s wrong. Sometimes it’s funny to look at who was criticized for what, and sometimes people get proven wrong. It’s a part of life.

Mermories of Euro 2016

France, thank you for giving the world a tournament to remember. At first it seemed like the EUROs would be filled with violence, but instead we saw a country get to lift a trophy for the first time in their history. Unfortunately it came at the hands of the host nation facing defeat, but the French have a very young and talented squad. They will be back.

Now excuse me, I am going to sit back and listen to “Will Grigg’s on fire” and announce myself in rooms I walk into with the Icelandic viking chant.

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