Euro 2016 Team of the Tournament
So ends a generally underwhelming tournament that is unlikely to be high on the list of things that the summer of 2016 will be remembered for, unless you're Icelandic, Welsh, or Portuguese. Each of those countries fit in well with the current underdog narrative: Leicester City and the ex-sheet metal worker Jamie Vardy have been followed by Portugal (Denmark are the only winners of this competition with a smaller population) and their winning goalscorer Éder, who was raised in a care home and began 2016 as an unused substitute in Swansea’s FA Cup defeat away at Oxford United.
Perhaps more pertinent is the fact that scoring goals is really difficult in football: in the three most recent European Championships the winning teams have conceded just one goal in ten knockout games. This explains why strikers continue to be the most valuable asset a team has whilst simultaneously being the most noticeable failures.
Here then is my team of the tournament, which looks better at stopping goals than scoring them. As Euro 2016 had an average of 2.12 goals per game (lower than any World Cup, and all but two of the last ten Championships) this is probably appropriate.
Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)
This is harsh on Portugal’s Rui Patricio, who made a record-equalling seven saves in the final and was a key part of his country’s success, but when there are national anthems to be sung, crossbars to be swung on, and slow-mo’s of passionate expressions to be had, there’s only one man in contention.
A divisive character at the best of times, Pepe generally avoided histrionics and overt cheating on this occasion to provide the stability and obdurance that Portgual required and opponents rarely matched.
Ashley Williams (Wales)
The kind of centre back and on-field leader that we’re told don’t exist anymore, at least in England. He scored and prevented goals, and carried on playing in one match with his arm left barely attached to the rest of his body.
Joshua Kimmich (Germany)
As Germany spluttered through the tournament with a squad of familiar names and missing some old favourites, Kimmich gave a hint of the next generation coming through.
Neil Taylor (Wales)
Like his goalkeeper, Raphaël Guerreiro is kept out of the team by the power of narrative: there are plenty of other Portuguese players here, and Taylor’s last goal before slotting home (at the second attempt) against Russia was in front of a crowd of 298 in April 2010 for Wrexham.
William Carvalho (Portugal)
The nattiest moustache of the tournament was complemented by smooth performances in Portugal’s midfield. More a defuser than a destroyer, he was an essential part of their plan. Whether you liked that plan or not, he helped make it happen.
Aron Gunnarsson (Iceland)
For throw-ins, having the best beard, and to lead the rest of the team in the Icelandic thunderclap.
Andrés Iniesta (Spain)
Yes, Spain underperformed, but he was still a joy to watch and can’t be blamed for the lack of quality around him. Included also to prove that noticeable facial hair isn’t a requirement of this midfield.
Moussa Sissoko (France)
Given his place mostly on the basis of his barnstorming runs that reminded me of Sol Campbell in his galloping prime, and the fact that he was the only French player to finish the final with his head held high.
Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland)
Included because of one moment of magic, his hip-swivelling scissors kick was my favourite goal, being the most gob-smacking piece of skill I saw. These were few and far between in general (though chapeaux Robson-Kanu’s Cruyff turn, Modrić’s volley, Boateng's goalline claearance, and Payet’s no-look pass), and it could be argued that Shaqiri’s inclusion is emblematic of a Championships that promised more than it delivered.
Antione Griezmanm (France)
He missed two good chances in the final but still scored more goals than anyone else. His awful goal celebration dance almost cost him his place.
Stade Vélodrome in Marseille. It’s a troubled city with a stunning stadium and fervent French support.
Steve Wilson with Martin Keown. Wilson’s wit brings light relief when everyone else thinks football matters So Much, but he also describes the game well. Keown’s enthusiastic immersion in every contest can be exhilarating, if a little odd.