Small mentality? No way


  • The Gaffer
  • Friday, 24 Jun 2016

Spain v Czech Republic - EURO 2016 - Group D - Stadium de Toulouse, Toulouse, France - 13/6/16 Spain fans REUTERS

AFTER 36 matches, the knockout stage is set to kick-off this Saturday. The group stage matches have proved entertaining and many unfancied teams have shocked doubters with their performances.

Teams like Wales, Northern Ireland, Hungary and Iceland have proven that they don’t have small mentalities and can strut their stuff on the biggest stage.
 
These are some of the Gaffer’s highlights of Euro 2016’s group stage.
 
PLAYER OF THE GROUP STAGE

DIMITRI PAYET (FRANCE)

France's Dimitri Payet reacts after a missed chance. REUTERS

For a player that was accused of having a difficult character and displaying a lack of motivation during his time at the Le Havre academy, Payet must have his former academy coaches scratching their heads now.

Coming from the Reunion Island, the 29-year-old has been a revelation in this tournament. 

Many expected Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Anthony Martial to be the stars but when it comes to consistency and results – Payet has trumped them all.

Given the roaming role by head coach Didier Deschamps, Payet created 14 chances and 30 crosses in his first two matches. 

Ammunition is guaranteed when you have him but the only thing France needs right is for their strikers to thump in the chances he created.

He will be important in the knockout stages and I expect him to be the key player for this talented French side.

Honourable mentions: Gareth Bale (Wales), Ivan Perisic (Croatia), Ragnar Sigurdsson (Iceland)
 
TEAM OF THE GROUP STAGE

ICELAND

Iceland players celebrate after the match REUTERS

Words such as fantastic, terrific, amazing and fairy-tale are not enough to describe Iceland’s performance in the group stages. Hungary may have topped the group but Iceland has impressed most in this tournament.

The smallest nation to qualify for the tournament, they have defied the odds with their never-say-die attitude. Under Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrímsson, the romantic story continues as they are set to face England in the last 16.

Fighting back to hold Portugal to a 1-1 draw, close to defeating Hungary and surprising Austria 2-1. For a small nation, they have showed great resilience and strength to impress in the group. Teams found it hard to breach their defences thanks to their organisation and pressing.

Will this fairy-tale run continue for a team that is in the bad books of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo? It’s time for them to show the world that they will be a big force in Europe.

Honourable mention: Wales
 
SURPRISE OF THE GROUP STAGE

HUNGARY

I predicted this side to go out of their group but hey, hey, football fools you at times. Topping the group and putting fancied sides to shame, Hungary is hungry for something.

In the past, the Mighty Magyars led by the late Ferenc Puskas used to light up world football. In fact Hungary are twice runners-up in the World Cup (1938 and 1954) and have the best record in Olympic Games football (three golds, a silver and a bronze garnered from 1952 to 1972). 

However after the 1986 World Cup, the team struggled in the international stage.

After 44 years, the Hungarians came back in the Euro and they are on a good run. Bernd Storck deserves credit for what he has done with the team. Many deem his squad as average but they have shown that teamwork can do wonders.

Much scorn has been poured upon the decision to increase the competition from 16 to 24 teams, but Hungary's re-entry to the world stage has given romantics a reason to dream once again.

Can they go on to surprise their doubters? Belgium is a tough team but this side is itching to show the world that they are back with a vengeance.

Honourable mention: Northern Ireland
 
DISAPPOINTMENTS OF THE GROUP STAGE

AUSTRIA, SWEDEN


The less said the better. Both teams have talent they have in their squad, they could have done way better than the smaller teams who have defied expectations.

When you have Marco Arnautovic, David Alaba, Julian Baumgartlinger, Christian Fuchs and Martin Harnik, you expect a tough fight but they wilted in this group. They have been disappointing in all their matches and there is nothing good to say about this team. 

Rotating the positions of Alaba and Arnautovic in the first eleven was Marcel Koller’s biggest mistake too.

The lack of Plan B is the reason why Sweden didn’t perform well in their group. 

Over-reliant on Zlatan Ibrahimovic, expecting slow players like Kim Kallstrom and Sebastian Larsson to turn up the pace and strike partners who only sees one as the goalscorer – Erik Hamren, who is leaving, is to be blamed for all this.

These two teams, if their coaches got it right… things would have been different.
 
PLAYER WHO FAILED TO SHINE

ARDA TURAN (TURKEY)


A disappointing season with Barcelona and faltering in France – This is a season to forget for Arda Turan. The Turkish captain cut a desolate figure in the first match against Croatia and against Spain; he just wasn’t himself at all.

All action, combative but elegant at the same time, he was erratic, lacked awareness and just wasn’t himself. His own fans booed him during the match against Spain and he didn’t take it too well. In his last game, he was decent but not good enough.

For someone who kept the team ticking with his passes and movement, his lack of confidence affected the team. If he was at his best, this Turkish team would have been unbeatable.

Maybe the curse of Nike might have struck him? To those who don’t know, he was featured in a Nike advertisement where he rallies his teammates to play for the jersey.

Deplorable mention: David Alaba (Austria), Robert Lewandoski (Poland)
 
MATCH OF THE GROUP STAGE

HUNGARY VS PORTUGAL

Six goal thriller and two goals apiece from the star players – It was a spectacle for the purists. Cristiano Ronaldo, who was under pressure after missing many chances, including a penalty in his first two matches, wanted to prove a point while Hungary wanted to continue their dream run.

Hungary got a perfect start when veteran midfielder Zoltan Gera thumped in a belter in the 19th minute to give the Magyars the lead but Portugal came back when Ronaldo’s threaded pass found Nani, who put the ball pass Gabor Kiraly in the 42nd minute.

Start of the second-half, Balázs Dzsudzsak scored a goal to give Hungary the lead but Ronaldo rallied his team and fought back with a sumptuous back-heel goal in the 50th minute For any minnow, a draw against Portugal is like a win but Hungary decided it’s not over.

Dzsudzsak scored his second goal of the match in the 55th minute and Hungary were looking at a victory but Ronaldo, decided to bring out the beast in him and it paid off when he scored the equalising goal in the 62nd minute. Neck to neck, attacking football at its best!

The draw proved important for Portugal as they qualified as one of the third best places teams but Hungary, finished top and showed the Iberian side that small teams have big mentalities too.


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