Merci, Platini for a mediocre 24-team Euro tournament, even if it ended so dramatically, and for the dispersed, chaotic tournament to come in four years’ time to be staged in a plethora of different countries.
A misguided president of UEFA, Platini was depressingly the opposite of the dazzling player we once knew. Nor alas was he above suspicion. He managed to get his eight-year suspension by UEFA cut twice, but it remains hard indeed to forgive him for his deplorable support of Qatar as a World Cup host, even to the extent of backing the decision to switch the tournament from the summer 50° heat to the midst of the European season, thereby shockingly betraying his remit as the UEFA president.
Credit must of course go to Portugal for their remarkable display in the Parisian final, however tenuously they had got there. Starting as very much the underdogs to the French team playing on its own soil in front of its own public, losing its one refulgent star Ronaldo so early in the game, they still held on into extra time and there contrived to score the spectacular goal through Eder, a modest substitute, which gave them the trophy.
There could surely be no excuse for a French team faced by depleted opponents, playing in front of ecstatic support on its own turf. The Portuguese, who might well have been excused for wilting after the loss of Ronaldo, showed remarkable morale and courage.
They had Real Madrid’s Pepe who afterwards paid tribute to Ronaldo, a defiant leader and defender, turned once it is true by the lively French substitute striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, who then hit the post when he surely deserved a goal.
Quite what went wrong with this French team, who could say? True it began slowly and none too convincingly owing much to the skills and enterprise of Dimitri Payet, who on 58 minutes however would give way to the highly promising and effective young winger Kingsley Coman, who set up a couple of excellent chances. One clearly to watch, who should arguably have been brought on sooner.
Wales surpassed themselves beyond doubt but whereas Portugal so splendidly overcame the loss of their star turn Ronaldo, Wales, whom they beat, couldn’t survive the loss of the suspended Aaron Ramsey.
Without Ramsey’s inventive excellence even Gareth Bale cut a diminished figure. True, they gave Portugal a run for their money and who but Ronaldo could have headed that spectacular first goal? But the Welsh victory over Belgium, on whom they seem to have an Indian sign, was a sensational achievement and Hal Robson-Kanu’s remarkable Cruyff turn goal was one of the best of the competition. But then right through football history the Welsh, not least in the fatherly aegis of their great secretary, Ted Robbins, have historically been able to punch above their weight.
Germany lacked a centre forward; it isn’t Muller’s role. Italy, as their manager and Chelsea’s long admitted, were not a team of great talent, but they had their moments and gave a creditable account of themselves, with Buffon an astonishing veteran in goal. And England? Oh dear. Roy Hodgson, a much admired old friend, alas made a profusion of unhappy mistakes. The team got off horribly on the wrong foot, or feet, with its draw against a plodding Russian side, yet it wasn’t till half time in the second game against Wales that Hodgson brought on Vardy and Sturridge to change the game, as they did.
The ultimate line up against Iceland beggared belief. A weary Kane back at centre forward, a fragile Raheem Sterling on the left wing, a clearly far from match fit Jack Wilshere in midfield. Joe Hart still in goal, when a bundle of nerves. And now? Not Wenger please. Allardyce? Too cautious. Eddie Howe? Perhaps, though it is early.