When France kicked off the opening game of Euro 2016 on June 10th, David Cameron was the prime minister, the UK was still very much part of the EU and Roy Hodgson was confident that England could build on their perfect 10 wins from 10 qualifying record to make a real mark in Euro 2016.
England’s final friendly before leaving for France was an unconvincing 1-0 victory against a very ordinary looking Portugal team at Wembley. I was there that night and if anyone had said that I’d just seen the soon to be European Champions in action, I’d have advised them to get some help!
But that’s exactly how it turned out. Portugal, the only team to qualify from the group stages without winning a game, finished third in Group F only to find that France, England, Spain, Germany and Italy had all ended up in the other half of the draw. They took full advantage of their good fortune and beat Croatia (after extra time), Poland (on penalties) and (finally winning a game inside 90’) Wales to get to the final. Faced with a packed Stade de France cheering on the team who had just beaten Germany in the semi finals, Portugal managed to upset both the odds and their hosts with a 1-0 win after extra time.
The game began badly for them when their captain and star man Cristiano Ronaldo was forced to leave the field after 25 minutes with a knee injury. Far from leaving them dispirited, their captain’s absence seemed to increase Portugal’s determination not to let France spoil their record of just one goal conceded in the knockout stages. Not for the first time, the big game was not a great game and the two sides largely cancelled each other out. Golden boot winner (with six goals) Antione Griezemann forced a good save from Portuguese ‘keeper Rui Patricio and also missed the best chance of the goalless 90’ when he put a header over the bar from six yards out. Substitute Gignac hit the post for France after a clever turn had left the otherwise excellent Pepe floundering, while at the other end, a free kick from Rafael Guerreiro hit the French bar.
The 15th European Championship final was eventually decided by an unlikely match winner. Substitute Eder, who is on loan at French club Lille after an unsuccessful spell at Swansea, found some space 25 yards from goal and beat Hugo Lloris with a powerful right footed drive in to the bottom left hand corner of the net. With Ronaldo barking encouragement at his team mates from the sidelines, Portugal held firm for the remaining 10 minutes to claim their first ever major trophy.
As I look back on the first European Championship finals to feature 24 teams, I will remember the amazing performances of Iceland and Wales who reached the quarter and semi finals respectively and the big disappointment of watching England lose to Iceland after taking a 1-0 lead after just four minutes. Here are some of my other memories. In words…..
- Romania almost holding France to a draw in the first game.
- Poor Will Grigg not getting a single minute of game time despite being made famous by the “Will Grigg’s on fire” song.
- Hungary winning their group – forcing eventual winners Portugal in to third place.
- The all pervasive “please don’t take me home” song.
- The Icelandic “clap and roar” which I’m sure will be copied across Europe next season.
- The feelings of apprehension as we drove to Lens, hearing about trouble involving England fans in Lille the night before.
- The brief feeling of optimism after watching Daniel Sturridge hit the late winner for England against Wales in Lens.
- Almost all the fans – except the Russians – behaving well and having a great time, especially the men and women in green from Northern and Southern Ireland.
- The end of the international careers of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Petr Cech.
- Tears of sadness and joy for Cristiano Ronaldo as Portugal won their first ever major trophy.
- Marek Hamsik’s terrific right footed curler against Russia – my goal of the tournament.
…and in pictures
In Lens for England v Wales
in the BBC studios in Paris with Dan Walker, Martin Keown, Danny Murphy and Jermaine Jenas watching Poland v Switzerland
In the Parc des Princes for Wales v Northern Ireland
Taking in the sights and sounds of Paris
In the fan zone in front of the Eiffel Tower ahead of the France v Ireland game
A lot has changed in a month! As Portugal return home to Lisbon with the Henri Delauney trophy, David Cameron and Roy Hodgson are both looking for their next challenge while the new Prime Minister, Theresa May and new England manager (whoever that may be) are left with the unenviable tasks of negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU and trying to rebuild a shattered England team in time to secure qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
That’s all from me for this tournament. I’m heading off to Austria with the Chelsea FC disability team on Friday but I’ll be back with my Saturday afternoon sports show on Meridian 107 FM at the start of the new football season in August.
Will Stubley, Meridian 107 FM