The initial sparring sessions have come to a close. The sides have done their best (or worst) and those left standing now face the lottery of the knockout stages. It is now down to the strongest, or luckiest, as to who will ultimately triumph.

Is this Euro 2016 or the EU referendum?

In some ways it is both,

There are two elements to this – the side who you want to win and the side who will actually win. And they are not necessarily the same.

Of the Euro 2016 protagonists, in all honesty no-one has yet grabbed the bull by the horns and stamped their authority on the tournament. There are four sides who could have done that – Germany, France, Spain and Italy. All have had their fair share of luck and referring decisions in the early games.

Germany got lucky with Mr Atkinson’s generous free kick award in the first game and then got a goal late on as their opponents pressed to equalize. Progress seems a certainty though unless Slovakia can do to them what they almost did to England. France have also profited from late goals and rode their luck in the last minute of their final game when a penalty should have been awarded against them that, if converted, could have seen them tumble to second place and a much harder last 16 draw. As it is, if Eire play half as well as they did beating Italy, the French will have a tough game. Winners to face England in the quarters?

As for Spain, well they flattered to deceive right up to the point where David de Gea somehow let a shot slip in by his near post and Croatia surprisingly and somewhat elatedly topped the group sending the 2008 and 2012 Euro and 2010 World Cup winners into an enticing showdown with the 2006 World champions Italy. The Italians themselves also looked less than spectacular despite winning matches.

In an ideal world, none of the above would win Euro 2016. Certainly, bottom of the list would be the French whose concept of ‘security’ throughout these championships appears to one somewhat at odds with what is normally found in the Oxford English Dictionary. If someone can get a flare into a ground, they can other things in that can do a lot more damage. Add to that the typical lack of Gallic sense of humour when taunted by fans and you have all the elements required for the game to be dragged through the mud.

Can’t take a joke, M Le Policeman? – grow a pair, don’t use a baton!

The Germans usually end up winning these things without actually looking like they’re going to win. Unspectacular, efficient – all the things people just adore about our Teutonic neighbours.

At least one of the other two will not make it to the last eight and whilst recent history could dictate that place being taken by the Spanish, Italy could quite easily end Spain’s domination of recent Euro tournaments. After that though, anything can happen.

England dodged a bullet thanks to Iceland’s last minute winner against Austria. Instead of facing Portugal and Ronaldo, they will play the nominally easier surprise package of the tournament. Iceland, like Slovakia, will pack their defence. Roy Hodgson will need his side to do much better this time out. Wales topped Group B ahead of England and face Northern Ireland with as much chance of progressing inspired by Gareth Bale as the Portuguese have with old smiling boy.

Euro 2016, at the end of the group stages, is as open as any recent tournament. It may actually be worth still watching.


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