9 things we learned from EURO 2016 Match Day 1

It’s been a riveting first five days of the 2016 European Championship and with all the teams now having played at least once, here's a snapshot of what has gone down in France.

Hungary's Zoltan Stieber

Hungary's Zoltan Stieber celebrates his goal against Austria in Bordeaux Source: AAP

The Moment: Dimitri Payet downs Romania with that thunderbolt

You could make a documentary about France’s turbulent past year - and this could be the closing frame. The Euros has either come at the best or worst time for France, depending on your point of view. I’m hoping the former, and Payet’s screamer sent a jittery, angst-ridden nation into spontaneous delight. Si Merveilleux.

The Hero: Antonio Conte’s tactical masterclass for Italy against Belgium

It was more than the 3-5-2. It was more than two excellent goals. It was more than the upset. It was everything about Italy’s performance that made every fan of the Azzurri glow with pride. You could say Italy fought bravely, but I think they thought magnificently. Their team defence was frighteningly good,and they counter-attacked perfectly, two facets for which Conte deserves huge praise. He nailed their preparation.

The Game: Croatia’s riveting arm wrestle with Turkey

This is how they play in football purists’ dreams. One team oozing with class, skill and intelligence, the other with the heart of a lion and the energy of a hyena. Croatia dominated this match early with their champions - Mandžukić, Perišić, Rakitić and, of course, Modrić - but Turkey just wouldn’t give in, growing as the game went on, willed on by an incredible group of supporters. A splendid 90 minutes with a fitting winner.

The Villain: Gerard Pique breaks Czech hearts

Much as we all love the way Spain play, watching the gritty, underdog Czechs scrap for every ball and tackle was what makes international football great. Just three minutes out from grabbing a heroic point against the two-time defending champions, Andres Iniesta’s dreamy cross zeroed onto the head of Pique, who nodded past Petr Cech. So close, yet so far.

The Sublime: Late goals on every night so far

What do Dimitri Payet, Hal Robson-Kanu, Vasili Berezutski, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Gerard Pique, Graziano Pelle and Zoltán Stieber have in common? They’ve all scored match-deciding (or at least match-sealing) goals in the final 10 minutes of their respective games. How long will this remarkable streak last?

The Ridiculous: The sight of hundreds of Russian hooligans charging English fans in Marseille

Major tournaments should be a period of celebration, unity and peace - especially given all that has happened in France in recent times. I know it’s an excuse for a few thugs to get their kicks off, but the only thing they’re “proving” is what a sad bunch of grown men they are.

What We Predicted: Germany easing past Ukraine

Reaction has been mixed about Germany’s performance - much of it surrounding the use of Mario Götze as lone striker - but the truth is they bossed this match and never looked like losing. It was a solid start from Joachim Löw’s side and they’ll surely go on with the job from here. The team to beat.

What We Didn’t Predict: Hungary defying the odds against Austria

If you saw SBS’s own Les Murray jigging all the way to his local coffee shop on Wednesday morning, here’s the reason. Nobody gave his Magyars a hope against an Austria side many thought could be a tournament dark horse. It might have been different had David Alaba’s shot gone in inside 30 seconds, but so what? I’ll take my lángos with cheese and lots of sour cream, thanks.

What to look for on Match Day 2: The losers to fight desperately to save their tournament

Didn’t win on Match Day 1? Thanks to UEFA’s everyone's-a-winner group stage, where the four best third-placed teams go through, nobody is out of the running just yet (except Northern Ireland, if we’re being honest). Still, the heat is on those nations yet to bag three points. England will be nervous facing Wales, Belgium simply must beat Ireland, while Austria against Portugal could be a match of sudden death at the Parc des Princes.

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4 min read
Published 15 June 2016 at 4:16pm
By Sebastian Hassett
Source: SBS