Euro 2016 match reports

My AFP match reports and reaction pieces from Euro 2016:

Reaction: Hodgson quits as England boss after Iceland humiliation
Report: Iceland stun England in one of greatest ever shocks

Report: Gómez guides Germany into Euro 2016 knockouts

Reaction: Deschamps encouraged by Pogba display

Report: Pogba shines as France top Euro 2016 group

Reaction: Hodgson joy as England turn the tables

Report: Vardy, Sturridge rescue England against Wales

Reaction: Modrić shrugs off brush with fan

Report: Modrić stunner sees Croatia past Turkey

Reaction: ‘Historic’ victory for Wales, says Bale
Report: Bale and Robson-Kanu give Wales winning return

Feature: Bale sets tone for happy-go-lucky Wales

Underpinning the camaraderie is a formidable team spirit that reflects the fact many of Coleman’s players have been representing Wales for years. Bale, Gunter, Taylor and Aaron Ramsey were playing for the Wales Under-17 team as far back as 2006. The core of the current side came together during the latter years of former manager John Toshack’s tenure between 2004 and 2010. It has helped to foster the familiarity of a club side, both on the pitch — where Coleman has been honing the team’s tactical systems for two years — and off.

Dancing, table tennis and ice creams on the beach – here’s my piece on how Wales laughed their way to the Euro 2016 quarter-finals.

Analysis: England’s ‘brittle’ football psyche exposed again

Glenn has announced that his organisation will now carry out a “definitive review” of what happened at Euro 2016 and “canvas opinion across the game” before announcing a permanent successor to Hodgson. Adding to the sense of incomprehension is the fact that England’s youth-level teams do not seem as prone to collapse as the senior side, as shown by the Under-20 team’s success at this year’s Toulon Tournament. England have taken steps to address psychological shortcomings by using Steve Peters, a renowned psychiatrist who has previously worked with Liverpool, British Cycling and UK Athletics. Peters was available for England’s players to consult throughout the Euro in France, but Hodgson’s analysis of the team’s failings suggested that mental factors had played a part. “We know that at tournament level, mentality is a vital factor,” he said Tuesday. “We’ve tried hard in our preparation to deal with that, but once again the result wasn’t there, so therefore we’ll be accused of failing.”

Another major tournament calamity for England, another round of soul-searching. Here’s my piece on the psychological factors underpinning England’s Euro 2016 exit.

Related link: Hodgson pays price for sorry England mess

Feature: Ramsey glows for Wales in Bale’s shadow

It has been said that international duty represents an escape for Bale, who has been under constant scrutiny at Real Madrid since his world-record transfer from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013. The same could also be said of Ramsey. Approaching his ninth season at Arsenal, he divides opinion among the club’s support, with some lauding his talent and work rate while others bemoan his occasional tendency to over-elaborate. The 2013-14 season represented a watershed as Ramsey scored a career-best 16 goals, topped off by an extra-time winner against Hull City in the FA Cup final. But the two years since have seen him shunted around the team as Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger uses Ramsey’s industriousness to counter-balance the creative gifts of players like Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez.

A piece on Aaron Ramsey, who divides opinions among Arsenal fans but is thriving in an attacking role for Wales at Euro 2016. Read it here.

Feature: Miraculous McGovern earns Northern Ireland adulation

Northern Ireland goalkeeper Michael McGovern spent last season toiling for Scottish strugglers Hamilton Academical, but his brilliant display against Germany at Euro 2016 made him the toast of Paris. The 31-year-old pulled off save after save on Tuesday to frustrate the world champions and while Mario Gomez found a way past him in the 30th minute, it was only thanks to McGovern’s electric reflexes that the score remained 1-0. Captivating the 46,000-capacity Parc des Princes, and reaching the last 16 in the tournament, was a world away from his experiences with Hamilton, whose average home gate last season was 3,027, but Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill said that his role in their relegation battle had been ideal preparation. “Playing for Hamilton Academical, he makes a lot of saves every week,” said O’Neill.

How Michael McGovern went from perennial bench-warmer at Celtic to Northern Ireland hero. My piece for AFP can be read here.

Analysis: Striding Sissoko stakes claim for France role

Aligned alongside Yohan Cabaye and Paul Pogba in a three-man midfield, Sissoko impressed as France recorded a 0-0 draw against the Swiss in Lille on Sunday that took them into the last 16 as Group A winners. As well as catching the eye with his driving runs, his inclusion allowed Pogba to excel in his preferred left-sided role and with Blaise Matuidi struggling for form, the 26-year-old Newcastle United midfielder has given coach Didier Deschamps food for thought. “Didier has a difficult choice to make,” former France midfielder Alain Boghossian told Monday’s edition of French sports daily L’Equipe. “With Pogba having rediscovered his place, Blaise Matuidi could pay the price, even though he’s shone brilliantly for the past two years.”

Could Moussa Sissoko play his way into France’s starting XI? Some thoughts on his performance against Switzerland here.

Feature: Vardy brings Leicester spirit to England’s Euro quest

Looking beyond Euro 2016, Vardy will undergo an operation after the tournament to repair “two big cracks” in his right wrist, but says he will only be sidelined for three weeks. He is bringing out an autobiography, My Story, in October and revealed that a film charting his rags-to-riches tale is slated for release in 2017. “It’s happening,” he said. “It’s out in 2017, from what I’ve been told. I think they’re just getting all the actors sorted.” In response to a question about who will play him, as well as a cheeky entreaty about who might take on the role of Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger, he would only say: “I’m not at liberty to say.”

Jamie Vardy sat down for a chat with journalists at England’s Euro 2016 media centre in Chantilly this week. Find out what he said here.

Analysis: Rooney reborn in England midfield role at Euro 2016

In England’s final pre-tournament friendly, an unconvincing 1-0 win over Portugal on June 2, Rooney led the line as a central striker in a 4-3-3 formation. Two weeks later, he is being picked in midfield ahead of specialists such as Jack Wilshere, Jordan Henderson and James Milner. Rooney’s repositioning has exposed a hitherto underappreciated side of his game, with his strafing passes helping to set England’s tempo against both Russia and Wales. He completed 66 passes against Wales, more than any other player, and his tireless promptings established a foundation for the late push that culminated in Daniel Sturridge’s injury-time winner.

Wayne Rooney’s redeployment in England’s midfield appears to represent the dawn of a new phase in his career. I’ve written about it for AFP here.

Analysis: Muddled England give Hodgson food for thought

Despite Wales sitting perilously deep at times, England toiled in their attempts to pull them out of their defensive shape and it was not until added time that the decisive moment of quality arrived. Sturridge knocked the ball forward to Vardy, who laid it off to Alli, and though the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder could not profit from his own slick turn, Sturridge burst in to beat Hennessey at his near post. It prompted an explosion of joy on the England bench, Hodgson leaping to his feet and assistant coach Gary Neville haring down the touchline. But throwing all the strikers on and hoping for the best is not an approach that can be relied upon to carry England deep into the tournament.

For all the joy of England’s dramatic victory over Wales, they remain very much a work in progress. My piece for AFP can be read here.

Feature: Wales v England, a tale of fraternal friction

Historically, the relationship between the two nations has been one of English incursions and Welsh resentment, from King Edward I’s invasion of Wales in the 13th century to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s war on striking Welsh coal-miners in the 1980s. Today, Wales answers to the British government in London, although it was given a degree of political autonomy by the creation of the Welsh Assembly in 1999. “Wales is administratively part of England and so Welsh national identity is a rather contested area,” Huw Richards, a Welsh journalist and academic, told AFP. “An awful lot of Welsh national identity is tied into the relationship with England and is about not being England, being different.”

Ahead of their Euro 2016 clash in Lens on Thursday, I’ve written something on the rivalry between England and Wales. You can read it here.

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