On the first full day of bilateral group fixtures, covering three cities in Lens, Bordeaux and Marseille and six teams representing two home nations, a pair of Central European close rivals, a historic, blue-and-white kitted border nation and the largest country in the world, it’s fair to say there was plenty of drama. After the hype and expectation of the opening match of the tournament yesterday, today we had a collection of unknown quantities fighting for an early lead in their groups.
Albania vs Switzerland began the day, and despite its pre-match lack of expectation, it delivered edge of the seat drama between two feisty, fiery regions with plenty of historic and cultural links to each other. This was evident not least the number of players for both sides who were born or had roots in their counterparts’ nations, notably the Xhaka brothers, Granit for Switzerland and Taulant for Albania, the first siblings to face off in Euro history. If this wasn’t enough to provoke the rivalry, the mass of fans, 99% decked in out in indistinguishable Swiss or Albanian red, cheering and jeering for the entire 90 minutes. This emotional and typically Central European atmosphere brought to life what could’ve been a slow, low-quality match, turning it into an end-to-end, high stake game with plenty of chances for both sides. In the end, it was hard to believe it only ended 1-0 to Switzerland, as I think Albania (who had captain Lorik Cana deservedly sent off after a rash couple of moments in the first half) edged the second half. The multi-cultural Mediterranean state should’ve had a penalty for a pull back on their left winger Ermir Lenjani in the second half, and were arguably robbed of their one great chance. A really good match, fit for more of a group decider than an opener in fact in its quality. Expect to see more entertainment from both of these sides.
Wales vs Slovakia, like I predicted yesterday, was the pick of the games, with many heart-in-mouth moments, including the amazing clearance by Ben Davies from Marek Hamsik’s shot and the tidy goal from Ondrej Duda which levelled up the game. These moments were broken up by long periods of dominance from Wales, in which they should’ve scored at least two more than they did in the end. It was a scintillating match, just underlining the quality and heart that Wales do have, as well as sending a massive statement to England before next week’s match.
From an English perspective, that game against Russia was near perfect. The operative word being near. We were all over the Russians in the first half, and should’ve scored at least two from Lallana’s and Rooney’s chances (both straight at the goalkeeper). In the second half, we had some great chances again and Dier’s amazing free kick (considering he’s never done anything like it before) should’ve won the game for us. We had all confidence that we’d close it out, especially after the clock struck 90 minutes. No team should concede after that, especially if you have James Milner, the king of closing out games, on the pitch. It was the only point in the game when the English concentration faulted. It would’ve been our first opening game win since the 2006 World Cup (against Paraguay), but we couldn’t see it out. We should still see our way out of the group, but we must beat Wales. All eyes will be on Lens next week.
Team of the Day
Wales have to be the big winners of this day’s play. They were the clearest winners of their respective game from the six teams, especially considering it was their first international tournament appearance for 58 years. They dominated most of the play against Slovakia, and took a solid lead in Group B after the first round’s play. Their match against England next weeks should be a cracker, even if it is at 2PM (a disgrace on a weekday, you organisers).
Player of the Day
Gareth Bale – What did I say about this guy yesterday? You talk him up, and he always delivers. His free kick from around 25 yards out was sumptuous, dipping at great pace, something that only he and a few select others in this tournament could do. He led from the front, which was exactly what Wales needed as a team who were all competing in their first international tournament. His running, across every blade of grass possible, was so commendable and showed that he really cares about his country. He was by far the best player on the pitch today, matching his obvious talent with the spirit of the Welsh dragon on his shirt. Others who deserve a shout include Blerim Džemaili, Granit Xhaka and Yann Sommer who worked hard the whole game for the Swiss, and Aaron Ramsey who would’ve been clearly Wales’ MOTM had it not been for Bale. Lallana, Eric Dier and Danny Rose were all outstanding for England too, fully deserving of their places in the side by taking the game to the opposition and playing really well.
Goal of the Day
Gareth Bale and Eric Dier’s free kicks have to be the pick of the goals we saw today. Firstly Bale, and it wasn’t representative of the Welsh style, but it just showed Bale’s class and quality, maybe finally showing why the price paid by Real Madrid two years ago was required. It lifted to just the right height, dipped with all the power of the Welsh people behind the ball and deceived the goalkeeper, who admittedly should’ve organised himself better. Never mind that though, it was a class goal. However, you’ve got to say Eric Dier’s free kick was just as good. A different style of free kick, yes, but the power and placement was absolutely stunning. It deserved to win the game, but lady luck did not smile on England today. Will she ever?
Shock of the Day
Well, today was a day of small and notable moments all over France. In Lens, there was Albania’s surprisingly effective attempt on a tiki-taka style, with one or two touch, fast moving passes all over the shop despite having only ten men for a majority of the match. Also, there was Xherdan Shaqiri’s wink during the Swiss national anthem, Ergys Kace’s short pulling (a new trend?) and the historic made by the Xhaka brothers. On to Marseille, with the last-gasp goal and the organisation mix-up made drama, to the backwards E at the end of the city’s name during the national anthems (look at Iain Macintosh’s twitter). It was a strange and intriguing day, that's for sure.
I’m Looking Forward to…
Three more matches tomorrow, including some of the more unfancied sides this year. Northern Ireland making their return to the international stage should be good viewing against a strong Poland side, particularly if Robert Lewandowski gets firing on all cylinders. Turkey against Croatia could be a similar match to Albania vs Switzerland today, quite open and exciting between two unfancied minnows, with highlights of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Hakan Calhanoglu to spice up the game. Germany against Ukraine should be played in the same way as England’s match, as Germany will obviously dominate play but could just trip up if, like England, they don’t take their chances. Another great day of football to look forward to.
Author - Will Hugall
Now a BA Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University, I divide my time between my base in Radford and back home in East Sussex while watching as much football as I can!