As we saw for the first time a day of only two games play today, there was plenty of excitement and end-to-end drama to keep us entertained and intrigued. This was a day all about group F, to celebrate the selection of the strange and unexpected with the much-hyped stars at either end of this collection of four sides.
First off, we had Austria vs Hungary, the clash of two ancient companions and rivals facing off yet again in what was meant to be the nadir of the day, the undercard fight before the main event with Ronaldo & co. later in the evening. But make no mistake; this was a great game, a real ding-dong battle that physically and emotionally drained both sides. Hungary, a side surprisingly ranked 20th in the world, although highly unexpected to pull up any trees in this tournament, let alone their group, started long shots. But it is always unwise to write off any team, especially an Eastern European one, as they are some of the most determined and unified sides in the world. In the first half, it was Austria who kicked off the action, going close only 30 seconds into the game when David Alaba’s slamming shot cannoned back off the post. But this was not their game today. After that shot, they never really ever got going, which resulted in them basically handing the game to the impressive Hungarians, who put in more effort all over the pitch. It never really happened for the Austrians, who will have to show much more in terms of performance in order to qualify for the next round.
The way in which Hungary converted their pressure and chances into goals by the end was very impressive, completely undermining pre-match expectations and forcing probably the biggest shock result of the first round of games. Adam Szalai’s stretched, slotted finish was just rewards for all of his team’s running, keep ball tactics and creativity, finally lady luck smiling down on a team who undoubtedly deserved to win the game. They played perfectly as a team, while Austria floundered under the pressure of great expectation, Hungary rounding off the win with a beautiful chip on goalkeeper Robert Almer from Zoltan Steiber three minutes from time. This game changed everything for the future outlook of the group, and has completely opened it up, allowing a tough to break down and fairly skilful Hungary to hopefully grab a round of 16 spot, with the possibility of Austria massively disappointing by falling at the first hurdle.
In complete contrast in the late evening, we headed over to Saint Etienne to bask in the cooling air of the late French hours, and relax to the entertainment of Portugal vs Iceland. One side with a rich footballing history, having produced greats such as Eusebio, Luis Figo, Deco and now Cristiano Ronaldo, and one whose history books are only just being rewritten with a golden generation, the result of improved facilities and investment in the future. Once again, despite pre-match expectations, both sides were fairly level until the goal, scored by Nani from close range mid-way through the first half, separated the sides. From then on, possession began to be dominated by the Portuguese, as the Icelandic players were clearly rocked, which made the end of the half a bit of a non-event. However, the start of the second half began with real intent from the Icelanders, clearly fired up (ironic considering their nations name) from the team talk, culminating in a fine low volleyed finish from midfielder Birkir Bjarnason from a brilliant, teasing cross from the right, five minutes after the restart.
From then on, we had an open game with plenty of chances for both sides, with many particularly wasted by the Portuguese, as Ronaldo abandoned his original position as striker to serve his ego by picking up the ball as often as he could. He must infuriate managers in games like these. As a result of this, Portugal’s play never really linked up after about 70 minutes, leaving Iceland to sit back, pick off any poor touches (and there were many) and run down the clock, winning a valuable and historic point against the top seeds of the group. Iceland did very well in that second half, playing together as a team, not afraid to run forward and take shots, but prioritising defending and the result over reckless play. It was the perfect half from the Icelandic perspective; grab an early goal, sit back and seal the draw. They frustrated Ronaldo and whoever dared to take ball away from him, demonstrating two differing approaches to the game; the better one grabbing a point for the sparsely populated, volcanic island in the far north of Europe. So, after one game for each team in group F, we see Hungary top, Iceland second (on alphabetical terms) and Portugal and Austria having to play catch up in their next two games, the first of which is vitally between the two. Whoever is the victor of that one will undoubtedly be the qualifier, maybe even alongside Hungary. Who’d of guessed it, eh? What a crazy day of football.
Team of the Day
Hungary were the highlight of the day, a breath of fresh air in that they are a team who can actually keep the ball and dare to take their chances. I had to go for them on the basis they were the only side to win today, but Iceland deserve a mention for their spirited, gritty, immovable wall of a performance in which they were determined to win every ball, they really fought for their small nation. Maybe it’s because they had 8% of their population (which would be unfathomable for England, Germany or Russia) in the stadium behind them, but they seemed to have an extra 10% of effort to give every single time, getting stronger as the match went on. Well done to the minnows, it just shows what you can do even though you don’t have the best players or facilities in the world. What matters to them is heart.
Player of the Day
Tough one to call today as no one particularly stood out to me, but I’d plump for Balasz Dzsudzsak, the Hungarian number 7 and captain, who kept running for the whole match and led his team through a tough test in Austria, encouraging them to keep going throughout. His job was a vital one, and he did it really well. His play also contributed to the win, believe it or not, with his crosses more often than not finding their targets, and his link up play with the rest of the midfield taking energy out of the Austrian lines, breaking them up to find space for a killer blow. Adam Szalai and Laszlo Kleinheisler also deserve recognition for their hold up play and finish (Szalai) and running, pinpoint passing and all around effort (Kleinheisler) respectively. Hannes Þór Halldórsson can get a shout for his safe hands for Iceland, securing the point, as well as Birkir Bjarnason for his well taken goal and much improved performance after his goal.
Goal of the Day
Zoltan Steiber’s goal for Hungary, their second of the game, was a beautiful one, mixing up the style of goal in this award from the past few days. The way he just got his foot perfectly under it, pulling off the chip for the ball to patiently loop high in the sky, then drop for the bounce at just the right point, settling into the net with a lovely crisp ruffle. It was a goal that brought the Hungary fans to their feet and the players to cloud nine, one that satisfied all of the senses.
Shock of the Day
Hungary goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly’s record as oldest player was a big moment in the history of the Euros, but his amateur-style, shockingly unfashionable tracksuit bottoms are such a cringe worthy sight. You could commend him for creating a memorable image of himself to go down in history, but I don’t think his lasting legacy will be one of skill and success, rather embarrassment and hilarity.
Pepe’s dive then retaliation after being pushed off of the ball against an Icelandic player in the second half of their match wasn’t exactly a shock after what we’ve come to expect of the much-criticised Portuguese centre back, but I had to mention it. The soft fall to the ground was one thing, but the leg he lifted up to catch the Icelandic player to teach him who is the ‘stronger’ player was a complete other level of evil. I understand that he wants to make himself as fearsome and annoying as possible to opposition players, but he doesn’t have to do it by making a ridicule of officials and the basic rules of the game. He’s like that one kid in class at school who just winds up the teacher over and over again, knowing that they can’t do anything to him if he doesn’t get caught in the act. How someone hasn’t told him to stop his petulant and frankly embarrassing behaviour by now is testament to the Portuguese and Spanish style of play, that they actively accept and encourage this kind of play in order to get an advantage in the game.
I’m Looking Forward to…
A return to the set of three matches tomorrow, with a vital match for England and Wales seeing Russia and Slovakia face off in what could be the last game for the Russians at the tournament if their fans get involved in skirmishes a second time. I for one wouldn’t be sad to see them go, but we want as many teams to keep going in this tournament as possible (for now). France vs Albania could be a damaging match for the away side, as the potent front three of the French could put any defence to the sword, especially a low-quality one without its captain (Lorik Cana) at the heart of it. Romania vs Switzerland will be my pick of the games, as both teams will be going at it to try and lock down a second place finish and a place in the round of 16. It promises to be another great day for football tomorrow.
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!