The European Championship 2016 has not disappointed. Whether it be through the atmosphere of the crowds, the chants, or the rise of the underdogs. The tournament has been full of excitement, twists and turns.

This year, four of our home nations were present in the finals; Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, England and Wales. Three out of the four home nations made it to the final 16, but it was only Wales who could go any further. England’s dismal performance against Iceland saw them exit the tournament to a country with a population the size of Leicester! With jokes surrounding England taking ‘BREXIT’ too far, the team’s performance was no laughing matter and Hodgson later resigned. It is ironic isn’t it… the ‘home of football’, paid professionals, ‘world class’ players and they failed to beat a team co-managed by Heimir Hallgrimsson, a dentist!

Northern Ireland also went out in the final 16 to Wales in a tight 1-0 loss, and the Republic of Ireland lost 2-1 to tournament hosts France. Wales was probably the biggest surprise of the tournament.  Wales have never reached a semi-final in any UEFA or FIFA tournament, yet 2016 there they were. Topping group B one point above England, Wales continuously defied expectation.

In the quarter finals, without a doubt, Wales were the underdogs against a strong Belgium team. Wales, under little expectation and pressure, destroyed Belgium 3-1 with goals from Vokes, Robson-Kanu, and captain Ashley Williams. Progressing forward, the semi-finals saw Wales face their toughest rivals of the tournament, the eventual winners Portugal. The battle of the Real Madrid giants, Bale versus Ronaldo, saw Ronaldo take the crown in a 2-0 win over the valiant Welsh.

Whilst Wales returned home to a warm welcome, filled with celebrations, Portugal took their place into the final versus hosts France.

France’s journey began with topping Group A having drawn against Switzerland and wining against Albania and Romania. Through to the final 16 they faced the Republic of Ireland, whom they beat 2-1. Facing Iceland in the quarter finals they certainly put on a performance scoring five goals and conceding just two. Arguably their most challenging game of the tournament was against World Cup giants Germany, however, the French team secured a 2-0 victory sending them straight to the final.

The final 90 minutes of the tournament for the acclaimed title of champions of Europe between Portugal and France saw drama in just the first seven minutes. A hard but fair tackle by Dimitri Payet saw Ronaldo collapse to the floor with a potential knee injury. The Portuguese captain refused to let this stop him and attempted to continue. Yet, less than 25 minutes into play a teary-eyed Ronaldo realised the extent of his injury would not allow him to continue and he signalled to be substituted off. Ronaldo was stretchered off the field of play and replaced by substitute Quaresma.

Ronaldo didn’t sit quietly. Despite his injury, his passion shone through as he supported his team from the side lines. His tears symbolised his hunger for his team to win. France appeared to dominate with possession and shots yet couldn’t complete the end product.  Both teams came close to scoring, however, 90 minutes of the match played the score remained 0-0.

The breakthrough finally came for Portugal in the 18th minute of extra time via the Swansea City ‘flop’ Eder. Eder pulled off a majestic shot outside the box, scoring in the bottom left corner past the reach of the French keeper Hugo Lloris. France attempted to equalise but tired legs and missed opportunities saw no comeback for the host nation. Portugal managed to keep the ball away from the French, ensuring the whistle blew with the score 1-0 Portugal.

Finally, at 31 years old, Ronaldo and his country have their first international title as Portugal stand victorious as champions of Europe.

 – By Hannah Thompson


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