Euro 16 is over. A thoroughly dejecting affair, the end could not come quick enough. The only concession made to suffering spectators was that extra time in the final was not stretched into a penalty shootout. Although that would have been an outcome not remotely out of place in such a tedious tournament.
Unlike the great finals of 8 years ago which were the best I have seen at international level, Euro 16 was an insipid affair, as far removed from riveting soccer as Jim Wells is from tolerance. Portugal the Horrible were dull but worthy winners, in the sense that the spirit of the competition was embodied in their team - boring, low key, lackluster. A truly underwhelming tournament won by a truly underwhelming team to match the occasion. There is a strange symmetry to it.
For the Portuguese, pedestrian soccer rather than flair won the day, a reliance on attrition rather than adventure. Any notion of soccer being a spectator sport fell by the wayside. This was more of an endurance test. The Portuguese endeavoured but never entertained. Portugal’s drab venture was underscored by the forced retirement from the final of their maestro. A team said to rely on the brilliance of one talent, seemed to miss nothing other than his theatrics and histrionics once he had left the field. They continued, much as they did with him on it, in that dull stodgy way insisted on by the coach. Magic gone, mediocrity prevailed. The old adage of there being no quarrel with success is small consolation for what was endured.
The Euros unlike the World Cup have a tendency to produce this type of winner: the outsider rather than the usual contenders. Denmark in 1992, a team that only arrived through default after Yugoslavia had been disqualified. In 2004 it was the turn of Greece. Sure, it is good for the game that the underdog can win but not so good if they stifle creativity to do so. The underdog does not have to underwhelm – look at Leicester who took the English premiership with panache.
The one joy was the fate of England. Pathetic rather than panache is the best way to describe that shower. A truly exhilarating occasion for all but the England supporters: their team of millionaires humiliated by a crowd of Sunday morning soccer types.
Iceland’s journey was instructive. It does happen. A country on the fringes of Europe with a well below average national team which nobody other than itself and its cerebrally challenged supporters believes is capable of greatness finds itself on the stage where it is either piss or get off the pot. Suddenly it is thrust into a match against a superior side and freezes. There is something of the poetic justice about England the Hopeless freezing against Iceland.
Eamonn Dunphy called it right: finding a good England team is like finding the Loch Ness Monster. The English FA will scramble around for a new coach to be sacked after the next outing’s inevitable humiliation. The current England crop should be sent off to a seaside where they can give free donkey rides to kids: not merely for penance but for a salvaging of reputation – a demonstration that they can achieve something. Roy Hodgson in a boater calling out “Roll Up, Roll Up”, conjures up a more plausible image than him standing in a technical area directing a worthy team. Be thankful for small mercies: the English FA don’t design aircraft or rollercoasters.
After listening to my son’s assessment prior to the first kick off I opted for Belgium. Apart from Germany they had more quality individuals in their side than any other team. But like the destiny of great vocalists who can’t perform in tune as a band, greatness eluded them. Against Wales, it seemed that some of their players thought that having played in the English premiership meant they had to play like England. Apart from the marvellous goal by Radja Nainggolan Belgium rendered a performance more somnambulant than scintillating.
Like some sort of endless inane hell from Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, relief that it is over is palpable. Now we can watch something interesting on television: anything but international soccer ... well, not anything, not the peace process.