Euro 2016: Guardian writers pick their highs and lows from France

From Hal Robson-Kanu’s memorable turn against Belgium to Antoine Griezmann capturing hearts, plus walking into lamp-posts, our writers give their take

Dominic Fifield

Match of the tournament The best I attended was France’s 2-0 win over Germany, when the upgrade in quality was very obvious. From afar Wales’ rumbustious elimination of a much-fancied Belgium was jaw-dropping.

Aaron Ramsey

Player of the tournament Aaron Ramsey. Antoine Griezmann would have been a shoo-in had he enjoyed a better final so the man who inspired Wales into the semi-finals gets the nod. That was arguably Ramsey more than Gareth Bale, with the Arsenal player so integral in ensuring his compatriot could thrive. There were four assists, a goal and an untimely absence through suspension which cost his country dear.

Goal of the tournament Hal Robson-Kanu’s Cruyff turn to leave a trio of Belgians dizzied and the calm finish beyond Thibaut Courtois. Dimitri Payet’s stunning finish in the opening game comes in a close second.

Personal highlight The din in the Stade Vélodrome as the hosts weathered a storm and eventually knocked out the reigning world champions. A proper football city rejoicing in a proper footballing occasion.

Biggest disappointment The scenes in Marseille around England’s group game with Russia, not least on Stade Vélodrome’s virage sud at the end, which served as a reminder that, even now, hooliganism remains an issue.

Team of the tournament Iceland. Aside from the reality they are the smallest nation ever to appear at a major finals, their first participation at this level was mind-boggling from start to finish. Recall the drama of their win against Austria, their well-merited success over England and even their second half show of strength against the French (even when the result was beyond recovery).

Fondest memory of France Returning to Lyon, where I once called myself a student. A stunning city.

What now for England? Familiar soul-searching, a new manager, another comfortable qualification campaign and, no doubt, a huge anticlimax in Russia in two years’ time.

Portugal’s 3-3 draw with Hungary in the final set of Group F fixtures was one of the tournament’s standout games.
Portugal’s 3-3 draw with Hungary in the final set of Group F fixtures was one of the tournament’s standout games. Photograph: Max Rossi/Reuters

Andy Hunter

Match of the tournament Italy’s professional job on Belgium and the end-to-end drama of Hungary 3-3 Portugal were the highlights from matches attended but Wales’ quarter-final defeat of Belgium was the standout tie.

Player of the tournament Antoine Griezmann. Came under intense scrutiny and pressure in France after a subdued start, losing his place at one point, but responded with class and composure to help guide the hosts to the final.

Goal of the tournament Hal Robson-Kanu’s exquisite tribute to Johan Cruyff against Belgium. Honourable mention to the goal that followed from Sam Vokes – I love a good soaring header.

Personal highlight Visiting Iceland’s training camp in Annecy the morning after their historic first tournament win over Austria. I was in the privileged position of witnessing the warm reception they received on their return, the camaraderie between players and staff and their training session. I was also given time with their joint coaches, Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson. “I wouldn’t want to be Roy Hodgson if he lost to Iceland,” said a clearly confident Hallgrimsson. Accessible, friendly, spirited and hard-working – the team they humiliated in the last 16 could learn a thing or two.

Biggest disappointment The embarrassing behaviour of some England fans, later equalled by the Russian unit.

Team of the tournament Too close to call between Iceland and Wales.

Fondest memory of France Lyon, Annecy, driving along the Côte d’Azur with the Clash on at full blast, covering enthralling and sometimes historic matches (Iceland’s debut, Albania’s first victory, Northern Ireland’s defeat of Ukraine) and the stirring rendition of La Marseillaise before France’s win over the Republic of Ireland. All of it, in fact.

What now for England? Same as usual – the inquests and appetite for change will be pushed to the margins once the Premier League season begins and the culture that breeds international failure returns.

David Hytner

Match of the tournament Wales 3-1 Belgium. I enjoyed Portugal 3-3 Hungary and Italy 2-0 Spain but I’d nominate Wales’s quarter-final win because of the end-to-end tempo, the phenomenal atmosphere and the knowledge that we had witnessed history.

Antoine Griezmann

Player of the tournament Antoine Griezmann. The complete striker and just a beautiful player to watch, whose sense of exuberance is contagious.

Goal of the tournament Hal Robson-Kanu v Belgium. It can be no other. With the biggest game in Welsh football history finely balanced at 1-1, Robson-Kanu – to borrow his phrase – “Cruyffed” inside the box to destroy three defenders. “See you later Meunier, see you later Denayer, see you later Fellaini,” roared Robbie Savage, in his BBC commentary. Robson-Kanu then kept his cool to beat Thibaut Courtois.

Personal highlight There were a few I-was-there moments, including Wales v Belgium and Robbie Brady’s dramatic late winner for the Republic of Ireland against Italy. But the one that springs most readily to mind was Dimitri Payet’s Roy of the Rovers-style 89th-minute rocket into the top corner on the opening night for France against Romania – and his subsequent tears when he was substituted to a thunderous ovation.

Biggest disappointment England, obviously. The most shocking part of the Iceland debacle was how technically assured players like Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane became so gripped by the looming failure that they could barely trap or pass the ball.

Team of the tournament Wales. Chris Coleman always felt that the quarter-finals were a possibility. The run to the first major semi-final of their history galvanised the nation and took the breath.

Fondest memory of France The emotion during the pre-game anthems; finding out that the rebuilt Vélodrome in Marseille is the best stadium in Europe and just being in Paris – the coolest city in the world. Oh, and being starstruck when I walked past Quentin Tarantino on Pont Neuf.

What now for England? I still think there are reasons to be optimistic, given the talent in the squad, if we can get the right manager in – one with a clear tactical plan, which he drums into the players over the next two years. Then again it is the hope that kills you.

Owen Gibson

Match of the tournament Wales 3-1 Belgium. A great story, a great atmosphere and won by a team that played for one another and their manager against one stuffed with more gifted individuals who did not.

Player of the tournament Antoine Griezmann. The French media expected Paul Pogba to be their talisman but instead the razor-sharp Atlético striker has emerged as the star of this French side. Started slowly but grew into the tournament and scored vital goals at crucial times, none more so than when he put his Champions League final penalty disappointment behind him to put the hosts ahead against Germany.

Goal of the tournament Strong claims from Dimitri Payet and Xherdan Shaqiri but for sheer chutzpah and game-changing brilliance it has to be Hal Robson-Kanu’s Cruyff turn and cool finish that left Thomas Meunier completely bamboozled.

Personal highlight Travelling the length of line No9 on the Paris Métro to Parc des Princes as the train slowly filled with giddy Northern Ireland fans, mingling happily with their German counterparts, and then the scenes that followed as they comprehensively outsang their rivals for the 90 minutes that followed in one of the most one-sided 1-0 victories in the tournament. Although it did leave me unable to shift the accursed “Will Grigg’s on fire” song from my head for days.

Biggest disappointment England, natch. Plus the grim pall that hung over the opening few days of the tournament like a black cloud in the wake of the scenes in Marseille and the tension that gripped the streets of Lille in the aftermath.

Team of the tournament Wales. “Don’t be afraid to dream,” indeed.

Wales were told don’t be afraid to dream by Chris Coleman – and they ended up surpassing all expectations by reaching the last four.
Wales were told don’t be afraid to dream by Chris Coleman – and they ended up surpassing all expectations by reaching the last four. Photograph: Richard Sellers/Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

Fondest memory of France The fans from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Wales, Iceland and Slovakia who revelled in the experience and elevated the tournament beyond the exercise in money-making cynicism that the Uefa machine sometimes threatened to turn it into. Despite justified concerns about the expanded format in footballing terms, the melting pot vibe of the group stages undoubtedly added something. In turn, they slowly ignited enthusiasm among a French public who appeared, for good reason, equivocal about the tournament to begin with.

What now for England? Same as usual, even if the inquest seems to be being conducted with more rigour than usual. Not that it would take much to clear that low bar, given the previous decision to let Roy Hodgson blithely carry on after Brazil. If anything is to change, there needs to be an attempt to disentangle the long-term structural issues from the short-term coaching and psychological ones. And to understand that English football’s dysfunctional structure is part of the problem.

Jamie Jackson

Match of the tournament Iceland 2-1 Austria. A last-kick winner from Arnor Ingvi Traustason for the fairytale nation of Euro 2016 sent the Stade de France ballistic and took Iceland into a last-16 meeting with England. Guess what happened next?

Cristiano Ronaldo

Player of the tournament Cristiano Ronaldo. He is not the footballer he was but what a footballer he still is. Remains the big watch despite the diminished ability to take the opposition apart with one of those barnstorming runs.

Goal of the tournament Ronaldo’s header v Wales. Fifty minutes were played when the Portuguese soared before unloading a bullet of a header that gave Wayne Hennessey zero chance.

Personal highlight Luka Modric’s volley for Croatia against Turkey – a strike so regal it deserved a red carpet as 25 yards out the playmaker’s right boot met a ball dropping from the skies with the sweetest of hits.

Biggest disappointment England. Roy Hodgson should have been sacked after the two-game exit from Brazil 2014. Instead he was allowed to continue and oversaw a muddled shambles against Iceland. The key to England doing better is not hard: employ a genius manager. Look what Eddie Jones has done for the rugby side.

Team of the tournament France. They sparkle and attack, then sparkle and attack. Any side that can reach the European Championship final while leaving a player like Anthony Martial out of their starting XI has to be pretty decent.

Fondest memory of France Czech Republic 0-2 Turkey. A summer tournament with incessant rain does not feel like a summer tournament and for the first 11 days there had been almost incessant rain. So when the sun came out and set in vivid hues of oranges over the Stade Bollaert-Delelis in Lens the senses tingled.

What now for England? Forget the Sam Allardyce or Gareth Southgate route. Find an absolute managerial wizard and ask his price. Sit back and watch England become the world and European champions.

Amy Lawrence

Match of the tournament France beating Germany in the semi-final was riveting but, for the quality of the goals as well as the surprise, Wales v Belgium. Robbie Savage caught the mood when Hal Robson-Kanu performed his ode to Cruyff, screeching: “Go and wake your kids up!”

Player of the tournament Chapeau, Antoine Griezmann. Highly skilled, perpetual motion, loves scoring goals and courageous with it – especially when he stepped up to take that penalty in the semi-final after what happened in the Champions League final.

Goal of the tournament Xherdan Shaqiri’s bicycle kick against Poland (special mention to a non-goal moment of bewilderingly inventive technique – Florenzi’s clearance against Germany).

Personal highlight Iceland. Absolutely everything about Iceland. In particular the eruption of communal joy (which included one of the players hurling the corner flag into the crowd) at the final whistle of their England smiting. Everyone from their management to their players to their fans was an absolute pleasure to talk to and be around.

Biggest disappointment The violence around the England v Russia game was utterly depressing. Seeing an eight-year-old boy crying at 2am because he and his dad could not get back to their hotel, lost and frightened as the city reacted to the challenging situation by going into shutdown was the opposite of what an international football tournament should be about.

Team of the tournament Iceland. So easy to make a compelling case for them or Wales. But the fact that their manager also works as a dentist because a full-joint time job in football back home is not really considered a living underlines how extraordinary their achievement was.

Stade Vélodrome
Marseille: an atmospheric city with a stunning stadium in the Stade Vélodrome. Photograph: BPI/Rex/Shutterstock

Fondest memory of France Being in Marseille when England and Russia were not. It is an atmospheric city with a stunning stadium and France v Albania, Iceland v Hungary and Ukraine v Poland were all played out with fans mixing superbly and noisily around town, at the beach and at the ground.

What now for England? Soul-searching, a strong qualification campaign, a sorry and fruitless escapade at a major finals … Repeat to fade for ever and ever.

Sid Lowe

Match of the tournament Wales-Belgium, Italy-Spain and France-Germany. Is it cheating to name three? And is it miserable and begrudging to think they were pretty much the only three?


Player of the tournament I was tempted to say Aaron Ramsey, perhaps even more so in light of how much difference his absence seemed to make to Wales in the semi-final. Gareth Bale is a candidate too and I was very impressed with Toni Kroos. No one matched Andrés Iniesta’s level from the first two games – but it was only two games. It’s got to be Antoine Griezmann really, despite the final. And then there’s Pepe. Seriously.

Goal of the tournament That Xherdan Shaqiri goal against Poland was wonderful and had more than a touch of the Manuel Negrete about it. But how could it not be Hal Robson-Kanu? Defenders sliding by like cartoon characters off a cliff, realising they have been had but unable to do anything about it. And as for his description: “I’ve Cruyffed it” – golden.

Personal highlight Hungary’s fans after beating Austria: a genuine sense of witnessing a historic moment, celebrated the way it should be. And Wales’s fans too, especially after the Russia game, were a joy. Listening to them on the train back from Toulouse frantically changing travel plans (for the better) and trying to get unexpectedly necessary days off work nicely summed up what they had achieved. As did talking to Neil Taylor, who had gone from a Portakabin to the Parc des Princes and was very enjoyable to talk to, fantastically engaging and clearly enjoying himself hugely.

Biggest disappointment England. Spain. Discovering Île de Ré so late. What a lovely place – and how short the stay there felt (after a lifetime on an industrial estate outside Bordeaux with a furniture warehouse for company). Gabor Kiraly not wanting to talk tracksuit trousers. Just about everything Marc Wilmots did and said. Also: missing out on the chance to see more of Croatia and Luka Modric in particular, a player I love watching. Oh, and Jogi Löw being outed and thus forewarned before he could do something really grotesque.

Team of the tournament Wales.

Fondest memory of France Sharing my last chocolate finger with Stu James. And the rabbits. And of course the answers to “personal highlights” could come under “fondest memory” too. Wales and Hungary fans really were great to see, genuinely warming at a time in the tournament when so much of the attention was on the trouble. Some of the scenes were truly terrifying.

What now for England? Same as usual, at a guess. Obviously the most important thing is that all the players have their phones and posh sinks taken off them. That’ll sort it.

Barney Ronay

Match of the tournament Germany v France had the most absorbing half-hour of the tournament as Germany threw their entire delicately knitted kitchen sink and came up short. For surge and countersurge Wales v Belgium was pretty hard to beat.

Gareth Bale

Player of the tournament Not really a tournament of individuals, despite the irresistible urge to pick them out. Gareth Bale bestrode the group stages. Antoine Griezmann was the most ruthless cutting edge. Renato Sanches for the future.

Goal of the tournament Hal Robson-Kanu. Three brilliant things in one: Bale’s pass, Ramsey’s run and a turn that made me leap up and punch the air and yell something incoherent even before he had scored. Sorry, nearby Belgian journalists.

Personal highlight Genuinely enjoyed Ronaldo’s night of the two left feet against Austria, the greatest, or at least the funniest 0-0 draw one is likely to see. No player can ever have succeeded in not scoring with such style and comedic timing.

Biggest disappointment Some of Uefa’s organisation has been baffling. The lack of segregation in Marseille stands out, the fighting in the stands called two hours before kick-off from the press box. Also: I am also now more baguette than man.

Team of the tournament France. Biggest let-down: Russia. Awful.

Fondest memory of France Renting a bike to travel an easy-looking 8km to the stadium in Bordeaux and ending up wobbling down the hard shoulder of the motorway, being chased by a pack of dogs and cycling through some sort of camp where people were burning tyres. Amazing what still seems like fun after 25 days of air-conditioned tents.

What now for England? The same thing as the last 50 years. Incoherent squealing. Weak leer of hope. Familiar baffling defeat. Until the FA and Premier League have an unfettered common interest wider plans are all just talk. Otherwise hire a good manager and have a simple plan. I would go with Allardyce for the uber-banter.

Iceland players celebrate after their famous 2-1 win over England in the last 16 game in Nice. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Daniel Taylor

Match of the tournament England 1-2 Iceland. A night England will probably never live down but, more than anything, one of the great underdog stories of any international tournament.

Player of the tournament Antoine Griezmann. Yes, he could not influence the final, but the third Frenchman in history to finish as the top scorer in a major tournament, emulating Michel Platini from 1984 and Just Fontaine in the 1958 World Cup.

Goal of the tournament Cristiano Ronaldo vs Hungary. Apparently Ronaldo was finished, washed-up, no longer a player to fear. That improvisational flick – behind his standing leg at high speed – was a nice riposte.

Personal highlight An unexpected invitation to watch Wales vs Northern Ireland from behind Chris Coleman’s dugout. Lowlights: biting into a slab of butter thinking it was cheese. See also: walking into a lamp-post outside England’s hotel.

Biggest disappointment A day in Marseille genuinely thinking someone would end up being kicked to death. Or Uefa’s killjoys charging Wales for the heinous crime of the players inviting their children on to the pitch to celebrate their wins.

Team of the tournament Wales. An honorary mention to Iceland but just consider one of the players Chris Coleman brought on to try to rescue their semi-final against Portugal: Simon Church, a striker who could not get into the MK Dons side that finished second from bottom of the Championship last season.

Fondest memory of France The same as at every major tournament – taking your seat for the final, remembering you should feel fortunate to be in this profession.

What now for England? My hunch is that Sam Allardyce might get the job instead of Jürgen Klinsmann – ignoring the fact that Slaven Bilic has taken West Ham to a different level since Allardyce left the club.

Paul Wilson

Match of the tournament There was no outstanding game. Some were a lot better than others but there were no classic encounters worth digging out and replaying 20 years from now. Hungary 3-3 Portugal looked a lot of fun but the best game I attended was Wales 3-1 Belgium. A fabulous night for the Welsh but a bit one-sided in the end.

Player of the tournament Antoine Griezmann announced himself fairly effectively to all the non-believers, even before running away with the golden boot. Aaron Ramsey was in the running until his unfortunate suspension. Cristiano Ronaldo was exceptional and unignorable but lost points for belittling Iceland.

Goal of the tournament Hal Robson-Kanu against Belgium. Ronaldo’s towering header against Wales was pretty good too, but we’ve seen him do that before. Robson-Kanu’s effort had the priceless element of surprise. I had a quick conference with my colleagues in the Lille press box and we agreed we were all gobsmacked.

Personal highlight Stepping off a crowded métro in Paris, hearing the din made by both sets of supporters singing Will Grigg’s on Fire fade into the distance.

Biggest disappointment That’s a bit obvious, isn’t it? England played four games and still ended up not knowing their best team. While that situation remains they have no hope of playing as effectively as a team as Iceland and Wales.

Team of the tournament Wales. They caught the imagination more than anyone else and reaching the last four at Belgium’s expense was a bigger achievement than Iceland beating a clueless England. They might even have gone further – extra time at least – if they had not been hit by suspensions.

Fondest memory of France It was interesting being there the day the Brexit result was declared. There was a certain amount of sarcasm – “welcome to Europe” etc – but most people were keen to know which way I had voted and why. Few people seemed to take sides on the issue but everyone was interested in the debate. The food was a considerable upgrade on Brazil 2014 too.

What now for England? At club level to fail so badly would result in relegation. In some ways it is a pity nothing similar exists in international football to concentrate the mind, cut out unnecessary luxuries and lead to an acceptance among players, fans, administrators and anyone else with an interest that nothing can be taken for granted. It is not as clear what England have to do to regain lost status. As soon as we win a couple of friendlies or qualifiers we tend to fall into the same trap of overexcitement all over again. Hiring a new coach is the obvious next step and already it is being invested with more ceremony than appears necessary. It would be ridiculous to start the season with a temporary manager when there are viable candidates who would step in right now. The FA has been known to pay people on the basis that the England manager’s job is the most important in world football but it is not by a long way.

Guardian writers

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Euro 2016 power rankings: Croatia go top but problems for France
Croatia’s win over Spain puts them top of the pile, hosts France fail to impress with the pressure off, and Germany show inconsistent flashes of brilliance

Alan Smith

23, Jun, 2016 @10:00 AM

Article image
Euro 2016: The Guardian’s team of the tournament
Two Frenchmen – Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet – make our team of the tournament, as do Aaron Ramsey, Ragnar Sigurdsson and Ivan Perisic

Marcus Christenson

11, Jul, 2016 @11:44 AM

Article image
Euro 2016 power rankings: Germany and Italy on top as England nosedive
The world champions’ meeting with Antonio Conte’s team could be the game of the tournament, but only Wales are left to fly the home nations’ flag

Alan Smith

29, Jun, 2016 @10:00 AM

Article image
Euro 2016: a bloated tournament where dour defence eclipsed the fairytales | Barney Ronay
While Iceland and Wales brought us unexpected joy and passion, the group stages had precious few memorable games and the knockout rounds were increasingly dominated by fearful, defensive football

Barney Ronay in Paris

11, Jul, 2016 @5:59 PM

Article image
Euro 2016 power rankings: Italy and France lead the way as Belgium slump
France have the greatest depth and found a way to win, while usual suspects Spain, Germany and Italy displayed their strengths. Belgium, on the other hand, are some way off the pace after an awful opening game

Alan Smith

15, Jun, 2016 @7:00 AM

Article image
Euro 2016 power rankings: Spain set the tone as competitors stutter
A dominant performance against Turkey has the reigning champions on top, while Northern Ireland make a big climb on the back of beating Ukraine

Alan Smith

19, Jun, 2016 @8:26 AM

Article image
Euro 2016: who will win the last-16 matches and reach the quarter-finals?
The last-16 matches begin on Saturday afternoon when Switzerland take on Poland in Saint-Étienne. Which eight teams will make it into the quarter-finals?

Guardian sport

23, Jun, 2016 @10:11 AM

Article image
Euro 2016: every performance rated and profiles of all 552 players
Profiles of all teams and players at Euro 2016, including caps, goals, hobbies, tattoos and ratings for every individual performance

Daan Louter Marcus Christenson Jim Powell Chris Fenn

01, Jun, 2016 @10:06 AM

Article image
Euro 2016 draw: create your own group stage
The Euro 2016 draw takes place on Saturday, with the 24 nations divided into four pots. Here you can create your own random draw, and find out each group’s difficulty rating according to the Uefa rankings. Then share the result of your team’s draw on Twitter and Facebook.

Daan Louter

08, Dec, 2015 @11:37 AM

Article image
Euro 2016 draw – as it happened
England and Wales were drawn together, with the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland both in difficult groups.

Rob Smyth

12, Dec, 2015 @6:02 PM