In a tournament which was threatened by Parisian floods (at the start), new set of rules, Russian fans misbehaving , Sergio Busquets misplacing a pass (yes, he is human too!) vs Czech Republic and Croatia captain Darijo Srna flying back to attend his father’s funeral, it’s been relatively low-key event.
The first round of 12 games, yielded just 22 goals – an average of 1.8 goals per game is lower than the average maintained by Euro Nations tournaments this century. The last edition had 76 goals in 31 games – a whopping 2.45 goals per game.
Hence, more than memorable games, it’s been the shocks (Belgium loss, Spain struggle, England draw, France struggle) and individual players who have made more news. Here’s look at the best players from each group, after the first round.
Group A – Dimitri Payet
Dimitri Payet has been the outstanding player of Euro 2016, so far. At the time of writing, he has sealed France’s two wins in two games, both goals in the last minutes of the respective games. However his goal in round one is still ‘the goal’ of the event and lifted the entire host nation. The host nation doing well is important for any tournament to live up to the excitement. Payet’s flowing tears in front of manager Didier Deschamps, post the game over Romania, was the most touching moment of Euro 2016, so far. After his second goal, yesterday night, it’s tough to see him starting for West Ham in the coming season!
Group B – Gareth Bale
Gareth Bale had five shots at goal for Wales; vs Slovakia. It’s clear if goals are to come from Wales, it will likely come from Bale or Ramsey. The Real Madrid star man has lived up to the ‘pride and passion’ which, he claims, his team has, but missing from the English team. England were good in their opening fixture and Eric Dier hit a better free kick than Bale. Had England won that game, Dier would have been my best man from this group. In fact, the Slovakian goalkeeper, Kozacik, should have done a lot better to stop Bale’s goal. But Welsh lead atop Group B, as i write, and Bale remains biggest threat to England, later tonight. However for fantasy league players, Eric Dier is a smarter option – less price, plays out of position and takes free kicks!
Group C – Toni Kroos
Germany have a clean sheet and their defender Shkodran Mustafi scored a goal (vs Ukraine); yet am going for another Real Madrid man, Toni Kroos – man of the (same) match. Kroos’s pass completion was a mind-boggling 94% (out of 109 passes); created two clear scoring chances and had sent 12 accurate long balls – second most of all outfield players in Euro 2016. Germany will get better, as the event goes on, and Kroos is the key man, the engine, who needs to be stopped, if anyone wants to stop Germany.
Group D – Gerard Pique
Gerard Pique has a clean sheet and a match winning goal, but his contribution to the tournament is much beyond what meets the eye. The FC Barcelona man was lucky to have Andreas Iniesta send that magic pass to him – Iniesta is often subbed between 60th and 80th minute of any game for club or country. With 91% passing accuracy and 100% dribble success, Iniesta would have been a contender for best player from this group. Or Luka Modric whose winning goal and eight tackles and interceptions make him another genuine contender. But I pick the FC Barcelona defender, Pique, above all for a reason. Spain, the two-time Euro defending champions, have a history of flopping in major events. It has happened continuously over two decades from World cup 1986 to World Cup 2006. And they seem to be struggling for genuine goal scorer – which other team would remove both strikers with score still 0-0? Pique was Vicente Del Bosque’s last gasp Plan B. Had the game ended 0-0, the familiar ghosts of underperformance would have returned. Spain’s opening 5-1 defeat at World Cup 2014 is still one of the shocks of this decade. Hence Pique’s timely winner contributes a lot to the tournament.
Group E – Emanuele Giaccherini
In a group where Ireland, Sweden and Belgium (shockingly) did little, Antonio Conte’s well prepared Italian team have become the front-runners. Whoscored.com rates Bonucci as the best player from this group, but I will go for Giaccherini for the goal which announced the world that “One can never write Italy off”. That goal was probably the best team goal of the first round, for the vision shown by Bonucci; determination and character shown by Giaccherini. The tournament needs Italy and that goal paved the way. And Italy also needed a great start to the event – if you don’t believe, do watch Buffo’s celebration after the game. Giaccherini is also classified as a defender in most Euro 2016 fantasy leagues, but plays in the midfield. That makes him a great budget fantasy pick too.
Group F – Zoltan Gera
Hungary’s 2-0 win over Austria came as one of the surprises of the tournament. That a 37 year old ex-Fulham and West Bromwich Albion player would be heart of that win, was a bigger surprise. Hungary’s opponents, Austria had dropped just two points during qualifying rounds and had adequate strike power. But Gera ensured Austria’s attack was nullified from the start. He made seven tackles, more than any other player in the championship after first round of games. Whoscored.com rated him 8.2 for that game – one which creates history for the Magyars. ESPNFC rated him 10/10!