The biggest talking points from the second round of group stage matches at Euro 2016 all in one place. Here is what you should take from all of the football since Wednesday.
Dmitri Payet the star of the show
Every tournament needs a star. From Zinedine Zidane in 1998 to Andres Iniesta in 2012, either a star player has been born or a known talent stamped his mark. In the lead up to Euro 2016, Juventus and France star Paul Pogba was seen as the tournament’s poster-boy. However, a late-bloomer heading into his first international tournament after the domestic season of his career has decided that at the age of 29, it’s his time to shine.
With each tournament’s star comes a moment with which they are remembered. Payet’s came on the opening night as he launched the country into pandemonium with his last-gasp winner against Romania. Against Albania in the host’s second fixture, Payet delivered again. His inspiring performance was capped off with a late goal, typical of his style – cutting on to his right foot before curling the ball past a helpless goalkeeper. With Switzerland to play and France already into the Round of 16, the freedom Payet has shown in his play already in the tournament is unlikely to diminish in the third round of fixtures.
English hope restored
Roy Hodgson’s England side was widely regarded as one of the best teams after the first round of matches, even though they conceded an injury-time equalizer to Russia. What England then needed to prove was not that they could perform at the top level but that they could perform at tournament level by picking up points when they are available.
After going a goal behind to Wales thanks to Gareth Bale’s second converted free-kick of the tournament, it seemed as if England had rapidly returned to its old tournament ways. After tactical indecision had allowed Russia to snatch a point, Hodgson was not in the mood to allow the same to happen for Wales. Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge were brought on at half-time in the match, in an attacking change the likes of which have rarely been seen under Hodgson’s tenure. The results – both players scored to turn the match around – were obvious to see. Perhaps football really will come home after all.
Never rule out Spain
Despite winning the last two European Championships, Vicente del Bosque’s Spanish team were not seen as a major pre-tournament favorite. Two performances of opposite standard later and Spain, especially having torn Turkey apart in typical Spanish style, are once again seen as a genuine title hopeful.
The win that came in the defending champions opening match against Czech Republic with Gerard Pique’s last-gasp winner left Spanish fans and neutrals worried that the team was not playing up to their old standard. Those worries were quickly washed away after the 3-0 defeat of Turkey, with Andres Iniesta and Alvaro Morata the stars of a scintillating show. However Spain’s toughest group match is still to be played, with the clash against Croatia to come on Tuesday. The fixture is a repeat of both teams final group stage match at the 2012 European Championships, with Jesus Navas clinching a win in the final moments.
Having failed to qualify for the European Championships in 2012, Belgium’s star players – the likes of Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Vincent Kompany and Thibaut Courtious – first came onto the international stage at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. A solid performance in South America saw many already well-known names reach new heights in terms of reputation, thus boosting the expectations of a now highly talented Belgian squad.
On paper the squad is frightening, but after a convincing 0-2 defeat to an Italy squad regarded as one of the country’s worst in years, question marks were left over this squad of individual stars. Looking to kick-start its tournament and quash the doubters, Belgium demolished the Republic of Ireland with a Lukaku brace and Axel Witsel goal.
The performance overall was a true sign of team-spirit within the squad which has the weight of a country on its shoulders. A team with such talent has not been seen in the history of Belgian football until now. The weight of pressure that seems to be ever lingering over them has been slightly lifted after this result. A vital encounter with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden, where Belgium need to continue this team-spirit high, could set Marc Wilmot’s side up for the glory that many tip them for.
Ronaldo’s night to forget
The final match of the second group of fixtures saw two teams with unsure expectations face-off, but only one man remained in focus. Cristiano Ronaldo failed to impress in Portugal’s draw with Iceland and added to his tournament woes on Saturday – a night in which the Real Madrid star should have scored, several times.
Statistics are Ronaldo’s worst enemy at the moment. He has taken more shots than the likes of Northern Ireland and Portugal’s opponents on Saturday, Austria, without scoring. His famous free-kicks have also lost their once magical effect: Ronaldo has failed to score from 36 set-piece attempts in international tournaments.
Chance after chance went begging for the number seven in the Parc des Princes, until the simplest of chances was handed to him. Brought down by Martin Hinteregeer, the forward – who also overtook Luis Figo to hold Portugal’s international appearance record in the match – had the chance to score from the spot. Four steps forward, a clean strike to the left and off the post the ball struck. A fitting ending to a nightmare for Portugal’s star.