John Motson's Euro 2016: Great moments, but not a great tournament

By John MotsonBBC Match of the Day commentator
It has been a tournament of contrasting fortunes for France's Antoine Griezmann, England's Wayne Rooney and Jamie Vardy, and Wales' Hal Robson-Kanu
It has been a tournament of contrasting fortunes for France's Antoine Griezmann, England's Wayne Rooney, and Wales' Hal Robson-Kanu

Euro 2016 has been a tournament of great moments, but not great matches.

It has been a month of late goals, excellent refereeing and feverish atmospheres but also cautious football and an unwieldy structure.

I have been involved in tournaments for the BBC since 1974 and while Wales' run to the semi-final and England's utter embarrassment at the hands of Iceland will live long in the memory, Euro 2016 on the whole has not been the best.

The standard of football, the excitement level and the number of great games have certainly not matched those we have seen in previous tournaments, but France have once again made the most of their host status and look like going on to win Sunday's final against Portugal.

Logging, not loving, every minute

While I may not have spent the whole month out in France, I have logged every minute of every match.

I have always kept my own statistics. I have a handwritten record on my shelf of every international game from 1974 onwards. They have come to my aid many times.

But I won't be delving into my 2016 annual too often.

There were a lot of matches which didn't get going until the second half. The first half-an-hour of most games produced very little, and frankly the goalkeepers didn't come under a lot of sustained pressure.

Of the 50 matches so far, 21 were goalless at half-time, with 21 goals scored before the 30th minute.

Games didn't catch fire until halfway through the second half but conversely, it felt as if there were more goals in the last five minutes and stoppage time than ever before.

There have been 19 goals scored in the 85th minute or later in this tournament, compared to just eight in Poland and Ukraine four years ago.

Caution tended to mean that defenders came out on top. If you admire defending, there was lots of good play to enjoy. Teams did not run with too many games. There was not a 6-0 win anywhere and it was only when Belgium beat Hungary 4-0 in the last 16 and France defeated Iceland 5-2 in the quarter-finals that a big win was chalked up.

Wales - stars of the show

Wales have returned home after their Euro 2016 adventure . . . but what memories they have given us.

One of the big attractions of Euro 2016 for fans in the British Isles was the chance to see England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland all playing in the same competition.

And - England aside - they all justified their presence, with Wales' achievements standing out.

Their run to the last four was fabulous and the main target for them is to go on from here and qualify for the World Cup in Russia in 2018.

In a tournament of few truly memorable matches, beating Belgium 3-1 in the quarter-final was absolutely fantastic and it will resonate for years to come. That win, and England's defeat by Iceland, are without a doubt the standout games of the tournament.

Forward Hal Robson-Kanu - who came here without a club - scored arguably the best individual goal of the competition and that will live long in the memory. A Cruyff turn and cool finish!

Northern Ireland have a very limited squad but my goodness they did the best they could with it. They will always remember their victory over Ukraine. And their fans certainly enjoyed themselves too.

The Republic had that last-minute Robbie Brady goal to beat Italy in another standout moment. Martin O'Neill's squad certainly did themselves justice.

On the whole, the sportsmanship throughout was excellent. There was very little confrontation and the refereeing was also very good.

I don't know if Uefa had given any specific instructions but on the whole the officials really let the games flow. They didn't flash yellow cards early in games and there have only been three sendings-off in 50 matches.

The discipline was very good, which was a real plus for this tournament. The game was largely played in the right spirit.

England were embarrassed

The England debacle was such a shock and it will take many many years to live that down.

Losing to Iceland was a humiliation. There is no other way to describe it.

It is made worse by the fact that England had such a poor World Cup in 2014. I didn't think they could sink any lower than being knocked out of the World Cup before everyone at the tournament had played two matches, but my word, the defeat by Iceland was bad.

Nothing went the way it should have done. Conceding a goal in the last minute to Russia was careless, beating Wales with a stoppage-time goal was fortunate, and not defeating Slovakia meant that Roy Hodgson's side ended up in the 'wrong' half of the draw.

Yes, Iceland were the big surprises of the tournament along with Wales. It just goes to show what you can do when you build properly from scratch. What a wonderful foundation they have laid.

But if you could have picked any team in the last 16, you would have wanted to face Iceland. England just fell apart. It will rankle with their supporters for a very long time.

England were embarrassed, for the second competition in a row, and nobody really knows what happens next, least of all the Football Association.

Other nations which may feel they have underachieved include Spain - their era is now over and they must rethink - and Germany, who are not the Germany of old and even missed some penalties.

They were unable to respond to adversity against France in the semi-finals, which is not what we expect from them. There must be question marks over their performance. Italy defended well but were lacking up front and I thought Croatia had a great chance in their side of the draw but failed to take it.

France now clearly Europe's best

France have been the best team - regardless of what happens on Sunday - and they have overtaken Spain and Germany as Europe's top side.

I expect them to beat Portugal on Sunday and complete a special treble of tournament wins on home soil.

In 1984 and 1998, I was in France to see them win the European Championship and then the World Cup. They certainly make the most of being hosts.

I should think my commentary on the 1984 semi-final between France and Portugal will get an airing on Sunday. That match was probably among the three or four best games I have ever witnessed. If Sunday's final is anywhere near as good, then we are in for a treat.

Each team has been built around a star in the 'number 10' role. In 1984 there was Michel Platini, in 1998 there was Zinedine Zidane and now they have Antoine Griezmann.

Griezmann is almost certain to finish as the tournament's top scorer with six, and only Platini - with nine in 1984 - has ever managed more in a single Euros.

Platini scored in every game that year and Zidane got two in the 1998 final against Brazil, so Griezmann has still got a bit to do. Let's see what he can do on Sunday!

France have been fine hosts. The atmosphere in the stadiums has been a very big plus point for Euro 2016. Every game was a near sell-out, and it was so vibrant. It is how football should be.

We all came into the tournament rather nervously after the terror attacks in Paris last November but mercifully, as of the moment, there have been no scares and security appears to have been largely good.

There were the problems at England's game against Russia - a very unpromising start - and a few incidents involving supporters with flares inside stadiums but there were no big issues and France largely had it under control.

Bring it back to 16 teams

There were a lot of dull group games at Euro 2016 - and the structure is to blame.

Bringing the number of teams up to 24, and a system where a lot of third-placed teams went through, rather cultivated a philosophy of 'if we get one result, we will qualify'.

Teams like Albania added colour to Euro 2016 - but the competition works far better with 16 teams
Teams like Albania added colour to Euro 2016 - but the competition works far better with 16 teams

Teams came into the competition in cautious mood, knowing that if they didn't make any mistakes, they would be in with a shout of qualifying. Portugal got through with three draws and ended up in the final.

I know you can't predict who will win each group but in the end Uefa produced a system which bunched together too many of the 'big hitters' in the knockout stages. In one half of the draw were Wales, Belgium and Portugal but the other had Germany, France, Italy, England and Spain. It became very unbalanced.

The tournament would have been better if they had been spread around more evenly. We might have ended up with a better quality of game.

Uefa took a gamble extending the competition and there were too many games in the early part.

The smaller tournaments are easier to follow. Both the World Cup and the Euros have now got so outsized. I hope the World Cup doesn't go to 40 teams; that would be impractical.

It would be good to see Uefa bring the Euros back to 16 teams but I think we are too far down the road now to turn back.

I didn't like the complicated permutations, of not knowing who would play who in the last 16. They need to look at that and try to clarify it, do it in a different way.

Motty was speaking to BBC Sport's Tom Rostance.

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