Every team at the tournament has now played their first match. So who are the early winners and losers? And what else can we conclude? DW Sports runs through what was what in the first five days.
Goalkeepers make a big difference
The first round matches were, in the main, tight affairs in which individual moments of skill or lack thereof were often directly reflected in the results. Switzerland could have easily dropped points against minnows Albania if not for Yaan Sommer’s quick reflexes. And Germany’s performance against Russia would not have looked half as good without a couple of crucial Manuel Neuer parries.
By contrast, Albanian keeper Etrit Berisha essentially gifted the Swiss the loan goal in the former match, while Russia might have picked up all three points against England, were it not for Igor Akinfeev leaning the wrong way on a free kick.
Speed is not enough
Speaking of England, before the tournament, the Three Lions’ young squad had some of the world’s most long-suffering supporters dreaming that this year the their title wait might finally be coming to an end.
Against Russia, the pace of Raheem Sterling, Kyle Walker, Dele Alli and Adam Lallana was on ample display. But speed on the wings isn’t everything, and the young lions failed to put the bite on a long-in-the-tooth Russian side. At the end of Euro 2016, it’s likely to be 50 years and counting for the motherland of football.
Italy are underrated
Serie A has lost some of its luster in recent years, and not many pundits outside Italy follow the country’s domestic league very intensively. That’s probably the reason why the Azzurri were basically an afterthought in pre-tournament discussions of the Euro 2016 favorites.
Against Belgium, the Italians showed that in fact they are a force to be reckoned with. In the best tradition of Italian national teams, their defense was staunch, disciplined and, when necessary, not adverse to the odd cynical foul. But that’s not all. The Azzurri’s cast of relative no-names up front functioned well, and Leonardo Bonucci long balls to Emanuele Giaccherini are a dangerous means of dealing counter-pressing opponents.
Belgaium are overrated
The Red Devils were everyone’s dark horse darlings, but like Manchester United, the Premier League team with whom they share a nickname, they didn’t live up to the hype at all. Honestly, did anyone see anything in their clash against Italy that screamed “title contender?”
Romelu Lukaku was flat-footed in the middle, Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne failed to harmonize in midfield, and the Belgian defense again looked vulnerable. Perhaps Belgium aren’t as pedestrian as Italy made them look, but then again it’s up to them to prove the contrary.
The jury is out on expanded format
The closeness of the results belied concerns that the expansion of the European Championships to 24 teams would significantly dilute the quality of play. There were no embarrassing massacres of small-fry debutantes by Europe’s elite footballing nations. And with results for Hungary and Iceland, Tuesday was the day of the underdogs.
On the other hand, that was perhaps more down to guarded performances by the bigger sides. With not just the first- and second-place finishers in the groups, but also the four best third-placed teams progressing, the emphasis was probably more upon avoiding embarrassment than dominating lesser opponents. It remains to be seen how much excitement the new group stage format generates – or doesn’t.