Underdogs remind us of football basics

Paris, July 4 (IANS) The Euro football championship is still a tournament of surprises, despite France’s comfortable win over popular underdogs Iceland.

For some it is a pity that Iceland have not reached the semi-finals. And it is a pity indeed. On the other hand, the tournament may be better off for having hosts France in the last four, reports Xinhua.

Therefore, the message must be: Thank you Iceland! You can argue about Iceland’s tactical contribution to Euro 2016, but the special chanting will remain a part of football in the future.

The “Hu, hu, hu” grunts while clapping one’s hands in the air will from now on be seen in many stadiums around the world. Iceland, like Northern Ireland, Ireland and Sweden have given the business of football a human face with their passion and joy.

Like Wales have to some extent. The only remaining team belonging to the United Kingdom has told us a story we seemed to have forgotten — one about football as a team-sport and one about football as a game of passion and desire. So we should be happy that Wales are in the semifinal where they will take on Portugal — a team that is yet to win a game after 90 minutes. Another surprising fact about Euro 2016 as the Iberians needed penalties to eliminate Poland 5-3.

In contrast to Wales, Portugal seem to be far from having a healthy team-spirit. Maybe it is something a team with an outstanding figure like Cristiano Ronaldo in it can ever really have. Ronaldo is by all means a brilliant footballer head and shoulders above the rest but he reminds his teammates a little too often that he is the star in a team containing rather ordinary players. Even though he may be a genius, “CR7” has not come up with anything new at Euro 2016.

But Wales has.

Remember that curious polonaise before corners or free-kicks? Four to five players in a row, close behind each other, like a single body having only one purpose, to explode into little parts in all directions to disturb their opponents. Like the Iceland chants, it was something new.

So why complain about a tournament being held with too many underdogs? We should be glad about them and their contributions. They remind us of the basics of football and the magic moments the game can deliver. Wales beat Belgium 3-1. Not by chance but with a lot of team spirit. Belgium did not manage to create team spirit despite their highly talented squad. Fans might have to accept that the Euro tournament is nothing close to a Champions League quarterfinal or semifinal when it comes to squads full of stars.

France had to prepare intensely for the game against Iceland in the Stade de France. They most presumably wouldn’t have done it in an earlier stage of the tournament. Now, after Iceland surprised football Europe, they were forced to unravel the underdog’ s secrets.

It was great to see in a quarterfinal of a major football tournament. Though France advanced to the semi-finals with a relatively easy 5-2, it was a scoreline that did not do Iceland justice.

Looking at the encounter between the old rivals Germany and Italy, there was nothing for football gourmets but it might be the most thrilling game so far at the championship. The clash between the two giants of world football had taken on an even bigger dimension what with the long footballing history between the two nations. But again it was Germany — by no means underdogs — that managed to change their tactical line-up and conquer their special “Italy trauma” by beating the southern Europeans for the first time at a major tournament.

It might be regarded as further proof of the value of team spirit that a previously internationally unknown player like Jonas Hector (FC Cologne) converted the winning penalty and not the experienced Thomas Mueller (Bayern Munich), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Manchester United) and Mesut Oezil (Arsenal) who failed to hit the target. Awaiting in the semi-final is a potentially enthralling game against neighbours and rivals France.

But now all hopes of a continuation of the giant-killing acts rest on the shoulders of underdogs Wales in their semi-final against Portugal. If they make it into the final it would round off the special taste of Euro 2016. A tournament played with 24 teams instead of 16 and one in which the “lesser” teams were still mixing it with the big guns in the quarters and semis. That indeed is nothing to be sad about.

–IANS

pur/dg

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