So the dust has settled on what was a dramatic if not high quality tournament in France. Euro 2016 will live long in my memory as it was the first international competition I have been lucky enough to attend – something to tick off the bucket list!
I was based in Lille for five days and took in Italy vs Ireland as well as Germany vs Slovakia; and thought it would be nice to share my thoughts and experiences of my trip to France. However, I was not alone in my travels to Europe – far from it and I’ve enlisted the help of my friends who also went to Euro 2016 to help me paint a picture of what it was like for four glorious weeks of football…
I stayed in Cardinal Lemoine, central Paris, not far from Notre Dame. Four friends and I stayed in an apartment there, for what was part stag do, part football tourism!
We went to one game, Italy v Spain at the Stade de France. We lucked out getting that fixture, simply getting tickets in the ballot for that particular second round game, and that’s who we ended up seeing, after Spain surprisingly allowed Croatia to beat them to first place in their group. The game itself was excellent, Italy embodied the spirit of Antonio Conte and really tore into Spain, who were fortunate to have David De Gea in inspired form, otherwise the game would have finished 5-0 or more!
Italy beat him twice however, and the Italian fans beneath us (we were down their end) went mental as their team did them proud and won 2-0. The atmosphere at the ground was strange, you have 3,000 fans of each side at each end, positioned to make it seem on TV like they’re the majority. Really, there are more than 70,000 other fans in the ground who are simply there to be entertained, and from all nations. I guess the majority must have been French, and they were mostly supporting Italy – probably because they feared meeting Spain later in the tournament more. There was no trouble in the stadium whatsoever, partly thanks to the masses of security you have to get through just to get to the ground, and also thanks to the virtual alcohol ban – you could spend 7 euros on a 0.5% lager shandy if you wanted, but I can’t really fathom why!
I saw a number of top class players at this game, it was a joy to watch. Iniesta is a magical talent, defeated on the day but he just glides around the pitch and finds space wherever he goes. His first touch is always perfect. The two goalkeepers on show were two of the three best in the game, I already mentioned De Gea who made at least three incredible saves, but down the other end, Buffon was also superb, pulling off a couple of good saves himself and generally exuding absolute assurance among his defence. And that defence in front of him, Chiellini, Barzagli and Bonucci, were a brick wall. All were really strong and their concentration levels were immense, especially in the second half when Spain pressed for an equaliser. Other players who stood out were De Rossi, a warrior as ever; Busquets had his usual unsung, tidy presence; Morata caused problems despite being up against three giants in the Italian defence; and Pelle, believe it or not, played intelligently and pulled Pique and Ramos all over the park – and took his chance when it fell to him superbly.
That game was my highlight of the trip, but I also spent two brilliant days in the Eiffel Tower fan park, plus one not so brilliant evening, straight after the Italy v Spain game, when England plumbed new depths against Iceland. On the first day I saw Poland beat Switzerland on penalties among some very happy Polish fans, before suddenly the whole place was taken over by the Welsh, who delighted in their victory over Northern Ireland. In the evening we watched Portugal sucker punch Croatia, but not before taking part in a drunken game of… erm… lets say “free for all football”, basically where about 100 lads tried to welly a ball as far as they could, or head/volley it on the way down. Great fun, a few spilled beers, but no harm done! The following day, we were back at the fan park and this time it was full on rammed as the French piled in to watch their side eventually prevail over the plucky Irish. This park is huge by the way, but you could barely move a muscle, there must have been hundreds of thousands in there that afternoon. I can only imagine how much cash was made from selling beer and hot dogs in that place. It was such a fun place though, a brilliant experience and part of a brilliant trip overall.
I think overall, this wasn’t a great tournament because too many games were defensive or highly tactical, although a number of late goals did provide drama. I’ll remember it fondly however, because of being there to experience it for real, as opposed to entirely from my living room.