These are the good times: three games a day (apart from today), nobody’s gone home yet and hope for all. The squads are still filled with “a great bunch of lads”, “spirits are high” and most importantly everyone is still “confident, and why not?” It’s a charmed time, for we’re only a matter of days away from coach firings and post mortems and widespread disappointment. Cleverly, the extended format means we get 16 nations still heartily waving their flags deep into June where previously we may have found just eight. Sure all the third place qualifiers makes getting through easy but we now get 15 knock out games instead of seven and the tournament doesn’t end quite so abruptly. As such, “Roy the Root Vegetable” may well be a July phenomenon this time round.
Pleasingly, although there are bad teams in this extended tournament, none of them have been entirely put to the goal sword, which would be humiliating, even if the shot sword is far less discerning, as we shall see.
In a sample of one game what can we learn? Well, of course, not a great deal from an analytical perspective, not that that’s stopped the charters and predictors working overtime, but international tournaments are never conducive to such things. We can still enjoy the stats produced–and watching the matches too, I guess–and ponder the strengths of the teams. The beauty of a short term skew can occasionally turn up an upset with the Danish and Greek victories of 1992 and 2004 fresh in the memory and the Euros seemingly far more prone to them than the rarely shocking World Cup. But no real shocks so far in this round, apart from Aaron Ramsey’s hair.
Low scoring first games make perfect sense too, the main idea is not to get knocked out before you’ve used up the mini-shampoo in the hotel room.
Despite Group F having yet to kick off, here’s a few thoughts from the first few days of the tournament.
Shot shy team of the tournament so far is quite understandable really, with Northern Ireland posting just two shots including just one from open play. Sporting the 3-5-1-1 “Formation of Fear”, they were never likely to go toe to toe against the Polish and so it showed. Slightly more must have been expected from both Russia and Sweden, who each managed to score despite truly dismal shooting performances, six shots with just two on target for the Russians and seven shots, none of which troubled the goalkeeper for the Swedes.
Albania prospered more than was expected against the Swiss despite an early sending off and due to this were limited to just seven shots and Ukraine caused all manner of chaos in Germany’s backline, at least for a half, yet only chalked up five efforts. Romania also caused more trouble to France than might have been expected but were ultimately outshot and outscored.
In contrast nobody has really ripped it up shots-wise–Croatia lead the way with 19 credited shots, though Germany, Spain, Poland and er… a wasteful Belgium all managed 18. Germany lead the way with nine shots on target, though the most notable shot performance of the round has to go to Wales who found eight of their 11 shots on target, an impressive rate of accuracy, for now.
In fact there has been an element of routine to the shot profiles of nearly all the matches, though each game has remained close until injury time. Of the eight victors, six have outshot their opponents and all eight of them have recorded more shots on target. Poor old England would have qualified for both categories if they had a more experienced team, at least that’s how the narrative informs me. The simple equation is currently holding: testing the keeper = a chance of goals.
Star of the first round of matches output-wise so far can easily be bestowed on Dimitri Payet as he’s the only player to record a goal and an assist so far. He also showed an array of lovely touches and created a tournament high eight shots for his teammates before his emotional substitution. Behind Payet in the shot creation charts is knock down king Marouane Fellaini with seven before usual suspects David Silva (6), Andrés Iniesta and Toni Kroos (both 5). Fascinating that for all their talent, Belgium, like Manchester United before them have ended up with a bushy haired lynchpin.
Croatia’s Marcelo Brozovic leads the shooting volume charts with six, although he may wonder how. An early cross skimmed aimlessly off his head before another headed effort found only vague direction. A thirty yarder that is yet to land rounded off his first half trio before the pick of the bunch, a left footed side-volley that skimmed over. Shot five was an outstretched toe that lightly helped the ball towards the corner flag and an accurate but powerless header finished his tally. Some of these locations were excellent, but the chance of conversion minuscule, it’s hard to say he’s due a goal.
The three men to have registered five shots so far have all scored and been on the winning team: Arkadiusz Milik, Gareth Bale (who leads the outside the box total with four) and Graziano Pellè and a fascinating new chapter has started in the N’Golo Kanté story. He averaged under 40 passes per game for Leicester this past season, yet upped in grade to the France starting eleven, he got through 86 against Romania. Pass orientated club teams will be looking on with interest.
That’s all for now, hope you’re enjoying the tournament as much as I am.
data via Opta