Steve Wilson's Euro 2016 column: Portugal were not spectacular but they were never beaten
I doubt that even Cristiano Ronaldo would claim that Portugal are the best side in Europe, but the winners of Euro 2016 were surely the most resilient of the teams in France.
It’s amazing to think that had Adam Szalai’s late shot for Hungary hit the back of the Portuguese net instead of the post in a game which finished 3-3 in Lyon, Portugal would have been eliminated from their group.
Fernando Santos’ side went on to win a war of attrition against Croatia, a penalty shoot-out against Poland and beat the keenly competitive Welsh, before stunning France in extra-time on Sunday night. They were never spectacular, but they were also never beaten.
Despite having tipped France to win the Euros, I’m pleased for Portugal.
They have produced some of the continent’s finest players over the years - Eusebio, Luis Figo, Rui Costa. This might not be a great football team, but they are a great football nation.
There’s been a lot of debate about whether the expanded 24 team format worked in France. German coach Joachim Löw was among those who felt it encouraged negative football in the early stages because, as Portugal showed, finishing third in a group still gave teams a good chance of progressing to the knock-out stage.
Löw is probably correct - but with a larger finals generating greater income, UEFA are unlikely to revert to a 16 team event. They’d also probably point out that, despite the expansion, former winners Denmark, Greece and the Netherlands still failed to qualify for these Euros.
If anything I expect the finals to grow even further. I’d be surprised if a 32 team format wasn’t being considered by 2024.
After 15 games in nine cities in 28 days there are many highs and lows to look back on. Commentating on Wales’ victory over Belgium in Lille was my own highpoint, and describing Hal Robson-Kanu’s wonderful goal in that match was something I’ll never forget. I’m not surprised it was voted Goal of the Tournament by Match of the Day viewers, though the social media campaign #VoteHal might have helped!
Then there was the Icelandic handclap. Just like the Mexican wave - but far better – it will go down in history and be replicated for years around the sporting world.
Other favourite moments were seeing at first hand the delight that Northern Ireland’s historic win over Ukraine gave my co-commentator, Northern Irish legend Gerry Armstrong, and 38-year-old Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon swinging from the crossbar in sheer childish joy after they beat Belgium.
Obvious low points include the behaviour of some England fans in Marseille. The response from organised gangs of Russian hooligans was both terrifying and worrying, given that Russia hosts the World Cup in 2018.
England’s team was a befuddled mess from which nobody emerged with any credit. How the FA will attempt to sell 90,000 Wembley tickets for their next competitive home game – against Malta – is anybody’s guess.
I’m also unlikely to forget my commentary just as the national anthems were about to be played prior to the France v Germany semi-final. I’d carefully timed my words to coincide with the beginning of the first anthem, which I’d understood would be France’s. “Where better than in Marseille,” I said, “to hear La Marseillaise?” - only for the German anthem to begin booming across the stadium. As 23 teams discovered in the last month - you can’t win ‘em all.