Why Euro 2016 wasn't a victory just for Portugal

Why Euro 2016 wasn't a victory just for Portugal

The European Championship was the highlight of the summer for the year 2016 and ended up becoming a historic tournament for more than one country

Ninad Barbadikar

UEFA Euro 2016 was a tournament that failed to give the audiences and viewers many a thing to get excited over, but it certainly gave some participating countries memories that will last forever in football folklore. Portugal, after coming close on previous occasions, clinched the championships against the hosts France thanks to a late and dramatic goal from Eder, giving the Seleção their first major trophy on the international stage - a feat which even the golden generation of Figo, Rui Costa et al couldn't manage.

Although Portugal's victory was historic, some argue whether they should've been in the final or not, with unconvincing displays in the group stages, but that's all just a case of 'could have' and 'would have'. Fact is that they did it, and even if it wasn't the best kind of football, does it really matter when you've just won your first big tournament? It really shouldn't.

But Euro 2016 wasn't all about the winners of the tournament. It was a tournament for the 'underdogs', and as each match progressed during the Euros, there was a huge sense of achievement among many of the participating countries and also some of the debutants who did spectacularly well against the traditional "powerhouses" of Europe.

Iceland made history in debut appearance

If there were any two countries that should be prouder than any other country of their achievements, its Heimir Hallgrimsson's Iceland and Chris Coleman's Wales. Both countries made their debuts in Euro 2016 and ended up giving their fans that they will cherish for years to come.

Iceland made their debut in the competition and had never appeared in the Euros ever before in their history. Little did they know, before they kicked things off at the Geoffroy-Guichard against Fernando Santos' Portugal, that they would leave a lasting impression both on and off the field for fans and neutrals alike, with some pundits even declaring Iceland as their favourite team of the tournament. That tells us a lot about how far ahead Hallgrimsson has brought this team from their meager beginning in the world of football.

While most nations had superstars in their rosters to call upon, there was no such luxury for Iceland as they battled on with inspiring unity and determination to get the victory they wanted. They ended up giving the world the shock result of the Euros when they beat Roy Hodgson's England 2-1 and left the Three Lions reeling in embarrassment and showed the whole world just what a small team from a very small country can do to affect the big picture and Iceland did just that.

There was no shame in going out to the hosts France for Iceland and in the quarter-finals as well. Having never made it to the Euros ever before, a quarter-final finish would've been much better than what Iceland's population of 330,000 had imagined their team could do. They also left the Euros with the iconic 'Viking Thunder-Clap' which was later used by other countries as well in their celebrations.

Gareth Bale led the Dragons' charge against the big teams

Wales had never before featured in the Euros in their footballing history and when they made their debut in the summer against Slovakia, they were determined to make this tournament a special memory and they did just that.

The team was a relatively decent side with accomplished Premier League players all over the team and star players including the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Real Madrid's Welsh Wizard Gareth Bale. Both players played a vital role in victories against the likes of Russia and Slovakia. 

Joe Allen was another player who made his name in the tournament with some excellent displays from the middle of the park, dictating play and showing glimpses of why some consider him to be the 'Welsh Xavi'. He was rightly rewarded for his displays with a place in the team of the tournament alongside Ramsey.

Hal Robson-Kanu made himself a hero for his side when he scored against Belgium with a Cruyff turn goal. It was a moment which will certainly live long in the memory of the striker who, after the tournament, signed for West Bromwich Albion despite huge interest from other leagues as well.

Wales were predicted to struggle in the group stages itself but that was never the case as Coleman's men fought on and emerged victorious against the likes of Northern Ireland and Belgium. They made it all the way to the semi-final where they met Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal and made their exit from the tournament with a 2-0 loss to the Seleção. It was a superb effort from the Dragons who won hearts with their displays and showed how effective they can be in disposing teams off with hardwork and dedication.

Northern Ireland showed positive signs for the future

Northern Ireland was one other team making its debut on the world stage. Michael O'Neill's men went to France as winners of their qualifying group and were set alongside the likes of world champions Germany, as well as Poland and Ukraine.

When Gareth McAuley scored the opener against Ukraine, there was a huge sense of accomplishment for O'Neill and his staff/ They had finally reached where they've always aspired to be, competing amongst the best in the world and fighting for each inch of the pitch, which is exactly what they did.

O'Neill knew his side's strengths and weaknesses well and played his cards according to his players' strengths and centred his team's play around being extremely solid at the back and taking advantage of any and all set-pieces that come their way.

There will be further challenges in the future for this team and O'Neill will be sure to prepare them for another memorable in Russia, two years from now.

Euro 2016 as a tournament was certainly not one of the best and footballing wise was not a spectacle either, but it did give some countries moments to cherish for the rest of their lives. 2016 has been a year of the underdog and the Euros as a whole, was one for the underdogs as well.