Every team has played at least one match at Euro 2016, so we can now make a few observations about the tournament:
1. Everyone feared a terrorist attack at or near one of the venues in France. None has materialized, but this doesn’t mean the tournament has been trouble free. Two more traditional forms of violence have marred it: (1) soccer hooliganism, the worst of it from English and (above all) Russian fans and (2) labor unrest and general anarchist behavior, which has plagued France for much of the Spring.
2. The play has been mediocre. The minnows — teams from countries that aren’t soccer powers — have held their own, but have done so mostly be playing in a defensive shell. I find such matches fascinating, but can’t pretend they are high quality.
3. I haven’t seen all of the teams yet, but have seen the six or seven most highly regarded ones and the majority of the rest. The only two that impressed me in their opener were Germany and Italy. And I wonder whether Italy impressed mainly because Belgium’s tactics played into Italian strengths. Belgium, Switzerland and Austria are the biggest disappointments so far among the teams I’ve seen.
4. The players who have impressed me most are Payet (France), Neuer and Kroos (Germany), Iniesta (Spain), and Bonucci (Italy). No surprises there. The pick of the young players I’ve seen are Kapustka (Poland) and Kleinheisler (Hungary). Two England youngsters, Dier and Alli (both of Tottenham Hotspur) also played well in the opener, I thought.
5. The play has been pretty clean in nearly all of the matches I’ve watched. That’s a big plus.
6. The refereeing has been almost uniformly good, another big plus.
7. Bless ESPN for carrying all of the matches, but the quality of the announcers and commentators has been disappointing. It is well below the quality of what NBC provides in its coverage of the Englush Premier League.
8. Derek Rae has been good on play-by-play. Ian Darke did well in England’s match, but less well in two others. Jon Champion, hardly my favorite EPL announcer, has been pretty good at the Euros. Max Bretos has been awful. He’s one of those guys who sees a soccer match as an excuse for having a conversation about soccer.
All of the announcers need to be more conscientious about telling us who is on the ball. If they could occasionally tell us which defender cleared the ball, that would be nice too.
9. The color commentators have been pretty weak, generally providing very little discussion of tactics. Stewart Robson has been the best.
10. ESPN made Kate Markgraf the first female analyst in the U.S. to call matches in a top-tier men’s tournament. In the match I heard her call, she was about average for Euro 2016 (which isn’t praise). For additional diversity, ESPN turned to Alejandro Moreno, a retired Venezuelan soccer player. He’s the worst of the batch — seemingly capable of offering decent analysis but often preferring banter. His partnership with Bretos will have me switching to the Spanish broadcast in the future (and I don’t understand Spanish).
I’m hoping the play will improve as players become used to playing together (these sides formed only about a month ago). Today, however, France and Switzerland looked no better in their second match than they did in their first.
In France’s case this may have been because the manager, Deschamps, tinkered with his lineup by removing star players Pogba and Griezmann. When they came on in the second half, France began to look like France for the first time.
Maybe that’s a sign of better things to come from the big teams.