You are here

PIECE OF THE ACTION: Wales' defender Ashley Williams (left) and forward Gareth Bale celebrating their 3-0 win against Russia.
PIECE OF THE ACTION: Fans clashing in Marseille after the England vs Russia game.
PIECE OF THE ACTION: Dimitri Payet (in blue) scoring the stunning goal for France.

The best and worst of Euro 2016 at half-time

Jun 25, 2016 5:50 AM

WE are at the halfway mark of a fascinating Euro 2016 tournament in France. All 36 group games have been completed and fans are licking their lips in anticipation of the knockout stage that begins on Saturday night.

For the 16 teams still standing, there is no more room for error. The deal is simple - lose and you're on the next plane home.

From now on, the matches cannot end in a draw. If the score is tied after 90 minutes, the teams will have to play 30 minutes of extra time to find a winning goal. If they still can't be separated, the match will be decided by a dreaded penalty shoot-out.

BT Weekend has picked out the standout performers and talking points of Euro 2016 so far. This list will probably need updating after the grand final on July 11, but whatever happens, these teams and players have all left their mark - good or bad - on The Beautiful Game.

Best team: Wales

Not everyone might agree with this choice, but there's a case to be made for a team making its first appearance at a major football tournament in 58 years and topping a tricky group that included British rivals England and World Cup 2018 hosts Russia.

Wales, led by the indefatigable Gareth Bale, have lit up the tournament with their flair, passion and hunger. An impressive return of six points and six goals from three matches is proof that the Dragons can more than hold their own against the continent's top teams.

With a very winnable Round of 16 game against Northern Ireland to come, their Euro 2016 fairytale run looks far from over.

Biggest surprise: Iceland

The tiny Nordic island nation was expected to be fodder in Group F, but this little-known team of footballers defied all expectations to remain undefeated in three matches to snatch second place.

Iceland, with a population of just 330,000 is having the time of their lives at Euro 2016. The party went into overdrive when Arnór Ingvi Traustason scored a sensational last-minute winner against Austria on Thursday, a goal that sent the nation bonkers.

Up next is a glamour tie in Nice against England in the Round of 16 on Tuesday morning. Win or lose, Iceland can hold their heads up high.

Biggest flops: Sweden

There were quite a few contenders for this dubious honour, but the nod must go to Sweden, thanks to their three listless performances - two defeats and an undeserved draw - in Group E.

They failed to register a single shot on target in their first two matches, and striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic huffed and puffed but couldn't live up to his star billing. The 34-year-old, without a goal to show for his efforts, retired from international football after the abject 0-1 loss to Belgium on Thursday.

Sweden coach Erik Hamren, if he is lucky to hang on to his job after the embarrassment of finishing bottom of the group, should overhaul his entire squad - only a few deserve the right to wear the country's famous yellow jersey again.

Worst moment: Fan violence in Marseille

It's hard to forget the ugly scenes at the end of England's 1-1 draw with Russia, when a group of Russia fans - or hooligans as they are now known - mindlessly attacked their England counterparts in the stadium.

Dozens of injured people were sent to the hospital as a result and the fracas came after three straight days of violence involving Russia and England supporters in Marseille.

Even after tournament organiser UEFA threatened to expel Russia if there was further violence, the football world breathed a collective sigh of relief when a very poor Russia team was eliminated at the group stage.

Best goal: Dimitri Payet

Just when it seemed France would be held to a draw by Romania on the opening day, up stepped midfielder Dimitri Payet to bail his team out of jail.

In the 89th minute, the West Ham star collected the ball 30 yards out, assessed his options and promptly decided to strike a left-footed curler into the top corner that gave goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu no chance.

Romania could have played all three of their goalkeepers and they still probably wouldn't have saved it. That's just how brilliant this match-winning goal was.

Best match: Hungary 3 Portugal 3

Under the scorching heat in Lyon, these two teams produced the most exciting and dramatic contest of the group stage by a mile. Hungary took the lead thrice, and Portugal, knowing that a defeat would knock them out of the tournament, fought back each time.

Cristiano Ronaldo lived up to his top billing with a two-goal performance, while Hungary's Balazs Dzsudzsak will go down in folklore for his two glorious free kicks that helped confirm his team's status as group winners.

At a tournament where goals have been hard to come by, it was refreshing to watch these two nations slug it out in a high-tempo, thrill-a-minute, six-goal battle.