Football is a funny old game. Iceland beating England last night proved again that there will always be shocks and surprises in football tournaments. And that’s a good thing. Otherwise, why bother? If we were just to look at the pre-tournament rankings, we could see which team was “the best”, and then just give the trophy to them.
How dull would that be?
Belgium would win Euro 2016 (which they still might, at the time of writing), Argentina would have won the Copa America (which they nearly did, but actually didn’t), New Zealand would obviously win all the rugby things forever and Australia would win most of the cricket. All without the need for any tournaments.
In fact, the only place that this approach would assist would be in tennis, which is a terribly boring sport. Let’s just gooi the big plate to Serena and the gold cup to [checks spelling] Novak Djokovic, saving two weeks of our lives and a million comments about strawberries, cream and incessant rain.
The 24 teams which qualified for Euro 2016 all hold places within the top 28 places in the UEFA rankings. The notable exceptions from those attending France are the Netherlands and Bosnia & Herzegovina, who were 8th and 14th going into the tournament. Also, please note the less surprising absences of Denmark (26th) and Greece (27th).
As I said above, rankings aren’t everything. But if England had lost 2-1 to Sweden last night, no-one would have been hugely surprised. Yellow and blue, blonde-haired Scandinavian footballing superpower, ne? But actually below Iceland in the latest FIFA rankings.
And if England had beaten Iceland and gone through to face France, no-one would have been shocked when Les Bleus swept past Les Rosbifs through to the semi-finals. But France are way below England in the world rankings. Austria, also beaten 2-1 by Iceland last week, didn’t even make it out of the group stages and they’re supposed to be the 5th best team in Europe.
Yes, I was surprised as well.
Italy shouldn’t have beaten Spain. But then, Italy deserved a break because there is no way that the Republic of Ireland should have got one over on the Gli Azzurri. Portugal should have disposed of Iceland. And Austria. And Hungary.
Northern Ireland should have beaten Wales.
(Those numbers represent the world rankings, by the way.)
I’m not making excuses for a very lacklustre England display last night. Too many individual errors, too many poor performances. But take nothing away from Iceland. Tactically, they were brilliant and I’m well aware that the result was an incredible triumph for them and testament to their amazing football programme. But if England were going to go out (and they were), I’d rather England go out to them that anyone else. We’ve always liked Iceland at 6000 miles… and now Norway has “been done”, it’s next on the bucket list of holiday destinations.
Iceland were already everyone’s second team at Euro 2016, and now that England are gone, they’re my first team.
Fara, eldgos Víkingar! HOOH!
UPDATE: And this quote from James Clark on Twitter:
I have no objection to losing to a side whose fans greet every set piece with a Viking war chant complete with improvised shield thumping.
…sums it up perfectly.