The UEFA European Championship occurs every four years, offset two years with the FIFA World Cup. The competition pits the top 24 sides from across Europe against each other, with matches covering a month’s time. The host nation is different every cycle, and this year, we watched sides travel across France to battle.
Here are four things that we learned from this year’s Euros.
1. Antoine Griezmann is the real deal
Antoine Griezmann: what a player. As forward for the Spanish side Atletico Madrid, he scored 32 goals in the 2015-16 season, and 25 the season prior. He already has over a century of goals over the course of seven years in Spain with Real Sociedad and Atleti, and has yet to truly peak. He could easily become the best French goal-scoring forward since Thierry Henry all those years ago. He won the Golden Boot at this year’s competition, and has surely cemented his place in the pantheon of fantastic forwards in football.
2. Portugal isn’t the best team in Europe, but has the most heart
Portugal in 2016 compares best to Greece in 2004: plucky underdog spirit, stunning the host nation in the final, and winning due to a solitary goal from a less than impressive forward, and finally, immense team defending. Nobody expected Portugal to take home the crown after Cristiano Ronaldo went off injured early in the first half; however, it was Ronaldo’s passion and Eder’s heroics in the dying minutes of extra time that propelled the team to victory.
3. A 24-team format works wonders
This year was the first time that the Euros featured a 24 team group stage format since the 16 team format was introduced in 1996. Expanding the size of the tournament was controversial, but ultimately, the passion and excitement that came from seeing smaller, under-represented nations prove their mettle on the world stage was well worth it all. Without the expansion, we would not have seen teams like Iceland, Wales, and Slovakia come to the championship.
4. Iceland will surprise even the most wishful of thinkers
Iceland is a nation of just over 330,000, and shouldn’t have had a prayer of even qualifying for the Euros, let alone making the quarterfinals. After stunning the world by topping Portugal in Group F and shocking England in Nice, Iceland was suddenly in the limelight. Losing 5-2 to a very solid French team was nothing that the team couldn’t handle; rather, their coach has praised the side and we can all look forward to seeing Iceland in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.