What we’ve learned from EURO 2016 so far–and what needs to happen next

EURO 2016 has already served us some surprises (and quite a bit of football). The thunderous strike of Payet, and Modric’s equally as well hit volley are the highlights of the festival so far. And there are already some pretty big signs of how the rest of the tournament is going to go.

Italy and Germany look like the real deal.

Many of us, myself included, did not see that coming from Italy. Though the Azzurri have a fair way to go to prove that they are capable of performing an upset in this tournament, they showed against Belgium that they’ve got the organization and tactical nous to defeat any major players in the global game.

Germany, as ever, have started this tournament like they always do, erasing any suspicions that they were deteriorating after their World Cup triumph in 2014 after encountering a series of unsatisfactory results. They dominated the Ukrainians in a game where the Eastern European country threatened but only in the namesake of the word. Admittedly, Neuer pulled out some exceptional saves out of his hat, but, such are the standards the German international has set for himself that those saves are expected from him.

France, Belgium, Spain, and England need to find their mojo.

Aside from England, who’ve never won the opening game in a European championship, France and Belgium were hoping to enter this tournament with a commanding victory. Hosts France did get theirs, but their victory was more or less forced rather than earned out of Romania. We cannot expect Payet cut them some slack in every single game now, can we?

Pogba and Griezmann need to step up their game after their stellar individual campaigns with Juve and Atleti respectively, especially if the hosts plan on reaching the final or winning this championship. But, on the other hand, Deschamps should consider himself very lucky to have such a multi-faceted team of players at his disposal. This French team is arguably made up of the most in-form players from this past season.

Pressure is piling up on Wilmots as he is yet unable to make this Belgian team tick. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Belgium will have to look past their opening game disappoint and play like a team for once. Such an accumulation of individual talent may never resurface again for the country in the next decade. It will be a huge disappointment for not only the country itself, but for football fans worldwide. The players are certainly well capable of winning this tournament if we are to measure on talent alone. But the collective seems worse than the sum of the parts at this point.

Spain also failed to convince in their victory against Czech Republic, as they toiled to the 87th minute before putting the ball past Petr Cech. The Spaniards’ forward selection still looks unconvincing, and further exposure against quality opponents currently looks like a test they will fail. Morata and Alcácer are far from the finished article, and as good as Aduriz has been this season, he seems incapable of the running required to break down the major players in this tournament.

Wales and Croatia can go further than expected.

Gareth Bale is on fire for Wales at the moment. (Photo by MEHDI FEDOUACH/AFP/Getty Images)

Gareth Bale’s Wales got off on the right foot against Slovakia, putting in a tireless team performance. Bale’s free-kick is one of the best goals of the tournament so far (behind Payet and Modric’s thunders) and he has shown yet again what playing for his country means to him. The last thing England needs is a fully pumped Bale bludgeoning their Euro hopes, but it would be hardly that surprising. Some might even say it’s fully deserved for Wales’ part.

The Croatians defeated Turkey by a goal to nil (how many of those have we had?) courtesy of a truly phenomenal volley from Luka Modric. The midfielder’s rise these past two seasons has been wonderful to watch, and he can certainly deliver the killer blow when needed. And if he doesn’t, there’s Rakitic.

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