By Oliver Trust
PARIS, June 28 (Xinhua) -- It might be a bold theory, but Euro 2016 in France is like a wheel of fortune when it comes to the tournament's favorites.
Wasn't England's young and prosperous team one of them? Croatia? A team full of top class players, working for the big guns in club-football. Take a look at Spain. World champion in 2010, European champion in 2008 and 2012. Who predicted them not to make it at least as far as the semifinal?
Now all those well sounding names are out as early as after the round of the last 16.
It works the other way around as well. Underdogs, that surprised or favorites that seemed to be out of energy in the group stage already.
Tournament host France didn't seem to work well. It was a tough job against Ireland. But the French train is picking up speed and enthusiasm in France is slowly growing. Belgium is a team with great names in football that stand for exceptional quality. It was a clear 4-0 win over Hungary that seemed to reanimate a team that seemed to have lost its faith before the knock-out stage began.
Italy's squad wasn't one of the top dogs in all predictions until the 2-0 victory over Spain. How should the oldest squad turn into a team nobody can beat? Now Italy's troops made up of football-grandfathers turned into the biggest tournament favorite having to face another big one such as Germany.
We don't want to start talking about Iceland's stunning victory over a poor England. It was a sensation, maybe one of the biggest football history has ever produced, now challenging France in the quarterfinals.
Who said it is going to be boring? To be honest many did. First the boring roars grew when the group stage stared with 24 teams. How much fun did football fans around the globe have watching underdogs of football? When the round of the last 16 teams started, complains returned. Iceland? Ok, nice to have, but who needs teams like Iceland. Northern Ireland? Ok, but how could they make it that far?
Euro 2016 is full of surprises. The round of the last 16 was no exception: Poland having difficulties against Switzerland (5-4 after penalties). Then Wales came around the corner with their narrow 1-0 over Northern Ireland. Croatia, one of the secret favorites, got beaten 1-0 by Portugal. England was embarrassed by an underdog-underdog like Iceland 2-1. A squad of millionaires and experienced professionals did not find an answer to get over a bunch of low-budget players with tons of passion in their hearts.
Wasn't there anything happening that was predictable?
Germany was, to some extent. Though the 2014 world champion had to go through a difficult qualification campaign for Euro 2016, the team of head-coach Joachim Loew seems to strengthen its reputation to be what you call a tournament-squad. The team does not start like a shining star into a tournament, but is efficient and delivers the results needed to make it at least into the semifinal or final. In the round of the last 16, Germany impressed with 90 minutes of controlling football and three goals against Slovakia.
As in the group stage, in the last 16 it was obvious that many of the bigger football teams often face defensively minded opponents of smaller football teams. This was one result of a survey by the "Technical Commission" of the European football association UEFA, put together of football coaches of several countries, so called "Technical Observers". Besides Thomas Schaaf (former coach of Werder Bremen), a football coaching legend like Sir Alex Ferguson and the former French international Alain Giresse are members.
"It is similar to what we see in the Champions League or national leagues throughout Europe," Schaaf said. "Many teams have a great amount of tactical discipline and they presumably are still trying to find answers."
The UEFA-Commission noticed a rising number of crosses from the flanks, which, according to Schaaf, is "an indication that many teams are still trying to find answers to deal with the trend" of more teams acting with a solid defense.
According to Schaaf, the extended number of Euro participants to 24 instead of 16 teams stands in no connection to the more defensive game style or to many games not delivering a great number of goals. "If we for instance look at Hungary or Iceland or Wales, you can't accuse them of playing with an overwhelming defensive tactical concept," Schaaf said.
More interesting, Schaaf said, would be the development that would see a significant change up front. Positions would more and more overlap, "you can't tell anymore at first glance, who is the central striker, who is the man along the flank, who is an offensive midfielder. Positions become blurred. We might have to good bye to the traditional position game we knew so far as we see constant changes up front during a game," 55-year old Schaaf said.
On top, the UEFA-Commission noticed several outstanding goal keeper performances. The 38-year-old Italian goaltender Gianluigi Buffon is a shining example for world class goal keeping and now faces Germany in the quarterfinals where Poland meets Portugal, Wales challenges Belgium and France will have to beat tournament- rocking Iceland.
Maybe the wheel of fortune will start to turn around again after the quarterfinals and we see new favorites emerging on football's horizon.