In Focus: Euro 2016 Heroes and Villains of Matchday Two

One striker saves the day and another suffers a bruised ego. Ben Wills takes us through the heroes and villains of Matchday Two.


Heroes:

Antoine Griezmann – France

Antoine Griezmann was many people’s tip for the Golden Boot at Euro 2016 pre-tournament and in Matchday Two he started to show why.

The Atletico Madrid striker was, however, only introduced by manager Didier Deschamps as a half-time substitute but he hit back at being dropped in devastating effect against the Albanians.

Griezmann nodded in a floated cross to score the first of two 90th-minute goals for France in Marseille and keep the hosts top of the Group A. Just.

 

Daniel Sturridge – England

When was the last time an England goal was celebrated like Daniel Sturridge’s last-minute winner against Wales?

The Liverpool striker’s poked finish to make it 2-1 in the dying seconds of Thursday’s match sparked an explosion of delirium and relief among England fans.

Adults, wide-eyed children and cynical teenagers were all hugging, crying and screaming themselves stupid as Gareth Bale’s pre-match jibe that the English lacked passion fell flat on its face.

 

Gareth McAuley – Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland scored twice to beat Ukraine in what proved to a crucial Group C clash.

Gareth McAuley got the ball rolling when he powered a header home from a free-kick to send the Green and White Army into raptures.

That goal, and another by Niall McGinn with the last kick of the game, ensured that Michael O’Neill’s side will finish in third at the very least in their group. Against all the odds, we may well see them in the last 16.

 

Darijo Srna – Croatia

Sometimes stories emerge that make 22 men kicking a ball around seem just a little bit insignificant and Darijo Srna playing five days after his father’s death this week is one of them.

The Croatia captain lost his dad while playing in their 1-0 win over Turkey on Matchday One and promptly flew back home afterwards for the funeral.

Srna returned to France for Croatia’s 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic. In a time when the attitude of the modern-day footballer is often questioned, his dedication is undeniable.

 

Eidur Gudjohnsen – Iceland

The tiny nation of Iceland is not exactly a footballing hotbed but it has produced a bonafide legend in Eidur Gudjohnsen. The ‘Iceman’ finally made his international tournament bow at the grand old age of 37.

Gudjohnsen has enjoyed a wonderful career that has seen him play for the likes of Chelsea and Barcelona but his greatest honour may well be turning out for his country at the Euros.

He came close to putting his name all over the back pages, too, with a shot in the dying moments but his effort was deflected just past Gabor Kiraly’s far post.

 

Villains:

The Ukraine team

There always has to be one team to be the first knocked out of every tournament and Ukraine got the dishonour this time around.

They were in a tough group that included world champions Germany and perennial dark horses Poland, but losing 2-0 to Northern Ireland will be considered unforgivable to many from the Eastern European nation.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Sweden

“I’ve been dominating wherever I go.” Those were the typically-confident words from the man who has become known only by his first name, but two games into Euro 2016, and he is yet to register a shot on target.

Sweden fell to a 1-0 defeat against eventual group winners Italy and Zlatan – which is now even a Swedish word for ‘to dominate’ – was an isolated figure, again.

It went from bad to worse when the imperial striker blazed over from two yards. Ibrahimovic was offside, although he didn’t know that at the time.

 

The Croatian fans

Last week it was Russia, but this week it was Croatia’s turn for their fans to overshadow the football.

Flares were thrown onto the pitch as Croatia and the Czech Republic faced off in Group D, which caused ugly scenes.

Croatia were 2-1 up at the time but ended up drawing 2-2. That is what you call ‘karma’.

 

Domagoj Vida – Croatia

Prior to the aforementioned flares and fireworks, Croatia were leading against the Czech Republic. The game suffered a five-minute delay to clear the pitch and the Czechs earned a draw afterwards.

A defensive error from Domagoj Vida played its part too, though. As the clock ticked down into injury-time, he handled the ball in the box that resulted in a last-gasp penalty for Petr Cech and co.

Tomas Necid smashed the spot-kick home to complete a remarkable Czech comeback after being 2-0 down.

Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal

In so many ways, egomaniac Cristiano Ronaldo is football’s ultimate pantomime villain and people certainly enjoyed his frustrating evening against Austria.

The 31-year-old, clearly desperate for his first goal of these Euros, was shooting at nearly every opportunity he got in order to steal the limelight he so desperately craves.

His frustrating night was compounded as he struck a late penalty against the post and when did finally find the back of the net, but a team-mate of his was offside. Poor Ronny.

Read more from Ben here

Follow Ben on Twitter @_BenWills

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