Loads to learn for grassroots players and coaches from a fantastic fortnight of football in France
As ever with a major tournament, we've been spoiled with great skills, tactics and technique that grassroots footballers and coaches alike can learn from and try to emulate next time they take to the pitch.
So for all you youngsters out there wanting to be the next Gareth Bale, Dele Alli, Michael McGovern or Robbie Brady, here's a rundown of 10 of the best football lessons from EURO 2016 so far.
Lesson 1: How to strike a ball from outside the box
France’s Dimitri Payet got EURO 2016 off to a flyer and brought the host nation to its feet with this stunning strike against Romania in the opening game.
It’s a lesson to all youngsters on how to strike the ball from distance: head down over the ball, body upright (i.e. not leaning back), a good clean strike with the laces, straight follow-through and then watch the ball ping into the top corner. Bravo Dimitri!
Lesson 2: How to hit a volley
Luka Modric gave a midfield masterclass in his two Group D games for Croatia and, despite being rested against Spain, his team won to win the group and move from dark horses to one of the tournament favourites, so we could be seeing a lot more of the Real Madrid maestro.
His volley against Turkey was a highlight, showing impeccable technique as the ball dropped from a ridiculous height. With eyes firmly on the ball, Modric's controlled strike kept the volley down and dipping in front of Turkish goalkeeper Volkan Babaca for a contender for goal of the tournament.
Lesson 3: How to strike a free kick
With four direct free kicks scored in the group stages, EURO 2016 has already broken the record for a single tournament, beating the three from 1984 and 2004.
Gareth Bale’s dipping efforts against Slovakia and England were both impressive - if not helped partially by goalkeeping mistakes - but Eric Dier’s strike for England against Russia was arguably the pick of the bunch, whipping the ball into the top corner of the net with curl and pace.
Lesson 4: How to make a goal-line clearance
When Slovakian playmaker Marek Hamsik slalomed through Wales' defence in the third minute of the Group B opener, it looked like Wales’ first appearance at a major finals since 1958 would get off to the worst possible start. Centre back Ben Davies had other ideas, however, reading the run and shot to produce a fantastic sliding goal-line clearance that kept Wales level. The rest is history.
Amazingly, just one day later, the Welshman’s clearance was trumped by this unbelievable effort from Germany centre back Jerome Boateng in his side’s 2-0 win against Ukraine. His initial block of a cross saw the ball bouncing alongside him towards the goal-line but, straining every sinew as he fell into the goal, he managed to get a toe on the ball and boot it away off the line. Terrific effort.
Lesson 5: How to keep goal
Honourable mentions here must go to Iceland’s Hannes Þór Halldórsson, Spain’s David De Gea and Russia’s Igor Akinfeev, who all produced fine performances in the group stages. All of them were outshone, however, by Northern Ireland's Michael McGovern, whose man-of-the-match display against Germany saw his country through to the last 16 as a best runner-up on goal difference.
His eight saves - some of them extraordinary (see below) - kept the margin of defeat down to just a single goal meaning that, rather than heading home, the Green & White Army are off to Paris for a mouth-watering last 16 tie with Wales this Saturday.
Lesson 6: Age is just a number
“If you’re good enough, you’re old enough” is how the saying normally goes, but Hungarian goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly has turned that football mantra on its head. At 40 years of age, the tracksuit-bottomed former Crystal Palace shot-stopper not only become the oldest player in the history of the EUROs but, remarkably, helped his side to top Group F against all the odds.
Well done Gabor. If you're good enough, you’re young enough!
Lesson 7: David can beat Goliath
The most impressive performance at EURO 2016 so far has surely come from Iceland - a country with a population of just 330,000 - about the size of Sunderland - and with only 20,000 registered footballers - male and female - who went through Group F undefeated to reach the knockout stages.
Iceland’s victory over Austria this week confirmed runners-up spot and a last 16 clash with England, but arguably the most memorable moment was their equaliser against Portugal, where the smallest team in the tournament upset the biggest name in world football, Cristiano Ronaldo (see Lesson 8).
Note: This clip could also have been named: “Lesson 7: How not to defend”
Lesson 8: Don't be a sore loser
Cristiano Ronaldo’s reaction to Portugal’s 1-1 draw with Iceland in the opening game of Group F was a perfect example to young footballers of how NOT to react when your team doesn’t win.
He refused to shake hands with opposition players and described their celebrations as “unbelievable”, saying: “It’s like they have won the Euros. This in my opinion shows a small mentality. They are not going to do anything in this competition.”
Iceland had just won their first major point in a major competition - a huge achievement for a nation so small that 10 percent of the population were in France supporting the team, so to begrudge their celebrations shows a lack of sportsmanship and grace that does no justice to Ronaldo’s undoubted sporting talent.
Lesson 9: It pays to be positive
Whilst goals have been at a premium, the group stages have shown on a number of occasions that positive football reaps rewards and fortune favours the brave. On no less than five occasions, a team 1-0 up in the dying minutes chose the route to goal rather than the safe haven of the corner flag and were rewarded with a 2-0 win.
Arguably the most positive - and indeed impressive - performance of the group stage was that of Wales in their 3-0 win over Russia in Monday’s final game in Group B. A team who built their qualifying campaign on a solid defence and Gareth Bale’s goals responded to being penned in by England in the previous game by throwing off the shackles and taking the game to Russia from the outset.
Wing backs Gunter and Taylor played high up the pitch, Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey pulled the strings in midfield, opening up gaps at will, while star man Gareth Bale flew at the Russian defence like a man possessed. It was a performance and result that Wales fans will never forget.
Lesson 10: Keep going right to the end
One clear lesson from the group stages of EURO 2016 is to never give up. Of the 69 goals scored in the tournament so far, 19 came in the 80th minute or later. Of these, three were equalisers and 10 were match winners, proving that it pays to keep on playing right until the final whistle.
There was no better evidence of this than on Wednesday, when Arnór Ingvi Traustason’s 94th minute goal gave Iceland their first ever major tournament win and Robbie Brady’s 85th minute header against Italy put the Republic of Ireland into the knockout stages of the EUROs for the first time.
Defeat to Belgium had dented Irish hopes and, when Wes Hoolahan missed a gilt-edged chance to win the game late on, it looked like Ireland’s chance had gone. But Martin O’Neill’s men never gave up and Hoolahan picked himself up to put the ball on a sixpence for Brady to send the travelling green army into delirium.
No lessons without homework
So there you go folks - 10 valuable lessons to apply on a football pitch near you. Now get working on your homework this summer because practice makes perfect!
But it’s not all work here - we hope you enjoy the rest of EURO 2016 and, while you’re waiting for the knockout stages to begin this weekend, here are 10 great goals from the group stages for you to enjoy.