Triumph, Beauty and Eternal Glory: Ranking The Best Teams at Euro 2016
In our final glance back at the tournament, we assess the sides who really lit up proceedings and attempt to rank them in arbitrary fashion.
EPA Images/Peter Powell
With Euro 2016 now consigned to the history books, our assessment of the tournament is about to come to an end. We have already ranked the worst teams to grace the competition – as well as the also-rans – and been hideously critical of Russia, Austria and England in the process.
Now it's time to celebrate the success stories, and rank them arbitrarily from 1–8. Here are the sides who made Euro 2016 a tournament to remember, and whose glory will be preserved in perpetuity, hopefully through the medium of epic poetry and song.
We won't hear a single word of debate here. Iceland were, without doubt, the best team at the tournament. Yes, we're all tired of hearing about how small Iceland's population is. Yes, we're all worried about the prospect of Crystal Palace fans adopting the 'Viking Clap'. Yes, they knocked out our boys, our England, in the Round of 16.
Nonetheless, Iceland made Euro 2016 special. They came, they hugely overachieved, they endeared themselves to everyone, and barely anybody wanted their first ever major tournament to end. Even in their 5-2 defeat to France there was an echo of Norse heroism. Plus, as it turns out, they built their success on foundations of strong, properly invested grassroots football. That might seem awfully quaint to some, but perhaps the FA should take note.
We're reluctant to rank Portugal this highly, to be honest, but considering that they won the tournament we have to show some grudging admiration. With the exception of their 3-3 group-stage draw with Hungary, they were tough, well drilled and impressively organised, and that collective tenacity ultimately won them their first ever piece of major international silverware.
That said, they were about as enjoyable to watch as the arm-slicing scene in 127 Hours. They also participated in what was surely one of the worst European Championship finals of all time, and with Pepe in the team they weren't even vaguely likeable. Ah, well.
Alongside Iceland, Wales' underdog story was one of the most compelling at Euro 2016. Having failed to qualify for a major tournament since the 1958 World Cup, Wales not only got out of the group stage, but fired their way through the knockout rounds, too. If their 3-1 quarter-final win over Belgium represents the pinnacle of their achievements, impressive victories against Russia and Slovakia will also live long in the memory.
It's hard not to feel that, had they bested Portugal in the semi-finals, the final itself would have been rather more exciting. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be, and Chris Coleman's men must now set their sights on qualification for Russia 2018.
While getting to the final of a major tournament is hardly a failure, Euro 2016 will be remembered as a missed opportunity in France. The side may have come on leaps and bounds since the dark days of the 2010 World Cup, but Les Bleus still missed out on a gilt-edged chance of international glory, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the grand finale at the Stade de France.
That said, there were plenty of positives to take from France's campaign, not least their poise and panache in the semi-final triumph over Germany. Five wins and a draw would represent an excellent showing, had they not fallen at the final hurdle and been pipped to the post by the Portuguese.
Germany produced some strong performances at Euro 2016 and, while defeat in the semi-finals will never be good enough for Die Mannschaft, there's little suggestion in the aftermath of the tournament that their powers are on the wane. The fact that Joachim Löw is sticking around suggests that he sees continued potential in the squad and – if they can develop their young attacking talent over the next two years – they'll surely be contenders for the next World Cup.
The 3-0 win over Slovakia was the highlight of their Euros, while overcoming Italy on penalties was equally worthy of praise. In the end, they were a little short up front when it came to firing their way to the final. With Leroy Sane and Julian Draxler only just beginning their international careers, that shouldn't be a problem for too much longer.
Portugal may have been dogged and well organised, but they had nothing on the defensive mastery of Italy. Antonio Conte went into the tournament with what was, on paper, one of the weakest Italy sides in recent history, and they still fought their way to the quarter-finals where they were, with great difficulty, dispatched by the Germans.
The Italian vintage of 2016 will be remembered for their unfancied triumphs over Belgium and Spain, both of which were utterly ruthless. They will also be remembered for an almost unbreachable back three of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli, and the terrifying sight of Conte roaring that he would "kill" his players if they didn't get back into position. He's going to shake things up at Chelsea, make no mistake.
Of all the games that Portugal scraped through, their quarter-final triumph over Poland was the closest. Having gone unbeaten in the group stage and forced their way past Switzerland on penalties in the Round of 16, Poland seemed to be on a roll, and dominated against the Portuguese for most of the match. Like all the other teams who dominated against Portugal, however, Adam Nawałka's side were quietly undone by their obdurate opponents.
Still, there's no shame in going out on penalties to the eventual winners. Poland did well, overall, and can be proud of their efforts.
This might seem like a generous ranking for a side who were battered by Belgium in the Round of 16, but Hungary deserve it for confounding their critics. Having been written off as one of the weakest teams at the tournament, they ended up topping Group F after hard-fought draws against Iceland and Portugal and a fine win over regional rivals Austria.
Though they found themselves on the end of a 4-0 drubbing against the Belgians, their tournament was an understated act of defiance. While much was said of Austria prior to the start of the competition, it was Hungary who made their mark.