Euro 2016 so far: Minnows impress, goals dearth, fans' shame
PARIS >> With the European Championship group stage over, UEFA proudly flagged up a statistic on Thursday: no team won all three games.
Not World Cup holder Germany and certainly not two-time defending European champion Spain, which only advanced to the round of 16 as a group runner-up.
The lack of walkovers and dead-rubber group games provides some vindication for UEFA after eight teams were added to make its showpiece a 24-team event.
Here is an overview of the group stage as the continental championship takes a pause before resuming Saturday:
Part of the joy of the expanded European Championship was the appearance of five new teams. They weren't pushovers. Far from it. And the joy of their fans was infectious as some tasted the big-stage for the first time in soccer.
Only Albania went home early as Iceland, Northern Ireland, Slovakia and Wales marched into the round of 16.
Wales was even the joint-top scorer in the group stage, alongside Hungary, with six goals.
It took until the final round of matches and game 34 for the most chaotically entertaining fixture: a six-goal thriller between Portugal and Hungary. It saw more than three times the average number of goals (1.92) per group stage game in France, the lowest since Euro '92, which featured only eight teams.
The 3-3 draw between Portugal and Hungary was far more open than some of the tight, cagey and — in some cases — simply dull games.
Cristiano Ronaldo rediscovered his scoring touch with a flicked goal and a towering header as four goals were scored in 17 minutes. And Ronaldo set new records: for most European Championship finals goals (17) and most tournaments with a goal (4).
All that was missing was a red card, of which there were only two in the 36 group-stage games.
The world's most expensive player lived up to his 100 million-euro price tag on his tournament debut as Wales forward Gareth Bale scored in all three games, upstaging Real Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo. And yet Wales wasn't overly-reliant on Bale, who scored only half the team's goals.
The breakthrough star of the group stage was Dimitri Payet, who wasn't a first-team regular for France before the tournament but now seems indispensable. The attacking midfielder clinched wins against Romania and Albania, unburdened by the pressure of performing for the hosts.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic made little impression on his final major tournament with Sweden, failing to score as his team bowed out before the knockout phase. It meant the striker ended his international career without any honors with Sweden.
In failing to score, Ibrahimovic was in good company. But at least Mario Mandzukic (Croatia), Robert Lewandowski (Poland) and Harry Kane (England) all get a chance to get off the mark in the round of 16.
Security was ramped up for Euro 2016 following last year's deadly extremist attacks in Paris. But the policing challenges for the tournament so far have centered on hooliganism.
Marseille has seen the worst of the disorder. It began with clashes between Russia and England fans in Marseille in the opening days of the tournament but in recent days water cannon and tear gas was also deployed to disperse unruly Poland fans in the southern city.
In stadiums, flares and firecrackers have led to a spate of UEFA fines: Russia (150,000 euros), Hungary (65,000 euros), Croatia (100,000 euros), while proceedings are ongoing against Albania, Belgium, Romania and Turkey.
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