Euro 2016 to the neutral has certainly not been one which has set the heart a-racing. Most games have been relatively dreary affairs, dominated by defensive structures and teams sneaking decisive late goals. At the time of writing there have been 18 games played, which have yielded a minuscule 1.89 goals per game. This means the Euros are on course to be the lowest scoring on record – beating the 1.93 goals per game in the 1980 Euros in Italy. Indeed the best team performance so far could be said to be Italy’s against Belgium where commentators primarily lauded Italy’s defensive organisation – something that gave them a sound basis to win the match relatively easily.
In this way the tournament reminds me of the tournament which I first remember as a child, the 1990 World Cup – here defences were completely on top – with only 2.2 goals per game – the lowest in the history of the tournament. Euro 2016 reminds me of 1990 for another reason – the euphoria surrounding the tournament in Poland, which is similar in a lot of ways to the joy that people in England felt at the time of the 1990 World Cup. When people look back to 1990 in England we remember David Platt’s late goal against Belgium in the round of 16 and Gazza’s tears in the semis against Germany – but primarily we remember a tournament where there was hope around our national team and real success. To an English observer this rush of nostalgia overpowers the tournament itself which was on the whole a drab affair.
Similar things are happening regarding Euro 2016 in Poland. Finally after all the years of hurt – it is 30 years since Poland has made it out of a group stage at a major tournament – Poland has a team to be reckoned with. They have a very stable goalkeeper (or pair of goalkeepers in Fabiański and Szczęsny), a solid back line, a midfield which is able to break up attacks and two top quality strikers in Lewandowski and Milik. But it is not just the quality of the players – there is a warm, supportive atmosphere around the national team at the moment.
From an organisational point of view everything is top class, the coach Adam Nawałka has vision and seems to make a lot of decisions by intuition. For many Poles used to failure both on and off the pitch it is difficult not to look at this national team without a feeling of pride. Of course it helps when you achieve results on the pitch – and the assured way they went about defeating Northern Ireland and drawing with the world champions Germany suggests that Poland can go far in this competition.
It is early days yet – and Poland may still get dumped out of the last 16 – but the Polish side at the moment emanates a rosy flow and it would be a real shame for this adventure to end before at least the quarter final stage. This tournament might not be the most exciting to watch for the neutral, but for Poles it already has the hallmarks of a generation defining moment. Who cares if that’s achieved with a little bit of defensive football?
Graphic provided by Ken Roberts from http://www.healthlisted.com/us/