Euro 2016: Guardian novelists pick their highs and lows from France

From Hal Robson-Kanus memorable turn against Belgium, to Antoine Griezmann capturing hearts, plus strolling into lamp-posts, our writers give their take on the tournament

Dominic Fifield

Match of the tournament The best I attended was Frances 2-0 win over Germany, when the upgrade in quality was very obvious. From afar Wales rumbustious elimination of a much-fancied Belgium was jaw-dropping.

Aaron Ramsey

Player of the tournament Aaron Ramsey. Antoine Griezmann would have been a shoo-in had he enjoyed a better final so the man who inspired Wales into the semi-finals gets the nod. That was arguably Ramsey more than Gareth Bale, with the Arsenal player so integral in ensuring his countryman could thrive. There were four assists, a goal and an untimely absence through suspension which cost his country dear.

Goal of the tournament Hal Robson-Kanus Cruyff turn to leave a trio of Belgians dizzied and the calm finish beyond Thibaut Courtois. Dimitri Payets stunning finish in the opening game comes in a close second.

Personal highlight The noise in the Stade Vlodrome as the hosts weathered a cyclone and eventually knocked out the prevail world champs. A proper football city rejoicing in a proper footballing occasion.

Biggest letdown The scenes in Marseille around Englands group game with Russia , not least on Stade Vlodromes virage sud at the end, which served as a reminder that, even now, hooliganism remains an issue.

Team of the tournament Iceland. Aside from the reality they are the smallest nation ever to appear at a major finals, their first participation at this level was mind-boggling from start to finish. Recall the drama of their win against Austria, their well-merited success over England and even their second half depict of strength against the French( even when the result was beyond recovery ).

Fondest memory of France Returning to Lyon, where I once called myself a student. A stunning city.

What now for England? Familiar soul-searching, a new administrator, another comfy qualification campaign and , without doubt, a huge anticlimax in Russia in two years time.

Portugals 3-3 draw with Hungary in the final set of Group F fixtures was one of the tournaments standout games. Photograph: Max Rossi/ Reuters

Andy Hunter

Match of the tournament Italys professional task on Belgium and the end-to-end drama of Hungary 3-3 Portugal were the highlights from matches attended but Wales quarter-final defeat of Belgium was the standout tie.

Player of the tournament Antoine Griezmann. Came under intense scrutiny and pressure in France after a subdued start, “losing ones” place at one point, but responded with class and equanimity to help guide the hosts to the final.

Goal of the tournament Hal Robson-Kanus exquisite tribute to Johan Cruyff against Belgium. Honest mention to the goal that followed from Sam Vokes I love a good soar header.

Personal highlight Visiting Icelands training camp in Annecy the morning after their historic first tournament win over Austria. I was in the privileged stance of witnessing the warm reception they received on their return, the camaraderie between players and staff and their training session. I was also given time with their joint coaches, Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson. I wouldnt want to be Roy Hodgson if he lost to Iceland, told a clearly confident Hallgrimsson. Accessible, friendly, spirited and hard-working the team they humbled in the last 16 could learn a thing or two.

Biggest frustration The embarrassing behaviour of some England fans, afterward equalled by the Russian unit.

Team of the tournament Too close to call between Iceland and Wales.

Fondest memory of France Lyon, Annecy, driving along the Cte dAzur with the Clash on at full blast, encompassing enthralling and sometimes historic matches( Icelands debut, Albanias first victory, Northern Irelands defeat of Ukraine) and the stirring rendition of La Marseillaise before Frances win over the Republic of Ireland. All of it, in fact.

What now for England ? Same as usual the inquests and appetite for change is likely to be pushed to the margins once the Premier League season begins and the culture that breeds international failing returns.

David Hytner

Match of the tournament Wales 3-1 Belgium. I enjoyed Portugal 3-3 Hungary and Italy 2-0 Spain but Id nominate Waless quarter-final win because of the end-to-end tempo, the phenomenal atmosphere and the knowledge that we had witnessed history.

Antoine Griezmann

Player of the tournament Antoine Griezmann. The complete striker and simply a beautiful player to watch, whose sense of exuberance is contagious.

Goal of the tournament Hal Robson-Kanu v Belgium. It can be no other. With the biggest game in Welsh football history finely balanced at 1-1, Robson-Kanu to borrow his phrase Cruyffed inside the box to destroy three defenders. See you subsequently Meunier, see you subsequently Denayer, see you later Fellaini, roared Robbie Savage, in his BBC commentary. Robson-Kanu then maintained his cool to beat Thibaut Courtois.

Personal highlight There were a few I-was-there moments, including Wales v Belgium and Robbie Bradys dramatic late winner for the Republic of Ireland against Italy. But the one that springs most readily to mind was Dimitri Payets Roy of the Rovers-style 89 th-minute rocket into the top corner on the opening night for France against Romania and his subsequent tears when he was substituted to a thunderous ovation.

Biggest letdown England, plainly. The most shocking part of the Iceland debacle was how technically assured players like Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane became so gripped by the looming failure that they could scarcely trap or pass the ball.

Team of the tournament Wales. Chris Coleman always felt that the quarter-finals were a potential. The run to the first major semi-final of its own history galvanised the nation and took the breath.

Fondest memory of France The feeling during the pre-game anthems; used to identify that the rebuilt Vlodrome in Marseille is the best stadium in Europe and simply being in Paris the coolest city in the world. Oh, and being starstruck when I walked past Quentin Tarantino on Pont Neuf. What now for England ? I still think there are reasons to be optimistic, given the talent in the squad, if we can get the right director in one with a clear tactical plan, which he drums into the players over the next two years. Then again it is the hope that kills you.

Owen Gibson

Match of the tournament Wales 3-1 Belgium. A great story, a great atmosphere and won by a team that played for one another and their director against one stuffed with more gifted individuals who did not.

Player of the tournament Antoine Griezmann. The French media expected Paul Pogba to be their talisman but instead the razor-sharp Atltico striker has emerged as the starring of this French side. Started slowly but grew into the tournament and scored vital objectives at crucial times , none more so than where reference is put his Champions League final penalty disappointment behind him to put the hosts ahead against Germany.

Goal of the tournament Strong claims from Dimitri Payet and Xherdan Shaqiri but for sheer chutzpah and game-changing magnificence it has to be Hal Robson-Kanus Cruyff turn and cool finish that left Thomas Meunier totally bamboozled.

Personal highlight Travelling the length of line No9 on the Paris Mtro to Parc des Princes as the train slowly filled with giddy Northern Ireland fans, mingling blithely with their German counterparts, and then the scenes that followed as they comprehensively outsang their competitors for the 90 minutes that followed in one of the most one-sided 1-0 victories in the tournament. Although it did leave me unable to shift the accursed Will Griggs on fire song from my head for days.

Biggest letdown England, natch. Plus the grim pall that hung over the opening few days of the tournament like a black cloud in the wake of the scenes in Marseille and the tension that gripped the street of Lille in the aftermath.

Team of the tournament Wales. Dont be afraid to dream, indeed.

Wales were told dont be afraid to dream by Chris Coleman and they ended up outdoing all expectations by reaching the last four. Photograph: Richard Sellers/ Sportsphoto Ltd/ Allstar
Fondest memory of France The fans from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Wales, Iceland and Slovakia who revelled in the experience and elevated the tournament beyond the exercising in money-making cynicism that the Uefa machine sometimes threatened to turn it into. Despite justifiable concerns about the expanded format in footballing terms, the melting pot vibe of different groups stages undoubtedly added something. In turning, they slowly kindled enthusiasm among a French public who appeared, for good reason, equivocal about the tournament to begin with. What now for England ? Same as usual, even if the inquest seems to be being conducted with more rigour than usual. Not that it would take much to clear that low bar, given the previous decision to let Roy Hodgson blithely carry on after Brazil. If anything is to change, there needs to be an attempt to extricate the long-term structural issues from the short-term coaching and psychological ones. And to understand that English footballs dysfunctional structure is part of the problem.

Jamie Jackson

Match of the tournament Iceland 2-1 Austria. A last-kick win from Arnor Ingvi Traustason for the fairytale nation of Euro 2016 sent the Stade de France ballistic and took Iceland into a last-1 6 meeting with England. Guess what happened next?

Cristiano Ronaldo

Player of the tournament Cristiano Ronaldo. He is not the footballer he was but what a footballer he still is. Remains the big watch despite the diminished ability to take the opposition apart with one of those barnstorming runs.

Goal of the tournament Ronaldos header v Wales. Fifty minutes were played when the Portuguese soared before unloading a bullet of a header that dedicated Wayne Hennessey zero chance.

Personal highlighting Luka Modrics volley for Croatia against Turkey a strike so regal it deserved a red carpet as 25 yards out the playmakers right boot met a ball dropping from the skies with the sweetest of hits.

Biggest frustration England. Roy Hodgson “shouldve been” sacked after the two-game exit from Brazil 2014. Instead he was allowed to continue and supervised a muddled shamblings against Iceland. The key to England doing better is not hard: apply a genius administrator. Look what Eddie Jones has done for the rugby side.

Team of the tournament France. They sparkle and assault, then sparkle and assault. Any side that can reach the European Championship final while leaving a player like Anthony Martial out of their commence XI has to be pretty decent.

Fondest memory of France Czech Republic 0-2 Turkey. A summertime tournament with incessant rainfall does not feel like a summertime tournament and for the first 11 days there had been almost incessant rain. So when the sunlight “re coming out” and set in vivid hues of oranges over the Stade Bollaert-Delelis in Lens the senses tingled.

What now for England? Forget the Sam Allardyce or Gareth Southgate route. Find an absolute managerial wizard and ask his price. Sit back and watch England become the world and European champions.

Amy Lawrence

Match of the tournament France beating Germany in the semi-final was riveting but, for the qualifications of the goals as well as the astound, Wales v Belgium. Robbie Savage caught the mood when Hal Robson-Kanu performed his ode to Cruyff, screeching: Go and wake your kids up!

Player of the tournament Chapeau , Antoine Griezmann. Highly skilled, perpetual motion, loves scoring objectives and courageous with it especially where reference is stepped up to take that penalty in the semi-final after what happened in the Champions League final.

Goal of the tournament Xherdan Shaqiris bicycle kick against Poland( special mention to a non-goal moment of bewilderingly inventive technique Florenzis clearance against Germany ).

Personal highlighting Iceland. Perfectly everything about Iceland. In particular the eruption of communal elation( which included one of the players lunging the corner flag into the crowd) at the final whistling of their England smiting. Everyone from their management to their players to their fans was an absolute pleasure to talk to and be around .

Biggest disappointment The violence around the England v Russia game was utterly depressing. Watching an eight-year-old boy crying at 2am because he and his papa could not get back to their hotel, lost and frightened as the city reacted to the challenging situation by going to get shutdown was the opposite of what an international football tournament should be about.

Team of the tournament Iceland. So easy to make a compelling suit for them or Wales. But the fact that their administrator also runs as a dentist because a full-joint period job in football back home is not really considered a living underlines how extraordinary their achievement was.

Marseille: an atmospheric city with a stunning stadium in the Stade Vlodrome. Photo: BPI/ Rex/ Shutterstock
Fondest memory of France Being in Marseille when England and Russia were not. It is an atmospheric city with a stunning stadium and France v Albania, Iceland v Hungary and
Ukraine v Poland are always played out with fans mixing wonderfully and noisily around township, at the beach and at the ground. What now for England ? Soul-searching, a strong qualification campaign, a sorry and fruitless escapade at a major finals Repeat to fade for ever and ever.

Sid Lowe

Match of the tournament Wales-Belgium, Italy-Spain and France-Germany. Is it cheating to name three? And is it miserable and begrudging to think they were pretty much the only three?


Player of the tournament I was tempted to say Aaron Ramsey, perhaps even more so in light of how much difference his absence seemed to induce to Wales in the semi-final. Gareth Bale is a candidate too and I was very impressed with Toni Kroos. No one matched Andrs Iniestas level from the first two games but it was only two games. Its got to be Antoine Griezmann really, despite the final. And then theres Pepe. Seriously.

Goal of the tournament That Xherdan Shaqiri aim against Poland was wonderful and had more than a touch of the Manuel Negrete about it. But how could it not be Hal Robson-Kanu? Defenders sliding by like cartoon characters off a cliff, realising they have been had but unable to do anything about it. And as for his description: Ive Cruyffed it golden.

Personal highlight Hungarys fans after beating Austria: a genuine sense of witnessing a historic moment, celebrated the route it should be. And Waless fans too, especially after the Russia game, were a exhilaration. Listening to them on the train back from Toulouse frantically changing travel plans( for the very best) and trying to get unexpectedly necessary days off run nicely summed up what they had achieved. As did talking to Neil Taylor, who had gone from a Portakabin to the Parc des Princes and was very enjoyable to talk to, fantastically engaging and clearly enjoying himself hugely.

Biggest frustration England. Spain. Detecting le de R so late. What a lovely place and how short the stay there felt( after a lifetime on an industrial estate outside Bordeaux with a furniture warehouse for company ). Gabor Kiraly not wanting to talk tracksuit trousers. Just about everything Marc Wilmots did and told. Also: missing out on the chance to see more of Croatia and Luka Modric in particular, a player I love watching. Oh, and Jogi Lw being outed and thus forewarned before he could do something really grotesque.

Team of the tournament Wales.

Fondest memory of France Sharing my last chocolate finger with Stu James. And the rabbits. And of course the answers to personal highlightings could come under fondest memory too. Wales and Hungary fans truly were great to consider, genuinely warming at a time in the tournament when so much of the attention was on the trouble. Some of the scenes were truly terrifying.

What now for England ? Same as usual, at a guess. Obviously the most important thing is that all the players have their phones and posh sinks taken off them. Thatll sort it.

Barney Ronay

Match of the tournament Germany v France had the most absorbing half-hour of the tournament as Germany hurled their entire finely knitted kitchen sink and came up short. For surge and countersurge Wales v Belgium was pretty hard to beat.

Gareth Bale

Player of the tournament Not truly a tournament of individuals, despite the irresistible exhort to pick them out. Gareth Bale bestrode the group stages. Antoine Griezmann was the most ruthless cutting edge. Renato Sanches for the future.

Goal of the tournament Hal Robson-Kanu. Three brilliant things in one: Bales pass, Ramseys run and a turn that stimulated me leap up and punch the air and scream something incoherent even before “hes having” scored. Sorry, nearby Belgian journalists.

Personal highlighting Genuinely enjoyed Ronaldos night of the two left feet against Austria, the greatest, or at least the funniest 0-0 draw one is likely to see. No player are to be able to have succeeded in not scoring with such style and comedic timing.

Biggest frustration Some of Uefas organisation has been baffling. The absence of segregation in Marseille stands out, the fighting in the stands called two hours before kick-off from the press box. Also: I am also now more baguette than man.

Team of the tournament France. Biggest let-down: Russia. Awful.

Fondest memory of France Renting a bike to travel an easy-looking 8km to the stadium in Bordeaux and aiming up wobbling down the hard shoulder of the motorway, being chased by a pack of puppies and cycling through some sort of camp where people were burning tyres. Amazing what still seems like fun after 25 days of air-conditioned tents.

What now for England ? The same thing as the last 50 years. Incoherent squeal. Weak leer of hope. Familiar mystifying defeat. Until the FA and Premier League have an unfettered common interest wider plans are all simply talk. Otherwise hire a good manager and have a simple scheme. I would go with Allardyce for the uber-banter.

Iceland players celebrate after their famous 2-1 win over England in the last 16 game in Nice. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/ Getty Images

Daniel Taylor

Match of the tournament England 1-2 Iceland. A night England will probably never live down but, more than anything, one of the great underdog narratives of any international tournament.

Player of the tournament Antoine Griezmann. Yes, he could not influence the final, but the third Frenchman in history to finish as the top scorer in a major tournament, emulating Michel Platini from 1984 and Just Fontaine in the 1958 World Cup.

Goal of the tournament Cristiano Ronaldo vs Hungary. Apparently Ronaldo was finished, washed-up , no longer a player to fear. That improvisational flick behind his standing leg at high speed was a nice riposte.

Personal highlighting An unexpected invitation to watch Wales vs Northern Ireland from behind Chris Colemans dugout. Lowlights: stinging into a slab of butter reasoning it was cheese. See also: strolling into a lamp-post outside Englands hotel.

Biggest frustration A day in Marseille genuinely guessing someone would end up being kicked to demise. Or Uefas killjoys charging Wales for the heinous crime of the players inviting their children on to the pitch to celebrate their wins.

Team of the tournament Wales. An honorary mention to Iceland but only consider one of the players Chris Coleman brought on to try to rescue their semi-final against Portugal: Simon Church, a striker who could not get into the MK Dons side that finished second from bottom of the Championship last season.

Fondest memory of France The same as at every major tournament taking your seat for the final, remembering you should feel fortunate to be in this profession.

What now for England ? My hunch is that Sam Allardyce might get the job instead of Jrgen Klinsmann ignoring the fact that Slaven Bilic has taken West Ham to a different level since Allardyce left the club.

Paul Wilson

Match of the tournament There was no outstanding game. Some were a lot better than others but there were no classic encounters worth digging out and replaying 20 years from now. Hungary 3-3 Portugal looked a lot of fun but the best game I attended was Wales 3-1 Belgium. A fabulous night for the Welsh but a bit one-sided in the end.

Player of the tournament Antoine Griezmann announced himself fairly effectively to all the non-believers, even before running away with the golden boot. Aaron Ramsey was in the running until his unfortunate suspension. Cristiano Ronaldo was exceptional and unignorable but lost phases for belittling Iceland.

Goal of the tournament Hal Robson-Kanu against Belgium. Ronaldos towering header against Wales was pretty good too, but weve insured him do that before. Robson-Kanus effort had the priceless element of astonish. I had a quick seminar with my colleagues in the Lille press box and we agreed we were all gobsmacked.

Personal highlight Stepping off a crowded mtro in Paris, hearing the rucku make use of both sets of supporters singing Will Griggs on Fire fade into the distance.

Biggest letdown Thats a little bit obvious, isnt it? England played four games and still objective up not knowing their best team. While that situation remains they have no hope of playing as effectively as a squad as Iceland and Wales.

Team of the tournament Wales. They caught the imagination more than anyone and reaching the last four at Belgiums expense was a bigger achievement than Iceland beating a clueless England. They might even have gone farther extra hour at the least if they had not been hit by suspensions.

Fondest memory of France It was interesting being there the day the Brexit result was declared. There was a certain sum of sarcasm therefore welcomed Europe etc but most people were keens to know which way I had voted and why. Few people seemed to take sides on such issues but everyone was interested in the debate. The food was a considerable upgrade on Brazil 2014 too.

What now for England? At club level to fail so badly would result in relegation. In some routes it is a pity nothing similar exists in international football to concentrate the intellect, cut out unnecessary luxuries and lead to an acceptance among players, fans, administrators and anyone else with an interest that nothing can be taken for granted. It is not as clear what England have to do to regain lost status. As soon as we win a couple of friendlies or qualifiers we tend to fall into the same trap of overexcitement all over again. Hiring a new coach is the obvious next step and already it is being invested with more rite than appears necessary. It would be ridiculous to start the season with a temporary manager when there are viable candidates who would step in right now. The FA has been known to pay people on the basis that the England directors job is the most important in world football but it is not by a long way.

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