Lasting memories of Euro 2016

Granit Xhaka and brother Taulant were pitted against each other at Euro. PHOTO BY AFP

Unlike the last few editions in which Barcelona’s club supremacy was transplanted to the national team with predictable outcome, this years’ championship has been intriguing. There have been surprises aplenty, joyous football and many a lasting memory to savour.

Return of 3-5-2
Hardly any major European club plays the 3-5-2 formation. I don’t know why. Italy and Wales were able to bridge whatever deficits they had personnel-wise by successfully using the 3-5-2 system.
It is a bit of a throwback to the catenaccio or libero defensive style in which an extra defender swept whatever two regular centre backs could not cope with.
Except, the modern 3-5-2, which is a 5-3-2 when the team is without the ball, requires extremely mobile full backs.
Despite falling to Germany in the quarter finals, a workmanlike Azzuri side was able to play eye-catching football because of how well Juventus players had already mastered the system. It may be more physically demanding of wing-backs but I never saw a team play better structured football with slightly above average players.

I don’t see why Premier League managers with leaky defences don’t try out the 3-5-2. Chelsea could have arrested their slide to near oblivion last season with this formation. Italy were able to assuage for the absence of Andre Pirlo, Marco Veratti, Ricardo Montolivo and Claudio Marchisio by becoming the most mobile team, covering more distance per game than any other side by defending from the front. Their technically superior players notwithstanding, Germany were forced to adopt the system in order not to surrender control over midfield.
In summary, 3-5-2 is primed to overtake 4-2-3-1 as the formation of choice because it improves defenses, allows for better team structures with or without the ball, and ensures stronger midfield control. Aston Villa could, for example, have tried this system when the chips were down.

Immigrants excel
The sight of brothers Taulant Xhaka and Granit Xhaka playing on opposing sides, Albania and Switzerland respectively provides the strongest proof yet of the uniting power of football and evidence we live in the global village.
Continuing in the tradition of Michel Platini, Raymond Koppa, Eusebio and Mario Esteves Coluna, Portugal and especially France are giving immigrants a chance to excel at the game.

France’s assimilation policy means seven of the starting 11, and 12 out of 23-man squad are sons of first generation African immigrants. Names like Paul Pogba, Bakary Sagna, N’Golo Kante and Moussa Sissoko have many fans referring to France as the world’s best African football team.
Elsewhere, Portugal’s William Carvalho was born in Angola, Belgium’s Divock Origi and Batshuayi have African parents while Germany’s Jerome Boateng has a Ghanaian father.
Overall, Euro 2016 will go down in history as one of the most captivating ever.
The numerous number of David vs. Goliath stories, in particular Iceland’s story will forever live in memory.

At the heart of this encounter was a simple fraternal rivalry. Granit Xhaka of Switzerland, Taulant Xhaka of Albania, brothers on opposite sides of the halfway line. They embraced at the start, but at the end it was the younger Granit took the plaudits and the man-of-the-match award after a masterful midfield display. Taulant was substituted.
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