The three teams that are most pundits’ picks to win the tournament all managed wins in their opening round of group stage play for Euro 2016. While it would be incorrect to say that France, Germany, or Spain cruised to comfortable victories in their opening matches, each did manage a win and collected three points that could prove invaluable in plotting their trajectories into the next round.
Host Nation France Beats Romania France kicked off the proceedings against Romania on Friday in front of a capacity crowd at its own Stade de France. After a scoreless first half, Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud put the French ahead in the 57th minute, beating Romania keeper Ciprian Tatarusanu to head in the first goal of the tournament.
But Romania lived up to its reputation as a potential speed bump for some of the bigger teams, winning a penalty just 10 minutes later after France defender Patrice Evra was adjudged to trip Nicolae Stanciu inside the box. Striker Bogdan Stancu stepped up and duly converted, sending France keeper Hugo Lloris the wrong way to make it 1-1 in the 65th minute.
The French seemed for all the world to be heading for a disappointing draw in their tournament opener. But with just one minute remaining in regulation time, West Ham United winger Dimitri Payet broke free of his marker and fired a left-footed curler in from the edge of the box for what proved the winning goal for France.
Germany Gets Job Done Against Ukraine
While Germany remain among the favorites to win these Euros, there is a consensus that this is not quite the same team that won the World Cup two years ago in Brazil. Indeed, after taking the lead in the 19th minute thanks to a set piece headed in by Shkodran Mustafi, the Germans were frustrated for long periods by an organized, hardworking Ukraine side that minimized the German’s advantage in terms of talent with hard work and industry.
Ukraine came close to equalizing on a number of occasions, most notably when defender Jerome Boateng was forced to make a heroic goal-line clearance to maintain the German clean sheet.
German coach Joachim Loew made a fortuitous late substitution, bringing on Bastian Schweinsteiger for Mario Gotze in the 90th minute of play. Moments later Schweinsteiger found himself at the back post to connect with a ball in from Mesut Ozil, putting his right-footed shot into the top corner of the net to settle the score at 2-0 for Germany.
Reigning Champs Spain Edge Czechs
Spain kicked off the defense of the title it’s now held since 2008 with a 1-0 win over the Czech Republic at the Stadium de Toulouse on Monday. It wasn’t easy by any stretch. In the end, it took a late strike from center-back Gerard Pique to see off a determined Czech side that will feel hard done by for not coming away with a point.
While the Spanish predictably dominated possession and completed over three times as many passes as the Czechs, Vicente del Bosque’s team found its chances rather limited. Arsenal keeper Petr Cech put in a standout performance in goal for the Czechs, denying Alvaro Morata, Jordi Alba, and David Silva in the first half.
Spanish keeper David De Gea also made a number of quality saves in what seemed destined to end in a scoreless draw. That is until Pique rose to head in a fine cross from Andres Iniesta with just three minutes remaining in regulation time.
The Euro 2016 Group Stages continue this week and next; you can catch all the matches across the ESPN family of channels.