I like flags – they look good, and they mean stuff. The nationalist sentiments they might represent, I can leave. But I like the flags. They’re handsome things.
I like sport, too. It’s like real life, but pretend, and better. So while you probably haven’t wondered, what would Euro 2016 be like if it was a flag contest?, I have. And I didn’t stop at wondering, I went and did it – a football tournament, played out between flags. Does it make sense? Is it logical and internally consistent? Was it worth my time and yours? The answers to these questions (no) and more (what are this idiot’s favourite flags?) will be revealed, only in the crucible of competition.
If you missed part one, then hold your horses buddy, and go check it out here. When you’re ready, we can move on with part two – the knockout rounds.
Round of 16
The last 16 shakes out like this:
- Albania 3 – 2 – Germany (after extra time) — Level at 2 – 2 at the end of normal time, but it’s Albania that steal it late. Maybe “steal” does them a disservice, but I just didn’t see them going anywhere in this competition at the beginning. Now they’ve ousted one of the favourites. There’s nothing else to say at this point – they just look good.
- Czech Republic 2 – 0 Hungary — The Czechs – clean, accurate, and stylish – put on a technical master class. Hungary improve once again in defeat, and maybe they’ll be stronger in future for the lessons they’ve been taught. But for now, defeat it is, and home they go.
- Wales 5 – 3 Romania (AET) — It’s a pulsating display of all-out attack between two sides who are utterly different but both full of flair and invention. 3 – 3 after normal time, it’s Wales who pull away in extra time. A big contender had to fall, and it’s Romania who are heading home.
- Iceland 2 – 2 Sweden (Iceland win on penalties) — This might only be the last 16 in the Euros, but it’s the de facto final of the Nordic cross flag championships. It’s a dynamic match-up, both sides with lots going on but little between them. 2 – 2 after normal time, cagey through extra time, and it’s Iceland who have it in the penalty shoot-out.
- Ukraine 4 – 1 Russia — There’s not only history behind this one, but current affairs too – winner gets Crimea! Just a joke – chill, Vlad. Anyway, it’s Ukraine. Through to the quarters, that is. Ukraine. Russia have some nice pieces, but they continue deploy them in almost the worst possible arrangement. Ukraine, simple but dynamic, march on. To the quarters.
- Belgium 2 – 1 Turkey — A real east vs. west contest, as the Turkish star and crescent faces Belgium’s classic European tricolour. It’s a high quality affair, but the Belgians have just a little more going on the day to take it.
- France 1 – 0 Italy — Don’t be deceived by the scoreline – better than any goal-fest, this is truly the tie of the round. These are two exceptionally well-matched opponents with quality everywhere you look. The French shade it, but it couldn’t have been closer. Italy can be proud of their efforts, and it’s a shame one of these two great rivals had to leave so soon.
- Slovakia 2 – 4 Portugal — Slovakia followed Wales through an otherwise weak group, but they don’t disgrace themselves here. Portugal strike early, but Slovakia never let them get too far away until they seal it late on. Portugal have blown hot and cold, but make no mistake – they’re dangerous opponents.
Just like that, the field is ruthlessly halved. We lose the last of the hangers-on, but with them go even more genuine contenders.
With that, the last eight looks like this:
That’s a pretty lineup – it’s getting serious now.
- Albania 1 – 3 Czech Republic — Albania’s old fashioned, heraldic approach brought something different to the tournament. They brought a lot of value, and saw off some serious competition. But the Czech Republic, so technically gifted, had too much for them. Albania went deeper than expected, and could have gone further with a kinder draw. But in the Czechs, they ran into a buzz saw.
- Wales 4 – 3 Iceland (AET) — What a game. Intriguing but unexpectedly cagey to begin, and normal time runs out with the score at 1 – 1. In extra, the tie explodes. Iceland go ahead, Wales draw level then surge past, Iceland level it again, and finally, at the death of a breathless final period, penalties looming, it’s Wales! Wales wins it! Incredible.
- Ukraine 2 – 3 Belgium — Another thriller. Belgium are three up before Ukraine know what’s hit them, but Ukraine strike back before half-time to keep it interesting. Another score midway through the second half sets up a grandstand finale. Ukraine lay siege to their opponents, but Belgium hold on, just barely, to win it.
- France 5 – 2 Portugal (AET) — Portugal can blow hot and cold, and have done throughout the tournament. They start hot here, and take the lead twice against France only to be pegged back. 2 – 2 in regulation means even more free vexillology. France finally jump ahead after the extra time interval, but once there, they’re ruthless. Portugal throw everything into the push for an equaliser, and France hit twice more on the break. It’s a deserved win for the hosts, but harsh on Portugal.
After an astonishing quarter-final round, we’re shedding some truly high-quality competitors. The survivors, though, go on to form a formidable final four.
The quarters were almost implausibly open and attacking. The quality of the participants gets ever higher, but so do the stakes – surely the semi-finals have to be more conservative … right?
- Czech Republic 2 – 2 Wales (Czech Republic win on penalties) — The first semi-final is a fascinating clash between two sides bearing their own twists on the European orthodoxy – the Czechs, tricoloured and geometric, yet unlike anyone else; the Welsh, a modest bicolour enlivened by old-school heraldry. With so much at stake, it’s a tentative start and scoreless through the first half. The tie finally ignites midway through the second, as the sides exchange four goals in a searing frenzy of attack – it’s breathtaking, taking only minutes, and yet at its end the contest is still all square. Extra-time comes and goes without incident, both sides seemingly spooked by what they combined to do when they opened up. When the inevitable penalty shoot-out arrives, it’s torturous stuff. There are plenty of scores, saves and misses, over and over and over. It goes on so long that nobody can remember how it started. Each matches the other for an eternity, but finally, it’s Wales who falter. Wales are out, the Czech Republic go through. Brutal, sensational, brutal stuff.
- Belgium 0 – 2 France — By contrast, the second semi-final is pure European orthodoxy. From France, it’s the definitive tricolour – clean, bold bars of blue, white and red – truly, an evergreen combination. From Belgium, the same classic arrangement, but boasting the almost visceral trio of coal, gold and blood. As the contest gets under way, it’s Belgium – responsible for some of the clashes of the tournament – who set the early tone. They come out in full attack-mode, but their ambition is quickly their undoing – the French strike on the break, 1 – 0 to France. The Belgians, unperturbed, continue their assault. Even half-time doesn’t seem to slow them – Belgium are relentless. Time continues to run out, though, and for all their endeavour the Belgians have nothing on the scoreboard. They press on still, but when the second score comes, it comes for France – they seal it with another counter-attack. Belgium threw everything into the contest, but the tactically perfect French absorbed all of it and picked their opponents off with clinical precision.
The scoring may have slowed, but the quality held – those were spectacular clashes.
The distillation is almost complete – where 24 began, just two remain. The final is here.
We’re almost ready to go, but first, the lineups:
- Czech Republic – an unconventional 1-2 formation, with a blue triangle splitting horizontal bars of white and red.
- France – vertical bars of blue, white and red in a traditional 1-1-1.
No late surprises from either side – both very much sticking with what they know, with the tried and tested formulas that got them here. There were some rumblings coming from the French camp in the build-up, even rumours of a sensational recall for the Cross of Lorraine, but it appears that cool heads have prevailed as France will begin the final unchanged.
First half — It’s a sensational start as the Czech Republic get off to a flyer. In a scything move, the blue triangle puts the Czechs ahead with the fastest score of the entire tournament. France are rattled, coming under huge pressure as they struggle for an answer to incisive Czech attacks. The hosts finally begin to gain a foothold in the contest by the midway point of the half, and they’re able to navigate the remainder of the period to get back to the dressing room without further damage. France created almost nothing though, they’ll need to improve after the break to get back into this.
Half-time: Czech Republic 1 – 0 France
Second half — The trend of the first half continues, as the French grow into the contest. Soon after the break they’re dominating, and on the hour mark they finally strike back, scoring beautifully from a flowing combination move that must have involved the entire side. Immediately, they create another opening but can’t convert to take the lead, and the tie settles back into a nervous, seemingly inexorable march towards extra-time. The Czech Republic are having none of it though – they roll the dice and launch a bold, stunning assault in the final moments. They’ve committed everything forward, leaving themselves wide open to counter-attack, but under suffocating pressure the French can’t break out. It’s reckless and brilliant from the Czechs, but it could be for nothing, just seconds left. No, it’s there! It’s in! The Czechs have it, the Czech Republic wins it! Nobody even knows how it went in, but it did, it’s 2 – 1 to the Czech Republic. The hosts are stunned, too heartbroken to even get up. There’s the whistle – the Czech Republic are Euro 2016, for flags, champions!
Full-time: Czech Republic 2 – 1 France
Vexillology – bloody hell. What a game, what a final. Let’s head back down to the centre-alignment for the presentation.
*** Euro 2016, for flags, Champions ***
*** Czech Republic ***
That’s it. After a sensational, roller-coaster tournament, we have our champions, and they could not be more worthy. Any of the final four, even the final eight, could have taken it, but it’s the Czech Republic who delivered when it mattered. Take a bow, lads – that’s a hell of a flag.
There will surely be some questions asked of UEFA’s qualifying process, which saw heavyweights like Norway and Estonia watching at home while the likes of Poland and England threatened to put the brakes on a mostly excellent competition. I guess that’s what will happen if they insist on using football to determine qualification for a flag championship.
Enough politics for now though – the moment belongs to the Czech Republic. Congratulations to the champions.
Hard to believe it’s all over already. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be having serious withdrawal symptoms for a few days. Never mind, though – only two years until the World Cup!