Written by Rhys Paul
– Euro 2016 saw Britain and Ireland enjoy rather mixed fortunes. England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland were all successful in progressing from the group. Of the four, Wales were the only team to get any further than the next round. Indeed, it was an unexpectedly lengthy campaign for the Welsh, but both Northern Ireland and Ireland did themselves proud too. The less said about England, the better. As we reflect on the tournament, it is time to see which players are deserving of a place in a Home Nations & Ireland XI. Going with a 5-3-2 formation, read below to see who has made the cut.
GK: Michael McGovern (NIR)
Perhaps responsible for the best individual goalkeeping performance of the tournament, McGovern’s heroics in the 1-0 defeat to Germany ensured Northern Ireland made it out the groups courtesy of the third-placed rule. Strong showings against Poland and Ukraine came before the Germany game, but it was in that final group game where McGovern pulled off his best saves of the tournament, notably from Gotze and Gomez.
RB: Kyle Walker (ENG)
The only England player to make the list, Walker was the stand-out performer in the opening two games against Russia and Wales. He was a huge threat going forward and his performances would have had a greater impact if the strikers were actually capable of converting. Responsible for Iceland’s equaliser in that embarrassing 2-1 defeat, none of the other British or Irish right-backs quite reached the standards of Walker’s performances in the group stage.
credit Jon Candy
CB: James Chester (WAL)
For me personally, Chester was one of the best defenders of Euro 2016. He was consistent and did not put a single foot wrong despite playing in all of Wales’ games. In the cagey Round-of-16 clash with Northern Ireland, he was my man-of-the-match. Against Belgium and Portugal, it was much of the same from Chester with the West Brom man proving himself to be a fantastic on-the-floor defender as well as completing more passes than any other British or Irish player – registering a 90% pass rate success in the process.
credit ERIC SALARD
CB: Jonny Evans (NIR)
The second West Brom centre-back to make it into the team, it was between Evans and Gareth McAuley for the spot, but the latter’s own goal swung it in Evans’ favour. Composed on the ball, he kept possession for his side and distributed the ball well. Defensively, he made several important challenges (most of which came against Ukraine) and his ball-winning tackles helped break up the opposition’s attack before it damaged his side.
CB: Ben Davies (WAL)
Like Chester, Davies had a nearly flawless Euro 2016 campaign. Slotting in from left-back into a three-man central defence, his goal line clearance in the opening game against Slovakia set Wales on their way to a historic tournament. It’s a moment that has been forgotten somewhat, but without it Wales’ campaign could have turned out very different and it summed up Davies’ willingness to put his body on the line for his country (his total of 8 blocks were the joint highest).
LB: Robbie Brady (IRE)
Usually a winger, Brady has become Martin O’Neill’s first choice left-back. His natural attacking instincts ensured he was an effective wing-back for Ireland and against both Sweden and Italy he produced several good deliveries into the box. Similarly to McGovern, Brady was responsible for sending his team into the Round-of-16. A perfectly timed run into the box allowed him to head in Hoolahan’s inch-perfect cross to secure a 1-0 victory over Italy. He was also able to get on the score-sheet again with a 3rd minute penalty briefly threatening France’s route to the Final.
CM: Aaron Ramsey (WAL)
Few players were able to replicate Ramsey’s high-energy displays. He was deservedly named in UEFA’s Euro 2016 team of the tournament. He was missed by Wales in the Semi-Final and his presence could have made all the difference to a team who seemed increasingly short of energy against Portugal. He was a big reason why Wales enjoyed the success they did.
CM: Joe Allen (WAL)
Another player who found himself in UEFA’s XI, Allen was probably fortunate to actually be named alongside Toni Kroos. Even so, he played better than anybody would have expected. The ‘Welsh Pirlo’ was a crucial ingredient for Wales as he worked tirelessly to bridge the defence and attack. Every time Wales played well, it all went through Allen as the matches against Slovakia, Russia and Belgium highlighted.
CM: Wes Hoolahan (IRE)
For a man who is apparently called ‘Wessi’, it is fair to say Ireland have come to rely on Hoolahan’s influence in games. He showed just how far he can pull the strings for Ireland over the course of Euro 2016 with a string of clever passes and silky touches. It was no surprise he was the one to deliver the ball into the box for Brady during their memorable win over Italy and he also scored an excellent volley against Sweden in Ireland’s opening game.
credit Jon Candy
RS: Gareth Bale (WAL)
I’ve seen a lot of people claim that Bale did not play well, but ask yourselves, did Bale have a bad game? Whilst not up to his usual standards, he was still a crucial player without whom Wales might not have made it out the group. A goal in all three group games and an assist forcing Gareth McAuley’s own goal in the Round-of-16 suggest just that. He was another Welshmen who worked tirelessly and against Portugal he remained Wales’ best chance of getting back into the match. His end product wasn’t up to scratch in front of goal, but his contributions in driving the team forward allowed their counter-attacking style to flourish on occasions.
LS: Hal Robson-Kanu (WAL)
The sixth Welsh player to be included, Robson-Kanu’s Euro 2016 was the stuff of dreams. Without a club and with nobody expecting much from the former Reading winger, Robson-Kanu made an instant impact from the bench by scoring the winner against Slovakia. His second goal of the tournament against Belgium was voted the goal of the Quarter-Finals with a Cruyff-turn and a neat finish setting Wales on their way to the Semi-Final. His performances have been over-hyped, but there is no denying how important his goals were to Wales.
Do you agree with these selections? Let us know in the comments below!
featured image by Jon Candy