We're roughly halfway through the 2016 European Championship, and it seems fair to say we've learned a few things.
The French team, playing on home soil, has done predictably well, and clearly remain favorites. Germany, Italy, Spain, and England have all looked about as strong as you would expect, too. So that's all about par for the course.
Among the upstarts, you'd have to say that Poland are performing quite well, as are Belgium. And hats off to both Iceland and Northern Ireland for each playing well above what most would have expected.
Croatia have a strong result, but how are they not disqualified? That incident with the fireworks was astounding! Surely that calls for an immediate ejection from the tournament. Between that and the ugly incidents involving Russian fans, there's been more controversy than one would hope.
But let's not dwell on that; let's try to look to the good.
For one thing, I think it's abundantly clear that increasing the number of assistant referees from 2 to 4 has been a clear and comprehensive success. Managing a soccer match at this level is a very challenging task, and there can be no doubt that giving the head referee twice as many assistants has changed things substantially. There have been many fewer refereeing mistakes, the emotion and contention on the field has been kept well in hand, and, to put it simply, nobody is complaining about the refs. Wonderful!
For another thing, I'm thrilled to see UEFA deploying the new head injury protocol:
Article 46bis has been added to the regulations and states that the referee will stop a game in the event of a suspected concussion, allowing the player to be assessed by their team doctor.
Any player suffering a head injury that requires assessment for potential concussion will only be allowed to continue playing after the assessment, upon confirmation by the team doctor to the referee of the player's fitness.
I've already seen these stoppages twice in the matches I've watched, and I felt they were entirely appropriate and did not detract in any way from the game underway. This is a VERY important issue, and I'm glad that UEFA are giving it the serious attention it deserves.
There's still lots more soccer to watch, as well as the remaining action in Copa America. Even though it will be over all to soon, I've thoroughly enjoyed both tournaments, and can't wait to see how they turn out.
Go Poland! Go Iceland! Go Chile! Go Argentina! Go Team USA!