When it was announced that the Euro 2016 field would be expanding from 16 to 24 teams there was a lot of outcry. The European Championship, after all, had always been contested between the continent's elite teams. Almost every match of the tournament, especially in the knockout rounds, was soccer super power against super power.
There was a reluctance to letting in eight more teams who might muddy that exclusive brand: those lesser soccer nations like Wales, Northern Ireland, Iceland, Scotland, Slovenia and the Netherlands (I have to get my digs in while I still can) who could potentially qualify.
Instead, the underdogs have been the best part of Euro 2016 tournament, if only because one of them caused Cristiano to throw a hissy fit.
"They celebrate like they have won the Euros," Ronaldo told reporters after the match of Iceland's reaction to drawing 1-1 with Portugal. "This, in my opinion, shows a small team mentality. They are not going to do anything in this competition."
Well, jokes on you Cristiano, they already have. Anytime a country of 200 guys who all have last names that end in "son" (actual population of Iceland is 330,000) draws the eight ranked team in the world it is a major accomplishment no matter how it's spun. Quick aside, feel free to laugh at the "son" joke, but Iceland actually broke a Euro record for fielding a roster with 11 people with the same suffix in their name.
The fact that a group stage game can be that meaningful to a country only makes it more fun to watch. For a team like Portugal, it is impossible to find glory in the group stage. For a team like Iceland, any and every result is historic and meaningful. There is a drama in that which the European tournament has lacked in the past.
Iceland may be flying the underdog flag the highest, but there has been no shortage of upset results in this tournament. Three of the five teams playing in their first ever European championship have already won a match: Wales, Northern Ireland and Slovakia.
There have been no blowouts so far, 2-0 is the biggest margin a team has been defeated by so far this tournament.One of those 2-0 results came from tournament debutants Northern Ireland. The quality of soccer hasn't been tainted, as was the worry, instead, there has been an injection of exuberance that only comes from teams who haven't been here before.
As as a result of the tournament format, many of these inexperienced Euro sides will find themselves in the knockout round. That's two steps further than most of them will have expected and at that point, they will be playing with house money. With nothing to lose, the biggest upsets of Euro 2016 may still be ahead.
Without an expanded field half of Iceland, Wales, Poland, Switzerland, Romania, Croatia, Russia and Albania wouldn't be in France right now. Ukraine, Sweden, Hungary, Ireland, Ukraine and Turkey wouldn't be there at all. Although, counter-point, there's at least one French city that wishes Russia wasn't allowed to qualify.
The underdog narrative would be far less prevalent at this year's tournament, and that would be a shame. The little countries have already provided some of the best moments of Euro 2016, and more still could be on their way.