First of all, I must apologise!
Being out and about the last couple of days, I’ve been unable to catch most of the matches live, but have endeavoured to catch up and provide the best coverage possible.
While I made it happen on Wednesday, on Thursday it was beyond me if I was to report on today’s events as well.
In the absence of a full-day lowdown though, I’ll provide the following opinions on yesterday’s matches:
So, with a slightly low-key Thursday shaken off, we pressed ahead with what we hoped would be an invigorating Friday.
Sweden and Slovakia were our first steeds in St Petersburg, with positive results for both in the first round of games making this a much more prosaic affair.
Maybe that’s an understatement.
In actual fact, the first half between these two was poor; played at a slow tempo, with just five shots and one save made in the 45 minutes.
The ambition on show was poor, and teams should really be looking forward to facing either of these two in the knockout stages, should they make it that far.
Two bald men fighting over a comb came to mind.
Fortunately, to prevent it becoming 90 minutes of such dreary fare, Robin Quaison got himself tripped by Martin Dúbravka when latching onto a round-the-corner pass from Alexander Isak.
Emil Forsberg stepped up to the spot for the Swedes, and caressed a tidy finish past Newcastle United’s part-time goaltender.
Slovakia’s attempts to reel the Swedes back in was marginally entertaining; Juraj Kucka again giving his all from midfield, but truly, their lack of a striker in this match did not do them any favours.
Ultimately, though, the Swedes were good value for the win and will fancy their chances against Poland next.
Croatia and the Czech Republic were up next; Hampden Park the setting for this display of sublime Group D beef.
It was Croatia who came into this in greater need of points; their defeat against England putting them in a troublesome position, where their second ‘Golden Generation’ may have their last chance of success.
They were on top, as well, for most of the first half.
There was no breakthrough, however, and Patrik Schick, bloodied nose and all, was the beneficiary of a flailing elbow from Dejan Lovren after 35 minutes.
A decision referred by the Video Assistant Referee was confirmed as a penalty by referee Carlos Del Cerro Grande, and Schick blasted in to take his own tally in the tournament to three.
The Croats were displeased – more than their usual hard-done-by attitude suggested anyway – and the signs looked bad for them.
That all changed after the break.
Just three minutes in, after two substitutions, Ivan Perišić cut inside on the left and smacked a perfect effort past Tomáš Vaclík to level it up.
They turned on the style from there; Mateo Kovačić bombing down the middle of the pitch, Luka Modrić busying himself all over and Bruno Petković providing an effective forward presence.
Volleyed chances for substitutes Nikola Vlašić and Adam Hložek came and went at either end, but then the affair cooled down a little, and a draw proved the end result.
Both teams then turned their attention to Wembley.
Ultimately, this greatly-hyped match-up between England and Scotland brought us a 0-0, but there was so much on offer besides the lack of goals.
It would be churlish to suggest England aren’t intending to win all of their games at this Euros – but were Gareth Southgate’s side playing for second place in the group? Even if they avoid Portugal or France in the Round of 16, they’d still be likely to face them in the Quarter-Finals if they went through as Group D’s second-placed team…
Anyway, about the game itself; it was open in parts, cagey in others, and presented a lot of very decent opportunities on both sides.
Ché Adams had the first of them just four minutes in, before Mason Mount had an equally presentable opening for England, John Stones headed a corner onto the post, Stephen O’Donnell forced a superb low save from Jordan Pickford and Phil Foden drilled just wide of the post.
After the break, Reece James had to divert Lyndon Dykes’ goal-bound shot away, and England were frustrated for the most part.
The Scots will take the result and their performance as a moral victory, but in truth, theirs was a victory more of avoiding the expectation of defeat, rather than gaining a result which will see them progress.
For England, they are roughly where they expected to be at this stage. A win against Croatia was a highly favourable result, and picking up another point here sets them fair for a final group game against the Czech Republic.
That is not to say the game will be a fond memory for them, but it isn’t too much of a setback either. We already knew they weren’t excellent at breaking down a low block, but others in the tournament will be unlikely to adopt such a tactic.
On the tournament rolls, in search of victors and excellence. Italy and Belgium are the only two sides to have really displayed the latter so far – we shall see who else can deliver in good time.
Performance of the Day: For Thursday’s action, there’s little doubt that it must be Kevin De Bruyne. A half-time substitute against Denmark, he not only proved his fitness – earlier than expected, in a tough situation for his country – but was the standout player at the Parken Stadium. An assist for Thorgan Hazard and a thunderbolt of a goal for himself were more than worthy of winning the game, so bravo, Kevin.
In terms of Friday, the list of contenders is worryingly short. No individual truly set a game ablaze, but for the player who entertained me most, I’ll plump for Alexander Isak. Quickly making a name for himself domestically and internationally, this talented young man will be the difference between Sweden doing anything of note in this tournament and being eliminated at the earliest stage. At least Janne Andersson recognises that, giving him licence to create and express himself in both of their matches so far. He is electric.
Up Next: A very welcome return to Group F action to wake us all up after two relatively dreary days. Hungary v France, Portugal v Germany and the token Group E game Spain v Poland are our offerings, which present real excitement. Kylian Mbappé torching the Hungarian defence, Cristiano Ronaldo pulling down the Germans’ lederhosen in Munich and Álvaro Morata blazing over from 15 yards in Seville. It’s enough to make the mouth water…
For some, Italy dissecting Turkey in Rome will seem quite some time ago. For others, not so much.
Believe it or not, the Euros had moved so quickly that we were with the same teams again, picking up their stories where we’d left off.
There was the added bonus, alongside Group A, of a Finland v Russia rivalry that would split Group B wide open, no matter the result.
Wednesday was the first of the ‘moving days’ at Euro 2020.
For our early-afternoon starters in St Petersburg, that meant a chance for tournament debutants Finland to book a place in the Last 16, or for hosts Russia to kick-start their campaign.
Even for the most ardent fans of Markku Kanerva’s Finns, it would have to be admitted that their opening win against Denmark was slightly hollow.
The Suomi players’ effort and application was infallible, but it would never be the same as a normal tournament game for them.
As such, facing a desperate Russian side in their own backyard would be a daunting test.
The way Russians express desperation is rather different to most other peoples, it would seem, in regard to their laborious attempts to break down the Finns on this occasion.
When an opener finally did come in this low-key affair, it was almost a bolt out of the blue.
In the first minute of first-half added time, highly-rated Atalanta midfielder Aleksei Miranchuk exchanged passes with Artem Dzyuba on the edge of the box, and ignoring the defensive bodies in front of him, struck a looping shot past Lukáš Hrádecký.
The Finns were rocked, and not in the way they’re fans of in their proud nation.
It was tough for them to create anything in the second half, and even when centre-back Paulus Arajuuri was motioned forward in the final few minutes, still the Russians stood tall.
1-0 it finished, meaning it’ll come down to the final day to see whether a Finnish side facing Belgium or a Russian one hosting Denmark will make it through – if either of them.
Then, it was onto Baku, where Wales and Turkey had a similar tussle for what would surely be second place in the group if they could win.
Given the great expectations open them prior to the tournament, a partisan Azeri crowd in this match and the do-or-die need for victory, Turkey, it must be said, disintegrated.
Wales almost had it entirely their own way in the first half thanks to a passive performance from Şenol Güneş’ men; the fortunate thing for spectators was that Aaron Ramsey scored.
It had taken him a couple of decent chances, but in the 43rd minute a sumptuous clipped pass from Gareth Bale found the Juventus midfielder clean through against goalkeeper Uğurcan Çakır, and he tucked a finish home to make the game interesting.
This did at least make the Turks react; they actually had more of the ball for most of the second half, and striker Burak Yılmaz received service for once – although his finishing left something to be desired after so long without shooting practice.
Halfway through this spell, Bale could’ve put us out of misery earlier, but spooned over a penalty that he was lucky to win, in all honesty, after being fouled millimetres inside the box.
It was immaterial when Connor Roberts, the Swansea wing-back who had earlier taken one in the goolies to keep the dastardly Turks out, tucked in from Bale’s byline-hugging assist with the clock saying 95 minutes.
Finally, the Turks were given their death knell and the Welsh, after a cohesive and tireless performance, all-but scored a last-16 spot.
In Rome, Roberto Mancini’s Italy went one further against the visiting Swiss.
It was perhaps the performance of Euro 2020 to date; a 3-0 win against opponents of a very high level, an education in counter-attacking to anyone watching, and a display that showcased every single player in their team.
Manuel Locatelli was the star of the show, no doubt, with his two magic goals; the first a tap-in creditable more to Domenico Berardi’s inside-forward play, but the second all him, a 25-yard strike that Yann Sommer never saw coming.
After so much chopping and changing of personnel in the Italian team since 2016, it is encouraging to see that Mancini is a man who knows his best side, and still has the strength in reserve to mix it up.
Ciro Immobile finished things off in a relatively quiet second half, thrashing past Sommer on a sombre day for the Swiss.
It was another excellent entry into the Italians’ resume, both before and during this tournament, and will bolster confidence against whoever they come up against in the tournament’s latter stages.
Performance of the Day: Manuel Locatelli can take all the praise he wants today as far as I’m concerned. A player who was understandably disgruntled when AC Milan threw him on the scrapheap aged 21, joining Sassuolo and adding a few goals to his game this season, Locatelli has worked hard for this spot under Mancini.
There are no individual stars in this Italian side – everyone contributes equally – but if there was a weak link, it would stand out. Locatelli is stepping up to make sure that isn’t him.
Up Next: Group B concludes with the Scandi-lowlands tussle of Denmark v Belgium on Thursday, a tie sandwiched between Group C’s early game between Ukraine v North Macedonia and a late meeting of the Netherlands and Austria.
Dutch Apple Cake v Apfelstrudel in that one – makes you wonder who Mary Berry would back in this tournament. Is she an England-till-she-dies loyalist, or could she be swayed by the allure of Antoine Griezmann and a raspberry millefeuille? The mind truly boggles…
At last, it was here. Yes, that’s right people, on Tuesday we had the start of the Group of Death.
That meant 2018 World Cup winners France, defending Euros champions Portugal, Europe’s most successful footballing nation Germany and Hungary, whose biggest achievement just happens to be bottling the 1954 World Cup.
The host cities were Budapest, courtesy of a long-running personality project by Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán, and Munich, with its splendid Allianz Arena.
For the first match, we had the benefit of a full-capacity Puskás Aréna to cheer on some of Europe’s best.
Hungary’s tight COVID-19 laws over the past 12 months were to thank for this, as even though only 42.1% of their adult population is currently fully vaccinated, they had sufficient confidence in work before this to welcome back 67,215 fans.
What those fans returned to was a ravenous performance from visitors Portugal.
With a starting line-up boasting Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, Diogo Jota and Bernardo Silva – elite players in the ultimate teams across Europe – this was no great surprise.
The Magyars held on well, and really, Portugal were restricted to moving the ball around in midfield and reverting to their full-backs for width in the first half.
Ronaldo would’ve been expected to finish his standout chance, while he and Jota both tested Hungarian goalkeeper Péter Gulácsi, who started what should be a busy tournament personally in style.
That pattern largely continued in the second half, with the addition of Hungary’s persistent fouling truly winding up the Portuguese.
Fortunately, Fernando Santos had plenty of high-quality options available on his bench.
Rafa Silva arrived, then so did Renato Sanches and André Silva.
With Szabolcs Schön having a brilliant finish ruled out for offside for the hosts, Portugal’s star men took full advantage.
First, Raphaël Guerreiro plundered a scrappy but priceless goal in the 84th minute.
Just two minutes later, Silva was tripped in the box and Ronaldo was given the chance you never want to give to Ronaldo; a free 12-yard shot.
The main man had even more fun in added time – rounding Gulácsi in the six-yard box after a passing move, and tapping in for his second.
3-0, ladies and gentlemen, and from an unlikely position deep into the game, Portugal had the most convincing win of the tournament so far.
With that score settled, we moved to Munich for a fitting final flourish to this first round of games.
You’d imagine that France v Germany is a classic match in these championships, but it was only the second time they had met in the Euros.
The first, of course, was just five years ago in Marseille, where a tiring Germany side began to realise their reign as a globally dominant side was up, being put to the sword by Antoine Griezmann and a brutal young French side.
That was revenge for a 1-0 Quarter Final defeat in the 2014 World Cup for Didier Deschamps’ side; the scorer on that occasion, within the first quarter of the game, being Mats Hummels.
It was hardly Hummels’ fault that he was the only goalscorer on this occasion as well; his 20th-minute own goal a game attempt to turn Lucas Hernandez’s left-wing cross over the crossbar, preventing Kylian Mbappé from beating Manuel Neuer.
This German side creaked, almost deafeningly, as they allowed Paul Pogba space 25 yards out to toe-poke a ball through to Hernandez. Poor Joshua Kimmich was left scrambling as his Bayern Munich teammate had all the time in the world to pick out a cross.
Whether it was due to a none-too-zealous gameplan, or the Germans actually finding some impetus through Thomas Müller– still somehow only 31 – Serge Gnabry and the impressive Robin Gosens (who doesn’t love an Atalanta player at this tournament?), Joachim Löw’s side came back in the game after that.
None of their chances in the match were on a plate, though – I’ll say that much.
It felt a little like a lion toying with its prey before striking the killer blow.
On two second-half occasions, Kylian Mbappé should’ve been the man to make that happen.
In what was, similarly to Ronaldo, “not entirely his game today”, Mbappé still proved his considerable worth whenever the French could break, and was marginally offside for both chalked-off French goals.
That will be more of an encouragement than a frustration, as should France face England, Belgium, Spain, Italy or the Netherlands in latter stages of the tournament, there will be that space on at least one or two occasions.
It’s a scary prospect.
Even more so, I’d argue, when coupled with this squad’s record of 23 wins from 31 matches since their dominant World Cup Final performance – with losses only to the Netherlands, Turkey and Finland.
It’s an almost identical record to Vicente Del Bosque’s Spain in the years 2010-12 – save only for one more defeat on the Spanish side – and presents the very real proposition of an inheritance across the Pyrenees.
We shall see how true that becomes.
Performance of the Day: Though it could’ve been Gulácsi until his Hungarian teammates tired, and Mbappé due to his maturity as the real leader of this French team, I was highly impressed by the work of Paul Pogba today.
With every game he has with France, agent Mino Raiola has an even stronger case to force Manchester United executives to either strengthen or sell up. Pogba is a serial winner, visible in his swagger and his serene skill, and it is unfortunate that this sees him develop a mixed relationship with the British press, when he could have this Midas touch at club level too.
Up Next: Back to the start, with a few variations! We’ll see Italy strut their stuff in Rome again, this time against the tricky Swiss, and Wales visit the temporary Turkish enclave of Azerbaijan, where the locals will have to put their admiration for Kieffer Moore on hold for a day to support Burak Yılmaz and company, lest they want President Erdoğan’s wrath.
Before any of that, though, we have the greatest rivalry North-Eastern European military enthusiasts have ever known; Finland v Russia in the fitting setting of St Petersburg. Santa Claus v the ghost of Vladimir Lenin, Jean Sibelius v Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Lordi v Russian Grannies. Bring yer dinner…
With the start of a new week, we had a whole new set of nations looking to impress at Euro 2020 on Monday.
Two, naturally, were host nations; Scotland, making their first appearance at the championships since 1996, and a Spain side which has had its issues in preparation due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
Besides these two, we had a pick-n-mix assortment of nations that are looking to get back to their halcyon ages in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Sweden, as well as a Slovakia side on just their second tournament appearance.
No weak sides amongst them, and plenty of intrigue in seeing how their played on this potentially wide-open stage.
First up, we headed to Hampden Park, where a belting rendition of Flower of Scotland reminded us just how long the Scots have waited to qualify again, and how much pain there has been in the intervening years.
Despite a positive start, and plenty of chances throughout the match, it was this generational gap in the feeling of an international tournament that cost the Scots.
Five minutes from half-time, the Czechs took the lead through towering striker Patrik Schick, who was afforded half a yard too much by Grant Hanley to direct a header out of David Marshall’s reach.
This was a threat Clarke’s side were aware of, but after a barrage of balls into the box, they could not repel the physically combative Czechs before the break.
Seven minutes into the second half, the home side’s ambitions suffered a killer blow. Schick was at it again, but from a much, much greater distance this time.
As centre-back Jack Hendry’s long-range shot cannoned off a Czech defender, Schick picked up possession and went for the audacious; a halfway-line strike looping high over David Marshall, a long distance out from his goal.
It was embarrassing, ultimately, for the Scots as Marshall bundled himself into the back of his own net in pursuit of the ball, and it was a moment that sapped any momentum building from Andy Robertson and John McGinn’s notably tireless efforts.
Lyndon Dykes, Ché Adams and even Kevin Nisbet had their chances before the close, but the Scots’ firepower was not sharp enough on this occasion, forewarning a frustration they could experience throughout the entire group stage.
Next, it was time for Poland and Slovakia to get Group E going in St Petersburg.
This match was always going to be billed as Robert Lewandowski’s chance to kick off his tournament in style.
Instead, Slovakia were the far better team in the first half.
With a direct, striker-less 4-2-4 approach proving effective, the central European nation grabbed the lead in the 18th minute when winger Róbert Mak found space on the left of the box, beating right-back Bartosz Bereszyński with ease and firing a shot onto the post, which went in off Wojciech Szczęsny.
There was a great deal of familiarity about this meeting, with Poland’s starting XI boasting an average of 54 caps, and Slovakia’s 53.
That meant plenty of Euro 2016 veterans, and considerable experience of disappointment in the Polish side – the result more so of expectations raised by world ranking, than of performances in the biggest games.
Their chips, almost laughably, were once again down on this occasion.
Even after equalising through Karol Linetty, they were not the force their seeding for the tournament suggested. Highly experienced midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak picked up two bookings for needless fouls, and Slovakia were given a golden opportunity.
Milan Škriniar was the unlikely figure to take advantage of that; walloping in from a 69th-minute corner before he and his teammates resolutely kept the Poles out until the close.
Finally, Spain and Sweden took to the field in Seville.
The setting looked sweaty, and for the Swedes the heat was certainly being turned up in the first half.
Luis Enrique’s Spain were dominant in possession, and with the visitors sticking doggedly to their tactical habitus – a 4-4-2 – could always enjoy having a man spare in midfield.
The trouble was doing something with that advantage.
First Dani Olmo, then Koke, and then, agonisingly but predictably, Alvaro Morata all miscued when presented with great first-half chances.
It could’ve been a calamitous end to the half as well; Aleksander Isak breaking through and driving a shot past Unai Simon, with Marcos Llorente’s block taking it into the post and mercifully away.
In the second half, Sweden stepped up and made more of a game of it. Marcus Berg got his feet mixed up from an Isak ball across the box, while their defending was more consistent as Spain continued to enjoy most of the ball.
Ultimately, though, there was no breakthrough. Even with six minutes of added time, and some desperate attempts during that period, it seemed the Euro gods wanted a draw, and by Jove, they were going to get it.
So, there we were. A match between two great attacking forces that ended with Victor Lindelöf winning man of the match. Go figure.
Performance of the Day: Opinion may be split on this, but of those in the Slovakian team, I was most impressed by Juraj Kucka today. The 34-year-old belied his elder statesman status in a tireless midfield performance, and if you’ve gleaned anything from my praise of Georginio Wijnaldum yesterday, you’ll notice I love those. To have played a full season and still come back with effort like that is remarkable, and I have so much respect for these lads. Kudos to the man for being a Parma player as well. There’s a man that knows his calcio.
Up Next: Finally, a bit of rest! We have just two matches to round off our first revolution of the group stages on Tuesday, with Group F – the GROUP OF DEATH, PEOPLE! – kicking off with Hungary v Portugal in Budapest. Then, we have our first clash of the titans – France v Germany in Munich. It better not disappoint. Do you know how many minutes of watching the likes of Russia, Austria and Scotland I had to sit through for this? DO YOU???
Author - Will Hugall
Now a BA Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University, I divide my time between my base in Radford and back home in East Sussex while watching as much football as I can!