And breathe. It’s been a dramatic, action-packed day at Euro 2020, and it’s time to dissect it all.
This was our busiest day of Euros action yet, with four games – three of them greatly important – packed into just five hours, while a number of great storylines intersected.
We began the day in Amsterdam and Bucharest, where fixture-makers had correctly decided to slot Group C’s deciding games into the earlier slot.
North Macedonia v Netherlands held no real worth on it; the Eastern European nation had already been eliminated, while the lowlanders sealed first place in the group in their previous fixture.
Perhaps in an effort to find consistency amongst his team, Dutch boss Frank de Boer resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes.
Indeed, his only alterations were to drop Marten De Roon and Wout Weghorst for star Eredivisie youngsters Ryan Gravenberch and Donyell Malen.
Of more interest than the match itself was the sub-plot surrounding Goran Pandev; the North Macedonian legend winning his 122nd and final cap before international retirement, and aiming to finish with a flourish.
Ultimately, that did not happen, though he came close by hitting the post while the score was still 0-0.
Instead, the Netherlands gave another emphatic goalscoring performance as Memphis Depay, fresh off his confirmed move to FC Barcelona, waltzed around the Johan Cruyff Arena with the arrogance that deserves such a move.
3-0 it finished, with captain Georginio Wijnaldum adding another two goals to his personal tally to surprisingly surge into the race for the Golden Boot. The Dutch await a third-placed side in the Round of 16, the identity of whom they will learn in the next two days.
As the tournament’s weakest group, it was fitting that Group C’s final drama came really in the form of a damp squib.
In that sense, I’m talking about the performance of both teams in Austria v Ukraine, a match to set up who would face Italy in the next round.
While Austria lacked even a half-decent marksman to target in the final third, Ukraine had the converse problem of possessing a fine one – Roman Yeremchuk – but finding it incredibly hard to give him possession, at least in dangerous areas.
As such, we were lucky that Christian Baumgartner found a way to stab David Alaba’s 20th-minute corner past Ukraine’s impressive goalkeeper George Buschan.
Really, the goal threat from both sides was impressively minimal after that.
Drawn into conservatism presumably because of the stakes being solely on their match, it did not say much for either side’s quality going forwards, and I would be amazed if it’s not Italy celebrating a Quarter-Final spot this Saturday at Wembley.
But then we turned to the day’s real drama, taking place in St Petersburg and Copenhagen.
I’d like to say the equation was simple, but it was far from that.
For Denmark, they had to win against Russia and rely on Belgium to beat Finland, while also requiring a swing of three goals to nab second spot.
They had shown the ability to do that in a strong performance against Belgium last time out, but without any points at this stage, having lost primary playmaker Christian Eriksen and facing a Russia side that was predictably keen to defend, their task was tricky.
Meanwhile, Finland wanted desperately to hold onto the second spot that was theirs at the start of the day and make history on their tournament debut.
What panned out wasn’t easy to explain, but was extraordinary as it happened.
Two cagey first halves went mostly the way of Belgium and Russia, with the former bossing possession and the latter being effective on the counter.
Mikkel Damsgaard was the force that eventually got the Danish battering ram moving at the Parken, with a stonker of a goal in the 38th minute, cutting inside a defender and curling high past Matvey Safonov.
In the second half, Yussuf Poulsen was given a gift as he stroked past Safonov from a misguided Roman Zobnin backpass, but then the flurry of simultaneous chaos began.
First, a Romelu Lukaku finish that initially looked offside was awarded, and Denmark were in business.
But in one stroke, the football gods decided to extend this drama.
Lukaku’s goal was indeed overruled, and Aleksandr Sobolev won a penalty which Artem Dzyuba converted, Denmark were going to be disappointed.
Fortunately, the Belgians were not finished, and Thomas Vermaelen rose highest at a corner to force an own goal from Lukáš Hrádecký in the 75th minute.
The Danes were not to know this, and themselves aggrieved, began an absolute bombardment of Russia’s goal.
One header, saved, a second shot, blocked, but Andreas Christensen was having none of it. He burst forward, and almost burst the ball as he rifled a stunning shot past Safonov to utter raptures in the Parken.
Joakim Maehle was to get in on the act, too, leading and finishing a counter with the tireless spirit he exemplified as one of Denmark’s most reliable outlets all game.
Romelu Lukaku added a second for Belgium, but by this point it was a minor detail to the Danes; they had done enough, and heaven forbid anyone put the dampeners on that.
The final whistle brought complete bedlam for the capacity crowd in Copenhagen, and you could be sure that the spirit shown there, between both fans and the team itself, was down to what happened there on the opening weekend.
It was fully deserved, and a story that these championships will be remembered for.
Performance of the Day: I’d love to give recognition here to the whole of Denmark, as the crowd within the stadium, and no doubt all those at home, were stupendous for the entire 90 minutes. If it had to go a player, it would be Maehle for a truly special performance of real guts, but tonight, I’d rather it reflects the collective rather than the individual. Top work, my brethren.
Up Next: Just the two matches tomorrow, with Group D concluding with England v Czech Republic at Wembley, and Scotland v Croatia at Hampden. The two matches will be very different, but both have crucial points on the line to determine who will face who from the GROUP OF DEATH. It will be fascinating, and considering the English press are in a rather dull mood post-Scotland, it would be encouraging if Gareth Southgate & co. could shut that noise out. Keep the faith!
Right, here we are. Crunch time, make or break, in the 2020 European Championships group stages. The ultimate in multi-screen drama in sport.
Well, perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration.
Group A at least had a worthy collection of storylines to kick us off in this manic run of games.
Italy, the only side really fancied to do anything in the tournament here, only needed a point to seal top spot and were exempt of the real stress.
Wales and Switzerland were separated by three points in their scrap over second place, but with the former visiting Italy and the latter facing a downtrodden Turkey in Baku, there was a probability of goal difference being involved.
I could either write 500 words on how exactly the stars aligned to make such a prediction come true, or I could just tell you that those predictions were exactly right.
Italy, still effective despite their eight changes, largely overran Wales in the mode of side that is flowing with confidence.
Gianluigi Donnarumma, Leonardo Bonucci and Jorginho were the three players considered too important to drop by Roberto Mancini, but were hardly the busiest players at the Stadio Olimpico.
Robert Page’s Wales were nullified, with their own three changes going some way towards this.
Kieffer Moore was conspicuous in his absence from their frontline, with Aaron Ramsey taking over a false nine role but never posing too many problems to Bonucci and defensive partner Alessandro Bastoni.
Instead, Wales’ determination to stick to a 3-4-3 formation enabled the three-man Italian midfield to thrive, and for Marco Verratti to stake a real claim for a starting berth in the knockout stages.
The combustible Paris St Germain midfielder ended the day as the busiest man with the ball – responsible for 12.8% of all possession according to WhoScored.com – and of course sliced the Welsh defence open with his 39th minute free kick to first man Matteo Pessina, who tucked past Danny Ward.
I can’t say I disagree with Ethan Ampadu’s dismissal, as he was late in challenging Federico Bernardeschi.
Page most likely won’t lose sleep over the decision, as Chris Mepham and Ben Davies are far superior defenders upon reflection of Wales’ entire group stage.
Switzerland v Turkey was an objectively more entertaining match, in the manner of being much more like what I can only imagine World Cup and Euros games of the 1930s-60s were as a spectacle.
It was almost ceaseless in its abandon of all things defensive, becoming open at every opportunity as both sides just threw their entire attacking power at the opponent’s goal.
It was beautiful chaos, too, as it produced some excellent strikes – the second-half effort from Turkey’s İrfan Kahveci being the strike of tournament for me, regardless of the attention Patrik Schick’s lob against Scotland will receive.
Switzerland were all angst, too; Haris Seferović and Xherdan Shaqiri looked appalled as they celebrated their first-half goals, making a point presumably towards their media.
To be fair, it was Seferović’s first goal in tournament football after a 12-match barren run; his only previous strike being on his first appearance on the big stage, against Ecuador in the 2014 World Cup.
But I can understand their frustration; they haven’t played badly in this competition, and just ran into an Italian team that wouldn’t take no for an answer in their last match.
Fortunately, Shaqiri sealed the win with a fine second-half goal on the counter, and they should surely get a place in the next round via the best third-placed side system.
The merits of such a system can be debated, but to keep Switzerland involved on this occasion, I think it would be entirely fair.
We shall see how it pans out!
Performance of the Day: Marco Verratti must take the plaudits after a performance that couldn’t have been too easy after being omitted from Italy’s first two group matches.
To harness that frustration in the form of an energetic, bustling performance was exactly what Mancini wanted, and demonstrates how Italy will be able to rely on depth and motivation when the next rounds truly test them here.
I think I’ve said this before about them, but it’s a scary proposition.
Up Next: An equally intimidating set of four fixtures await us tomorrow! Group C, firstly, concludes almost anti-climactically, with the Netherlands already assured of top spot and playing North Macedonia, who have next to no hope of getting through. Instead, keep your eyes on Austria v Ukraine, where it will likely be steely in Bucharest – who would rather earn the honour of getting knocked out by Italy in the Round of 16? At least you’d get a free trip to Wembley…
Then, Group B gets finalised with Russia v Denmark – a battle for second place, you’d have to presume, despite the Danes’ lack of points so far – and Finland v Belgium, where the Scandinavians will try to hold out for as long as possible. It promises to be a fascinating, and tiring, day. Rest easy!
As I mentioned yesterday, the last few days of European Championship action has slightly fallen below expectations.
What we needed was a spectacle on Saturday; a real showcase of the talent that Group F holds.
Boy, did we get it.
In arguably the most memorable day at the championships so far, we had 10 goals between three matches, a result that stunned millions and an event that probably shocked even more; Álvaro Morata actually finding the net.
So, to dissect what went down on Saturday, we’ll start at the beginning.
Our host for Hungary v France was Budapest, a city again displaying the joy of government-endorsed socialising, with locals gathering in their masses to roar on their mighty Magyars.
So they might; the Hungarians didn’t have great hope in this group containing three far mightier powers, but in the noblest of causes, their people turned out in their droves.
After heartbreak at the hands of the Portuguese a few days earlier, the task for Marco Rossi’s men would be the same – to harass, to hinder, to pinch any chances on the counter-attack.
For a side that, like England and Italy, prefers to play on the counter themselves, Didier Deschamps’ side knew they had to bring their finest pair of nutcrackers here, rather than having their opponents play into their hands.
Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappé both had fine first-half chances, particularly in the Real Madrid striker’s case, but neither could convert.
Despite the loss of captain Ádám Szalai – whose fascinating career is a tale for another day – to an injury midway through the half, the Hungarians carried on their defensive task, and did much more in added time.
With the French ready for the interval, a simple one-two between left wing-back Attila Fiola and striker Roland Sallai drew Raphael Varane and Benjamin Pavard in, and Fiola was away.
Holding off the onrushing defenders, Fiola struck beautifully with his right foot past Hugo Lloris to break the deadlock, prompting utter bedlam on the pitch, and in the stands.
France were sharp again after the break, but Hungary responded with even more confidence, and were at the stage of ole-ing at the hour mark.
Undoubtedly, they would tire after two straight games of incredible effort in searing summer heat.
Ousmane Dembele entered for the visitors and struck the post a matter of minutes after coming on, changing the tune in the arena.
It was still an arrow through the heart when Lloris pumped a ball downfield to Mbappé for a two-on-two in the 66th minute, where the inevitable result was an assist for Antoine Griezmann, even if it was via an unfortunate foot from Willi Orbán.
I for one thought Hungary would crumble at this point, but their fortitude refused such an outcome.
Heroes across the park pressed the French at every opportunity, and in the last 10 minutes followed orders by sitting deep and preventing any space for players that thrive on even the smallest opening.
They fully deserved the point, and will prove an example to all other sides in this competition that when all that is between a nation and footballing history is 90 minutes, it is a matter of hearts and minds that you have to win.
In Munich, Germany were another fine example of psychological density.
They were written off after three years of poor fortune and disgruntlement, as well as an opening defeat here, but after going a goal down to Cristiano Ronaldo’s incisive finish on the counter, more than backed themselves up to win 4-2.
They horrendously exploited Portugal’s vulnerability at full-back, whipping in cross after cross and isolating either Pepe or Ruben Dias with Kai Havertz’s unpredictable runs and shuttling support from Robin Gosens or Joshua Kimmich.
Both own-goals demonstrated this, while follow-ups for Havertz and Gosens proved Portugal were incapable of stopping this onslaught.
Diogo Jota replied with a goal of his own, but even with the risk that Germany had taken of leaving Ronaldo, Jota and Bernardo Silva to attack their back three when Portugal broke, the European champions couldn’t force a comeback.
A supreme performance from Germany, blowing Group F fully back open again in the final round of matches.
The night ended in Seville, where Spain were keen to get their campaign belatedly flowing after disappointment against Sweden.
Poland were the visitors, similarly determined to set some records straight.
If Group F is a quartet containing skill, drama and non-stop entertainment, the Group E that these two sides inhabit is a shoddy cousin.
As the final score reflects, these sides cancelled each other out with play that in no way reflects their ultimate potential.
Spain are excused as they are a side in transition, notably lacking a potent striker – Gerard Moreno was meant to be that, but missed a second-half penalty which was questionably awarded by Anthony Taylor.
Poland are meant to be the finished product, but Paulo Sousa is going nowhere quickly with a set of players that are lost without captain Robert Lewandowski.
1-1 was fair, but this was an unremarkable encounter that won’t intimidate anyone else in the competition.
They will pay for their errors by having to go through the rigmarole of final-day qualification from the group.
Performance of the Day: Anyone on the Hungarian side could’ve qualified for this award, in addition to quite a number in the German contingent today. My pick, however, goes to László Kleinheisler, who ran his devoted heart out in the 30oC heat of Budapest to drag Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Adrien Rabiot out of position at every given opportunity.
He rarely misplaced a pass – boasting a 90% pass percentage – and by cramping up by the time of his withdrawal in the 84th minute, endeared himself to myself at least. Forza László – Werder Bremen, who only gave him seven appearances after being signed post-Euro 2016, should be ashamed of themselves.
Up Next: AT LAST! We have the uber-dramatic, never boring, unmissableTM final round of group stage fixtures starting on Sunday. Group A is our only visit, but it should be a memorable one – Italy host Wales in a battle for top spot at the Stadio Olimpico, while Switzerland and Turkey face off in Baku for a third-place spot and potential Round of 16 qualification.
Just wait for both games to be as cagey as anything now…
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…
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!