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!