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!