A new dawn, a new day. Sunday brought the start of Groups C and D in the 2020 European Championships, and it certainly did not disappoint.
The events of this day, and the rest of the tournament, need to be placed in the context of Christian Eriksen’s ongoing recovery from a life-threatening moment on Saturday.
The Dane has played with, or against, a great many of the 621 players selected for this Euros, and even for those with whom he has not crossed paths, it is only natural to expect those who share his profession to be concerned about his welfare.
As such, the maturity displayed by every side in action today was exemplary.
The first marks of respect, and return to a calmer sense of proceedings, took place at Wembley Stadium, where England captain Harry Kane was the ideal man to lead wishes of recovery to Eriksen, his former Tottenham teammate.
After kick-off, the game between England and Croatia was played in a faultless spirit – a surprise, it must be said, given the recent rivalry between the nations.
That said, the Croatian performance was curious on a day where England didn’t have to be overly efficient to gain victory.
The fact that Jordan Pickford had only one save to make should tell its own story, but the absolute lack of incisiveness from a team boasting a front three of Ivan Perišić, Andrej Kramarić and Ante Rebić was unforgiveable.
It didn’t help that, compared with their 2018 squad, the Croatians have lost significant experience and talent in the shape of Mario Mandžukić alone.
His absence was extremely conspicuous in this toothless outing.
Meanwhile, England flourished on home soil.
They looked settled by the presence of a home crowd backing them all the way; a particularly important factor for the five tournament debutants in their starting XI, who were actually star performers.
Kalvin Phillips will take the plaudits – and rightly so – but Mason Mount, in an energetic, pestering performance was superb, marking himself out as almost un-droppable within Gareth Southgate’s versatile set of systems.
Raheem Sterling finished well when required, and if they are capable of maintaining that basic capability over a month, England should at least be able to meet expectations in Euro 2020.
The day’s next action was almost the polar opposite as a spectacle.
Wide open, full of brilliant chances and top saves, and featuring two sides who are far from the conversation of group winners, Austria v North Macedonia was in fact much more entertaining for the neutral.
Igor Angelovski’s rag-tag (Northern) Macedonian squad – comprising players from 15 different domestic leagues – battled well, and through Goran Pandev’s goal had a moment to truly savour on their tournament debut.
They came very close to picking up a meaningful point to go with it, too, but the introduction of Austria’s Bundesliga cavalry, as well as an extremely China-weary Marko Arnautovic, spelled the end of their hopes.
3-1 was the full-time score, slightly harsh on the lowest ranked nation in the tournament.
Finally, we had an evening in Amsterdam to see out the weekend.
This was a match of curious and ill-fitting parts coming together in what was simply a joyous chaos.
A stalemate at half-time was not for the want of trying – fantastic goalkeeping from Ukraine’s Heorhiy Buschan and a howler of a back-post header from Denzel Dumfries had kept it that way.
Georginio Wijnaldum and Wout Weghorst were both attentive to pounce on Ukrainian defensive errors after the break for a comfortable 2-0 lead, but suddenly that was wiped away.
Andriy Yarmolenko’s on-and-off international career had another entry into the former column, with an outstanding strike that will contend for goal of the tournament, before Roman Yaremchuk headed in from a free-kick to level matters.
Dumfries still had time to atone, however, and with a headed finish at the far post in the 86th minute had finally won it for the Dutch.
It was very strange, but it was weirdly beautiful, too.
The craziness of the European Championships, ladies and gentlemen, which is welcome to return whenever it wishes.
Performance of the Day: Georginio Wijnaldum, captaining the Netherlands in the absence of Virgil van Dijk, stepped up for his country against Ukraine – and how. He ran the show for the first 60 minutes, and steadied the ship after the Ukrainian fightback. With or without his goal, his performance would have been the difference between the sides. Liverpool will be ruing the loss of his services for 2021/22.
Up Next: We see the full span of this pan-European tournament as Scotland host the Czech Republic in Glasgow, Poland play Slovakia in St Petersburg, and Spain welcome Sweden to Seville. None of these sides will be favourites for the trophy, but looks can be deceiving, and with the talents of Robert Lewandowski, a still star-studded Spain midfield and Grant Hanley on display, you’d be mad to miss it.
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!