What did we learn through the first two sets of group stage fixtures at EURO 2020?
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Here’s a look at 10 things which stood out, as our writers Joe Prince-Wright (JPW), Nicholas Mendola (NM) and Andy Edwards (AE) share their observations from across the last eight days of EURO 2020 games.
Let’s get to it.
1. Kane nonexistent in England setup (England 0-0 Scotland): Here’s a perfect example of why “just play the 11 most talented players, and we’ll win” almost never works in a tactical sense: Harry Kane is the captain, no. 9 and just had an incredible season for Tottenham; Phil Foden looks like a generation talent that’ll star for England for a decade or more; Mason Mount just had a sensational season at Chelsea, for whom he played an important part in winning the Champions League. On paper, each player has more than earned his place in this England team, and arguably in the starting lineup. On the field, though, the season’s accolades don’t matter one bit, and it’s simply down to how the players fit together — or, in England’s case, how they don’t. For instance, the fact that each player’s greatest ability (Kane dropping in, Foden cutting in and Mount pushing on) actually sees the three players converge on the same space and trip all over one another. That’s what inevitably happens when England attack. Not some of the time. Every. Time. Given the players’ lack of time to train together and build on-field chemistry with one another, this isn’t so much a criticism of any one player or even of Southgate, but more so an observation (and a desperate plea for it to change) after 180 uninspiring minutes. (AE)
2. France reminded why the best teams don’t always win tournaments (France 1-1 Hungary): Yes, France has won a World Cup and has an embarrassment of riches in its talent pool that leaves players like Dayot Upamecano and Houssem Aouar out of the squad altogether (with barely an argument made against the decisions). But all it takes is one mistake, some substandard finishing (or an excellent goalkeeper), and some committed defending to see a team go out with a rough 90 or 120 minutes. France still very much was the better money to get all three points and it would’ve been stunning had the third goal gone to anyone but Les Bleus, but Didier Deschamps got the memory fuel he would’ve wanted for his players moving forward on a day they were not at their best. (NM)
GAME ON! pic.twitter.com/q7tiMTREsg
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 19, 2021
3. Fine margins, man (Germany 4-2 Portugal): Germany dominated the opening stages of the game and Robin Gosens saw his audacious goal taken off the board due to an offside on Serge Gnabry, so — as if on cue — Portugal’s first chance to do anything ended up in the back of the German goal. Cristiano Ronaldo got on his horse well before midfield to force two German backs to pay attention to him, opening up a ball to Diogo Jota on the other side. Liverpool man Jota hit a perfect outside of the boot pass and there was no way CR7 wasn’t going to be at the back end to side foot into the gaping goal mouth. (NM)
4a. Morata, the good… (Spain 1-1 Poland): Against the wishes of seemingly every Spanish football fan, Morata was retained in the starting lineup after missing a boatload of chances in La Furia Roja‘s EURO 2020-opening draw with Sweden. The very least that Morata could do to repay the faith that Luis Enrique had shown in him, was to score at least one of the chances that came his way on Saturday. Midway, through the first half, the Juventus striker (on loan from Atletico Madrid) did just that.
4b. … and the bad…: For every good thing that happens to you, 100 bad things will then follow the one good thing — that must be how Morata feels the universe operates, because as soon as he finished celebrating his goal, regular service (criminally wasteful finishing) resumed. (AE)
5. Italian defense solid as a rock (Italy 3-0 Switzerland): Italy drew Bosnia and Herzegovina 1-1 on Sept. 4, 2020. The four-time World Cup champions have since played 14 matches and allowed… one goal. One goal. Since Donny van de Beek scored in the 21st minute of a UEFA Nations League match in Bergamo on Oct. 14, no one has found a way to smuggle the ball over the Italian goal line. We’re talking 10-straight clean sheets and a shutout streak that would reach 1000 minutes should it make the 35th minute of Sunday’s scrap with Wales. Wow. (NM)
6. De Bruyne, Hazard change the game (Belgium 2-1 Denmark): Having these two come off the bench is wild and it proved to be the difference. De Bruyne came on at half time, Eden Hazard soon after, and Denmark couldn’t cope with the fluid attacks that followed. De Bruyne set up Thorgan Hazard for the equalizer and then scored the winner himself, as Lukaku finally had players around him to feed off. Belgium will hope De Bruyne and Hazard continue to get back to full fitness throughout this tournament. If they do, they will surely win it all, or come very close. (JPW)
7. Dutch strike a dangerous pose (Netherlands 2-0 Austria): De Boer’s attack was opportunistic. Part of this was surely to do with the Oranje playing with the lead, but the Netherlands created a number of big chances en route to Dumfries goal, which came off a selfless and smart layoff from Donyell Malen. The winner of Group C won’t face a fellow group winner until the semifinals (though it will get the third-place finisher of France, Germany, Portugal, and Hungary). On top of that, they wouldn’t face Italy or Belgium until the final barring something really wild on the final day of group play. (NM)
8. Enter Bale, the deep-lying playmaker (Wales 2-0 Turkey): Look, the very best of Gareth Bale is already in the rearview mirror, and that’s a shame (for all of us), but the Welsh superstar still has more outrageous talent in his boots than 99 percent of professional footballers the world over — yes, he was that good at his peak. A la the final years of a fellow Welshman’s (Ryan Giggs) career, Bale appears to have seamlessly transitioned into a deeper, more central role, which should now see him hit stupendous pass after stupendous to set up scoring chances for Wales and his next club team. The ball he floated and placed onto the chest of Ramsey for Wales’ goal will feature heavily in the end-of-EURO 2020 montage. The dribbling on display to set up the late insurance goal was equally dazzling. (AE)
THAT ASSIST FROM GARETH BALE 😍
WALES LEAD! pic.twitter.com/pwEQ80YvE4
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 16, 2021
9. Momentum building for Sweden (Sweden 1-0 Slovakia): The Swedes showed their defensive mettle in blanking Spain then did the same to a Slovakia side that surprised Poland. You could argue that the winner of this game was going to get tournament dark horse status either way, and then you consider that we’ve yet to see Dejan Kulusevski in a team with Alexander Isak, Emil Forsberg, and Robin Quaison, plus steady presences in Albin Ekdahl and Mikael Lustig in some under-appreciated defenders in Victor Lindelof and Ludwig Augustinsson? Maybe! (NM)
10. Schick keeps it going (Croatia 1-1 Czech Republic): Patrik Schick spent plenty of time in the transfer rumor mill as the “next big thing” along his growth from Sparta Prague to Bohemians to Sampdoria, AS Roma, RB Leipzig, and now Bayer Leverkusen. There have been a handful of double-digit goal seasons in there, but there’s rarely been question regarding his production in a national team shirt (when healthy). Schick has two goals in three EURO 2020 games after winning and converting a penalty against Croatia to give him 14 goals and five assists in 28 caps. Not bad. (NM)