EURO 2020 - Group Stage Review
After the 12-month delay of Euro 2020 due to the pandemic, there was a lot of excitement and anticipation for this compelling tournament. With the 2018 World Cup in Russia being such an iconic tournament for so many different reasons, there is a lot of expectation for this tournament to live up that standard.
Who were the bookie’s favourites going into the tournament?
· France: 5-1
· England: 6-1
· Belgium: 15-2
· Germany: 8-1
· Portugal: 9-1
Odds via Oddschecker. Correct as of 8 June 2021
Despite being chucked into the “group of death”, all three of the giants in the group were inside the top 5 favourites to go all the way. The number one ranked team in world football, Belgium, were also amongst the favourites to win the competition while England were second favourites and even joint-favourites with some bookies to bring football home.
Who have impressed so far?
It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that I am choosing Italy as my team of the tournament so far after they advanced from Group A after winning all their three group games, scoring 7 goals while keeping three clean sheets. After their recent failure in big tournaments, questions were asked by some about how competent this Italy side are when it comes to performing on the biggest stage. After failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and appointing Roberto Mancini, Italy have only lost two of the 32 matches they have played under him, and he's lowered the average age of the squad to 27. Due to this resurgence, some people had Italy down as their “dark horse” to go far and potentially win it, and these people must be feeling very smug after seeing them win their group with such ease and class. Convincing 3-0 wins over Turkey and Switzerland confirmed their qualification for the next round before they beat the Welsh 1-0 to finish top of group with maximum points. The Italians are set to face Franco Foda’s Austria side that finished runners up in Group C with 2 wins from 3. Although Austria managed to finish comfortably in second, they weren’t overly convincing and I believe that Italy will be very confident and fancy their chances against an average Austria side, who are definitely one of the weaker teams left in the tournament. This match will take place at Wembley Stadium on Saturday 26th June at 20:00 BST and will be broadcasted live on BBC One.
Who have been the surprise package?
Before the tournament began, everyone was discussing potential dark horses that they think will go far and impress in the tournament. Many people were picking teams like Italy and Turkey but not many people would have even considered picking teams like Sweden and Hungary! I have been very impressed with the Swedes after they topped their group with 7 points, especially considering they shared a group with Spain who, over the years, have had their fair share of success in major tournaments. Many of the Swedish team have impressed with Emil Forsberg being among the golden boot contenders and Ronaldo being the only player to have scored more goals at Euro 2020 so far. The RB Leipzig number ten has averaged a goal every 83 mins and has made a huge contribution to his team's success so far this summer. Another player that has caught the eye for Sweden is Real Sociedad's Alexander Isak. Although he has failed to score, Isak’s directness and bravery combined with his elegant skill and agility when running at defenders has attracted many fans’ attention and he is also attracting the eyes of some of Europe’s biggest clubs with Real Madrid, Chelsea and Arsenal all reportedly being interested in the young forward.
Who have been the biggest disappointment?
Going into this summer's Euros, Turkey were identified as many people’s dark horse and in all honesty, they were my dark horses too. Burak Yilmaz was coming into the tournament off the back of a hugely successful season with Lille in which they beat PSG to the Ligue 1 title, with the veteran scoring 16 league goals in 28 appearances. He averaged a goal every 129 mins which was better than Harry Kane and Memphis Depay. Turkey also have a lot of young talent with players, especially in the Centre-back position. They started their Euro 2020 campaign with a heavily anticipated fixture against the Italians in which they were humiliated 3-0 and failed to register a single shot on target. The only other side to lose all three of their group games was North Macedonia and they were 750-1 to win the tournament, which shows how low the expectations were for the Macedonians going into this summer’s Euros, whereas Turkey were one of the outside favourites. In their three games, they conceded 8 goals and only found the back of the net once and considering they played against two fairly average teams in Wales and Switzerland, it’s fair to say, they majorly underperformed and disappointed.
What have I made of England so far?
When the groups were drawn back in November 2019 and I saw that we had been drawn with the runners up of the World Cup, Czech Republic and the potential of playing Scotland if they were to win their playoff games, I thought we had been quite lucky in drawing a reasonable group considering the fact that we missed the ‘group of death’. At the time, Czech Republic were starved of much quality at all and Scotland were a below-average team that lacked any talent. Since the draw in 2019, the Croats have aged to the point where many of their team are in their 30’s with some of the squad from the 2018 World Cup even retiring from international football. Czech Republic have seen an improvement in their squad with the likes of Vladimir Coufal and Thomas Soucek joining premier League side, West Ham United, helping the Hammers to secure European football under David Moyes. Scotland have also seen a vast improvement in their squad with the likes of Mctominay becoming a regular for Manchester United and Billy Gilmour breaking through the Chelsea ranks to become one of the most talked about youngsters in the Premier League. Our group was certainly more difficult than I thought it would be when we drew them teams almost two years ago, however, I still expected us to win the group comfortably as our squad has also improved since the World Cup in Russia with so much young talent breaking through the ranks which has given Gareth Southgate a headache when it comes to selection.
In our first game against Croatia, we looked solid, and we won the midfield battle which was key to our success, considering the immense quality of someone like Luka Modric commanding the Croatian midfield, like we saw when the Croats beat Scotland 3-1 with the Maestro scoring a beautiful goal with the outside of his right foot. Our performance against Scotland was dismal and uninspiring and with John Stones’ header that slammed against the post being the only clear-cut chance of the game, we lacked creativity and I'm sure that even the over-60's walking football teams out there would have played with more intent and urgency than the lads wearing the three lions on their chest. There was a mild improvement in our performance against the Czechs, especially in the first half, as we played with much more intensity and with the early goal from Raheem Sterling, we had complete control of the game from start to finish. Although we won our group without conceding a goal, I am disappointed with our lack of goal threat considering the amount of quality we have, especially in the attacking positions. I don’t think it has been a bad start to the tournament for the three lions, however, I do think we will need to go up a gear or two if we are to have a chance of making it past Germany on Tuesday.
How do I think the round of 16 will unfold?
I am very excited to see how the Round of 16 will play out and here are my predictions:
· Wales Vs Denmark- 1-2- I think Kasper Hjulmand’s side will have too much for the Welsh as I have been very impressed with them in their last couple of games and there is the added incentive for wanting to do Christian Eriksen proud after his horrific cardiac arrest earlier in the month. Unless Gareth Bale is at his world class best, I don’t see Wales having enough quality to get past this well drilled Danish side. If the Danes play anything like they did against Belgium and Russia, then I am certain that they will outclass Rob Page’s men and come away with a 1-2 victory.
· Italy vs Austria- 2-0- The Italians have impressed so far during this tournament, and I fully expect them to breeze past Austria with ease. I haven’t been impressed by the Austrians and I feel that other than a couple of positions, they severely lack the quality required to make it past a team like Italy who are very resolute at the back but also have lots of flair and quality going forward. I think the Italians will be on top and in control throughout, and I expect them to have lots of chances and I think it will be one of those games where you look back and question how they didn’t score more than just two goals.
· Netherlands Vs Czech Republic- 2-0- As a West Ham fan myself, I have a soft spot for Czech Republic due to my love for Coufal and Soucek who massively impressed in their first full season in the Premier League and I was delighted to see them advance from the group above Scotland in 3rd, however, I think they will struggle against a Dutch team that has found form during this tournament as they were one of three teams to win all three of their group games. I think we can all recognise that they would be a stronger outfit with Van Dijk and Van De Beek in the side, however I still believe that they will have too much for the Czech boys. I am going with a 2-0 win for the Dutch with Depay and Wijnaldum both getting on the scoresheet.
· Belgium vs Portugal- 1-2- This game is certainly the most exciting one of the round and I strongly believe that it will be an end-to-end entertaining game with lots of action. Both teams have very strong attacks, but both lack solidarity defensively at times with their back lines majorly ageing. This one could go either way, but I am backing Portugal to grab a 2-1 win in extra time with Ronaldo scoring a controversial penalty in the last 10 mins to drag his side through to the quarter finals in which they would play Italy or Austria in Munich on Friday 2nd July.
· Croatia Vs Spain- 1-1- Croatia to win on penalties. - This will be a game where Spain will dominate the possession stats, however, as we have seen so far in this tournament, the Spanish severely lack the ruthless edge to push teams aside. I think Croatia will go 1-0 up through Ivan Perisic and then Ferran Torres will make an appearance off the bench and snatch a late equaliser to take it to extra time. The Croats will then see the game out and take it to penalties and Spain will have a repeat of the events of the 2018 World Cup where they crashed out at the hands of the Russians on penalties.
· France Vs Switzerland- 3-0 - France will have way too much quality for Switzerland and I believe that they will smash the Swiss 3-0 with Benzema and Mbappe getting in on the goals and Paul Pogba running the show, in which he will score a spectacular goal from 25 yards to seal France’s place in the quarter finals where they will face Croatia or Spain in St Petersburg on Friday 2nd July.
· England vs Germany- 1-1- England to win on penalties.- I know I may be slightly biased in my prediction for this game, however, Germany haven’t looked that convincing, especially in their game against Hungary where they only managed to scrape a draw. England are yet to peak at this tournament, and I believe that it is about time that Harry Kane gets his first goal in this tournament. I think that Kane will score a rebound from close round and then Gnabry will score a second half equaliser. English fans across the country will be hiding behind their sofas as they watch their team step up and take crucial penalties, but I believe that the Penalty success against Colombia three years ago will give us confidence and we will get our revenge on the Germans for knocking us out in Euro 96!
· Sweden vs Ukraine- 1-0- This will be a very poor standard of game with both teams struggling to create many chances. I think the Swedes have been impressive so far and I fancy them to nick it 1-0 with an Emil Forsberg penalty being the deciding moment of the game.