With the first round of fixtures now complete, each nation has had an opportunity to size up their opponents as they seek to plot their way through the group stages. A chance for us also to take stock and highlight 5 takeaways from the tournament so far.
New, but the same!
With a new format of 24 nations playing 51 games in a tournament taking place in 11 nations across Europe, there has been plenty for the tournament-starved soccer fan to get their head around. Fans have been allowed back in attendance, following a degree of control over the Covid-19 scenario. The UEFA has coordinated with host countries to back a range of stadium capacities. We have had a new participant in North Macedonia, whose veteran striker Goran Pandev, the fourth-oldest player at the tournament, bagged a goal in the opening match. This marked another first in the same game with Austria sealing a 3-1 win and their first victory in a European tournament.
Familiar themes have been brewing in the background, however, as the palpable buzz of Scotland’s first competitive tournament in 23 years turned sour in an opening loss to the Czech Republic. Poland, sported by Robert Lewandowski, was fancied by many to progress to the group stage. This was short-lived, as Poland suffered a loss to Slovakia. Three-time winners Spain failed to turn an 85% possession into a victory, being held to a 0-0 stalemate by a rugged Sweden.
Fancied teams taking the initiative
The fancied quartet of France, England, Belgium and Portugal all negotiated a safe passage through the opening round of fixtures. Major tournaments can spring a few surprises, as Portugal once lost on opening day to eventual Euro winners Greece in 2004. Still, the opening round served up few outright shocks. Italy and Netherlands, both tipped to go far, also ran out winners to leave a familiar feel to the early group tables. Germany always had their work cut out against France and will be hoping they’re not out of the reckoning by the time they face Hungary in the final group fixture.
VAR: So far, so good
Following its inception during the 2018 World Cup, VAR (Video Assistant Referee) has faced a high level of scrutiny and criticism. Concerns reached a new high during the 2020-21 English Premiership season, particularly with regards to goals ruled out following accidental handballs by a player in the buildup. The UEFA’s referees committee has confirmed that this rule will not apply at the Euros, as they seek to maintain “the spirit of football”. The UEFA also confirmed that there will have to be “clear evidence” before a tournament goal is ruled out for offside. There was nothing controversial in the decisions not to allow goals by Mario Gavranovic for Switzerland against Wales or Karim Benzema for France against Germany.
Keeping Covid at arms-length
Having completely derailed the original Euro 2020, the Covid pandemic is still looming in the background this summer. Sweden, Spain and Scotland all saw players having to self-isolate in the tournament buildup and there are likely to be further outbreaks as the games progress. This week saw Portuguese defender Joao Cancelo test positive and he will be replaced by Diogo Dalot. Fans across the globe will be hoping for the right result against this all too familiar foe.
It is only football after all
At 41 minutes into Denmark’s match against Finland, the adoring eyes of the footballing world were plunged into darkness as Danish superstar Christian Eriksen collapsed and received emergency medical treatment on the pitch. Though now stable and making progress in the hospital, Eriksen’s ordeal was a reminder that there are more important things than soccer.