During the final round of group matches, we review five of the biggest stories from Matchday 2:
All to play for
The days of the top two qualifying for the knockout round are behind us. Instead, we are treated to a tense jostle for qualification with the four best third-placed teams also heading into the mix. There is no doubt this adds to the drama with a glut of meaningful games still to play, as only North Macedonia is out of the reckoning before Matchday 3 is up and running. Those well-placed teams, such as Italy, are likely to rest players during the final round of matches. This will prove to be an advantage for the teams, but there are also implications for the teams they face. In this case, teams such as Wales and Switzerland could be in interesting positions.
Dismiss Germany at your peril
After a loss to France in the opening fixture, many thought Germany had their backs against the wall as they prepared to face defending champions Portugal; a loss and it could be all over. However, this is a team with tournament pedigree and a manager in Joachim Low with over 15 years of experience at the helm of the team. Who could forget the World Cup Semifinal matchup of 1982 with an outrageously talented France roster? Tied at a 1-1 score, the match entered extra time in which France took a 3-1 lead, only for Germany to fight back to a 3-3 score and then steal the match on penalties. In the stifling heat of Munich, it was a 4-2 win for Germany against Portugal.
Local rivalry a great leveller
The textbook is often tossed aside when two great rivals square off in new encounter. In the oldest fixture in the international calendar, there is plenty to play for between England and Scotland in a matchup that extends far beyond the confines of the soccer pitch. For the Scots, it has been a 23-year wait for tournament football, and 22 years since a win over the border in England. In the 114 previous matchups, England leads the way with 48 wins over Scotland’s 41 victories, with 25 matches ending in a tie. With both teams coming into this group game on the back of conflicting results, a win for England over Croatia and a loss for Scotland against the Czech Republic, many could see only an England victory. After being outplayed by their northern counterparts, the Scot’s can be considered unlucky to leave with only a point after a 0-0 result. It remains to be seen how England responds, as they seek to justify their position as one of the tournament favorites.
Lesser known players coming to the fore
The pre-tournament hype circled around superstars Kylian Mbappe, Romelu Lukaku, and Cristiano Ronaldo. However, others have taken their chance to grab the headlines and make a name for themselves. With the prospect of an improved profile or potential big money moves further down the line, a number of lesser-known players have made a mark in the early stages of the tournament. Continuing with the Scotland theme, Billy Gilmour, currently biding his time with limited opportunities at Premiership club Chelsea, put in a performance against England that belied his 20 years and helped win the all-important midfield battle. Manuel Locatelli has been grabbing the goals and headlines for Italy, but has been plying his trade at little known Sassuolo. Reportedly now drawing interest from some of the top clubs across Europe, he is certainly one to watch as the tournament progresses. Sweden also holds a hidden gem in striker Alexander Isak. At the age of 21, he is another young starlet who can transform a game in an instant. Struggling for first team action with Borussia Dortmund, he moved to Spanish club Real Sociedad in 2019 and had a prolific 2021 with 26 goals during the season.
Eriksen continues on his road to recovery
Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen has been discharged from the hospital following the insertion of a heart-regulating device called an ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator) following his collapse during the opening match against Finland. During Denmark’s second match against Belgium, the ball was kicked out in the tenth minute and a 60-second applause was given for him. The Danes gave an uplifting performance, taking an early lead through Yussuf Poulsen, before succumbing to a Belgian comeback and finally losing the match by a 2-1 score.