The delayed European Championships got underway on Friday night in Rome. However, the tournament has been overshadowed by the shocking scenes in Copenhagen where Denmark talisman Christian Eriksen collapsed midway through Denmark’s match with Finland. The stunned stadium watched in horror as their hero’s life hung in the balance. Mercifully Eriksen appears to be recovering but the incident shook all who saw it.
The games themselves have seen great starts from some of the favourites, a few surprise packages, a new record for Ronaldo and one of the best goals in tournament history. So here we rank the starts everyone has made to Euro 2020…
Russia made a bright start against Belgium, but their remaining World Cup stardust appeared to be spent in the first ten minutes and once Russia conceded they quickly fell apart. Their press subsided, the mistakes crept in and the game was gone before halftime. Stanislav Cherchesov cut an increasingly bewildered figure on the sidelines, even subbing a substitute as Russia went down 3-0. Alexei Miranchuk did show flashes of skill when he came on and will surely start against Finland. Getting Miranchuk and Alexsandr Golovin on the ball looks Russia’s best hope of reviving their campaign, but the Fins won’t fear the trip to Saint Petersburg.
Seen as a dark horse, opening the tournament against Italy in Rome simply proved too much for Turkey. They failed to break Italy’s high press and repeatedly conceded possession. It became a matter of time before someone made a mistake and Merih Demiral’s own goal unfortunately made him the first goalscorer of the tournament. Cengiz Under did make some good attacking runs down the wing and Burak Yilmaz looked sharp, giving Turkey hope of a major improvement when they face middleweight opposition. The next two games in Baku are virtually home ties and should prove far more to Turkey’s liking.
What have Hungary done to upset the footballing Gods? First the nightmare draw, then losing their best player and now defeat to a late deflection. In front of 60,000 at the Puskas Arena, Hungary made life difficult for holders Portugal and even thought they’d won it with a late goal, but were denied correctly by an offside flag. Then the decisive moment saw Raphael Guerriero’s shot take a wicked deflection off Willi Orban to break Hungarian hearts. Hungary then fell apart with Orban giving away a penalty and Ronaldo finishing them off. For all their passion and commitment with France and Germany to come it looks ominous for Hungary.
All too familiar problems were on show for Poland as they lost their opener to Slovakia. They have the world’s best centre forward but struggled to find ways of supplying him as Poland went behind early. They did counter with a lightning quick start to the second half with the impressive Maciej Rybus opening the Slovakia defence for Karol Linetty to score. But, the good work was undone my Grzegorz Krychowiak’s red card and Poland’s shaky defence conceded from a set piece. A trip to Seville to face Spain is never easy and Paulo Sosa now has to work out how to contain Spain without his midfield linchpin.
20. North Macedonia
As expected North Macedonia were fun but ultimately fell to two late goals against Austria. Having gone behind the Macedonians took advantage of some comical defending for national icon Goran Pandev to stroke in a first half equaliser. There was enterprise in Macedonia’s play and their robust defending looked set to earn them a draw, until Austria eventually prized open the door. It should be another goal-fest against Ukraine, with Elif Elmas looking to orchestrate on the counter attack.
The World Cup semi-final rematch illustrated how far Croatia have fallen in three years. England dominated the game with Ante Rebic’s snapshot Croatia’s only real chance as they fell to a deserved defeat. Zlatko Dalic may decide to recall Bruno Petkovic to the starting line-up against the Czech Republic to give some teeth to the attack. The worry for Croatia is their ageing side will face a younger physical midfield when they face the Czech’s at Hampden Park.
Pride and passion rang out around Hampden Park for Scotland’s first tournament match in 23 years. Scotland played at a high tempo, but failed to take presentable chances and were made to pay by the razor sharp Patrik Schick whose goals proved the difference for the Czech Republic. The trip to face England at Wembley needs no introduction and Steve Clarke will hope to have Kieran Tierney fit to play in the back three. Clarke will surely make further changes with James Forrest and Che Adams pressing their claims with impactful games from the bench.
A game Wales needed to win ended with them claiming a fortunate draw. Wales couldn’t get going in possession and had the excellence of goalkeeper Danny Ward to thank for staying in the game. Kiefer Moore did prove a thorn in Switzerland’s side and his late header grabbed a precious point. Daniel James proved a plus with his pace and direct running, but Moore will find it harder to dominate in the air against Turkey’s centre backs. Aaron Ramsey getting through 90 minutes is a boost for Wales and he will be key if Wales are to be more creative with the ball against Turkey.
Ukraine turned in a good performance, but were ultimately undone by a Jekyll & Hyde performance from goalkeeper Herohiy Bushchan in Amsterdam. Bushchan kept the Dutch at bay in the first half but was culpable for the opening goal. Ukraine looked down and out, but when the Dutch got complacent, Andriy Yarmalenko got the ball onto his left foot to spark a comeback. It was worthy of a point until Bushchan gave the ball away for the Netherlands to grab the winner. Getting Yarmolenko fit is a huge boost for Ukraine and they should get key midfielder Ruslan Malinovskiy in the ball more against North Macedonia. However, memories of that shock defeat to Northern Ireland at the same stage of Euro 2016 may still linger in Bucharest this Thursday.
Austria ended their 31 year wait for a win at a major finals by beating North Macedonia 3-1. The win also eased the pressure on the under fire Franco Foda, but the scoreline flattered Austria. They crafted a nice opener when Stefan Lainer got onto Marcel Sabitzer’s cross, but a horror moment from goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann undid the good start. Austria huffed and puffed and it didn’t look like they’d get in until Foda made some smart substitutions. Michael Gregoritsch grabbed the winner with 12 minutes to go before the old campaigner Marko Arnautovic made sure of the win in the dying minutes. Bigger tests await for Austria, starting with the Netherlands, but having drawn three straight blanks they’re back amongst the goals
Switzerland’s biggest issue in qualifying was letting the lead slip, and they did it again in Baku. Switzerland dominated Wales and took a deserved lead when the lively Breel Embolo headed home the opener. Switzerland should have scored more but spurned their chances and always looked vulnerable to Kiefer Moore in the air, and against the run of play Moore drew Wales level. Haris Serferovic lead the line well but replacing him with Mario Gavranovic gave Switzerland fresh impetus in the closing stages and he thought he’d won it but for a VAR offside. They now face a tough trip to Rome to face Italy, but Embolo’s pace should prove a key weapon against Italy’s ageing centre-backs.
The Danes go right in the middle of this list, because it’s impossible to judge their football after the shocking events in Copenhagen. Denmark did dominate Finland prior to Eriksen’s collapse and the world holding its collective breath. When the match resumed 90 minutes later, Denmark’s players were understandably shell-shocked. It’s unlikely Kasper Schmeichel would have conceded the goal he did or that Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg would have taken such a tame penalty. But, it’s all immaterial Eriksen seems to be on the mend and his name is sure to be on everyone’s lips for what is sure to be an emotional night when Belgium are the visitors on Thursday. Manager Kasper Hjulmand may turn to youngster Andreas Skov Olsen to provide new impetus to the attack.
Finland’s long awaited tournament bow will sadly always be overshadowed by Christian Eriksen’s collapse, the Finnish fans to their immense chanted the stricken star’s name. On the pitch the Fins were able to collect themselves when play resumed having been dominated prior to 90 minute stoppage. Finland’s lowblock tactics continued to work and when their one chance came, Joel Pohjanpalo grabbed the winner. Fullbacks Jere Uronen and Jukka Raitala were impressive stopping Denmark on the flanks whilst Glen Kamara was immense covering in midfield. With keymen Tim Sparv and Teemu Pukki getting close to full fitness, Finland will be optimistic when they face Russia.
If you were to hand pick your opening game, facing Spain on a balmy evening in Seville would be close to the worst case scenario, yet Sweden emerged with a precious point. Sweden were on the ropes throughout the first half, yet with his one half chance Alexander Isak weaved his way through Spain’s defence and was unlucky not to score. In an improved second half display, Isak again burst through the Spanish backline only for Marcus Berg to miss when it looked easier to score. The 0-0 was achieved through Sweden’s herculean effort without the ball, now they have to show what they can do with it if they are to progress, the return of winger Dejan Kulusevski will be a major boost in that regard.
Slovakia came into the tournament on a good run of form, but few expected them to turn Poland over. With Marek Hamsik back in the line-up Slovakia bristled with intent in the first half and Robert Mak’s fine run forced the opening goal. They were stunned by Poland’s fast start to the second half but when the Poles were reduced to ten men, Slovakia again showed they have an attack to complement the stingy defence, with star defender Milan Skriniar producing a fine finish to grab three points.
A mixed bag from Germany who looked clunky in possession their defeat to France. Germany will be kicking themselves for giving away an incredibly poor own goal. They did improve going forward as the match progressed but never truly had France under sustained pressure. Joachim Low seems to be still searching for the right fit with Joshua Kimmich playing wingback and a lack of pace in the front three. Germany’s iffy start has to be measured against the quality of opposition, but with Portugal next they don’t have long to fix there problems.
Spain amassed an astonishing 85% possession against Sweden yet failed to score and were fortunate not to concede. Spain were majestic in the first half, moving Sweden around when they had the ball and pressing their opponents into repeatedly turning it over when they didn’t, but when they did force an error, Alvaro Morata missed a sitter. In the second half Spain couldn’t reproduce the same intensity and struggled to break Sweden down, worse still when the Swedes made a rare attack Spain struggled to contain Alexander Isak. Luis Enrique need to address the balance of his front line with Ferran Torres perhaps a better fit in the centre.
7. Czech Republic
There’s no doubt who produced the memorable moment of the week when Patik Schick scored the longest range goal in tournament history with his near 50-yard curling goal against Scotland. Schick’s first goal when he headed home Vladimir Coufal’s cross was pretty good too! He didn’t get as many headlines but goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik was hugely impressive with a string of fine saves, keeping Scotland at bay. Tomas Soucek’s physical presence in midfield will be key if the Czech’s are to contain Luka Modric the way England did when the Czech’s return to Hampden to face Croatia.
So exasperated were Netherlands fans with Frank De Boer’s 5-3-2 system they hired a light aircraft bearing the message ‘Please Frank 4-3-3.’ It didn’t shake De Boer’s belief in his formation and against Ukraine he flexed into a more adventurous 3-5-2. The result was a fine attacking display but a chaotic defensive mess that was vulnerable to the counter. The Dutch took a two goal lead, with Wout Weghorst showing he could be the number nine the Oranje have craved. Then they switched off and let the lead slip and were thankful to see the impressive Denzel Dumfries grab a late winner.
At first glance Portugal got their campaign off to an emphatic start and Ronaldo wrote himself into history as the leading scorer in European Championship history, but in truth this was a tough test for Portugal. They lead Hungary a merry dance in the first half but both Ronaldo and Diogo Jota missed guilt edged chances. In the second Portugal were frustrated and looked vulnerable on the counter. They had to wait until the 84th minute to break the deadlock and then it was via a wicked deflection. With Hungary forced to come out Portugal’s class finally told with Ronaldo breaking records and becoming the pantomime villain of Budapest, 3-0 and job done.
An excellent display from England saw them avenge their World Cup semi-final defeat to Croatia. Unlike the World Cup clash England dominated midfield with Kalvin Phillips bossing the game and eventually playing the telling pass to open up Croatia for Raheem Sterling to get his first tournament goal. Phil Foden was another who impressed and England’s game management was excellent. Southgate is likely to rotate his impressive array of attacking options for the visit of Scotland on Friday night with Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford pushing for a start .
Without Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium made a sluggish start against Russia, but Romelu Lukaku only needs one chance and it duly arrived after ten minutes. As Russia’s confidence dropped, Belgium took control with Your Tielemans given the freedom of Saint Petersburg to control the game. After Thomas Meunier added the second Belgium managed the game without creating a lot in the second half, until Lukaku got a sniff late on and made it 3-0. Pleasingly for Roberto Martinez, Eden Hazard looked good in a brief second half cameo, he’ll be needed when bigger tests arrive.
The favourites started by beating Germany in Munich. They were excellent in the first half and took a deserved lead, but seemed to invite pressure in the second. Kylian Mbappe did fire a warning shot of France’s devastating threat on the counter and did for the most part keep Germany at arms length. They weren’t the most impressive team of the week, but a comfortable win over another contender and a measured performance is a perfect way to open a tournament.
Italy got the tournament up and running with Andrea Bocelli’s take on Nessun Dorma. Once the game started the Azzurri produced a stunning display of pressing football to suffocate Turkey with their fullbacks constantly stretching their opponents. The in-form Domenico Berardi forced the own goal to put Italy ahead and then it was simply a matter of how many they scored. Roberto Mancini will be released to see striker Ciro Immobile open his account and with main man Marco Veratti to return Italy look a serious contender this summer.
Team of the Round
Goalkeeper: Olsen (Sweden)
Rightback: Dunfries (Netherlands)
Centre Back: Skriniar (Slovakia)
Centre Back: Alaba (Austria)
Left Back: Spinazolla (Italy)
Midfield: Kamara (Finland)
Midfield: Phillips (England)
Midfield: Kante (France)
Forward: Embolo (Switzerland)
Forward: Lukaku (Belgium)
Forward: Schick (Czech Republic)