With 2018 World Cup winner’s France 1-0 defeat of 2014 World Cup winner’s Germany in Munich, we reached the end of the first round of games at EURO 2020 and it did not disappoint!
Records being broken, vast crowds at games and a mini-car bringing the ball out to the centre circle to start the game have been just some of the highlights of the delayed European Championships but in the serious business of deciding the continent’s best team, we’ve had some intriguing battles and some big upsets.
It all kicked off in Rome on Friday as Italy took on a much-fancied Turkey, who had impressively beaten both the Netherlands and Norway in recent 2022 World Cup qualifiers, but the Turks never quite got going and three second half goals from Roberto Mancini’s men catapulted them to the top of Group A with Switzerland and Wales playing out a 1-1 draw in Azerbaijan with goals from Breel Embolo and Kieffer Moore.
(Kieffer Moore equalises against Switzerland: Getty Images)
The tournament took an unexpected and unbelievable turn on Saturday evening when Danish star Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch during his nation’s game with Finland in Copenhagen. As the world watched on in horror, Eriksen was revived on the pitch after suffering a cardiac arrest and was taken to hospital where he appears to be on the mend posting a message thanking the entire planet for the outpouring of love and goodwill in his direction.
Despite the clearly traumatic events, the rest of the Denmark team returned to the pitch almost two hours after the stoppage so Eriksen could be treated to finish the game against tournament debutants, Finland. With the Danes obviously distracted as they fell to a 1-0 defeat by their Scandanavian neighbours with Tottenham midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg missing a late penalty to compound a truly terrible day. Belgium took the initiative in the group’s other fixture with Romelu Lukaku scoring twice as they battered Russia 3-0 in St. Petersburg later on Saturday.
(Denmark team leave the pitch with Christian Eriksen: Getty Images)
North Macedonia were playing their first ever game at a major tournament and despite 37 year-old Goran Pandev briefly levelling the game against Austria, they ultimately ran out of steam as a David Alaba-inspired Austrian side swept in two late goals to win 3-1 in Bucharest. The game of the tournament so far took place in Amsterdam where the Netherlands returned to a major tournament for the first time since finishing third at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Early second half goals from Gini Wijnaldum and Wout Weghorst appeared to have the Dutch in control against Ukraine but after Andriy Yarmolenko curled in a beautiful effort the Ukranians miraculously pulled level thanks to Roman Yaremchuk’s exquisite header. Not to be denied the three points in front of their home fans though, Denzel Dumfries popped up with an 85th minute winner after missing an easier opportunity in the first half to seal a 3-2 win.
(Netherlands celebrate Dumfries winner: Getty Images)
England hosted Croatia in London on Sunday afternoon hoping to avenge the Three Lion’s semi-final defeat at the last World Cup to Luka Modric’s men and they did just that with Raheem Sterling scoring the only goal of the game for the Group D favourites as 17 year-old Jude Bellingham became the youngest player to ever feature at a European Championship before Group C took centre stage for the rest of the day.
Scotland returned to international football’s top table for the first time in 23 years on Monday in Group D against the Czech Republic but it all fell apart in Glasgow in front of a raucous home crowd. Despite some early pressure and a couple of decent chances, the game became about Czech striker Patrik Schick either side of half-time. After opening the scoring with a wonderful header just before the break, the Bayer Leverkusen attacker scored quite possibly the greatest goal in European Championship history when he spotted Scotland goalkeeper David Marshall off his line and proceeded to lob the helpless goalie from the half-way line to seal a 2-0 win.
(David Marshall lobbed from the half-way line: Getty Images)
Poland vs Slovakia was supposed to be all about Robert Lewandowski but the Ballon D’Or winner was kept remarkably quiet in a 2-1 loss that not many saw coming. After Robert Mak’s mazy run and subsequent shot had gone into the net (via the post and the back of Wojciech Szczesny’s head) to give Slovakia the lead in the first half, the Poles responded with an equaliser seconds into the second half but fell apart soon after. First, midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak was sent off for a second bookable offence before Milan Skriniar’s low drive gave Slovakia all three points and left the Polish fans reeling.
Spain hosted Sweden in Seville and despite setting a European Championship record for most passes in a game with 917, beating their previous record set exactly 9 years before in 2012 when they notched up 859 in a 4-0 win against the Republic of Ireland. There was however, no repeat of the only stat that matters, the scoreline, with the Swedes defending resolutely and deserved the 0-0 draw. However, Swedish fans will feel they had the best chances of the game when the industrious Alexander Isak’s shot hit the post via a deflection and striker Marcus Berg somehow missing an open goal from close range in the second half.
(Skriniar celebrates against Poland: Getty Images)
Group F is the group of death with Portugal joining the aforementioned France and Germany alongside Hungary hoping to cause an upset among the big boys but they came up short in their first attempt against the Portugese. The Hungarians held out for 85 minutes and had a goal disallowed before they finally succumbed when Raphael Guerreiro’s shot deflected past Peter Gulacsi in goal. From then on, it inevitably became about one man, Cristiano Ronaldo. He had become the first man to play in five European Championships by simply stepping onto the pitch but that wasn’t nearly enough for the Juventus man who helped himself to two goals late in the game to break Michel Platini’s record for most goals at the tournament and inch ever closer to the all-time record for most international goals.
Finally, we reached the most anticipated game of the round as France travelled to Munich to face Germany in Jogi Loew’s last tournament before he steps aside for Hansi Flick and in truth, the Germans never really looked like winning the game. Paul Pogba was the central figure for the French and his sublime pass to Lucas Hernandez allowed the left back to create trouble for the German backline and Mats Hummels could only divert the ball into his own net for the game’s only goal. After that, France had two more goals disallowed for offside with Germany’s only real chance falling to Serge Gnabry who shot over the bar in the second half with a miscued strike.
(Crisitano Ronaldo scores a brace against Hungary: Getty Images)
We couldn’t have asked for a better start to the Europe’s premier international competition and here’s hoping the tournament goes from strength to strength to provide us with memorable moments right up to the final on July 11th.