EURO 2020 has been a competition with a different feel to it, a Pan-European tournament with games being played across the continent as opposed to the traditional singular host nation. However, just like any major international tournament it’s group stage has thrown up surprises, joy, heartbreak and so much more it truly was a feast of football, the pinnacle of sport. It’s time to look back on this summer’s groups and how they unfolded.
Co-hosts Italy were the most impressive team of the whole group stage. Roberto Mancini’s sheer style and class reflected on the pitch by his side with their outstanding passion, pace and possession that saw them destroy their opposition. Italy won all three of their games without conceding a goal a European Championships record. The rest of the group was left down to a tussle between Wales, Switzerland and Turkey but the latter barely put up a fight losing all three matches with relative ease, a disappointing display by a side who were mentioned as dark horses prior to EURO 2020 starting. Wales and Switzerland both accumulated four points and were left separated by goal difference, the sides playing out a 1-1 draw on match day one with goals from Embolo and Moore, a game the Swiss would feel disappointed not to have won. This decisive tie showing that in tournament football perhaps organisation and determination beats natural ability.
It’s no surprise to see Belgium top the table, ranked as the world’s number one team their squad has an abundance of talent from across Europe’s top teams however, not all the heavy hitters were available throughout this stage of the tournament. The Belgians showed both class and grit in the group stage, they blew Russia away winning 3-0 with Lukaku dominating the field also defeating Denmark 2-1 in Copenhagen after trailing 1-0, this was largely due to Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard entering the pitch with the Manchester City man both assisting and scoring, showing his class. Denmark’s EURO 2020 campaign has been an emotional one, their first game against Finland being played despite a pause in play when talisman Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch which shook the footballing world, thankfully Eriksen is now stable and on the road to recovery. The emotions continued to flow in Copenhagen into matchday three when they demolished Russia 4-1 to swing the group back in their favour and qualify for the round of 16, creating a party in the Danish capital. Russia got off to the group stage on the wrong foot losing heavily to Belgium but bounced back with a win over Finland. The Finnish were the underdogs going into Group B and played up to that notion, yet they did secure three early points in Copenhagen. However, they were dominated for the 90 minutes and the minds of the Danish team were clearly elsewhere, the rest of their campaign followed in predictable fashion, a resolute defence but lacking the quality in possession to harm the opposition.
The Interesting match-up here was between Ukraine and Austria in the final game week, both beat group strugglers North Macedonia while losing to the Netherlands, although Ukraine put in a spirited effort losing late on 3-2. It felt from the very beginning that who would qualify in second in this group was all that was to be decided and that’s exactly how it played out. Austria won this battle beating the Ukraine 1-0 in Bucharest thanks to an early goal from Baumgartner. The Netherlands were ultimately comfortable group winners although there were scares along the way, Frank De Boer’s side very quick in transitions using the pace of their wingbacks to progress play with Dumfries in particular being an outstanding performer. The system does have its drawbacks with the Netherlands conceding two goals against the Ukraine in matchday one and looking vulnerable in defence at times. North Macedonia were valiant in defeat propping up the group, legend Goran Pandev got his EURO 2020 goal that he would have been craving and now signs off his international career retiring at 37-years-old.
Group D has been one of the toughest to call throughout round one of this European Championships. England and Croatia went in as favourites and eventually finished the group as the top two despite it not always looking a certainty. The two met on matchday one in which England came out 1-0 winners thanks to a second half goal from Raheem Sterling, that trend would continue for the Three Lions, they accumulated seven points without conceding a goal as they drew 0-0 with Scotland and defeated Czech Republic 1-0 once again through a Sterling goal. Croatia saw a tougher journey to round of 16 qualification relying on a rampant display in which they put Scotland to the sword at Hampden Park, winning 3-1. The player who burst the most life into this group was Czech Republic’s Patrik Schick the Bayer Leverkusen striker scoring three goals in the competition so far including the goal of the tournament as he lobbed Scotland goalkeeper David Marshall from the half-way line, an outrageous strike. It was Schick’s goals that saw the Czech’s through to the next stage as one of the best third place sides comfortably. Scotland as expected came bottom after two disappointing displays in front of their home crowd in Glasgow. However, the Scottish can take pride in their resolute performance at Wembley taking a point from the old rivals England, a moment to spur the need for further qualifications to major tournaments in the future.
Spain, Sweden, Slovakia and Poland contested this group with games being played in Seville and Saint Petersburg. As a host nation, Luis Enrique’s side had the backing of home fans to add to their talented despite transitioning squad which put the expectations of group winners on their shoulders. Unfortunately for them the task of topping the standings wasn’t as straightforward as hoped, Spain struggled to a 0-0 draw against the Swedes and shared the spoils once more when they played Poland but they did eventually find a goal scoring touch to add to their suffocating possession based game as they put five into the Slovakian net on matchday three. However, this wasn’t enough to put them at the peak of Group E as Sweden occupied that spot, the talented Emil Forsberg contributing three goals to their total which helped them to victory over Slovakia and Poland giving them seven points. Slovakia were unable to build on their opening day victory over Paulo Sousa’s Polish team subsequently sending them out of the tournament, despite scoring three goals Robert Lewandowski couldn’t prevent his team from propping up the standings.
The “Group of Death” certainly lived up to the pre-tournament billing with twists and turns coming constantly. Hungary were the team given little chance to progress and eventually they didn’t have enough to change the narrative of mission impossible but a draw with France and then again with Germany on the final day in which they led twice nearly saw them dump one of the big boys out of the competition. Although Germany and Portugal possess some of the worlds best footballing talent France were fancied to win the group and did just that, an opening day victory over Germany in Munich impressed but less convincing draws against Hungary and the Portuguese in Budapest saw them stumble over the line. Unsurprisingly, Cristiano Ronaldo was the man everyone was talking about, he scored in each group game, netting five in total and breaking more records in the process, now the all-time top scorer at European Championships among a plethora of other personal accolades, one more goal in the knockout stages will see him top the list of international goals scored in the history of the game. Typically, the Germans turned up when they needed to the most with perhaps the most impressive performance of Euro 2020 so far dismantling Portugal 4-2 , their draw to Hungary on matchday three enough for them to qualify in second place and earn them the right to play England at Wembley in the next round.