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10 things we've learned so far from Euro 2020

Ten things we've learned (so far) from Euro 2020

July 9, 2021 By Michelle Bonsu
The UEFA Euro 2020 tournament has certainly not disappointed - despite being delayed for a year due to COVID-19. Here are ten observations so far from this summer's event.

The latest iteration of the UEFA Euro championship is set to come to an end this Sunday as England take on Italy in the highly-anticipated final on July 11th. Whoever wins will thoroughly deserve it, to say the least. The Three Lions come into the match after suffering over 50 years of hurt and disappointment at major finals since winning the World Cup in 1966. Meanwhile, the Azzurri will arrive having embarrassingly failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, plus saw their country ravaged terribly by COVID-19.

This summer's Euro tournament has been quite an action-packed adventure, with plenty of celebrations, disappointments, joy, heartbreak and overall drama to keep fans talking about it for a long time. So, as we look forward to England locking horns with Italy on Sunday, here are a few notable observations from the historic event, which took place in 11 different cities across 11 different countries.

1. England end over 50 years of hurt...but it may not be coming home just yet

With many of the matches staged at Wembley, many England fans will be hoping that home pitch comforts would be just the tonic the Three Lions need to finally end England's 50-plus years of heartbreak at major tournaments. Three years ago, Gareth Southgate's men were painfully close to making it to the 2018 World Cup final, which would've been a very fascinating clash against France. Except Croatia had other ideas, scoring a late goal in the semis to break England fans' (and quite a few neutrals') hearts and progress to that same final. 

At this summer's event, England appear to be getting things right finally. Their group stage campaign was somewhat uninspiring; despite progressing unbeaten and without conceding, they scored just two goals. However, they doubled that team total during a confidence-boosting 2-0 win over Germany before recording a well-deserved and resounding 4-0 win over a hapless Ukraine to set up their semi-final showdown against Denmark.

However, do they have enough to beat Italy? That's a tricky question. England were put on the back foot for much of their clash against Denmark, and needed a penalty (some may claim controversial) to eventually snuff out the Danish Dynamite, who looked to be the better side for spells of the tie. If England want to finally end 55 years of hurt and win this summer's Euro title, they'll obviously need to do much better against an Italy side who have made a good case for being called the best-performing team in this tournament.

2. Are Belgium in danger of being called "overrated"?

This may spark some controversy, but before one starts trying to shout this prospect down, let's look at the facts. Belgium, again, came into a major tournament as the number-one ranked side in the world (as per FIFA) and again, the Red Devils came up short. During the 2018 World Cup, there was much talk about how finally this could be the tournament in which Belgium showed up, yet it didn't happen. Roberto Martinez's side ultimately had to settle for third place, and so all attention turned towards Euro 2020.

Not surprisingly, Belgium cruised through qualifiers, winning all ten of their games, and the Red Devils were quite blessed with their group, with Denmark, debutants Finland, and Russia for company. So, qualifying for the round of 16 was not only anticipated, it was expected. Yet, when things really started heating up, Belgium were unable to deliver, slogging to a 1-0 win over Portugal before losing 2-1 to Italy.

Yes, injuries to Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne took their toll as neither were at their very best, but it's not going to silence those who are starting to wonder whether Belgium do deserve to be ranked number one in the world - after all, they've never won a major title so far in their history. They'll have to get that sorted out when the 2022 World Cup comes around, as it looks set to be the last chance for the nation's "Golden Generation" to get their hands on some major silverware.

3. Cristiano Ronaldo's heroics not enough to save the day for Portugal this time around

At 36, Cristiano Ronaldo's career is approaching its twilight years, but the Portuguese superstar is still going strong. This summer's event was his fifth - yes, fifth - Euro competition since making his debut as an uncertain teenager at Euro 2004. On his and Portugal's minds certainly was to become the first team since Spain to successfully defend their title, but it was obviously going to be a lot tougher for the Selecao this time around.

Portugal did start off well, cruising to a comfortable 3-0 win over a vastly outmatched Hungary, with Ronaldo grabbing a brace. He also struck again against Germany as Fernando Santos's men took an early lead, but things quickly unraveled for the reigning champs, as two own goals helped to turn the tide in Germany's favor and Portugal ended up losing 4-2. The multi-Ballon d'Or winner did grab another brace to snatch a point against France and ensure that Portugal qualified for the round of 16, but despite netting five goals, there were feelings that it may not be enough. Especially with other players not stepping up and delivering where it counted.

Cristiano Ronaldo expresses his frustration after a disappointing result against Belgium during the round of 16

The Selecao, as we know, ended up crashing out early, losing 1-0 to Belgium during the first knockout rounds in a game that was more of a snoozefest than anything to write home about. That means that Ronaldo, who's now joint tied on 109 goals with Ali Daei, will have to wait just a little bit longer to inevitably become the top goalscorer in men's international competitions.

4. Debutants fail to capture imagination and become another Cinderella story

Euro 2020 featured two debutants, with some hoping that perhaps Finland would become another Iceland. Five years ago, the tiny Nordic nation shocked everyone by not just qualifying from their group, but beating England in the round of 16. Despite losing to France in the quarter-finals, the fact that Iceland had even gotten that far was an achievement in itself.

Unfortunately, fellow Nordic country Finland weren't able to replicate that same fate. They did beat Denmark, but only after the Danes were still reeling following Christian Eriksen's sudden collapse on the pitch, and really, no team would be able to focus after such a traumatic incident. No one realistically expected Finland to beat Belgium, but they certainly could've done better against Russia. Ultimately, the minnows ended up bowing out of the tournament as despite finishing third, it wasn't enough to qualify as one of the four best third-placed teams.

But, to their credit, Finland did much better than the other debutant side at this competition, North Macedonia, who were sent packing without picking up a single point.

5. Turkey shockingly poor in shambolic group stage campaign

Certainly, with Italy, Wales, and Switzerland for company in Group A, no one expected Turkey to actually top their quartet, but at the very least, there were quite a few people who thought that the Crescent-Stars could put up a solid fight to second. After all, this is the same team who beat France 2-0 back in 2019 during qualification for Euro 2020, and it was a huge shock as France, well, are the reigning World Cup champions. Turkey also managed to record a one-all stalemate against Les Bleus in the reverse fixture, making them the only team to nick points off Didier Deschamps's side over the course of their qualifying campaign.

In addition, Turkey came into this competition with players like Burak Yilmaz and Hakan Çalhanoğlu in their ranks; Yilmaz played an integral role in Lille's winning their first Ligue 1 title in over a decade while Serie A fans will be well aware with Çalhanoğlu's skills as a playmaker for Milan. However, neither were able to have any sort of impact whatsoever as Turkey went on to lose all three games, including two in which they failed to score. And to sum up how it was an utterly shambolic group campaign by Turkey, Merih Demiral holds the dubious record of scoring the first goal of Euro 2020 - except it was into his own net.

Turkey's nightmare start to Euro 2020 began with an awful own goal by Demiral...and it all went downhill from there. The Juventus defender (number three) is seen here after scoring for the wrong side during Turkey's 3-0 defeat to Italy

6. France's shock exit shows that one should never disregard the underdogs

France by and far were the favorite to win it all this summer. Les Bleus came into this contest largely flawless, save for their two matches against Turkey and were on a seven game unbeaten streak after a surprise 2-0 reversal to minnows Finland in November 2020. Deschamps's side were especially keen on lifting the Euro title this time around after losing 1-0 to Portugal on home turf, and all eyes were on the World Cup 2018 winners to see if, three years after their triumph in Russia, they'd be able to add another Euro crown to their trophy cabinet.

Certainly, France were in the toughest group at this tournament, with both Germany and Portugal for company. A 1-1 draw with minnows Hungary didn't necessarily set off alarm bells, but it clearly was a harbinger of things to come. Les Bleus ultimately qualified for the round of 16 with two draws and a win, and many observers were "relieved" when Deschamps's troops were paired with Switzerland.

Many of us should have thought again about discounting the underdogs so quickly. Switzerland is by far a better team than Hungary, and despite a slow start, La Nati have steadily grown in confidence. And they showed just that, matching wits with Les Bleus through 120 grueling minutes of action and holding their mettle during the ensuing spot-kick shootout to help them into the quarter-finals for the first time in history.

Kylian Mbappe reacts after missing during the penalty shootout that saw France's journey at Euro 2020 cut abruptly short 

7. Spain show that they're still very much a work in progress

As the joint-most successful team in this competition - and the only one to win back to back titles - Spain certainly are not a team to be taken lightly. However, La Roja were never viewed as favorites to win their fourth title this summer, and their showings further solidified that argument. Luis Enrique's side started off quite poorly, failing to beat Sweden and Poland, and only springing to life as they thrashed Slovakia 5-0 to finish as runners-up in their group - behind Sweden.

Although they put on a good show during an eight goal thriller against Croatia, ultimately winning that game 5-3, they did have to fight tooth and nail against a Vatreni side who were desperate to book their own spot in the quarter-finals. Yet when pitted against sterner opposition in the quarter-finals, with yet another clash against familiar foes Italy, Spain crumbled at the crucial moment. Their performance during the penalties was a vast contrast to that of Italy, and it now seems like a lifetime ago that this same team thrashed the Azzurri 4-0 en route to winning the 2012 Euro championship. 

Still, it's all not lost - there were plenty of positives from Spain, including the assured showings of teenage defender Rodri, who, save for an embarrassing back pass that led to an own goal, was quite solid throughout. All in all, Spain are still clearly a side that's a work in progress and thus all eyes will be on them to see if that progress continues to move in the right direction.

8. Germany show flashes of brilliance but are nowhere near an elite side

Like Spain, Germany have won three Euro titles so far. And like Spain, they've seen their elite standing fall in recent years, especially immediately after winning a World Cup. Both La Roja and Die Mannschaft crashed out in the group stages in the World Cup tournament following the one they'd won, with Spain's humiliation taking place in 2014 and Germany's in 2018. Germany also weren't exactly top notch leading up to this competition, with on nadir being a shock loss to lowly North Macedonia.

So, to that end, not many placed much expectations on Germany heading into this contest. They were viewed as a team who could cause some worries, but not at the same level of heavy favorites France and Belgium. And their showings during the group stages proved that just. They lost 1-0 to France, with Mats Hummels unfortunately putting the ball into his own net, and were spared further blushes by both Mbappe and Karim Benzema's efforts being ruled out for offside.

It was against Portugal that Germany started to show signs of life, with Atalanta's Robin Gosens getting special recognition for a top-class performance on both attack and defense. However, any expectations that maybe, just maybe, Germany were returning to the old Germany of old were dashed as they huffed and puffed against a desperate Hungary side, barely scraping a draw to sneak into the round of 16.

Not surprisingly, Germany's journey ended at that juncture as they were outplayed and outclassed by England throughout and failed to really trouble their opponents much. In short, Hansi Flick has quite a lot of work to do to totally revamp this German side ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

9. Italy are a totally new side under Roberto Mancini

Followers of the Azzurri have known that Italy have been steadily improving since Roberto Mancini took over, but those who're not in tune to Italy's developments probably had no idea of how. Like Belgium, Italy finished their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with ten wins out of ten, but they've had some bumps in the road here and there. Overall, though, Mancini's record since taking over in May 2018 has been excellent; to date, he's lost just two games, winning on 28 occasions for an overall win percentage of nearly 74 percent.

But it's not what one does in qualifiers that counts, it's what takes place once the big event comes. And Italy have been simply outstanding so far. They cruised through their group stage campaign without much fuss, recording three wins out of three, and more significant, did not concede a single goal. In fact, it wasn't until they faced Spain and Alvaro Morata found the back of the net that Gianluigi Donnarumma's shutout record came to an end. 

Yet, despite the setback of conceding, Italy showed they've come a long way, showing great mental fortitude to score four of their five penalties and finally get one over on a Spanish side who've caused them plenty of problems in the past. Next up will be Sunday's final, and many will be watching and waiting to see if this new team under Mancini will be able to get past one more hurdle in what looks to be their trickiest test yet. 

Jorginho celebrating after his penalty fires Italy into the Euro 2020 finals

Italy will have quite a lot going against them - the final is at Wembley and naturally will be a very pro-English atmosphere. But they're no strangers to that ground and one can be sure they'll be doing their best to drown out any jeers and focus on the crucial task ahead: winning their first Euro title since 1968.

10. Denmark's story will be never forgotten

Denmark were dealt a horrible blow on opening day with the loss of star man Eriksen, and one wouldn't have faulted the Danish Dynamite from just throwing in the towel. Especially after losing to Finland and being unable to prevent a 2-1 defeat to Belgium. However, they didn't. Clearly spurred on by their colleague, who was cheering them on from the hospital and then from home, Denmark thrashed Russia to deservedly book their spot in the round of 16. In doing so, they also made history as the first team to lose their first two games and still qualify for the knockout rounds.

Pitted against Wales, there were quite a few who figured this would be it for Denmark. The end of their journey, and still others commented that there would be no shame in Denmark going out at this juncture, especially considering what trauma they suffered on matchday one. But Denmark had other ideas. They weren't just there to be pitied, they wanted to be respected, and put another four goals past Wales, while shackling Gareth Bale throughout to record a very impressive 4-0 victory. 

They also earned a deserved 2-1 win over the Czech Republic and were quite excellent during their semis showdown with England. It's certainly not by chance that Denmark are the first team to score against the Three Lions, although they will feel they've been done dirty by the late penalty call in extra time that ultimately decided the game.

However, despite the disappointment Denmark and their fans will feel at this moment, they can take some small respite in the fact that their story at Euro 2020 will never be forgotten. By far, Denmark were the most inspirational side at this summer's competition and no one can do anything but wish them well for future tournaments.

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