With the Euro 2020 group stage done and dusted, we asked our writers for their views on some big questions based on what we have seen. Which teams can do better, which players have made their mark and who will contest the final?
Has Euro 2020 matched your expectations?
Mark Ogden: I had low expectations due to the workload of last season and the strange format of games being staged in 11 cities across Europe, and the tournament has lived down to my pessimistic outlook. But nobody ever remembers the group stage, and it is all about the knockout games, so I expect Euro 2020 to truly come to life from the round of 16 onwards. The 24-team format has meant a big gulf between the top teams and the outsiders, then you have a seeding system that led to Group F being stacked with three potential winners in France, Germany and Portugal, so there is definitely room for improvement in terms of the format. The absence of a single host has also led to a disconnected feel so far, but it will get better from now on, as knockout games between top teams always generate memories and excitement.
Gab Marcotti: Nope. It has surpassed expectations. Concerns that players would be exhausted, that travel/logistics would be impossible, that COVID-19 would wreak havoc, that teams would be conservative, they were all overstated. It has been a really good tournament thus far in my opinion.
Julien Laurens: As much as I have loved every game, even the boring ones, I can’t help but feel a bit underwhelmed by the quality that we have seen so far. I don’t think the level has been great in most of the tournament. We have seen moments of brilliance here and there, and some great passages of play, but overall I am a bit disappointed. I expected more, but perhaps the best will emerge in the knockout stages. All the top teams are there, all the big players will want to deliver when it matters the most. The real quality is going to come.
James Olley: Yes. Increasing the squad sizes to 26 has enabled a greater degree of rotation to offset signs of fatigue, but in any case, the standard of football has been good. COVID-19 cases have been minimal, and perhaps the scare Christian Eriksen suffered made us all realise we should enjoy the moment a little more. The tournament is worse overall for the bloated format, but despite that the group stage still had plenty of intrigue, most obviously in Group F, as Portugal occupied all four positions during the final 90 minutes on Wednesday. The draw for the round of 16 is, however, imbalanced as a result.
Tom Hamilton: There have been some wonderful goals and astonishing individual performances. While there have been a couple of drab matches, the overall quality has been high. Wales have been great fun to watch, while Denmark have won the affection of many after everything they (and Christian Eriksen) have been through. We’re still yet to see the best of England, Portugal and France, while Italy and Belgium have come flying out of the blocks. Netherlands could yet surprise us all and get to the final, while Spain and Germany are still a bit unpredictable. The cross-Europe approach has also gone OK — despite the various logistical nightmares with travel restrictions — while even VAR hasn’t been a complete shocker. The only drawback has been the lack of jeopardy in the group stages, with teams being able to qualify from third surely something UEFA needs to revise.
Rob Dawson: The danger of having a major tournament after such a long season was that teams would focus on being hard to beat in an effort to grind out results, but there has been plenty of attacking intent in the group stages. Italy, Belgium and Portugal all scored seven goals in their three games while Netherlands have eight, and there have been more entertaining games than ones that have made you want to switch off. Hopefully it continues into the knockout games when more of the big teams face off and energy levels will be at a premium.
Of the big teams, which has the most room for improvement?
Laurens: It has to be England. I don’t know how anyone could be excited by what we have seen so far. We have not even seen 50% of what this team can do. If Gareth Southgate can finally find the right formula, this super-talented team has so much more to give than the three average performances that we have seen so far. England were saved only by a bit of individual brilliance from Raheem Sterling or Jack Grealish.
Olley: Spain may have beaten Slovakia 5-0, but that result owed plenty to an implosion from their opponents and a farcical goalkeeping display from Martin Dubravka. In their first two group games, they dominated the ball but did little with it, and striker Alvaro Morata needs to somehow shake himself from the introspection that is seemingly affecting his performances. England and Germany also need to find a better overall balance, but the history of their rivalry — and a partisan 45,000 crowd at Wembley — will surely sharpen minds regardless.
Hamilton: Germany have been unpredictable and flutter between being ruthless and flimsy. For the brilliance of their 4-2 win over Portugal, there was also their limp performance against France, and the 2-2 draw against Hungary showcased them at their best and worst. They’re still weak at the back, and though they look far better in a 3-4-3 than with four in defence, there are opportunities for the opposition. They’re more effective when Thomas Muller and Leon Goretzka are on the field, but this is a team still trying to jell. Jamal Musiala needs to be given more game time, while they must inject some dynamism into that midfield. Joachim Low is departing the Germany job after this tournament, and his side must markedly improve if they are to give him a winning send-off.
Marcotti: England and Germany have punched the most below their weight, but whether you think they can improve depends on how much faith you have in Southgate and Low, which isn’t that much. So I’m going to say Spain. They haven’t played badly; they just haven’t finished until the last game.
Dawson: England. The feeling before the tournament was that their strength lay in attack with all the options Southgate has at his disposal, but it hasn’t turned out like that. They’ve been solid and organised with midfielders Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips in front of a back four. They haven’t conceded a goal in the group stages, but going forward, they’ve been largely pedestrian. England have pace and skill in every one of the forward areas and, in Harry Kane, one of the best finishers in the world, but too often they’ve looked slow and predictable.
Ogden: England. Spain were hugely underwhelming in Group E, but Luis Enrique’s team are in transition and went into the tournament without big expectations. It is a different story with England, who have scored just two goals in three games and shown none of the attacking flair you would expect from a team with so many top-class forwards. England qualified as Group D winners, so they have achieved their primary objective, but they will have to raise their game to go much further.
Which previously under-the-radar players have impressed?
Hamilton: There have been some outstanding unsung heroes. Wales’ Danny Ward and Czech Republic’s Tomas Vaclik have both been outstanding in goal. Across the back, Germany’s Robin Gosens, Netherlands’ Denzel Dumfries, Austria’s Stefan Lainer, Ukraine‘s Mykola Matviyenko and Finland’s Paulus Arajuuri have all impressed. Italy’s Manuel Locatelli has had a great tournament in midfield, while Denmark’s Mikkel Damsgaard, Switzerland’s Breel Embolo, Wales’ Kieffer Moore and Czech Republic’s Patrik Schick have done well up front.
Dawson: Dumfries. Frank de Boer has taken a lot of criticism in the Netherlands for his decision to play with a back three rather than go 4-3-3, but the system has worked largely because of the attacking threat offered by Dumfries from right wing-back. He’s already scored twice and could have had more, and anyone facing Netherlands in the knockout rounds will have to come up with a plan to counter his raiding runs.
Ogden: In terms of attacking players, it really has been a case of the usual suspects with Cristiano Ronaldo, Romelu Lukaku and Luka Modric creating headlines, but some lesser-known players at the back have also had good tournaments. Martin Hinteregger has been solid defensively and a threat going forward for Austria, while Domagoj Vida has had another good tournament with Croatia. And while Scott McTominay is well-known as a Manchester United midfielder, his performances at centre-back for Scotland have been impressive and shown he has the potential to be coached into being a defender in the long-term.
Laurens: I would say Alexander Isak and Locatelli. Both had great seasons with their clubs — Real Sociedad and Sassuolo, respectively — but to step up the way they did in this competition and shine is something else. Isak, 21, is slightly younger than the 23-year-old Locatelli, but both have showed so much talent, confidence and character. They are stars in the making.
Marcotti: I don’t know if Isak counts as under-the-radar, but he’s been tremendous. Netherlands midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum isn’t under-the-radar, but I didn’t think he’d have so much energy after the season he had with Liverpool. Shoutout to England and Leeds midfielder Kalvin Phillips too/
Olley: Billy Gilmour was not under-the-radar to anyone who has seen Chelsea on the few occasions he has been given a chance, but nevertheless the 20-year-old excelled in the biggest game of his life as Scotland held England at Wembley. It was devastating for him that a positive COVID-19 test ruled him out of the group-defining game against Croatia, but there are many big days ahead of the midfielder. Honourable mentions to the Netherlands’ Dumfries and Italy’s Locatelli.
Which teams do you expect to contest the final on July 11?
Ogden: France and England. Despite winning just one of their Group F games, France still emerged top of the toughest section, and they’ve still not hit top gear. As for England, if they can beat the weakest Germany team for years in the next round, they have a clear run to the final.
Laurens: France will make it to the final. They are in the tough half of the draw, but this team thrives in a big-game setting. They will be strong, physically and mentally, with their experience in finals after lifting the 2018 World Cup in Russia and their runners-up performance as hosts at Euro 2016. On the other side of the bracket, I think the winner of the England vs. Germany round-of-16 clash will reach the final. I’m picking Germany.
Marcotti: On paper, one side is much stronger than the other. I’m going to go out on a limb and say Belgium vs. Germany, but that’s because I don’t have the guts to pick an underdog.
Olley: France may have won only one match, but they still topped the toughest group and have an inviting draw against Switzerland in the round of 16. It gets more difficult from there, but they have the depth of talent to go up through the gears. The winners of England vs. Germany will fancy themselves to make the final from the bottom half, but Netherlands are arguably in better form than both.
Hamilton: It’s still hard to look past France, but Italy, Belgium, Germany and England could all yet gate-crash the party. Spain and Portugal look to be lacking in attack and defence, respectively. While the Netherlands have started well, I feel they will tail off in the knockout stages. France are still the favourites, and I think we might end up seeing them play England on July 11.
Dawson: Despite England’s issues, they’re in the kinder side of the draw and can reach the final if they can get past Germany in the round of 16. France will meet them there.
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