With the conclusion of the battle between the two megalodons of International football i.e. France and Germany on Tuesday, fifteenth of June , the first round of the group stage of euro 2020 was completed. After the postponement of the tournament last year due to the ongoing pandemic the anticipation only grew even further as the fans of each team waited eagerly to witness their countries on European football’s biggest stage, and boy did the matches live up to all the hype. The culmination of Round 1 has given us a better understanding of each team and their chances going into the next round and further into the knockout stages of the tournament, as we comprehensively analyze the teams and games that have been contested thus far.
Group A :
Match 1: Turkey vs Italy
The opening match of the Euros signified the return of fans although at a much smaller level, back to the stadiums at the Stadio Olimpico in the Italian capital of Rome. Thousands of Italian fans were decked out in the colours of the azzuri while a limited Turkish contingent was present too rallying on their nation through thick and thin. But the rallying was all in vain as the Turks were taken apart by their Mediterranean rivals 3-0 with the Italians rarely breaking a sweat in the 90 minutes of play. Turkey had been billed as the dark horses for the tournament by several bookmakers but they were anything but on this occasion being completely outplayed by Italy on both ends of the pitch. Merih Demiral’s own goal shortly after half time rewarded the Italian dominance displayed in the first half as the midfield of Jorginho , Barella and Locatelli caught the eye of viewers as their efficiency on and off the ball rarely gave Turkey the opportunity to even breathe. Lorenzo Insigne pulled all the strings in Italy’s attack and he was duly rewarded with a goal late on in the game after Immobile had doubled their lead earlier. With this statement win Mancini’s men look on pace to go deep into the tournament and ruffle a few feathers as they go along while Turkey’s performance did them no favors with chances of progressing looking bleaker than ever.
Match 2: Wales vs Switzerland
The Welsh returned to a major International competition after missing out on the World cup in 2018 and they were looking to emulate the fairytale run of Euro 2016 which saw them reach the semi finals of that edition of the tournament. Some have argued that the current squad might be better than the one from 2016 and it was tested as they came up against a well drilled Swiss side managed by Vladimir Petkovic. The encounter taking place in Baku was a rather cagy affair over the 90 minutes with Switzerland having the lions share of the ball and consequently creating decent chances mostly due to the efforts of mercurial 25 year old Breel Embolo who had seemed to have taken over the talismanic presence in the team from Xherdan Shaquiri who was also in the lineup albeit having a rather dry season with Liverpool in England. Embolo’s efforts paid dividend when he opened the scoring from a corner which he had won after a lung busting run which forced goalkeeper Danny Ward into a sharp save. Wales’ attack was mostly feeding off of scraps and chances weren’t being created consistently. Gareth Bale the Welsh captain and leader is always looked towards when the team is struggling to produce a moment of brilliance but even he wasn’t at his best. However an equalizer did come in the 74th minute as striker Kieffer Moore, who was playing in the fifth division of English football in 2016, headed in a cross that rescued a crucial point for Wales. Wales will be happier with that result and both teams have a decent chance to progress out of their group.
Match 3: Denmark vs Finland
This match was very significant in Finnish footballing history as it was their first ever appearance in an international tournament and they were the heavy underdogs and rightly so. Denmark started the game in dominant fashion creating chance after chance while the Finnish agenda was quite clearly preserving their clean sheet. However a spine tingling tragedy struck in the 42nd minute of the match when Christian Eriksen, one of Denmark’s most influential players, stumbled and collapsed to the ground with a cardiac arrest. Simon Kjaer the Danish captain immediately went by the side of his teammate and registered CPR while the medics rushed onto the scene. The otherwise rocking Parken Stadium in Copenhagen were in a stunned silence as they witnessed one of their fighting for his life. Eriksen after regaining consciousness after several minutes was escorted of the pitch amid huge roars of cheer from both sets of fans. The match was abandoned temporarily but reconvened after almost 90 minutes. The Finns took the lead via Joel Pohjanpalo but it was clear to see the situation regarding Eriksen had taken a significant toll on his compatriots. The Danes did win a penalty late on but failed to score which eventually led to a Finland victory. However the result of the match was of least priority when the news emerged that Eriksen was in a stable state and out of danger. Despite the result of the match it still seems difficult for this Finland team to make a run deep into the competition while the next two matches are a must not lose situation for Denmark .
Match 4 : Belgium vs Russia
Belgium are always the favorites in every tournament they play however Russia are no pushovers especially with the home support they have in the Krestovsky stadium in St.Petersburg. But in this match Russia did play like pushovers as they were no match to the number one ranked team in the world as Belgium romped past them 3-0 in a very straightforward victory. Belgium’s most prolific scorer in their history gave them the lead in the 10Th minute of the match followed by a touching tribute to his club teammate Eriksen in his goal celebration. Thomas Meunier came on as a substitute after Timothy Castagne suffered a horrific broken eye socket and scored a second before half time. Lukaku rounded off a complete performance with a second shortly before the full time whistle as the Russians posed little to no threat to the Belgian backline. Belgium are being backed to reach the final four of the tournament and this might be the final opportunity for their ‘golden generation’ to win some silverware for the country.
Match 6: Austria vs North Macedonia
Like Finland this was also North Macedonia’s first appearance in a major competition and they had rather strong group of fans cheering them on at the National Stadium in Bucharest. They were up against an Austrian side which had had a dismal showing at the previous edition of this tournament. North Macedonia were determined to play fluidly vs Austria rather than sit back and defend against stronger opposition. Austria did draw first blood when Stefan Lainer got around the back from his wing back position to tuck home a neat volley from Sabitzer’s pin point pass. There were loud cheers heard within the stadium when Macedonia did equalize through grizzled veteran and striker Goran Pandev after a mix-up in the Austrian defense. Austria did prove to be bit hot to handle when they took the lead again in minute 78 when David Alaba, Austrian captain tore the Macedonian defense with a delicious cross that was converted by substitute Gregoritsch. There was controversy late in the game when forward Marko Arnautovic came on and put the game beyond doubt with a clean finish but his celebration caused uproar as he went on an alleged “Serbian nationalistic rant” against Macedonian winger Alioski who has Albanian roots. Post match the Macedonian footballing federation launched a complaint to the UEFA regarding this which in turn led them to ban Arnautovic for their second round match vs Holland. Austria look in prime position to advance out of the group while North Macedonia will have to cause some major upsets to have any chance to progress through.
Match 7: Netherlands vs Ukraine
This was by far the most open and entertaining encounter of the first round of fixtures . Netherlands created a ton of chances in the first half without being able to finish any with their captain Gini Wijnaldum and full back Denzel Dumfries having the best of the lot. Netherlands were desperate for a victory since this game marked their return to a major international tournament for the first time since 2014. The game came to life in the second half as a frenetic start led to the Netherlands going 2-0 up in a matter of moments with goals from Wijnaldum and striker Wout Weghorst. Ukraine, managed by country legend and once ballon d’ or winner Andriy Shevchenko, came roaring back when Yarmolenko gave them a lifeline with a beautiful curling finish in the 75th minute. Four minutes later honors were even as Roman Yaremchuk redirected a freekick from just outside the six yard box. However drama ensued in the Amsterdam Arena as Dumfries who was having a rather sub par game gave the Netherlands the lead with his first ever international goal in the 85th minute, which they held onto to secure the three points. Netherlands despite their problems in the system look set to progress further in the tournament while Ukraine are also expected to regain form and make a late rally for one of the Round of 16 spots.
Match 5: England vs Croatia
This was a repeat of the world cup semi final from 3 years ago and was a tasty affair on paper in front of a raucous London crowd in Wembley Stadium. England manager Gareth Southgate had been on the receiving end of some criticism before the match for his selections but in the end England picked up a rather comfortable 1-0 win courtesy of a Raheem Sterling goal in the second half. Croatia were largely unthreatening throughout the 90 minutes mainly due to England’s midfield dominance as Kalvin Phillips emerged man of the match. This was the first time in decades where England won their first group game at the Euros which has given them a sufficient platform to build on for the rest of the tournament. Croatia will still be second favorites to emerge through as this performance was seen more so as an exception than the norm.
Match 8: Scotland vs Czech Republic
This match marked an emotional return for Scotland to major international competition as it was their first Euro or World cup match since 1998. The game was played at Hampden Park in Glasgow against a gritty and resolute Czech side spearheaded in attack by 25 year old Patrik Schick, one of the brightest talents produced by the country. The Glaswegian crowd were willing their team on as the Scots played with high intensity in the first half. However they were dealt a body blow towards the end when Schick headed in a cross past goalkeeper David Marshall. The second half started with Scotland on the front foot forcing Czech keeper Tomas Vaclik into a couple of saves after Marshall had made one of his own. But the 52nd minute of the match saw one of the greatest goals in Euro history being scored as Schick put a 50 yard curling effort into the net over Marshall who was left scrambling and eventually tangled in his own net while making an effort to save the unsavable. Despite this crushing setback the Scots didn’t slow down and created chance after chance but ultimately to no avail. With the victory, Czech Republic sit comfortably in the group ahead of the next round of matches while Scotland need to chalk out big results against favorites Croatia and bitter rivals England.
Match 9: Poland vs Slovakia
Poland vs Slovakia rather unexpectedly was quite a dramatic match despite the fact that Poland were the favorites going into the encounter. The Polish team, led by captain and all time top scorer Robert Lewandowski who was coming off a record breaking season in Germany , got off to a solid start creating some half chances and restricting the Slovakian attack. A breakthrough did come in the 18th minute as Slovakian winger Robert Mak’s mazy run, beating 2 polish defenders resulted in an own goal from goalkeeper Szczesny after the ball ricocheted off the post and went inside off his flailing arm. In doing so Szczesny set an unwanted record of being the first goalkeeper to ever score an own goal in Euro history. As Slovakia went into half time with the lead, Poland came galloping out of the blocks in the second half as midfielder Linetty scored from beautifully manufactured team move just 30 seconds after kickoff. As soon as it seemed like Poland was building momentum and would eventually score a second experienced midfielder Krychowiak was sent off after a second yellow in the 62nd minute. Slovakia grabbed the opportunity presented to them with both hands and scored their second and took the lead seven minutes later through centre back Milan Skriniar’s accurate volley from a corner. This goal was enough for a win as Slovakia surprisingly looked comfortable at the top of their group. Poland will have a lot of work to do to make it out of the group especially with the match against Spain on the horizon.
Match 10: Spain vs Sweden
Spain and Sweden have seemed rather inseparable over the last 3 years as they had been drawn in the same group in qualifying for the actual tournament as well. As soon as the match kicked off at La Cartuja stadium in Seville the Spanish team set a familiar tempo to the legendary Spain teams of the past as they dominated the ball and kept 86% possession in the game. Swedens tactics were clear, to look for minute openings on the counter attack using the pace of forward Alex Isak. However the Spanish midfield of Koke ,Rodri and Pedri ,who set the record for the youngest player to start for Spain at the Euros, worked in tandem and didn’t offer even a sniff to the Swedes. Alvaro Morata, Spain’s striker missed a golden chance to take the lead after putting a one on one wide of the goal. Sweden’s goalkeeper Olsen was kept busy throughout the match and made several ridiculous saves to keep Sweden in the match. As mentioned before, Isak’s pace and trickery caused Spain problems on more than one occasion as Sweden came very close to taking the lead and even managed to strike the post. The match eventually ended in a 0-0 draw but Spain wouldn’t worry to much as they have more than enough firepower in their young squad to overcome the other teams in the group. Sweden will also be optimistic and confident after not losing to Spain and will look to channel this momentum in their next fixtures.
Match 11:Hungary vs Portugal
Hungary’s match against Portugal in the 61,000 full Puskas Arena in Budapest was the first match in the so called group of death. The Hungarians had the unconditional support from a full house behind them as they looked to cause an upset win against Ronaldo and his men. The match overall had very limited scoring opportunities despite the fact that Portugal largely dominated proceedings. Diogo Jota was on the end of a couple of half chances but failed to put the ball in the back of the net. Ronaldo had arguably the chance of the half as he blazed a half volley from close range over the bar. The deadlock was broken near the death by the dominant Portuguese via a deflected shot from full back Raphael guerreiro which resulted in a hushed silence in the stadium. Ronaldo inevitably added to the lead twice before full time with calmly converted penalty and a sublimely worked team move of which he was at the end of. This win gave the defending champions a strong foothold on the group while leaving Hungary in a precarious situation with both France and Germany still to come.
Match 12: France vs Germany
Right from the time the draws were made this matchup was billed as the most sought after game of the first round. Two Goliaths of the footballing world came face to face on a warm evening in Munich with a win for either being tipped to be equally likely. This match turned out to be a well balanced affair right from the start with neither team being able to establish a hold on the run of play. It was quite apt that a piece of individual brilliance from one of the world class members of the the world class French squad, Paul Pogba, would play a key role in breaking the deadlock. His delightful floated througball to charging left back Lucas Hernandez resulted in the opening goal as Hernandez’s flashed cross across the six yard line caused veteran German defender Mats Hummels to put the ball into the back of his own net. The second half was an example of France’s defensive solidity and intelligence as they sat back into a compact block preventing Germany to create clear cut chances that their vastly talented attack would have gladly profited off. It seemed like France had put the game beyond reach with goals from Benzema and Mbappe but both were eventually disallowed after review. The match ended with the same scorline giving France, the outright favorites for the trophy, a solid win and leaving them in a strong position to advance to the knockouts. Germany will have a lot of work to do to achieve one of the two automatic qualifying places as they will face a table topping stubborn Portugal side next.
With the second round of group stage matches underway , we will get a better understanding of all the scenarios and permutations the teams will have to encounter in order to take further steps towards the holy grail of the European Championships.
Rayyan Ghulam Ahmed can be contacted at (Email id: email@example.com)