Like the Olympics the European Football Championship or Euro’s have begun a year later than scheduled. At the time of this articles publication the round of 16 will have been well underway. Nations have fallen by the wayside. Some in despair, some stoically. Meanwhile the usual suspects advance.
Twenty Four teams began the journey in six groups of four. The top two of each group advance. Also the best four of the third place teams advance. Even if you do not make top two of your group you can still see your nation advance. It helps against tanking and match fixing.
Normally a single nation would hold the tournament. For 2021 it was arranged to be held in different cites across Europe. From Glasgow, Scotland to Baku, Azerbaijan. From St Petersburg, Russia to Seville, Spain. Multiple stadiums were prepared for this huge tournament.
Group A began the tournament in Rome with Turkey facing Italy. Questions had been asked, as Italy missed the previous World Cup. It had a few pundits tipping Turkey, silly pundits. We should not have doubted Italy at all.
Italy in 2021 are a tight team who play attacking football. Italian coach Roberto Mancini has his players respect and love. Turkey are a shadow of what they have been and they played poorly throughout. The 3-nil win to Italy only foreshadowed what was to come.
Switzerland and Wales filled out Group A. Wales have huge presence with Gareth Bale and a team that know each other well. Switzerland a few years ago would have been tipped to top this group, however they were unable to score from the chances they created. Switzerland are lucky to advance.
Advancing Italy, Wales and Switzerland.
Group B contained Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Russia. Belgium are still the number one team in the world, without any major trophy to back that up. Finland are capable but without the flair and firepower to challenge the best. Russia are Russia and you do not know which one will turn up.
Denmark’s first round match against Finland set the stage for THE story of this tournament. In the first half without any warning Denmark player Christian Eriksen collapsed on the ground. CPR was applied immediately, which was in time for paramedics to revive him.
The match continued after a long delay. Eriksen from his hospital bed telling his team mates to keep playing. Denmark lost that game 1-nil. Belgium of course topped the table of group B. Denmark regrouped and finished second on goal difference. This due to a four nil thumping of Russia.
Advancing Belgium and Denmark.
Despite a major upset Group C was pretty clear. Though Ukraine were a dark horse, North Macedonia were not. Austria and the Netherlands were obvious favourites. That is exactly how it happened. The Dutch powered into the round of 16 along with Austria.
Ukraine beat North Macedonia and the great Goran Pandev got the big stage of Euro 2021 to say goodbye to his adoring fans. The only real controversy was that Dutch coach Frank deBoer instituted a 3-5-2 formation. This goes against the national curriculum of 4-3-3, its a Dutch thing. If you want to know more google Netherlands Total Football.
Advancing Netherlands, Austria and Ukraine.
In Group D was Czech Republic, Croatia, England and Scotland. England if they finished top of this group could play every game at Wembley. The English love to torture themselves with delusions of grandeur. This time was no different. They still finished top of the group anyway.
Czech Republic were the surprise packet with one win, one loss and one draw. Scotland were scrappy and defiant but lacking much. England were lucky against Croatia, horrid against Scotland and fortunate against the Czech team. Croatia are not the team that played in the World Cup final and it shows.
Czech Republic striker Patrik Schick is the find of the tournament, three goals from three games. One goal, a kick from half way, over the hapless Scottish keeper. At least Scotland scored against Croatia and the pink jersey Scottish fans wore to the game was a highlight. I want one.
Advancing England, Croatia and Czech Republic.
There is always a group you forget, for me it was Group E. Slovakia, Poland, Sweden and Spain. Like group D easy to pick the winners. Unlike group D no surprises at all. Sweden and Spain went through easily.
Polish striker Robert Lewandowski is still a force in any game, unfortunately fortune did not shine on him. Losing to Slovakia must have hurt. Sweden are a tough unit and hopefully can go further than the round of 16.
Spain were unable to train together prior to the tournament due to covid. It did not really hurt them, but only winning one is concerning. The five nil romp over Slovakia has to have blown a few cobwebs away. Spain are in contention but serious doubt over any claim to them wining it all.
Advancing Sweden and Spain.
Group F, the group of death. Every tournament has ‘that’ group with three or four big teams in it. Poor Hungary having to face games against France, Germany and Portugal. Hungary did not think that way. They played all but one of their matches at home in Budapest, always to a frenzied crowd. Loosing only once to Portugal.
France look amazing. Kylian Mbape is tremendous, but they drew one all against Hungary in Budapest. Portugal and Germany are not as tough as they used to be. Take Cristiano Ronaldo out and Portugal may be on par with Hungary.
Germany are not world beaters, they did trounce Portugal. Germany also drew with Hungary, in Munich. The Hungarian players and fans took it as a huge win and celebrated as they should. Hungary historically have had great teams. Hopefully this can happen again.
Advancing France, Germany and Portugal.
So that is the wrap up of the group stage of Euro 2021. I have enjoyed every game, except the fizzer between England and Scotland. What a waste. Very glad I did not wake up early for that. Being able to watch games during normal hours has made this a very accessible tournament.
Please come back next week for the wrap up of the Round of 16 and the Quarter finals. Hopefully I can convince the editors to add another article the following week and wrap up with the Semi finals and the Final. Enjoy the rest of the tournament.
Phillip Hall has been too long in Melbourne to see AFL in the same light as those back in Fremantle. East Fremantle born and bred, he would love to see the Dockers back in the eight. But would settle for just beating West Coast twice a year.