The big Euro 2020 Review

The month-long festival of football that was Euro 2020 is over. We won’t have to wait too long to see some of Europe’s best international teams in action with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar not far away now.

Euro 2020 was a truly memorable tournament filled with drama, goals and of course some of the world’s best players.

The time has come to reflect on the last 51 games to pick out the best moments.

Biggest surprise: Czech Republic

Every international tournament produces a surprise package and Euro 2020 didn’t disappoint, the Czech Republic were always likely to qualify as a best third placed team from their group but few would have predicted them to send the Netherlands home in the last 16. The Czech team certainly didn’t feature many household named but they were a well drilled side that played with great cohesion and caused every opponent they played problems. West Ham’s Tomáš Souček ran the show from midfield but Patrik Schick stole the headlines up front picking up five goals making him the joint top scorer alongside Cristiano Ronaldo. Their participation in the competition was ended by another team that surprised many, Denmark.

It would be wrong to class the Danes as the biggest surprises as we have long known of their technical ability and a run deep into the competition while unlikely before a ball was kicked wasn’t hard to believe once the group stages were complete and a path to the final became clear. It must be said few would have expected Ukraine to reach the quarter-finals and it must be said had it not been for a red card Sweden could very well have taken their place. While they didn’t make it out of the group Hungary were not the pushovers many expected them to be. They pushed Portugal all the way, made France work frantically to draw and had Germany on the ropes in an entertaining 2-2 draw played in Munich.

All in all the Czechs played entertaining football and certainly exceeded people’s expectations of them.

Best Game: Belgium 1-2 Italy

This was one of the hardest decisions to make and it is a marginal one. The quarter-final meeting of Italy and Belgium was a real ding dong battle, Belgium started in the ascendency but the Italian defence weathered the storm allowing Nicolò Barella and Lorenzo Insigne to fire Italy into a 0-2 lead. Romelu Lukaku reduced the deficit to one teeing up a thrilling finish with the Italians hanging on to reach the semi-finals.

The group stages also produced some thrillers such as the Netherland 3-2 win over Ukraine, Holland squandered a two goal lead before Denzel Dumfries scored a late winner. France featured in some hugely entertaining games such as their 1-0 win over Germany and their 2-2 draw with Portugal. They also formed part of a day that will live long in the history of the European Championships. Their 3-3 draw with Switzerland saw them come from behind before throwing away a two goal advantage going out via a penalty shootout. That game alone was breathtaking but it came just hours after Spain conceded an early own goal before racing into a two goal lead over Croatia. The Spaniard crumbled minutes from time resulting in extra time where they turned on the style to win 5-3. An incredible day of action.

Another group stage match that thrilled many was Denmark’s emotionally charged 4-1 win over Russia. Needing a win to qualify as a best third placed team Denmark took a two goal lead but Russia pulled one back from the spot and were looking like scoring an equaliser. The Danish response was phenomenal with Andreas Christensen scoring a contender for goal of the tournament with Joakim Maehle putting the result beyond doubt.

I must also give a special mention to the semi-final meeting of Italy and Spain. Two great teams filled with great players entertained the masses with a game that was filled with moments of magic but was also a dream to watch for lovers of the tactical side of the game. The penalty shootout finish was also thrilling.

I almost forgot to mention the six goal thriller between Portugal and Germany that say the Germans triumph 4-2, what a game that was.

Come to think of it this award should be shared between all of the above!!

Biggest underperformer: Germany/France

It would be easy to simply label Germany as the biggest disappointment of the tournament but their were signs this was not the Germany we all know and fear. A loss to North Macedonia in World Cup qualifying in late March had alarm bells ringing especially considering the memory of a 6-0 UEFA Nations League drubbing at the hands of Spain was still fresh in the players’ memories. Coach Jogi Low had announced he would be leaving his post before the tournament and his successor had even been named before a ball was kicked. It is safe to say the Germans were not fully focused on the tournament and are very much in a period of transition.

France are equally deserving of this accolade. The World Champions came to the Euros as the favourites and had the squad depth to go all the way but they lacked the team spirit we saw at the 2018 World Cup. Didier Deschamps seems to have his work cut out in the dressing room with plenty of speculation surrounding inflated egos of some stars. They showed their ability to come from behind against Switzerland but they took their eye off the ball allowing the Swiss to equalise. This lack of discipline deserved to be punished and it dually was in the penalty shootout with Kylian Mbappé missing from the spot. Mbappé had a very disappointing tournament failing to score and he was anonymous throughout many games. This French squad underperformed to a massive degree and deservedly share this award with Germany.

Goal of the tournament: Patrik Schick Scotland 0-2 Czech Republic

There are a long list of worthy candidates for goal of the tournament but from the minute this goal went in it was almost certain to pick up the accolade.  The Bayer Leverkusen forward scored from practically the halfway line in the Czechs’ opening game of Group D against Scotland, lobbing goalkeeper David Marshall from approximately 50 yards.

It was Schick’s second goal of the game, and stunned the crowd at Hampden Park who had hoped to see Scotland get a good result in their first major tournament match for 23 years. After a hopeful long-range effort from Scotland’s Jack Hendry was blocked, the ball was played out to Schick who instinctively took a shot just as the ball crossed the halfway line. The effort had the perfect placement and power, curling from outside David Marshall’s right-hand post as the Scotland goalkeeper backpeddled from his position well off his goal line.

Some very honourable mentions go to Andreas Christensen’s thundering strike against Russia, Paul Pogba’s sublime curling effort against Switzerland, Lorenzo Insigne’s fine finish against Belgium, Luka Modrić’s outside-of-the-boot finish to give Croatia the lead against Scotland and Andriy Yarmolenko’s top corner finish from the edge of the area against the Netherlands.

It really was hard to pick just one but considering Schick set a new record for the longest goal scored in European Championship history he probably deserves it.

Breakout star: Mikkel Damsgaard 

He had the unenviable task of replacing Christian Eriksen after the Inter star’s collapse, coming in for the second game against Belgium after Mathias Jensen had failed to have the desired impact in the Finland encounter. The 21-year-old Sampdoria player started every game thereafter, starring and scoring the opening goal in their 4-1 demolition of Russia that enabled them to advance from the group stages, while he also scored a brilliant free kick in the narrow semi-final loss against England. He certainly appears to have a bright future in the game and it’s no surprise to hear the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham being linked with a move for his signature in recent days.

Player of the Tournament: Giorgio Chiellini

This selection is bound to be decisive and perhaps I’m being too generous but Giorgio Chiellini was faultless for Italy throughout the tournament. Italy has long been famed for producing top class defenders and Chiellini certainly lives up to that stereotype. He used all his experience to help guide some of his younger teammates to victory and seemed to always get his foot or head in at the perfect moment.

UEFA gave the award to the man behind him guarding the net, Gianluigi Donnarumma so maybe my selection isn’t too far off the mark. Raheem Sterling had a fine tournament for England but that dubious penalty against Denmark will put many off giving him this accolade.

Coach of the Tournament: Roberto Mancini

Roberto Mancini proved he is not only a great manager but also a great leader of men. Leonardo Bonucci was full of praise for Mancini in the post match press conference yesterday hailing Mancini for helping to develop the special team spirit the Italians displayed from their first game to the last. Mancini was tested several times throughout the tournament but he always made the right call. His half time team talk last night worked perfectly as the Italians took control of the game to draw level and they looked the more likely side to score a winner. When he took charge Italian football was at its lowest ebb for many years he has now brought them back to the top delivering their first European Championship title since 1968.

Team of the Tournament:

Goalkeeper – Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy)

The 22-year-old was utterly immense as Italy won Euro 2020 in dramatic fashion, with their giant of a goalkeeper saving two penalties in the final, including the decisive spot-kick from Bukayo Saka.

Donnarumma produced several fine saves throughout the tournament and kept Italy in the game against Belgium when his teammates were struggling to settle into the game. He was the penalty shootout hero in the final but he was equally impressive when stopping spot kicks against Spain in the semi-final.

UEFA’s Player of the Tournament and an obvious choice for the No.1 jersey.

An honourable mention must go to Switzerland’s Yann Sommer who made several fine stops from play and shone in the penalty shootout against France. Denmark’s Kasper Schmeichel was also heroic as they made their way to the semis.

Left back: Leonardo Spinzzola (Italy) 

Normally, a player who missed both the semi-final and final would be excluded from a team such as this, but it’s a testament to the strength of his performances in the earlier rounds that Spinazzola warrants inclusion here. The 28-year-old Roma player was a highly influential presence in the Italian team and they were considerably weakened by his absence. It was an indication of the Azzurri’s team spirit and also, their star full-back’s importance, that they serenaded him on the flight home following the win over Belgium and rallied around him after the tournament-ending injury. It was wonderful to see him on collect a winner’s medal last night and he was in the middle of all the celebrations despite being on crutches.

Luke Shaw had some moments of real quality during the tournament but Spinazzola gave so much to Italy both going forward and in defence.

Centre back: Leonardo Bonucci (Italy)

What was truly incredible about Leonardo Bonucci’s Man of the Match-winning performance in the final was just how ridiculously easy it made it all look. The 34-year-old started every game for Italy and was a rock at the back throughout.

He was calmness personified. On two separate occasions, he nonchalantly flicked headers back to Donnarumma, even though Raheem Sterling was close by, looking to pounce on any mistake.

Bonucci, though, turned in a flawless, outrageously composed display.  His passing, as always, was sensational, while he was also on hand to score the crucial equaliser when Marco Verratti’s header came back off the post.

Bonucci has sometimes been accused of playing as more of a midfielder than a defender. At Euro 2020, he proved himself one of the most complete centre-backs of the modern era.

Centre back: Girogio Chiellini  (Italy)

You cant have Bonucci without Chiellini, approaching his 37th birthday he was simply incredible to watch during the tournament. A wily old fox he pulled every trick in the book to get Italy over the line and knew when to take one for the team and pick up a card. With pace now a central asset of many forwards he used his mind and wonderful ability to read the game to anticipate attacks and cut them out. To watch Chiellini play to the level he has over the past few weeks has been simply remarkable. Moreover, an injury against Switzerland saw him miss the wins over Wales and Austria, but he recuperated admirably to lead his side to glory. He adds the Euro 2020 crown to nine Serie A titles and five Coppa Italias — a true professional. If it proves to be his final appearance at international level, and that’s not necessarily a given with the World Cup only just over a year away, it is a fitting way to bow out.

Right back: Joakim Mæhle (Denmark)

Atalanta have done it again: the masters of the transfer market have unearthed another gem. Just over six months after signing Joakim Maehle from Genk for just €10 million the versatile wing-back is now arguably worth three times that amount thanks to his sensational displays for surprise semi-finalists Denmark. Despite being right-footed, Maehle proved a phenomenon on the left flank, scoring two goals and creating another. Indeed, the 24-year-old produced the most outrageous assist of the tournament by finding Kasper Dolberg in the area with a stunning outside-of-the-boot cross in the quarter-final win over Czech Republic. He was heartbroken after conceding the dubious penalty in the semi-final against England that ended Denmark’s participation in the competition but he was a joy to watch.

Centre-midfield: Jorginho (Italy)

The heartbeat of the Italian team, Jorginho was consistently impressive pulling the strings for Italy in midfield and was a genuine candidate for player of the Euros. The Brazilian-born midfielder had a slightly disappointing end to the tournament — missing his penalty in the shootout but he converted the winner in the semi-final against Spain so all is forgiven. According to Uefa’s stats, only Pedri covered more distance on average, while Donnarumma was the only footballer at the tournament to play more minutes than him, as he started all seven of Italy’s games. The stats speak for themselves: He ranked second for both successful passes (485) and possession won (48), while he set a new European Championship record for interceptions, with 25. No other player made more than 14. He also joins a select group of players to win the Champions League and European Championships in the same season.

Centre-midfield: Pedri (Spain)

Fans of Barcelona and La Liga in general will not have been surprised by Pedri’s performances at Euro 2020 but the 18 year old introduced himself to a wider audience this summer as he ran the show in Spain’s midfield. A player with talent and composure beyond his years it was telling that when the going got tough against Sweden and Italy his teammates looked to him to find the pass to unlock the defence. He was a joy to watch, helping his side dominate possession in every game they played. Likened to former Spain international Andrés Iniesta, due to his passing ability and tendency to roam in midfield rather than sticking to one particular position, the teenager’s performances over the past few weeks suggest the comparison with the Barcelona legend is not so far fetched.

Centre-midfield: Marco Verratti (Italy)

It’s difficult to choose between Verratti and fellow Italian midfielder Nicolò Barella, but the PSG man just edges it. He wasn’t 100% fit for the start of the tournament and missed the opening two matches, with the similarly impressive Manuel Locatelli — another player unlucky to miss out on this team — deputising superbly. Verratti provided Italy with real class and creativity in midfield and was exactly the type of player that England (along with most other countries) lacked. At 28, he is at the peak of his powers and is one of a handful of key individuals, without whom the Azzurri’s achievement simply would not have been possible. It’s been a turbulent year too for the accomplished midfielder on a personal level. He has had to cope with injury problems as well as two positive tests for Covid-19, yet in the end, like many of his fellow Italian stars, Verratti showed great resilience to overcome these obstacles and perform to his best when it mattered most.

Left-wing: Raheem Sterling (England)

After a poor season by his standards at club level with Man City, there were doubts expressed over whether Sterling should be starting for Gareth Southgate’s side before the tournament got underway, but by its culmination, he was many people’s choice as the most impressive player on show. He was the only player to score for England in the group stages, got the all-important first goal against Germany and won the pivotal penalty versus Denmark. He also finished the tournament with the most successful dribbles and the second most sprints. Granted, the 26-year-old had a quiet enough final, but that was down to a lack of service and the flaws of those around him more than anything else.

Striker: Patrik Schick (Czech Republic)

Czech Republic coach Jaroslav Silhavy described Schick as a “genius” after his incredible goal from just past the halfway line against Scotland in their opening win, and he went on to build on this excellent form thereafter. The 25-year-old Bayer Leverkusen forward actually finished as the tournament’s joint-top scorer alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, finding the net in every game he played at the Euros apart from the 1-0 loss to England. On the one hand, you could dispute his place on this team on the basis that his side only got as far as the quarter-finals. But conversely, he had fewer opportunities to increase his goal tally compared with the likes of Harry Kane and was also playing with inferior teammates, so on that basis, he makes the cut.

Right-wing: Federico Chiesa (Italy)

Federico Chiesa may have had to bide his time, because of Roberto Mancini’s initial preference for Domenico Berardi on the right-hand side of the Italy attack, but the Juventus winger eventually emerged as one of the stars of Euro 2020.  Chiesa started the Azzurri’s opening two fixtures on the bench, and although he turned in a Man of the Match-winning display against Wales, he was left out of the starting line-up again, for the last-16 meeting with Austria. However, Juve’s big-game player then came to the fore.

He broke the deadlock with a wonderfully composed finish against the Austrians, tormented Belgium’s backline in the quarters and then picked up another one of UEFA’s ‘Star of the Match’ awards in the semi-finals, thanks primarily to his fantastic second-half finish against Spain.

In then carrying Italy’s attack against England before being cruelly forced off through injury, he well and truly proved himself a world-class performer.

12th Man – Simon Kjær

Simon Kjær has to be included in any team of the tournament not only for his performances on the pitch but for his leadership. Euro 2020 was less than 24 hours old when things took a distressing turn for the worse in Copenhagen. Denmark’s biggest star Christian Eriksen collapsed after suffering cardiac arrest. The scenes that played out on television were extremely upsetting to watch for neutrals never mind his teammates but Kjær showed true leadership. He was one of the first on the scene following Eriksen’s collapse and administered vital first aid upon his colleague, securing his neck, clearing his airways and beginning CPR before the medical staff reached the scene.

While Eriksen was unconscious, it was Kjær who urged the team to form a protective barrier around their star man to prevent both the crowd and the television cameras from fully seeing what was unfolding. Kjær raced over to comfort Eriksen’s wife, Sabrina, who was understandably distraught pitchside as her husband fought for his life on what should have been a day of celebration.

It was a performance that redefined what it means to be a captain of a national team. While the medical team that saved Eriksen’s life have rightly been praised Simon Kjær was heroic on that dark day at the Parken Stadium.

 

This team is far from perfect and many players can make strong cases for inclusion but for me this is the team features the players who turned up when their nations needed them the most.

 

Euro 2020 was a truly special tournament. After everything the world has been through over the past 18 months this festival of football was a welcome distraction and produced some truly wonderful moments. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank each and every reader for visiting the site for match reports and the latest news over 1,110 people came to the site during the four weeks of the tournament.

As always the game never stops so be sure to keep visiting Marking The Spot for all the latest sports news!

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