Euro 2020 was delayed a full year due to the pandemic. Was the wait worth it?
The jury is still out after the first round of matches, as the teams round into shape.
Six of the eight teams thought to make up the top tier won their opener. The exceptions were Spain, which, despite a strong first half, only managed a goalless draw with Sweden, and Germany, which lost 1-0 to France, the tournament favorite.
Most of the teams I identified as “minnows” were competitive in their opener, and two of them actually won. However, their victories can be regarded as flukes.
Finland beat Denmark, but only after Denmark’s star player, Christian Eriksen, collapsed on the field with cardiac arrest. The match was suspended, but resumed when it was clear Eriksen had survived his near-death experience.
Denmark’s players still seemed distraught. Kasper Schmeichel, their star goalkeeper and friend of Eriksen, allowed a cheap goal, and the Danes, despite dominating the match (they had 22 shots, the Finns had 1), fell 1-0.
Slovakia profited in its match against Poland from the sending off of a Polish midfielder. Playing against only ten men, Slovakia prevailed.
The main problem with the minnows (and it might have been unfair to characterize Slovakia as such) isn’t that they can’t carve out a result or at least keep the score respectable. It’s that they have to play dour, defensive football in order to do so. But that’s one way to separate the good teams. Can they break these teams down?
The two teams that impressed me most in their openers are Italy and France. Others looked good in spells, but only these two maintained a high level of play throughout.
Both did so by bucking their DNA. Italy, traditionally a defensive team, put on a master class in attacking football to defeat Turkey 3-0. What we don’t know yet is how good (or bad) Turkey really is.
France bucked its tradition with a master class in defense and counter-attacking against Germany. There was a time when Germany snatched big wins against France by using that approach.
The real stars of Euro 2020 so far have been the referees. They are refusing to call touch fouls, insisting that flopping players get up and get on with it, and are not issuing many yellow cards. They aren’t awarding dubious handball penalties and haven’t missed many calls of any kind in the matches I’ve seen (which is most of them). Mercifully, VAR (replay) hasn’t been much of a factor in the tournament so far.
Thus, the matches flow nicely. Let’s hope they flow even better as players adjust to the officiating and become more cohesive as units.