After a five-year hiatus, the UEFA EURO competition is back with Italy and Turkey to kick off a month of high-quality soccer.
Having been delayed one year due to the global pandemic, soccer fans from all over can finally enjoy a long-awaited tournament.
From exciting young stars to potential underdog stories, this year’s edition of the EUROs is sure to have plenty of excitement for all.
This edition’s first game was contested between Italy and Turkey in Rome at the historic Stadio Olimpico ending in a 3-0 victory for Italy. The Italians now sit first in Group A, with Switzerland and Wales yet to play, as of this game. Both Italy and Turkey aim to advance to the knockout stages and should still be considered favorites to advance despite the loss for Turkey.
Italy showed its dominance from the opening kickoff as Turkey was willing to sit back and try to hit Italy on the counter. Outside a penalty shout and a few good chances, the first half didn’t produce much excitement and kept the score tied at 0, with Turkey being the happier of the two teams. Halftime would prove vital as the Italians looked to find that missing spark to unlock the defense as the Turkish looked to hold the line.
Both teams started the half with substitutions as Italy inserted the more defensive-minded Giovanni Di Lorenzo, and Turkey added Cengiz Ünder to add more creativity. Within 10 minutes of the second half, Berardi would force an own goal from Demiral, giving the Italians the lead. After that, it was an onslaught of chances from the Italians, with Insigne and Immobile adding two goals to give the Italians the win.
Ending the first round of Group A was a game between Wales and Switzerland that would follow a similar pattern to that of Italy and Turkey but with a different outcome. While the outcome would be a draw, the game would play out similarly, with one side dominating with the other side willing to sit back and hit on the counter. In this game, Switzerland would control the lion’s share of the possession and have the overwhelming number of attempts on goal.
The first half would mainly be Switzerland pouring shots on Welsh goalkeeper Danny Ward as he pulled out incredible stop after incredible stop. Wales would have a few decent attempts but the two-star men for Wales, Gareth Bales, and Aaron Ramsey, never really got into the game. For Switzerland, it was Breel Embolo who was the constant threat in attack.
Less than five minutes into the second half, Breel Embolo would head in a corner from Xherdan Shaqiri, giving Switzerland the deserved lead and capping off an excellent performance from Embolo. As the second half dragged on, Wales would find the equalizer through striker Kieffer Moore from a set-piece play off a corner. That would settle the game leaving Wales the happier team, while Switzerland would definitely feel that they should have left with all three points.
Before discussing the EURO matches of the second day, it is vital to discuss what happened to Danish and Inter Milan midfielder Christian Eriksen. During the Denmark Finland game, Eriksen collapsed without any contact and was quickly attended to by his teammates and the medical staff. His teammates and the medics were able to administer life-saving procedures that stopped the worst from happening.
There is not much else that would be right to focus on for this match outside of the incident regarding Eriksen. While it is a bit of incredible news that Eriksen is in stable condition, the accident was a moment of pure fear and concern for such a talented young man. No matter how the game would end, this incident was always going to overshadow the match itself.
The first half would start with Denmark dominating Finland while Lukas Hradecky putting on a man-of-the-match performance keeping Denmark at bay. Towards the end of the first half, Eriksen would collapse, leading to the incident that has defined the tournament so far. The game would be suspended as the world waited to hear an update about Eriksen’s health.
After the news that Eriksen was awake and in stable condition, the game would have the green light to continue with Eriksen talking to his teammates before the restart. Around the 60 minute mark, Finland would get their first goal at a major tournament and would spend the rest of the game sitting back and defending. Denmark would get a penalty but fail to convert, and the game would end in Finland’s favor.
Billed as the match of the day, this game would produce the most goals and excitement, capping a tumultuous day more joyously. Belgium came into this game missing their star Kevin De Bruyne but still regarded as one of the tournament favorites. Meanwhile, Russia came into this tournament after an excellent showing at the 2018 World Cup but missed some of the World Cup stars.
Shortly after the kickoff, both teams traded shots, but Belgium would take the lead after a missed clearance from a Russian defender through Romelu Lukaku. In a touching tribute, Lukaku would dedicate the goal to his friend Christian Eriksen. After a nasty collision that would lead to Timothy Castagne needing a substitute, Belgium would insert Thomas Meunier, who would score the second goal before halftime.
Coming into the half leading 2-0, Belgium would control the game, barely letting Russia have a whiff of an attack. In those minutes, Belgium displayed the tactical knowledge of champions as they knew when to apply the pressure and when to sit back. On the cusp of 90 minutes, Lukaku would add a third to announce Belgium’s status as favorites for the trophy.
Belgium will play Denmark on Thursday as they wait for De Bruyne and Hazard to get back to full health and will look to seal up their place in the knockout stages. While Russia will play Finland on Wednesday as they will look to get second place against a stubborn opponent.
In what turned out to be one of the better games of these early EUROs, Austria would clinch their first win of the tournament as North Macedonia made their debut at a major tournament. While not being billed as the match of the day, this game turned out to be an exciting and pretty even game with both sides going at each other. Hopefully, this is a good sign of games to come between some of the underdog teams as both sides today showed the quality to make it to the knockout stages.
Following the England and Croatia game, not many expected this game to best it in terms of excitement from the opening kick; both sides were going all-out attack. This resulted in Austria scoring first through right-back Stefan Lainer off the tournament’s assist from criminally underrated Marcel Sabitzer. Within 10 minutes, North Macedonia would equalize through the Serie A legend Goran Pandev after the Austrian keeper fumbled the ball.
The second half would start with the same even back and forth play as both sides continued to find ways to break down the opponent’s defense. However, as the game went on, the North Macedonia team looked exhausted and out of ideas allowing the more experienced Austrian team to gain full control. Resulting in Austria getting two more goals and winning the match 3-1 with goals from Gregoritsch and Arnautovich.
Following the great Austria and North Macedonia game came this incredible game which could be argued to be the best game of the EUROs so far. An evenly balanced game with good players on both sides produced great goals where it felt like both teams gave up on playing defense. The Netherlands would win the game, but Ukraine has plenty of positives to take from this game.
The first half would have a lot of back and forth, with each team getting good chances at goal, with the Ukrainian keeper being busier than his Dutch counterpart. Dumfries came close for the Dutch with a header that went wide, but Ukraine had some good moments, especially after the introduction of Marlos. Going into the half, both teams felt that they could walk away with the three points with the right adjustments.
Within the first 15 minutes of the second half, the Dutch would find themselves up 2-0, with their early dominance paying off. Refusing to give up, Ukraine would tie the game in quick succession, with Yarmolenko producing the goal of the tournament so far with a curling effort to the top left corner. Dumfries would finally get his goal and earn his team all three points on the cusp of added time.
In a rematch of the 2018 World Cup semifinals, both teams looked completely different from their respective counterparts in 2018. England has infused great youth talents from Phil Foden to Mason Mount, while many of the heroes of that run for Croatia performance have retired or were not called up. Leading to a game where both teams had differing expectations, with England looking to cement themselves as favorites while Croatia was looking to give their younger players experience at a major tournament.
England came into the game looking to show that they were the real deal after hyping themselves as the tournament favorites. From the start, they showed determination with better quality chances as Klavin Phillips put in a dominating performance in midfield. Croatia did get some good opportunities, but the lack of a top-quality striker was evident. It shows just what an incredible player Mario Mandzukic was for them before his retirement.
The second half was more of the same as the two sides fought for possession, with England carving out better chances for themselves. This would all culminate in Raheem Sterling’s goal off a defense splitting pass from Phillips, capping off a man of the match performance from him. Croatia would have more chances but again lacked that clinical touch in the final third.
With Croatia losing and England not being at their most convincing, both teams entered the game optimistic about their chances to advance in the Group. Scotland appeared in their first major tournament since the 1998 World Cup looked to make their fans proud and cause chaos in the Group. While the Czech Republic saw Croatia’s failure, they saw a chance to cement themselves as favorites to reach the knockout stages.
Scotland was more competitive in the first half with the good chances being produced by Andy Robertson as he continues to make his case for the best left-back in the world. While Scotland did have some good chances, it never truly felt like the Czech Republic were in trouble. This all culminated in Patrik Schick heading in a great cross to give his team the lead.
The second half would bring the probable goal of the tournament, with Patrik Schick scoring once again in incredible fashion. From 50 yards out, Patrik Schick would chip the keeper, sending him into the net to be tangled up in the netting. This great goal would cap off a dominating performance from the Czech Republic as they look to be favorites to advance from this Group.
Group E started to play this round, with Slovakia and Poland matching up in Saint Petersburg as both teams had a good chance of achieving a knockout stage spot. Poland entered the tournament as a dark horse candidate, but injuries to Milik and Piątek zapped Poland of any strikers to support the great Robert Lewandowski. On the other hand, Slovakia, with their captain Hamšík looked to shake up their Group as relative unknowns.
Both teams felt that the game was up for grabs from the opening kick, but Poland seemed to have more quality across the pitch. However, Slovakia midfielder Róbert Mak would nutmeg a Polish defender to set up a shot on goal forcing an own goal from keeper Wojciech Szczęsny. After the goal, both teams would continue going at each other, with good quality chances being produced by both teams.
Within 30 seconds of the restart, Poland would equalize through Karol Linetty after a great start by Poland, showing much-needed urgency. The game would change in the 62nd minute when Grzegorz Krychowiak would get his second yellow card after a clumsy challenge. From there, Slovakia would control the game and get the winner through Milan Škriniar off a great corner.
In a match billed as the best of the day, Spain would take on Sweden as Spain looked to bounce back from a run of disappointing tournaments since their EURO win in 2012. Spain would be without their icon Sergio Ramos in a surprising omission as they focus on the next generation. Sweden would also be without an icon in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with their expectations wildly changing with the absence of Ibrahimovic.
The first half stats would have one believe that Spain was on their way to a blowout win having over 70% possession. However, none of Spain’s chances were of real quality, with Alvaro Morata missing the half’s best chance. Sweden would be content with sitting back and, on the rare occasion countering with the very talented Alexander Isak.
Like the first half, Spain would dominate in possession but rarely got their chances to pay off with player after player making mistakes. Sweden would almost get the lead after Isak went through most of the Spanish defense, only for his teammate to miss the chance. In the end, the match would end in a draw, being a total disappointment for Spain.
Hungary and Poland kicked off Group F’s matchday and helped bring an end to the tournament’s first round. Poland, led by their icon Cristiano Ronaldo looks to repeat as EURO champions with a team that is even stronger than the team that won that EUROs with stars such as Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva, adding even more firepower to the team. At the same time, Hungary will look forward to this rematch of the EURO 2016 matchup, despite missing their talisman Dominik Szoboszlai, as they look for positives for their younger players.
Portugal looked to flex their attacking muscles with the team overwhelming the Hungarian defense from the first whistle. One of the moments of note was an attack where Diogo Jota would take his chances at goal, leaving an open Ronaldo irate. Before the half would end, Ronaldo would blast his chance over the goal.
The second half would produce more of the same, with Portugal pinning back Hungary as they looked to take the lead. Finally, the Portuguese would break down the Hungarian defense in the 84th minute with a goal from Raphaël Guerreiro. Not to be outdone by Messi’s magic the day before, Ronaldo would score two, making him the top scorer in EUROs history.
A heavyweight bout that has been anticipated since this was announced, the two past World Cup winners looked to add another match to this historic rivalry. France looks to complete the double of winning a EUROs after the World Cup with a squad that looks even stronger with Benzema back in the team after more than five years. Germany is hoping this tournament will be a bounce back after a disappointing World Cup with a team that looks to rebuild.
The first half would provide viewers with just the match expected, quality chances with some of the past players on Earth showing out. France would take the lead after Paul Pogba played a beautiful pass to Lucas Hernandez to force an own goal from Mats Hummels. Germany would have some chances, but France demonstrated complete control over the game.
For much of the second half, France would be content to sit back and hit Germany on the counter with Mbappe and Benzema up top. France would have two goals called back, including a beauty by Mbappe, but Germany would have decent chances. In the end, France would win 1-0 and should be seen as the favorites for the trophy, but the performance wasn’t compelling.
Featured Image: Michaela Rehle/Reuters