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Where on Earth have you been?!
If you’re reading this then you’re in need of a catch up on an incredible round of action from Euro 2024 in which 12 matches were played, 48 goals were scored, 2 players netted hat tricks of penalties, 8 national teams made the long trip home (1 of whom failed to find the net in any of their 3 matches) and a further 10 joined the 6 already qualified nations in the Second Round, which begs the question: Just what have you been doing over the last few days that was so bloody important you could miss it?!
Never mind, I forgive you. My name’s Don Collins. Let’s read all about it.
Netherlands v Romania
The Dutch and the Romanians stepped onto the pitch of the Stadio San Nicola secure in their progression from the Group Stage, but also sure that at least one of them would lose their 100% record in the tournament so far in the proceeding 90 minutes. Neither side had even conceded a goal before kick off, which some claimed would make this a dull tie, devoid of action and stakes.
When Romania’s Florin Tanase curled a free kick in off the bar after half an hour however, he opened the scoring in what became a hard fought, high scoring thriller of a match between 2 sides determined to top Group A. Striker Razvan Marin certainly played his part either side of half time, first felling Jorrit Hendrix in the box in first half injury time, conceding a penalty that Thomas Buitink slotted in and then regaining Romania the lead 20 seconds after the break when his volley deflected in off Virgil Van Dijk. The unflappable Dutch were level again within minutes though, with Vincent Janssen meeting a Jetro Willems cross and forcing a save from Ionut Radut before tapping in on the rebound. With 20 minutes to play the match could’ve gone either way, but Romania were the architects of their own downfall, startlingly giving away 2 more penalties within a 5 minute period. Thomas Buitink and Vincent Janssen were brought down by Dan Berci and Raul Negoita respectively and Buitink stepped up to complete a hat trick of spot kicks, putting the result and their status as Group A winners beyond doubt.
Netherlands: – 1st (Group A Winners)
Romania: – 2nd (Qualified for Second Round)
Russia v Northern Ireland
Both Russia and Northern Ireland knew that they’d need two things to progress from the Group Stage: 3 points and a metric tonne of luck. Even if either side won, they’d need two of the other 3rd placed teams in the other groups to have a worse or even points tally and a horrible goal difference.
The Russians dominated the match but were kept at bay for 70 minutes at the Stadio Della Vittoria by a Northern Ireland side that to their credit, has refused to give up throughout the Group Stage. Tragically for the tournament’s underdogs though, Brendan Moore clattered Russian substitute Nikita Ovchinnikov in the box following a 71st minute corner and Alexey Gasilin finally gave the dominant side the lead from the spot, scoring his nation’s first goal of Euro 2024. Russia made sure in the final knockings when Roman Zobnin slotted Andrey Makagonov through on goal and the substitute blasted in his first for his country, but the euphoria that sent the crowd into frenzy wouldn’t last more than a few days. Their 3 points and goal difference of -2 would turn out to be level with another team in the tournament and while Northern Ireland suffer the humiliation of jetting off home from Bari Karol Wojtyła Airport without even scoring a goal, Russia were dealt the agonising blow of being eliminated on goals scored.
Russia: – 3rd (Eliminated)
Northern Ireland: – 4th (Eliminated)
FYR Macedonia v Ukraine
Macedonia and Ukraine had had very different starts to their Group B campaigns. The Macedonians were yet to score but had shipped goals, while the Ukrainians were yet to concede and had scored just enough to secure early qualification for the Second Round. Macedonia knew that a win by 3 goals would at least see them rise above Russia in the race to qualify from 3rd place, providing that the Czech Republic lost fairly heavily to Portugal. Like so many teams, they needed a miracle at the Juventus Stadium.
After the Netherlands and Russia scored a combined 4 penalties in the first 2 matches of the round, it was no surprise to see this match get underway with another: Ukraine’s Alexey Ivanov was fouled by Stefan Andric just after the half hour and the Ukrainian right back and stand-in skipper Valeriy Luchkevych buried the resulting penalty in the top right corner. Macedonian heads dropped afterwards and the World seemed to write them off as an eliminated side, but then there was hope: Blagojce Filipovski found Martin Momirovski on the edge of the box, the striker picked his spot and squeezed a shot past Mykyta Schevchenko at his near post. It was quite possibly the biggest shock of the competition so far: The impenetrable Ukrainian defence had been broken by the toothless Macedonian attack. Game on. The neutrals watched on hoping that the second half of the match could contain the miracle that Macedonia were praying for, but sadly, it did not. Things very quickly went South when a second penalty was given away in the 54th minute, with Danila Babaev dragged to the floor by Macedonian substitute Saso Aliji. Luchkevych’s second spot kick was a carbon copy of his first; An emphatic finish to the top right. Stefan Andric received his marching orders just minutes later, tripping Maxim Tankov and earning a second yellow, but thankfully the foul was outside the box so at least Macedonia hadn’t conceded another penalty. Not for another 2 minutes, anyway. Before the hour mark, Filipovski seemed to lose his bloody mind and slid in off the ball on poor Babaev following a Ukrainian corner. The only miracle was that somehow Macedonia weren’t reduced to 9 men and indeed that Filipovski wasn’t even shown a yellow card, as the referee deemed a 3rd penalty punishment enough. One of the most unlikely hat tricks of the tournament was then completed when Ukraine’s right back Luchkevych stepped up and buried the ball in the bottom left, in stark contrast to his first two spot kicks. The cherry was put on top of Ukraine’s Group B clean sweep when Olexandr Zinchenko received the ball from Dmitry Petrenko 10 minutes from time and slotted it deftly into the bottom corner from the edge of the box.
Macedonia’s only shot of the match and only goal of the tournament will be remembered fondly, unlike the rest of their Euro 24 experience, while Ukraine march on, seen by many now as a possible dark horse.
FYR Macedonia: – 4th (Eliminated)
Ukraine: – 1st (Group B Winners)
Portugal v Czech Republic
Portugal and the Czech Republic kicked off in Messena’s Stadio San Filippo level on 3 points, a goal difference of 1 and 2 goals scored, knowing that although a loss might see them scrape through and a draw would probably do, a win would guarantee 2nd place in Group B and progression to the Second Round.
It’s fair to say Portugal rose to this challenge most effectively. Renato Sanches teed up João Mario for a 20 yard half volley into the top corner after quarter of an hour and before half time they’d built themselves a 2 goal cushion through André Silva, who slotted in after Bruma squared the ball into the box from the left channel. The Czechs continued to flail in the second half as the Portuguese turned the knife. A long Diogo Dalot throw from the right was flapped at by goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik and Silva flicked the ball on for substitute Gelson Martins, who was unmarked at the far post to volley in his country’s 3rd. With 20 minutes to play, any hopes of a comeback were squashed when Renato Sanches picked out sub João Carvalho in acres of space 25 yards out. Carvalho took a touch and smashed the ball into the top right corner to complete a resounding victory. The only downside for the Portuguese was an André Silva injury 5 minutes from time, which has since been confirmed as a broken foot that’ll keep him sidelined for the rest of the Euros and then some.
Portugal will stroll through to the second round with Ukraine though, while the Czech Republic will rue their defensive collapse. A 1-0 loss would have seen them progress, but now with a goal difference of -3, they slide below even Russia in the 3rd place race. Czechia are eliminated on goal difference.
Portugal: 3rd -> 2nd (Qualified for Second Round)
Czech Republic: 2nd -> 3rd (Eliminated)
Croatia v Norway
Norway, on 3 points before the final game, had assurance that 3 more would see them through to the Second Round. Croatia on the other hand, had no points and could only hope. They needed the win and they needed Turkey to beat Germany. Then they needed some kind of mathematical miracle to see them progress.
Norway came out for the match like a bullet from a gun. After 4 minutes, Vidar Holm squared for Jørgan Strand Larsen, who curled in the opener from 20 yards, then 7 minutes later Tin Jedvaj slid in on Iver Fossum, only succeeding in knocking the ball over to Holm, who drove low into the bottom corner. Croatia scraped back a glimpse of that hope in the 20th minute, when Marko Pjaca found himself on the end of a Nikola Vlasik through ball and placed a shot beyond Rossbach, but within 5 minutes the Norwegians struck again: Jonas Svensson’s low cross from the right was met by Vidar Holm in the 6 yard box and he restored his country’s cushion. A deceptively even match was finished off when that man Holm flicked on a long ball from Tobias Svendsen and Oddbjørn Thoresen ran through to complete the 4-1 scoreline with a placed finish.
Norway will be exceptionally happy with their showing in the Group Stage: Wins against the pre-tournament Group C favourites Germany and Norway have won them the group and given them a good platform to build on. As even as the match was in terms of chances though, make no mistake: Euro 24 has been a catastrophic failure for Croatia. 0 points. 3 goals scored. 10 conceded. Marko Pjaca has put in some good performances and will leave with his head held high, but that’s about the only takeaway in a hugely disappointing Group Stage for the Croatians.
Croatia: – 4th (Eliminated)
Norway: 2nd -> 1st (Group C Winners)
Turkey v Germany
Turkey took to the Stadio Olympico pitch bidding for a Group C clean sweep, having qualified with a match to spare in one of the biggest surprises of the Euros so far. Germany knew that despite the result between Croatia and Norway, a win would take them through.
The Germans’ win over Croatia built some momentum and they certainly brought that with them for this match. They were ahead within 20 minutes when PSG midfielder and Germany skipper Silvio Cvitanovic laid the ball off for Wilske Dimmier, who stroked it into the net beautifully from the edge of the box. Christopher Dieckmann, infuriated that his country had scored a goal without his contribution, then set about putting that right by picking the ball up 10 yards inside his own half and powering through towards the Turkish net at full speed. He skipped past Mehmet Niyaz, he surged past Yigithan Güveli, he reached the edge of the 6 yard box and he poked the ball past Akyüz. With 7 minutes still to go before the break, Dieckmann added a 3rd for Germany, receiving the ball with his back to goal on the edge of the area and curling a shot into the corner on the turn. Dieckmann’s been one of the players of the tournament so far and after another classy performance, it seems he’s still got more to give.
Turkey will be… Well, not disappointed exactly. They’ll be irked to have finished in 3rd place after such a promising start to the Group Stage. Now joined by 2 more of their group on 6 points, Turkey’s 0-3 loss to the Germans swaps the two teams’ goal differences, with Turkey’s finishing on 0 and Germany’s on 3. Norway’s goal difference of 4 clinches them the top spot, but all 3 sides will be decently pleased with their final positions.
Turkey: 1st -> 3rd (Qualified for Second Round)
Germany: 3rd -> 2nd (Qualified for Second Round)
Italy v Sweden
The hosts were under a mountain of pressure at the Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi in a match that could send them through or send them home. Italy and Sweden started the match almost equal, both with 3 points but with the Swedes having a goal difference 1 better than their counterparts. Both sides knew that they would progress even with a loss (Within reason) as Italy would need to lose by 2 or 3 goals depending on goals scored to slip below Russia in the 3rd place race, while Sweden would need to lose by 3 or 4.
What resulted though was a hard fought match, with both sides vying to pick up the 3 points that’d send their fans home happy. Italy took the lead 27 minutes in when Gianluigi Cacioppini’s byline cross was volleyed in at the near post by Federico Chiesa, but on the hour mark Sweden equalised following a superb flowing move. Jonas Claesson’s clever pass split the defence and allowed Saed Haksabanovic to wriggle free through the left channel, after which he pulled it back for Jordan Larsson, son of Swedish legend Henrik, who got himself ahead of Luca Cesana to tap the ball home from close range. The Swedish fans were in jubilant mood right up until the 89th minute, when a sustained period of Italian pressure finally broke their resolve. Substitute Filippo Melegoni swung in a cross from the left, Chiesa held the ball up on the penalty spot and laid it off for young substitute Alessandro D’Innocenzo, who swiped in his first international goal in dramatic fashion on only his 2nd appearance for the national side.
The late drama and euphoria that D’Innocenzo’s goal created will surely buy Italy some much needed breathing room and good grace with their fans and media, who had been unimpressed with their loss against the Belgians. Sweden will be gutted to record their 2nd loss in 3 matches, especially so late on, but progression from one of the toughest groups at the tournament is still guaranteed and they should be proud of that.
Italy: 3rd -> 2nd (Qualified for Second Round)
Sweden: 2nd -> 3rd (Qualified for Second Round)
Poland v Belgium
Poland’s chances of survival would have been low even if their last match hadn’t been against one of the most in-form sides at the tournament. Belgium, having already swept aside both Sweden and Italy, came to the Stadio Artemio Franchi expecting to record 3 wins out of 3 and put their opponents out of their Euro 24 misery.
It was Poland though who came tearing out of the traps, with Arkadiusz Milk rattling the bar with a powerful header after 7 minutes and then Kamil Padzik volleying in the opener from 6 yards just minutes later, after Stéphan Vandamme failed to reach a Kamil Joziwak cross. The Belgians hit back 10 minutes later when a defence splitting pass from Youri Tielemans released Mo Hamoudah, who was hacked down by Jan Bednarek close inside the box. Tieleman’s penalty kick was precise into the top left and the game was level once again. The Belgian fans howled for blood but again, Poland refused to roll over. After the half hour, Polish captain Jaroslaw Budzyn broke down the right wing, made a fool of Jordan Lukaku with some slick footwork and then squared the ball for Milik, who slid it into the corner from 10 yards to restore his side’s lead. Whether it was embarrassment, a half time dose of the hairdryer treatment or just grim determination, something got into Belgium for the second half. Tielemans’ lofted ball forward 5 minutes after the break was headed weakly away by Mateusz Wieteska as he collided with his outrushing goalkeeper Bartlomiej Dragowski, which allowed Kevin De Bruyne to cushion the ball down for Hamoudan, who tucked the ball into the empty net to equalise. 5 minutes later, the turnaround was completed when De Bruyne rose above Bednarek to flick the ball into the path of Divock Origi, who ran clean through and clipped the ball past the beaten Dragowski. From then on the match was only going to finish one way. After the hour mark a Tielemans free kick deflected into the net off the Polish wall and then Hamoudan wrapped up the scoring with a crisp finish from Origi’s low cross.
So after early promise from Poland, Belgium complete their clean sweep of Group C and the Polish head home. It’s a shame really that we were just beginning to see the best of the Polish offensive line as their tournament ended, but the fact remains that their defence is quite appalling, especially Jan Bednarek, who’ll take unwanted attention away from this match as he was at the heart of almost every Belgian goal. Belgium on the other hand are now a force to be reckoned with. With memories of Canada 22 rapidly fading in the rear view mirror, they’ve really got a chance of making something of this tournament.
Poland: – 4th (Eliminated)
Belgium: – 1st (Group D Winners)
Denmark v France
Denmark were hoping that France would be happy with sharing the spoils at the Stadio San Nicola, as a draw would see both sides comfortably through to the Second Round. France however were looking for a comfortable win after accusations that their previous results, a 2-2 draw with England and an uneasy 3-1 win over Georgia, were not up to scratch.
As penalties are all the rage at the minute, France got in on the action early when Thomas Delaney unceremoniously and needlessly bundled Lucas Digne to the ground after Vestergaard had already cleared a French corner. Kylian Mbappé’s spot kick was unconvincing but found the net thanks to some equally poor handling by Michaelsen and France took the lead. The Danes equalised against the run of play with the half hour approaching when Cornelius’ low cross was turned in by Kasper Dolberg, leaving the scores level at half time, much to the chagrin of the French fans. Both sides went close in the second half although France continued to dominate, with Kingsley Coman and Kylian Mbappé both heading against the woodwork and Leo Gauthier forced into a couple of superb saves by Dolberg and Ramkilde, but the scores stayed level. But then with under 20 minutes to play, the French finally found the winning goal when Neal Maupay’s looping effort crashed back off the bar to be tucked in by Raphaël Varane.
That result will do little to ease expectations or the building pressure on WT Franco, but for Denmark, it’s just enough. Their refusal to lose by more than a single goal leaves them on 3 points with a goal difference of -2. They progress through to the Second Round by the virtue of having scored 2 more goals than Russia.
Denmark: – 3rd (Qualified for Second Round)
France: – 2nd (Qualified for Second Round)
Georgia v England
At the start of the match, only a thrashing at the hands of Georgia and a Denmark victory over France would prevent England from progressing to the Second Round, while only a thrashing over England and a France victory over Denmark would give Georgia any hope of qualification.
Georgia dominated the ball during the pair’s encounter at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris but came away with little to show for it as England hit them incisively time and time again. The English opened the scoring through Oliver Webb’s chipped ball to Marcus Rashford, who volleyed it in from the penalty spot. Rashford doubled his tally after half an hour after an absolutely superb flat pass down the right channel from Ross Barkley released Harry Kane, who then pulled it back from the byline and gave the United man an easy finish. Half time came and went, then in the 55th minute Kane headed down a lofted pass from Lewis Cook, allowing Rashford to bring the ball under control and then complete his hat trick in style, blasting into the bottom corner from the edge of the Georgian box. After the hour mark he struck once more too. Kane switched the play to Ed Lynes, who charged down the left wing leaving Solomon Kverkvella for dead and then whipped in a cross, which Rashford volleyed in from close range.
Out of nowhere, Marcus Rashford’s tally of 4 goals in a dominant win over Georgia has put him into the Golden Boot conversation as England sail comfortably through to the Second Round as Group E Winners. Georgia however head home, having just lacked the quality to compete in a tough group.
Georgia: – 4th (Eliminated)
England: – 1st (Group E Winners)
Spain v Serbia
Spain and Serbia will have gone into their tie at the Stadio San Paolo with very different mentalities, with Spain having made several changes having already won Group F with 6 points, while Serbia lagged behind them in 2nd place and with only 2.
In all honesty the result was not as much of a shock as it should have been. Spain didn’t really get out of second gear as they allowed Serbia to dominate the ball for large periods and eventually sneak the winning goal when substitute Sava Petrov chipped in a free kick that was glanced into the net by fellow sub Nemanja Antonov, who had been on the pitch for under 2 minutes. The match itself was scrappy, it was slow and it was just what Serbia wanted and needed as they secured 2nd place. The Spanish won’t be too bothered about the result itself as they’ve been able to rest key players, but their substitute Koké coming off with a hip injury that’ll end his tournament in the 89th minute certainly left a sour taste in the mouth.
Spain: – 1st (Group F Winners)
Serbia: – 2nd (Qualified for Second Round)
Switzerland v Scotland
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear and the rocks melt wi’ the sun,
I will luve thee still, my dear, while the sands o’ life shall run.
The eagle eyed among you will have noticed that only 3 3rd placed teams have qualified so far and that Spain and Serbia finished 1st and 2nd in Group F. With all of the other groups’ matches already played, Switzerland and Scotland met in front of a crowd of over 80,000 at the San Siro on a point apiece, knowing that 3 points would take either side through to the Second Round as either the 2nd or 3rd placed side in Group F.
I’ve prepared a wee poem of my own if ye’ll indulge me:
When thon wee fanny Tarashaj put baw intae the net,
We Scots began tae greet fur ‘nother twa year ae regret.
The thistles stairtit deein’ an’ auld Nevis ‘gan tae shrink,
But aff came Strachan’s michty gloves tae drag us fae the brink.
Markie Broon scored fae the spot tae square it aw awa,
Thon fanny Shani struck once mair tae lead us at the break.
We tholed the songs, insults an’ aw, oor sodgers focht along,
We niver let oor laddies think oor hope in them had gone.
Aye right, thae Swiss an’ Tarashaj can get thaesels tae fuck,
Fur hawpin’ agin hawp that brave Scotland hud gien up.
‘Cause while thair fans were hootin’, Davey levelled up the game,
Then Jackie stuck a boot in fur tae send thae bastarts hame.
I warned ye that thon baw wud drap, I warned ye we’d reply,
I warned thae Swiss an’ Serbians an’ Spaniards that we’d rise.
Thay shudae kent tae pack thair pokes the moment thay hud seen,
The tartan army mairchin’ an’ the steel in Gunnie’s een.
Switzerland: – 4th (Eliminated)
Scotland: – 3rd (Qualified for Second Round)
So there we have it! Your final 16 is:
The Netherlands, Romania, Ukraine, Portugal, Norway, Germany, Turkey, Belgium, Italy, Sweden, England, France, Denmark, Spain, Serbia and Scotland.
Condolences to Russia, Northern Ireland, Czech Republic, FYR Macedonia, Croatia, Poland, Georgia and Switzerland.
But we can’t leave it there. Who’s facing who in the Second Round? Which clashes of the titans can we look forward to? I’m glad you ask…
Second Round Preview
Germany (2nd Group C) v Romania (2nd Group A)
Two sides that have picked up 6 points from their 3 Group Stage matches go head to head in the first of our Second Round ties. The momentum is with Germany however, who lost their opening tie against Norway but have since recorded comfortable wins over Croatia and Turkey, while Romania won their opening 2 matches against Northern Ireland and Russia without conceding, before losing precious momentum against the Netherlands in their last Group match.
Best Players So Far
Germany striker Christopher Dieckmann had a quiet start to the tournament but has exploded in the subsequent matches, scoring 5 goals, registering 1 assist and picking up 2 Player of the Match awards against Croatia and Turkey. Romania’s goals have been fewer than Germany’s and they’ve also been spread more evenly between their forward line, but Florin Tanase has impressed me most, registering a superb free kick goal and an assist so far.
Belgium (1st Group D) v Denmark (3rd Group E)
Belgium have torn through each nation they’ve come up against so far and Denmark, the lowest ranked of the 3rd place qualifiers, will just hope they can hold on for a penalty shootout, or shut up shop and sneak a late winner. The Danes have picked up just one win against Georgia but they put in a strong, resilient performance against France and that will give them hope.
Best Players So Far
Youri Tielemans has put in some excellent performances for Belgium so far, pulling the strings for his side and scoring 4 goals, albeit 3 from the spot. The player that’s impressed me even more though is Mohamed Hamoudan, who scored 3 goals and assisted 1 as his side dominated Group D. No Danish players have shone that brightly thus far, but I’ll say that Pierre-Emerick Højbjerg has been their best player. Along with midfield partner Thomas Delaney, Højbjerg has been consistently solid in the centre of the park and clinches my vote by virtue of not having given away a ridiculous penalty against France.
Turkey (3rd Group C) v Ukraine (1st Group B)
I had an inkling that Turkey would in fact beat Germany to become the 4th side to keep a 100% record throughout the Group Stage and I have to say, I do wish that this was a meeting between 2 teams that had won every match so far. As it is though, Turkey have suffered their first blip of an otherwise very promising tournament, while Ukraine have been getting the job done quite efficiently. Ukraine will certainly be the favourites, but Turkey have already shown that they are no pushovers.
Best Players So Far
Emre Günal has been excellent so far for Turkey, scoring one goal and assisting another, while no doubt counting himself unlucky to have picked up only one Player of the Match award against Norway. For Ukraine, goalkeeper Mykyta Shevchenko certainly deserves a mention for solid performances throughout the group stage, beaten just once against Macedonia, but how can I not give the honour of best player to their captain-for-the-day and hat trick scoring right back Valeriy Luchkevych? Solid performances again and a great story. Taras Stepanenko will be wondering when he’ll get that armband back.
Spain (1st Group F) v France (2nd Group E)
This one really leaps off the page, doesn’t it? Group F winners Spain against Group E runners up France. We’ve certainly seen glimpses of what both teams can do – Spain in the 2nd half against Switzerland, France in the last half hour against England, but for me both of these sides have been fairly disappointing so far. Yes they’ve qualified, but France struggled to beat Georgia and Denmark, while Spain scraped past Scotland and lost to Serbia. This could be a magnificent game of football, or it could be very forgettable. It depends which versions of the sides turn up.
Best Player So Far
Hector Bellerin stands out as one of the best Spanish performers, laying on a couple of goals for his team mates as well as remaining solid in the matches that he’s played (Thankfully he was left out of the Serbia tie), although it mystifies me why we’ve seen so little of Alvaro Morata, who scored a brace and laid on a goal in the opening match and who we haven’t seen since. For France, I’d have to give the honour to Paul Pogba. The captain scored 3 times in the 2 matches he played, winning the Player of the Match award against Georgia.
Scotland (3rd Group F) v Norway (1st Group C)
Scotland have already made me proud. 3rd place in Group F and progression to the Second Round is a feat in itself and for me, I think they would’ve climbed to 2nd if Spain hadn’t made so many changes for their final match and handed the win to Serbia. Norway will be tough opposition, losing only to Turkey in the Group Stage and showing their quality by piling the misery onto Croatia.
Best Players So Far
Angus Gunn for Scotland, obviously. For Norway, obviously you have to look at Vidar Holm for his contribution to the aforementioned dismantling of Croatia, but for me I’ve been impressed by Iver Fossum, who’s been a rock in the centre of midfield and has chipped in with a goal to boot.
Italy (2nd Group D) v England (1st Group E)
I’ll be getting the popcorn out for this one. Italy, aside from the disappointing result against Belgium, have been very good. England have also been very good. Both sides have quality players throughout and both sides are mostly putting in the performances to match.
Best Players So Far
I was disappointed to see Yuri Brugger dropped for Italy’s crucial second match after such a staggeringly impressive opening game, but actually when he came back into the side against Sweden he looked like a shadow of the player I saw against Poland. Most players have been fairly solid throughout the Group Stage, but in the absence of any one standout player, captain Gianluigi Donnarumma gets my vote for a string of steady performances. I’d also like to be the first to offer my condolences to my own twitter feed as I’m going to overlook Marcus Rashford for England’s best player so far despite his 4 goals against Georgia. I’m looking at players who’ve impressed me throughout the Group Stages and I reckon it’s a tie between Harry Kane and young Oliver Webb, who’ve each scored 2 goals, set up another 2 and have put in some exquisite performances.
Netherlands (1st Group A) v Sweden (3rd Group D)
The Netherlands have been so dominant right from the start that I rather think they’re being overlooked throughout Europe as people gravitate towards the likes of Belgium and Germany as likely winners. The Netherlands look like an absolute bohemoth though and in an admittedly quite soft group, they’ve qualified at a canter. I think we’re yet to see the best of them. Sweden on the other hand will have been hoping for an easier draw as they’ve lost both matches they’ve played against “better” sides. They’ll find it tough.
Best Players So Far
It’s difficult to look past Thomas Buitink for the Netherlands. He’s the joint top scorer in the Euros so far with Christopher Dieckmann and although 3 of his goals have come from penalties, he’s also shown his quality by assisting 2 more. 3 more if you include the penalty he won himself. For Sweden, Linus Wahlqvist deserves a mention for his admirable displays at the back, but Saed Haksabanovic gets my vote for scoring one, assisting one and putting in consistently good displays from the left wing.
Serbia (2nd Group F) v Portugal (2nd Group B)
Serbia are still a bit of an unknown quantity to me if I’m honest, despite having watched all 3 of their matches. They spent 90 minutes kicking the shins of Scotland players and drew, then they spent 90 minutes kicking the shins of Switzerland players and drew, then they spent 90 minute not kicking the shins of Spain’s 2nd string and won. I suppose my advice to them would be… Stop kicking people’s shins, you psychopaths. Shin kicking aside, Portugal will fancy their chances here. The only time they failed to comfortably win a Group Stage match was against Ukraine, a match in which they dominated everything except the scoreline and conceded from Ukraine’s only shot on target.
Best Players So Far
There’s not exactly a long list of players that’ve performed consistently well for Serbia. We may as well throw a dart at a list of names… Predrag Rajkovic? Sure, why not. Goalkeeper, captain, solid, only conceded once. For Portugal, the list is slightly longer and although I admit that João Mario’s 2 wonder goals nearly swayed me, I’m going for Renato Sanches. He’s been absolutely superb and for my money, one of the best players at the tournament so far. No goals and 3 assists to his name, but he’s been pulling strings constantly to keep his side ticking over.
That’ll be the Second Round, then. I’ll see you bright and early the morning after the last match for a full dissection.