By Euan McCabe
- That It Started
Strange times these. So strange that the record books will forever show Euro 2020 took place in 2021.
2. A Rich Man’s Mike Hesson
Italy has returned to major championship football after failing to qualify for the Russian World Cup of 2018. But this revised version – the Roberto Mancini model – is certainly not the Italy that most have come to despise down through the decades.
Something has happened to Italian football. Serie A is now the most exciting of the major domestic leagues. Between February and April of this year 112 consecutive matches were played without a 0-0 draw. And Mancini has rebuilt the national side by picking a squad from within Serie A and getting them to replicate the same bold brand of football at international level.
Manchester City may not have wanted him, but Mancini has masterminded a clever re-set where a strong team culture keeps the inevitable egos in check, the politics is ignored (there is the same chance of making the starting XI whether you play for Juventus or Sassoulo), the players are clearly enjoying themselves and the results are mounting up.
I can scarcely believe I’m typing this – but Italy are now an enjoyable watch.
3. Mein Sweeper
France met Germany just days into the tournament and that meant intense football of the highest standard made an early appearance, along with lots of the expected war metaphors.
Watching Manuel Neuer, Antonio Rudiger and Mats Hummels stroking the ball around at the back as the deadly Kylian Mbappe lurked in the vicinity, like a U-Boat lying just below the surface, was truly heart in the mouth stuff. The ball control and speed of execution from these three German defenders was enthralling to watch – but everybody knew that the slightest of miscalculations would result in a lethal torpedo being instantly launched towards the German goal. It resembled three kids running back and forth across a busy motorway.
France eventually triumphed on the night, but at least Hummels ultimately sunk his U-Boat. After Mbappe had blistered past him and lined up Neuer – and everybody waited for the net to explode – Hummels somehow managed to pull off the tackle of the century, a quite exquisite piece of timed execution from behind. It had to be.
4. Cr7: Version H20
Cristiano Ronaldo spent most of this season out on the fringe at Juventus looking much like a small child threatening to take his ball home. Some people (me) even started to think that perhaps this was the beginning of the end of one of finest careers in all of football.
But Superman made a sudden reappearance from a Budapest phone box. Decked out in his favourite red and green bodysuit, CR7 makes any outfit look far too small but his chest puffs out so much in this number that it teeters on splitting open.
What a player. He was the undoubted kingpin for years in a fairly average Portuguese team. Now in plays in a national side that abounds with talent. And he is the undoubted kingpin. Is there anything this guy cannot do? Even the amount of territory he chews up would exhaust most players 15 years his junior. And the party tricks he managed to insert into the heat of the battle against Germany had to be seen to be believed.
He can do things that even Lionel Messi cannot, which makes him the most complete footballer of his generation.
5. Live From The Drury Front Room
Peter Drury’s mother made him do the ironing when he was a child, which he managed to turn into a positive by practising and honing his inventive brand of florid but quite brilliant commentary. The world is therefore indebted to Mrs Drury. And at least somebody from England has made an impact at the tournament.
6. Germany Forgetting To Invade Poland
The leading goalscorers in the 2020-21 German Bundesliga were Robert Lewandowski (Polish), Andre Silva (Portuguese), Erling Haaland (Norwegian), Wout Weghorst (Dutch), Andrej Kramaric (Croatian), Sasa Kalajdzic (Austrian), Emil Forsberg (Swedish), Patrik Schick (Czech) and… err… (German).
Germany has no Number 9. They all play for another country (see above). As people like Vicente del Bosque and Pep Guardiola have proven, champion sides do not always need a Number 9. But the German method requires one.
During the German group matches I would watch Bayern players like Muller, Kimmich, Gnabry, Goretzka and Sane buzzing dangerously in and around the opposition box, then suddenly the ball would fall invitingly into that central channel, and… hang on – where’s Lewandowski to drill it home? Oh, that’s right – up the road playing for Poland.
But it could have been so different if the Germans had just been a little bit more efficient. Given that two of their most formidable strikers of recent years, Lukas Podolski and Miraslav Klose, were both of Polish extraction, a German deputation should have been dispatched across the border years ago to check Leandowski’s papers and then issue him with new ones. An opportunity missed, much like the many against France and Hungary.
And this oversight from a nation that switched hotels at the 1994 World Cup because the one they were staying in did not have enough fax connections to carry all of the intelligence on potential opponents being sent from across the United States.
7. The Scots Who Came In From The Cold
If you were Scottish and born in 1970 you would have witnessed the national football team play in seven straight World Cup finals by the time you turned 28. If you were Scottish and born in 1998 you would have witnessed the national football team play in nothing by the time you turned 22. But in 2021 every Scot still alive finally got a chance to dine once again at the top table.
The highly anticipated clash with England looked very much like a Championship XI taking on a Premier League XI, with the Championship XI shading it with the not unexpected mix of desire and commitment.
At least Steve Clarke’s Scotland could point out that they did match the achievements of all of their more illustrious forebearers – by also failing to qualify for the second round.
Luck has never been a friend of Scotland in major tournaments and that trend continued for this team, as they fell victim to two outrageously brilliant individual goals – Patrik Schick’s 47-metre lob for the Czech Republic and a sublime left-footed curling dipper from Luka Modric of Croatia. At least it means Scotland 2021 will be immortalised by appearing in the highlights reels for decades to come.
8. Crowd Favourites
When football resumed last year in empty stadiums it was all quite novel at the beginning. It was fascinating to hear what the players were saying to each other. But you soon tire of Zlatan Ibrahimovic yelling abuse at his AC Milan teammates and eventually just hanker for some fans to show up.
So one of the unquestionable highlights of Euro 2020 has been the return of the fans. Football fans become an extension of the contest like in no other sport and therefore the game suffers more than any other when they are absent. And what an incredible difference it has made when they finally returned.
So here are my podium destinations so far from Euro 2020:
I’ve been in pubs in Glasgow so I know just how loud Scots can be. But quite how just 12,000 of them managed to generate such noise and passion in the cavernous surroundings of Hampden Park actually defies scientific explanation.
I was once charged $36 for two coffees in Copenhagen so I’ve never been all that fond of the Danish capital. And the Danes have always struck me as not all that an effusive race of people, constrained as they are by all that Scandinavian sensibility, Lego-type logic, and fables with moral outcomes. But, my God, it has been party time at Christian’s Place at these Euros. It’s probably been a combination of being locked down for so long and the Christian Eriksen factor but, whatever it is, the Danish supporters have been truly magnificent. They have lifted up and carried the Danish team into the knock-out stage on a tsunami of emotion. And every single person in the packed stadium seems to be wearing a Danish shirt. Do they come with the ticket?
I was once charged $14 for two meals in a Budapest restaurant so I’ve always had something of a soft spot for the Hungarian capital. But that is not the reason why this great city on the Danube gets the nod over Copenhagen. It is because I do not think I have seen or felt anything like it since Argentina 1978. The degree of fervour generated by the 68,000 inside the Puskas Arena against France bordered on Nuremberg rally stuff and lifted up hairs on me in places I did not realise I had them. It was definitely a lot darker and more sinister than Copenhagen, but football crowds everywhere are driven by all sorts of different motivations. It was powerful stuff. The commentator said that those present in the stadium will never forget this day. Neither will I.
9. Southee-Boult And Durant-Harden
I took a fortnight off work to watch these Euros. I considered it part of my build-up and preparation for next year’s World Cup; which with the new format of four games a day will present a massive challenge in my attempt to stretch my sequence of 445 consecutive live matches through to the magic 500 mark and beyond.
I have found this fortnight far more relaxing than World Cup month as I am not compelled to watch every game live. It is actually amazing: You can simply pick and choose what games and when. And you also realise just how much live sport is on television and how much time you have at your disposal to watch it.
In the first week I have managed to slot in the Black Caps Test victory in Southampton, a full NBA finals game every day, both A-League semi-finals and the US Golf Open. That is in between 20-plus games at the Euros. And great news for week two – the Tour de France starts on Saturday.
I intentionally saved up 12 hours of the World Championship Snooker final for seven long weeks just so I had something to watch between the Euro game times. So far I have watched half a frame. For those who may be interested, Mark Selby is leading with 34 and a half frames remaining.
10. Christian Eriksen
Get well soon.
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