Euro 2020 Final Review: The Final Hurdle

So that was Euro 2020. 4 weeks of football filled with highs, lows, cheers, tears, and Peter Walton agreeing with every refereeing decision. The stage was set for two gladiators of European football to battle it out to see who would be crowned European champions. The mighty Azzurri of Italy against the Three Lions of England trying to bring football home, or bring it to Rome. Rome would be the destination football went to with Italy narrowly beating England 3-2 in a penalty shootout. Tricky old penalties yet again becoming England’s undoing and while 55 years of hurt never stopped them dreaming, the wait for glory carries on. For Italy it would be their second Euros title with their previous win coming in 1968 in what has been an unbelievable rebuild and turnaround for the squad in recent years. From failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup to the Roberto Mancini appointment to now champions of Europe again, it’s been quite the turnaround. So without any further ado, let’s get into the review!

Italy vs England

Result: Italy 1-1 England (Italy win 3-2 on penalties)

The match couldn’t have got off to a better start for England. It took only 1 minute and 56 seconds before Luke ‘Shawberto Carlos’ Shaw fired England into the lead with a brilliant half volley. Early goals always give teams confidence and the Three Lions were going to need it if they were going to stand a chance against Italy. England really impressed me in the first half. They looked dangerous every time they attacked and they could’ve been more than 1 up going into half time. Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips controlled the midfield completely with Rice looking solid and managing to keep the shape of the midfield well while Phillips aka the Yorkshire Pirlo created chances and got himself into handy positions. Harry Kane had Giorgio Chiellini completely beat in the aerial battle winning headers and making his presence felt against the Italian captain. Italy didn’t come without their threats in the first half. Tournament breakout star Federico Chiesa was creating chances and getting forward well. Into half time England went with their 1 goal lead and many England fans dared to dream. This was the closest football has been to coming home in 55 years. All those years of heartbreak could be put to end in just 45 minutes.

However they didn’t take one important thing into consideration, the Italian second half. I don’t know what it is but in the second half of games this tournament Italy just look that bit better. The substitutions Mancini made helped turn the tide of the game. Bryan Cristante came on for Nicolo Barella who didn’t have the best game and Dominico Beradi replaced Ciro Immobile who was surprisingly quiet. Following this the onslaught of Italian chances came. Waves after waves of pressure came along with England completely losing shape. They started to tire quite quickly as Jorginho and Marco Veratti completely controlled the ball in midfield. Then in the 67th minute the inevitable happened when Leonardo Bonucci equalised. From here on in it didn’t get too much better for England. I was surprised that Declan Rice was substituted for Jordan Henderson, I thought Rice was doing a good job of trying to keep shape and chased absolutely everything but he did look tired. Neither team could get through in the remaining 20 minutes and it was extra time we went.

Neither team particularly threatened that much in extra time. Italy managed to control the midfield well and they still looked fairly strong in attack even without Chiesa. England had a few chances down at the other end but never really looked like scoring. It was pretty clear that both teams towards the end were playing for penalties with Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford coming on for England towards the end of the second half of extra time, and it would have to be penalties to settle it where the Azzurri would be victorious. Harry Kane and Harry Maguire scored their penalties with Jordan Pickford managing to keep out Andrea Belotti and Jorginho. But misses from Rashford, Sancho, and teenage wonderkid Bukayo Saka meant that penalties from Beradi, Bonucci, and Federico Bernardeschi were enough for the win.

Italy are deserved winners of this tournament. From the first game they have been many people’s favourites and yet again it stays true that if you beat Wales at some point then you’ll probably win the tournament. That last bit is true, look at the 1958 World Cup where Brazil beat Wales 1-0 in the Quarter Finals and Euro 2016 where Portugal won 2-0 in the Semis (that has to count for something, right?). As I’ve said many times before, Mancini has completely turned this team around. From exiting Euro 2016 at the Quarter Finals to not going to the 2018 World Cup full stop this Italian team needed some serious work, and that’s what it got. They’ve played brilliant football all tournament and even at times when they didn’t look so convincing they managed to find a way. Not only do they have depth in every position, the quality of the backup players is outstanding. Players like Bernardeschi, Beradi, and Manuel Locatelli are good enough to get into most national team’s starting XI’s, this shows that they are just that good. The best team at the tournament this Euros and without shadow of a doubt will be many people’s favourites for Qatar in 2022. I hope they can end up getting quite far in the next World Cup, the thought of them playing the likes of Brazil, Argentina, or Uruguay makes me very excited. But let’s not look too far ahead yet, they still need to qualify first.

As for England, you can be damn proud. From the team and manager to the majority of fans, you’ve held yourselves in good light. This is a team that is likeable for the first time in however long. A team that stands up for what they believe in. Showing solidarity with black people all around the world and the Black Lives Matter movement by taking the knee before games as well as wearing the rainbow armband in support of the LGBTQIA+ community. Gareth Southgate has been central to this, defending his positions of solidarity and his players when questioned by politicians, aspects of the media, and even small minorities of idiots who have there nerve to call themselves England “fans” despite booing the team when taking the knee. They didn’t win Euro 2020, but Southgate brought football home again for England. English fans now have a national team that they can be proud of and can relate to no matter their background. A team that represents people regardless of their gender, sexuality, or race and a team that stands in solidarity with the English public’s struggles. Some might try and hijack their success and use it to fuel division and their own idea of nationalism i.e. Boris Johnson and Priti Patel jumping on the bandwagon despite criticising them for taking the knee and saying fans had the right to boo it, but this isn’t what this England team represents. It represents a better and more united future. The support that has been shown for Rashford, Sancho, and Saka since they missed their penalties in the shootout has been incredible. Good hearted fans are holding racist thugs accountable online whenever they’ve used slurs against the three of them leading to one losing their job for posting a racist tweet and another 50 year old man arrested for similar. In a world of hate we need to mirror with love and compassion and that has been shown in the last few days since the final. Love will always overcome, and hate will never win.

This was a tournament like no other. With how unstable the last 16 months have been around the world the Euros brought a bit of normality back. It lifted spirits after what’s been an incredibly tragic period in our lives and shows that there is definitely light at the end of what has been an incredibly long tunnel. It was the last bit of football that was played in the UK before the start of the new season in August, and with any luck the stadiums will be full once again because my god it’s been far too long.

Euro 2020 Semi Final Review: Lasergate, Penaltygate, Southgate

And then there were two. The final hurdle is in sight but there’s only room for one at the top. This week we were treated to back to back semi finals at Wembley where four of Europe’s elite battled it out to get that step closer to winning Euro 2020. I’m sure by now you’ve made your choice of who you want to see lift the trophy under the Wembley arch, or maybe you’re like me in that you don’t really care who wins because your national team aren’t playing in which case good on ya! But before Europe halts to a standstill at 20:00 BST this Sunday, there’s still the task for me to look back at the semi finals. Two pretty decent games all in all, and two long games at that. But at the end of it all the two favourites made it through to set up a final between arguably the two best dressed managers in international football, but Gareth Southgate loses a few points for ditching the waistcoat. Dapperness debate aside, lets get into the reviewing!

Italy vs Spain

Result: Italy 1-1 Spain (Italy win 4-2 on penalties)

Bit of a cagey opening this one. Italy are at their most dangerous when they hit on the counter and with Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci at the back they can afford to be. However I was quite surprised at how little Italy did attack in the first half. Granted, they created some decent chances and did always look dangerous going forward but couldn’t quite get through. Spain on the other hand looked very strong. They were creating a lot of chances and were able to get shots away but the lack of a recognised striker was showing slightly. In the 60th minute Italy’s midfield maestro Federico Chiesa fired them into the lead and it looked as if it would be a dead cert that the Italians would hold on to see them through to the final but as is the rules, football doesn’t care for things making sense and the football gods only want scenes. Alvaro Morata came off the bench to score the equaliser that came in the 80th minute sending us to extra time. Neither team could break through and after some incredibly questionable penalties in the shootout, Italy prevailed making them the first team to make the final. This was a pretty fun game for the neutral. I’m not sure that it was the incredible game that the commentators and pundits made it out to be, nor do I buy Danny Murphy’s claim that it was the best game he’s seen in years when it wasn’t even the best game this tournament. There were some tired bodies out there by the end but luckily for Italy the other semi final would end up going to extra time in order to level the playing field a bit. Italy’s style of football just works. After what was a pretty woeful couple of years Roberto Mancini has got them back to playing at their best. They’ve no doubt benefited from the improvement of what were previously somewhat smaller teams in the Serie A in the last few years. Players such as Manuel Locatelli and Domenico Beradi from Sassuolo, Andrea Belotti from Torino, and Rafael Toloi from the incredibly impressive Atalanta team paired with quality from the big usual suspects such as Juventus, AC Milan, Internazionale, Napoli, and the two Rome teams (Lazio and Roma) then the base is there for a quality national side. The balance of youth and experience seems to be spot on whilst under the watchful eye of Mancini. They’ve more than bounced back from the disappointment from failure to qualify for Russia in 2018 and now they stand on the brink of greatness. As for Spain, with any other team I think they would’ve won that game. They played really well but as I said before I think they’re lacking an out and out striker. Morata is talented but far too inconsistent and whilst Gerard Moreno set La Liga on fire last season he’s not really done it at the Euros. But Spain can take pride in the fact that they proved me wrong, they actually are quite good at football.

England vs Denmark

Result: England 2-1 Denmark (aet)

Ooh this was tasty. This had a bit of everything which made it enjoyable for the neutral and 120 minutes of absolute living hell for the fans of either side. I personally had my heart set on penalties again because I find them fun, some men just want to watch the world burn (it’s me, I’m men). Denmark got off to a very strong start. They were winning the ball back well and looked dangerous every time they went forward. England started to creep back into it slightly before Mikkel Damsgaard scored an absolute belter of a free kick after 30 minutes to fire the Danes into the lead. Was it a free kick? The foul leading to it was a bit soft and it wouldn’t have been given in the Championship but regardless, for the first time this tournament Wembley was stunned into silence… for about 9 minutes. Bukayo Saka’s couldn’t be cleared by Simon Kjᴂr with the Danish centre half firing the ball into his own net. The second half came and went fairly quickly without too much fanfare and then, oh and then, we get into extra time. The game was only going to go one way once this happened. Denmark looked absolutely spent and had used most of their substitutions by that point. Then we get to the penalty which has caused the mother of all debates online from whether Raheem Sterling did his best Tom Daley impression and everyone on earth becoming an expert in military grade lasers overnight. For my two pence, I thought the penalty was a bit soft from Mᴂhle’s challenge but it looks like there was contact from Jensen on the follow through. This is where Peter Walton would’ve been able to give some actual insight but just used the old “plain and obvious” line and agreed with the referee’s decision, in other news the sun is hot. Kasper Schmeichel saved Harry Kane’s penalty but couldn’t keep out the rebound to give England the lead. Denmark did threaten in the second half of extra time but England held on to set up their first major final appearance since 1966 leading to Baddiel and Skinner, Neil Diamond, and Atomic Kitten to be played around Wembley. An interesting trio but I’ll let it slide, my main Spotify playlist is a lot more varied than that. Something weird has happened here, the England is quite team likeable. I know the anyone but England crowd exists and fair enough I totally get why, but you can’t honestly sit there and say you hate Marcus Rashford, Sterling (maybe you can if you support Liverpool), or Saka. The togetherness they’ve shown is admirable and Gareth Southgate’s persistency to stand up for minorities when facing backlash and criticism from politicians in the highest offices in the country and some fans shows incredible leadership. From Southgate wanting players to continue to take the knee in a stand against racism and Kane wearing the rainbow armband in support the LGBTQIA+ community, they’ve shone themselves in a good light. This is how you use a platform to bring awareness to struggles in society. As for Denmark, hold your heads up high gentlemen because my god you’ve made your country proud. To come back from the most horrific of all starts to the tournament to make the semi final is absolutely outstanding. Damsgaard has proven himself to be one of Europe’s best youngsters and Kjᴂr should be in the team of the tournament for the leadership he showed when Christian Eriksen collapsed and performing CPR until the medical team came with a defibrillator. You’ve done your country proud and gained a lot of new fans on the way, be proud of yourselves.

So it’s Southgate vs Mancini, The Three Lions vs Gia Azzurri, Steak and Ale pie vs Spaghetti Bolognese, James Newman vs Måneskin (Eurovision 2021 joke, my references know no boundaries), Carling vs Birra Moretti (I know exactly which one of those I prefer), England vs Italy. If you’re lucky enough to be going to the game then enjoy it, there’s a lot of people who would love to be where you are so soak up every second of it regardless of the result. Just promise me one thing, fans from both teams now, don’t boo the national anthems. It’s beyond disrespectful and booing any national anthem just makes you look like a bit of a mug and yes that includes home nation fans booing God Save the Queen (plus Il Canto degli Italiani is easily in the top 3 best national anthems in the world and a certified banger. And the Italians make a lot of noise so it’ll sound amazing Sunday). Geopolitical(ish) issues aside, this should be an incredible game. Two fairly different styles of play between two teams who not that many people would’ve bet on making the final. I thought it was going to be France-Netherlands myself but both of them went out in the last 16, brilliant cutting edge analysis yet again from yours truly. This will end up being either an absolute trouncing or a 0-0 settled on penalties, there won’t be anything in between. Only thing is I have absolutely no clue which team will do it. Whether you hope football’s coming home or football’s coming Rome, finals on stages like this are always exciting. And I for one can’t wait.

Euro 2020 Quarter Final Review: It’s the (quarter) Final Countdown

Ooh it’s getting close now! Another week down and another step closer to finding out who will win Euro 2020. 4 teams are that step closer to making their dream become a reality whereas 4 had them crushed and were sent home packing. We’re into the final stretch now but before looking forward any further we have the small job of looking back at the game week that was. 4 action packed games filled with goals, drama, last ditch defending, questionable officiating, and Peter Walton agreeing with referee decisions again. This round had some absolute belters, and that’s something I’ve noticed as the tournament has gone into the latter stages. Some of the sleeping giants are starting to wake up and are playing some absolutely brilliant football and it’s making for incredible matchups. So, without any further ado, let’s get into the reviews!

Switzerland vs Spain

Result: Switzerland 1-1 Spain (Spain win 1-3 on penalties)

Okay fine, I was wrong about Spain. I’ll admit it, this team are a lot better than what I gave them credit for. They’ve been one of the previously mentioned sleeping giants and look incredibly strong after a questionable at best first two games in the group stage. Spain started off well with Jordi Alba’s shot taking a huge deflection off Denis Zakaria after 8 minutes played. After this I thought it would be a bit of a stuffing but to be fair to Switzerland they held their own leading to Xherdan Shaqiri scoring the equaliser in the 68th minute. Extra time was needed after the game was deadlocked after 90 and a few brilliant saves from Swiss keeper Yann Sommer meant it would be penalties where Spain won 3-1 in what was a shootout with some awful penalties. I can’t help but think Spain are missing a quality striker to boost their line. That’s no disrespect to Alvaro Morata or Gerard Moreno but they’re not the same level as the quality Spanish strikers of the last 10-15 years or so. Could you imagine how lethal this team would be with a David Villa or Fernando Torres leading the line? Or even a prime Diego Costa? The team are good but with a world class striker they could be even better. Switzerland can be proud, they’ve had to travel an insane amount this tournament and still managed to knock out France and take Spain to penalties. I imagine some Premier League teams or Europe’s elite will come knocking for some of the Swiss players (not Barcelona though, they’re still too busy trying to convince their dead wood players to take pay cuts which they don’t want). Sommer has proved himself to be an incredible keeper, Kevin Mbabu really impressed me and Breel Embolo is turning out to be the player football manager players knew he could be. Congrats to Spain and commiserations to the Swiss, two good teams who have a good amount to offer.

Belgium vs Italy

Result: Belgium 1-2 Italy

Game. Of. The. Tournament. You’d have forgiven Italy if they took a more cautious approach after the Austria game in the last 16 considering they were up against the world’s number 1 ranked team but they put any questions to bed. The Azzurri came flying out playing more of the attacking and possession based football that they did in the group stage games. Leonardo Bonucci thought he’d given Italy the lead after 13 minutes only for VAR to overturn the goal. But that didn’t matter as Nicolo Barella fired them into the lead after just over half an hour played and Lorenzo Insigne scored an absolute screamer just before half time. Belgium were given a lifeline, a penalty awarded in added time in the first half was converted by Romelu Lukaku to make it 2-1 at the break. Then the second half comes, pure insanity. It was like watching a game of basketball with both teams just giving it their all piling their deadly attacks forward. Italy’s defence managed to hold on however with Giorgio Chiellini and Bonucci rolling back the years like they have all tournament. Yet again, Belgium fall short of the grand prize for the third tournament in a row. This will really hurt Belgium, and I do feel bad for them. The term golden generation is thrown around so much and usually the said golden generation team in question doesn’t do well. England under Sven-Goran Eriksson and Steve ‘the wally with a brolly’ McClaren fell short at Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup and didn’t even qualify for Euro 2008 despite having a fantastic team in their prime. Argentina had some of the world’s best between 2013-2015 yet still lost the finals of the World Cup and Copa America to Germany and Chile respectively, it’s a cursed term to use for a team. Some questions will start to be asked of a lot of people within the Belgium setup which is a shame because they play incredible football, it just wasn’t to be yet again. As for Italy, it’s a date in London with Spain in front of what will probably be a crowd of about 7 Italy and Spain fans respectively and tens of thousands of Brits. Covid has absolutely ruined the setup of this tournament which was a stupid setup to begin with, Chris Gunter hit the nail on the head with his Instagram post when Wales went out. Anyway, moaning aside it should still be a decent game.

Czech Republic vs Denmark

Result: Czech Republic 1-2 Denmark

Why couldn’t this be a semi-final? I’ve enjoyed these two teams this tournament and I always love and underdog story. Denmark were ruthless in the first half in what was a pretty similar performance to the one against Wales. Thomas Delaney headed the Danes into the lead with 5 minutes gone followed by Kasper Dolberg scoring yet again in the 42nd minute. After half time the Czechs would pull one back through everybody’s new favourite player and resident big man up top Patrik Schick but in the end it wasn’t enough. I thought Denmark would end up on the back foot a bit after Schick scored but they kept pushing on and playing in an attacking way. This tactic just works for some teams and Denmark are at their best when they play like this so why change a winning formula? With everything Denmark have had to overcome this tournament regardless of the score on Wednesday in the semi final they’ve made their country proud. The Czech Republic players can hold their heads high too, I saw a lot of people having them finishing bottom of their group without winning a game but they proved the doubters wrong. Clive Tyldesley said before the game that this tournament needed teams like Denmark and the Czech Republic going far after the Super League shambles and he’s spot on. Football should be all about daring to dream when the odds are stacked against you, and that’s exactly what both of these teams have done. Credit where it’s due, they’ve both been great teams. While Denmark make it to the semi final and are two wins from repeating their 1992 triumph, I doubt highly that it will be the last we see of the Czech Republic on the national stage making it this far into major tournaments.

Ukraine vs England

Result: Ukraine 0-4 England

 Man this was weird. England in a knockout game but looking completely comfortable for 90 minutes? Well I’ll be damned. With the ghost of Iceland past lurking the England team it felt like this could be a perfect opportunity for England to slip up to give them credit that didn’t happen, nor did it look like it would ever happen. Harry Kane put England into the lead with an early goal in the first half which was needed to settle any nerves. *ARMS UP* HARRY KANE! HARRY KANE FINALLY SCORED!! 10 points if you get that reference and if you’ve not seen that video of Boris Johnson “celebrating” Kane’s goal against Germany which I’m referencing then consider yourself lucky. Harry Maguire added another just after the second half started and Kane got his second in the 50th minute. All for it to be topped off with Jordan Henderson scoring his first goal for England and on that night in Rome, the Three Lions make it to another semi final under Gareth Southgate. Wembley will be buzzing for this one but England can’t overlook Denmark. The Danes are a fantastic squad and have played some incredible football this tournament. I can see this being a very close game and by no means an easy task, but with a home advantage and a (mostly) packed Wembley, who knows what could happen. England will be desperate to make the final after heartbreak against Croatia at the 2018 World Cup and Denmark will want to replicate their unlikeliest of all successes of ’92. This is a game I’m looking forward to a lot and I genuinely have no idea which way it will go. Here’s to it being a great game.