Euro 2020: Italy's sublime football, Denmark's heroic display and other memorable moments
Every big tournament has something unique about it, as did Euro 2020, which actually took place in 2021 because of the global pandemic. Here are some of the key takeaways from the mega-event.
Before Euro 2020 started, Italy were one of the favourites to advance deep into the tournament. As the competition progressed, they showed why they are a team to beat. And as the nightsky in London was at its full glory on Sunday, Roberto Mancini and his team were basking in splendour after beating England on penalties to win the title.
Italy are the European champions for the second time. It took them 53 years to repeat what they did in 1968, when the tournament took place in their country. It took England 55 years to reach a major final, but Gareth Southgate failed to replicate what they achieved at the 1966 World Cup.
Every big tournament has something unique about it, as did Euro 2020, which actually took place in 2021 because of the global pandemic. Matches were spread across 11 cities in Europe with London’s Wembley Stadium hosting the prestigious semi-finals and the final. Players, managers, coaches, officials, fans, and everyone involved gave their best during the course of the competition. A few were lucky to find success while others have to be content with memories.
Italy – the best team of Euro 2020
Mancini’s team entered the competition with a sensational winning run and extended the streak to 34 with the victory in the final. This is a team not made of superstars but a bunch of quality players who played to the system and knew how to be effective in big moments.
Italy are not new to winning tournaments; they have won the FIFA World Cup four times. But this Italian team is different and Mancini made them a threat with the ball. They played to dominate and preferred an attacking 4-3-3 formation, with a barrage of attacks coming from the wings. They scored seven goals in the group stage without conceding and then netted four times in Round of 16 and quarter-final matches. Spain outperformed them on the field in the semi-final but Italy managed to get the win and then went on to dominate England in the final despite going down by a goal in the second minute.
The experience of Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci proved to be vital but so did others, who stood up and performed. Jorginho, Federico Chiesa, Leonardo Spinazzola, Lorenzo Insigne, Manuel Locatelli, Domenico Berardi and the player of the tournament Gianluigi Donnarumma. It was a pleasure watching them play football together for a month and indeed the best team won the title.
When Southgate’s tactics work, England can dismantle mighty Germany but when they don't, they go on to suffer as they did against Italy. There are legitimate questions with regard to Southgate’s approach, mostly because this England side is blessed with world-class attacking talents. But Southgate has taken this team to the semi-final of a World Cup and then guided them to the final of a European Championship. So, he knows what he’s doing and it’s working for England.
Also, it’s fascinating to see England playing the ‘tournament football’ and earning positive results. They don’t like taking risks; they don’t want to be flamboyant but they have players who can turn the match around. Raheem Sterling was the one in this edition of Euro 2020. Harry Kane too improved as the tournament progressed. If Southgate sticks with the team, there won’t be any drastic change to their style in the near future but it’s worth pondering – what if they were slightly more positive in their game plan? What if they can bring out the best from their famed attackers?
Heroes from Denmark
As mentioned above, Italy were the best team in the tournament but there are also Denmark and it's criminal to ignore what they achieved as a group in Euro 2020. It’s important to mention the Christian Eriksen incident and how the Danish players reacted to the awful scenes on the pitch. From watching their teammate collapse due to a cardiac arrest to coming back on the field on the same day to suffering two defeats in the group stage to eventually qualifying for the semi-final, it was a helluva ride for Denmark.
And maybe the Danes would’ve gone to the final if not for the soft penalty decision against England in the extra time of the semi-final.
Manager Kasper Hjulmand eloquently summed up the journey of Denmark after their semi-final defeat: "I can't describe how much I admire the technical staff behind these players, they have been through so much. We have two people from the staff who saved the life of one of our best players.
"Unfortunately, we did not get to the final but we will attack again and our future is full of hope and belief.
"These guys are outstanding and the whole nation can be proud, they are an amazing squad and they have done an amazing job. They have made Denmark proud."
Yes, they played good football and yes, they made millions around the world proud with their efforts.
A tournament of outstanding football
Hjulmand spoke about Denmark playing good football and so did other teams. It was refreshing to see head coaches of national teams not being conservative with their styles. The quality was consistently high throughout the month-long event.
Switzerland showed courage against France and ended up beating the world champions in the Round of 16. Croatia went toe-to-toe against Spain. Czech Republic reaped rewards for being organised and clinical. Sweden, inspired by Emil Forsberg, played with freedom. The likes of Ukraine, Scotland, and Wales, who were eliminated at various stages of the tournament, also impressed with their performances.
Football in the time of COVID-19
More than 60,000 people saw the semi-finals and the final at Wembley. Other venues also allowed at least 25 percent of the capacity to witness the games. There’s no doubt that spectators inside the stadiums elevate the game and it was refreshing to see crowds packed in numbers for football games. But it’s also uncomfortable to learn that the pandemic is far from over and thousands of people gathering at one place without necessary precautions can still be dangerous.
In the UK, the Delta variant has been a big factor in the surge in cases. The rate of vaccination has been high and negative COVID-19 reports were made mandatory but experts have constantly reminded about the dangers of mass gatherings. Fans are bound to get excited with the prospects of football coming home or football going to Rome, but UEFA and authorities should’ve been cautious in their approach to conduct a football festival in the midst of a pandemic.
Ugly end to Euro 2020
The behaviour from a bunch of supporters before the final and after England’s defeat took some sheen away from a quality tournament. A few fans around Wembley fought with the stewards and police before barging into the stadium without tickets. There were reports that bottles and other objects were thrown in Leicester Square, which had become an unofficial fan zone for the event.
Worse, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka had to endure racist abuse from fans after they missed their penalties in the final. Rashford's mural in Manchester, which was made in recognition of footballer’s work to tackle child food poverty, was vandalised with graffiti.
Other memorable moments
— Patrik Schick’s sensational goal for Czech Republic against Scotland that shocked Hampden Park.
— Kylian Mbappe, one of the world's best players, missed the crucial penalty for France and as a result, the world champions were knocked out by Switzerland.
— A protestor for environment group Greenpeace gliding into the stadium on a parachute after losing control and injuring fans.
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