Euro 2020 is in full swing with the games coming so thick and so fast it’s hard to keep up with everything that is going on.
But you will be happy to know I have bravely taken one for the team and watched just about every minute of every game so far. Yes, even the Spain vs Sweden game, which was essentially a 90-minute cure for insomnia.
Writing about the current state of play in the various groups is a bit tricky considering games will still be going on way past this column’s bedtime.
Instead, I am going to share a few generic observations and thoughts about the tournament thus far.
When we look back on Euro 2020 in future, it is entirely inevitable that Christian Eriksen’s horrific, shocking collapse in Denmark’s game against Finland will be one of the overriding memories. It stunned the football world (and beyond) to the extent that it is one of those incidents that you will always remember exactly where you were when it happened. It’s hard to find any positives in such a disturbing moment, but knowing that Eriksen is doing well and getting first-class treatment is excellent news.
The other good thing to come out of it was the way football united behind one of their own. The players on the pitch that day – as well as the match officials and medical teams – all acted impeccably. The fans too, with both sets singing the player’s name as he was stretchered off. I can’t see how Eriksen will ever be able to resume his career but, after what happened to him, the fact that he is still around for his partner and children is the only thing that truly matters.
Whisper it quietly – very, very quietly, please – but we have managed to get through quite a few games so far without VAR being the overwhelming talking point. Sadly, that is less to do with the system working well as with the system not being used that much. Up to the time of writing there haven’t been that many incidents which have needed intensely VARing. Hardly any, in fact.
That hasn’t stopped by-the-book video assistants ruling out goals for the most marginal of offside decisions, but that sort of barbaric decimation of the game is something we are all getting used to now. Which is awfully sad. Maybe if they get through a tournament without needing VAR for any major decisions, they will realise it isn’t actually necessary and chuck it straight in the bin. A bloke can dream.
I’m not really much of a believer in aliens, but I am starting to wonder if the Italian team might not have been abducted and replaced in an ‘Invasion of the Bodysnatchers’ type event. I’ve been watching Italy for 40 years and I don’t recall ever having seen them play this way. They had never scored more than two goals in a Euros match before. Now they have scored three in their first two games, qualifying in blistering speed. They look hungry, energetic and determined to push all the way. It really is quite an incredible transformation from the Italy teams that used to score a goal and then defend for 89 minutes. Bodysnatcher theory aside, fair play to Roberto Mancini. He took over a team on its knees and has rebuilt it into an entirely different, and far sexier, beast.
Roberto Mancini took over a team on its knees and has rebuilt it into an entirely different, and far sexier, beast
Attack vs defence
Too many of the games at Euro 2020 so far have been like attack versus defence practice sessions. There have been some nicely-balanced games and others where the matches have ebbed and flowed, but a large percentage have seen one side intent on defending and hoping for the occasional counter-attack.
At first I thought this was the result of the increased number of teams, which has meant an increased number of imbalanced matches. But some of the bigger teams have employed this tactic as well. Like France against Germany, especially in the second half. The World Champions had more than enough quality to keep their opponents under pressure for 90 minutes but instead chose to let the Germans attack and then hit them on the counter. It may be effective, but it isn’t great fun to watch. God bless Italy for bucking the trend.
When Cristiano Ronaldo moved the Coke bottles out of shot during his post-match press conference, insisting people should drink ‘water’ instead, I can just picture 90 per cent of UEFA’s marketing department simultaneously fainting. The Portugal star’s stance may have been admirable – and understandable considering his belief in healthy living – but it won’t have gone down well with the men in suits.
Whether you love it or loathe it, Coke throws a hell of a lot of money at football. Ronaldo’s move apparently wiped billions off the stock market value of Coke. Ouch! And then, just to make sure the remaining 10 per cent of UEFA’s marketing department joined their colleagues on the floor, Paul Pogba did the same thing with Heineken bottles in his press briefing a few hours later. Double ouch!
As I said, I admire these players for taking a stand. But they need to remember that a lot of the money from sponsors filters down to grassroots football, and if these mega corporations decide to walk away from the game, football as a whole will suffer. Maybe a bit more subtlety would be wise, CR.
Here’s a clue for all eco-activists – if you are trying to promote your cause, find a way to do it that doesn’t involve hurting innocent people. The Greenpeace activist who paraglided into the stadium before the Germany vs France game managed to get himself tangled up in the wires controlling the overhead camera. Debris from the tangle then rained down on several spectators, sending them to hospital. Not the best way to win friends and influence people.
On a side note, the German authorities said their snipers didn’t shoot the man down because they saw the Greenpeace logo and decided he was a protester, not a terrorist. Well there’s a pretty stupid thing to publicly admit…
And finally… the fans
It’s been a confusing and uncomfortable tournament in terms of spectators. Due to the ongoing COIVD situation, the vast majority of grounds have only allowed in a fraction of the number of supporters they can hold. But despite that, those that have made it into the various venues around Europe have been brilliant, creating an atmosphere way beyond their numbers. It’s a shame that every game isn’t packed to the rafters, but at the same time the caution is understandable. Fingers crossed, by the time we get to the final at Wembley there will be a good number of spectators in the crowd. Not full, but a good number. Every final deserves a proper audience.