Euro ramblings – Second Round Review by Jade Craddock
Another 12 games played and a host of talking points from Coca-Cola-gate (other fizzy drinks – and water – are available) to the first 0-0 draw between England and Scotland in England. So here’s a look at some of the highlights (and lowlights) of the second round.
Goal of the round: Nothing quite to match Patrik Schik’s first-round effort this time out, though there were a couple of well-worked goals, including both of Wales’ goals against Turkey, Ronaldo’s tap-in after a perfect counter-attack against Germany and Kevin de Bruyne’s beautiful set-up for Thorgan Hazard. De Bruyne went one better with his winning strike against the Danes, but arguably Ivan Perisic’s strike against Croatia was the pick of the bunch. And on the subject of goals, both Patrick Schick and Cristiano Ronaldo picked up another goal apiece, to take their tallies to three each, but there’s a clear frontrunner for the Golden Boot at the moment – own goals. There had only been nine own goals in Euros history prior to this tournament, with the most at one tournament being the three scored in 2016. However, five own goals – over half of the total previously scored – have already been registered in the first two rounds of this year’s edition – including the opening goal of the tournament – with Portugal’s Ruben Dias and Raphael Guerreiro having the dubious honour of scoring two own goals in a single match for the first time in the tournament’s history. On a more positive note, Ronaldo’s third goal of the campaign saw him increase his Euros goals tally to 12 and edge just two away from Ali Daei’s international record, whilst this was also his 19th goal at World Cup and Euro Championships, equalling Miroslav Klose’s record. With a tricky match against France to close their group-stage account and keep their Euros ambitions alive, could Wednesday’s encounter be Ronaldo’s swansong at this tournament?
Standout team performance: There were a few standout performances across the round, not least from two of the three home nations, with Wales tapping back into the spirit of 2016 to see them earn a deserved victory against Turkey and all-but ensure qualification to the knockout round, whilst Scotland stepped up against the Auld Enemy to thwart England’s progress. After a dire start in Munich against France, Germany reminded everyone as to why they’re the most successful team in Euros history, with an impressive victory over Portugal, while both Belgium and Netherlands maintained their 100% start and eased into the Round of 16. However, my shout for team performance goes to Italy, who eased to another 3-0 win, becoming only the second team in the tournament’s history to begin the campaign with consecutive wins with margins of more than 3 goals. Despite not being on many people’s radars pre-tournament, Italy have in fact been on a very decent run, which has now seen them register 10 consecutive wins, and all of them without conceding a goal. They are 29 matches unbeaten, just one short of their record 30 matches between November 1935 and July 1939, and have scored some 80 goals. Defensive solidity is still at their core but they’ve added the deadly combination of goals – a team to watch surely.
Standout player performance: If ever a substitute changed a team’s fortunes, it was surely Kevin de Bruyne, who was introduced in the second-half when the Red Devils were 1-0 against Denmark and promptly cancelled out the deficit by calmly setting up Hazard. And just quarter of an hour later, he turned the game on its head with a beautifully struck shot to ease Belgium into the lead and through to the Round of 16. He exemplified the term ‘game-changer’. However, for me, Leonardo Spinazzola has been a revelation. A right-footed wing-back, he’s played the role to perfection on the front foot, always offering an outlet down the wing and often the furthest forward in the attack. Admittedly, he hasn’t been tested particularly defensively, but, as they say, attack is the best form of defence, and they don’t come more attacking in the wing-back role than Leonardo Spinazzola. Now 28, Spinazzola may just be at his peak, although if Chiellini and Bonucci are anything to go by, he should have another good 6–8 years yet.
Newcomers: I can’t mention newcomers without mentioning Billy Gilmour. Named ‘Star of the Match’ (a moniker I’m not even going to go into right now) against England, Gilmour once again proved his quality and maturity as he has done every time he’s stepped onto the pitch in the last twelve months. Despite being only 20, his schooling with the likes of Kante and Jorginho clearly shows, and his battle against team-mate Mason Mount was one of the highlights of the England-Scotland match. For me, though, Denzel Dumfries of the Netherlands, who has been named ‘Star of the Match’ (I know, I know) in both of the Oranje’s matches, has been mightily impressive, starring at right-back but scoring in both of the opening fixtures – and in scoring in his first two Euros games, he matched the feat that has only ever been achieved by one other player – Ruud van Nistelrooy – and again, I reiterate, he’s a right-back. Aged just 22, he’s already making waves, and I’m sure the Premier League scouts are out in force to prise him away from PSV. And when it comes to youngsters, Jude Bellingham’s reign as the youngest ever player at the Euros was over almost as soon as it began with Poland’s Kacper Kozlowski taking the record when he was introduced as a sub against Spain, aged 17 years and 246 days. Anyone feeling old yet?
Surprise packages: Hungary versus France was seen as a shoo-in for the reigning World Cup winners who had eased past Germany, just four days before. However, the 60,000 fans in Budapest and the Magyars didn’t get the memo, shocking Les Bleus by going ahead at the end of the first half. Hungary couldn’t hold on to the lead as Antoine Griezmann equalised on 66 minutes, but a team boasting the likes of Mbappe, Benzema and Pogba couldn’t find a way past a determined Hungary side. A side it must be said whose 3-0 defeat by Portugal hugely flattered their opponents, after Hungary had held out for 84 minutes. A draw against the tournament favourites was little more than the side deserved, and it keeps the so-called Group of Death wide open. Whilst Hungary have proved a welcome surprise, Spain have been the opposite, managing just two underwhelming draws and scoring one goal. It is a team that remains blessed with talent but one that has become predictable and somewhat stale. With a prodigy like Adama Traore on the bench, someone who can genuinely effect games and terrorise defences, it seems unfathomable that he hasn’t featured at all in this tournament, even if not as a starter, he is the ideal option from the bench. Currently sitting third in their group and with a final match against Slovakia to play, Spain still have it all to do to qualify, and they’re going to need more than they’ve shown so far to do it.
Moment: You might argue it comes to something when your moment of the round is the half-time entertainment, but then when that half-time entertainment is Micah Richards leading the karaoke it’s understandable. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Micah Richards is TV Gold. And when there’s a stale 0-0 to try to cover in the fifteen-minute break, why not opt for a little sing-song instead? Ashley Williams and Alex Scott were the perfect sidekicks for Richards and if nothing else comes out of this Euros for the home nations, we may just have found our next Eurovision trio right there. Analysing matches is all well and good, but let’s be honest, we’re all there for the pundit shenanigans. Next up, Roy Keane, Gary Neville and Graeme Souness have a half-time rap battle. Okay, maybe that’s just wishful thinking.
England: The concerns going into the tournament for England were all about defence and how on earth the Three Lions would cope without Harry Maguire. Blessed with perhaps the greatest array of attacking talent in a generation, the only questions about England’s front line was how to fit them all in. However, two games down and that has totally switched. The defence, marshalled it has to be said by Harry Maguire’s replacement Tyrone Mings, has kept two clean sheets and been largely untroubled, whilst a four-pronged attack has registered just one goal and didn’t record a single shot on target in the first half against Scotland. It felt as if this match brought England crashing back down to earth, against a Scotland side who were resolute and determined but who rank some forty places below their Auld Enemy. In many ways, it was a sort of throwback, an old-fashioned tussle of yore, with a few more multicoloured boots than in the past. It wasn’t particularly pretty, the good old Blighty weather didn’t let the side down, and the first twenty-five minutes was more about the foul count than the pass count, with some proper duels between Mings and Stones and Adams and Dykes, and Mason Mount and Billy Gilmour who seemed to forget they’re Chelsea teammates. Mount and Rice were arguably the best of a disappointing bunch, with another solid display by Mings and Jordan Pickford putting on a good performance. With one match to go, England’s fate will be decided against the Czech Republic and whilst it’s not all doom and gloom, there is definitely need for improvement, and maybe it’s time for a change to personnel and shape.