An entertaining set of group stage games saw fans feast their eyes upon goal-fests, the art of defending, world-class goals, and the world of football uniting as the anticipation for the knockout stages begins to build.
Italy comfortably topped Group A on this occasion, making history along the way as the first team to qualify from the group and winning every game without conceding. After Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the team was heavily re-branded, seeing experienced manager, Roberto Mancini, take charge as several senior figures departed with Gianluigi Buffon being arguably the most important.
However, the goalkeeper department is not an issue as Gianluigi Donnarumma is yet to face the task of picking the ball out the back of his net. With those three impressive victories, Mancini’s men are now 27 games unbeaten and are set to face Austria in the first knockout round, with many neutral fans backing the Italians to progress to as far as the final.
Wales ensured a consecutive European Championship qualification in as many appearances at the Euros. Back in 2016, Wales found themselves in new territory at their first European Championship, but managed to stun the footballing world as they reached the semi-finals and beat Belgium in the process.
With Denmark standing in their way (currently down 1-0 to the Danes at time of writing), the entirety of Wales is excitedly hoping their team can represent them with pride and make it just as far this time out (You can read a more in-depth article about the Welsh National team here).
Switzerland found themselves qualifying for the round of 16 as one of the tournaments best third placed teams — a concept that was first trialed at the 2016 European Championships. A third-place finish will not dampen their morale as they will be fully aware that Portugal won the 2016 Euros by qualifying in third, however, the Switzerland team face a tricky first knockout draw against World Cup holders France in a game that has the Swiss placed as heavy underdogs.
Turkey entered the tournament with numerous rumblings of the team being potential ‘dark horses’ for the rest of the competition, backing The Crescent-Stars to excite with their football, whilst being one of two teams to progress from the group stage. Evidently, the hype was to be short lived as Turkey were sent crashing out without a single point to their name and scoring just one goal along their way to a 3-1 defeat to third placed Switzerland. It was certainly a tournament to forget for the Turkish fans, finding them consistently being carved open in defense, whilst lacking the necessary finishing touch in attack.
Entering the tournaments as one of the hot favorites, Belgium surpassed expectations, qualifying top of their group with maximum points — scoring seven and just conceding one. Belgium found themselves without key starter, Kevin De Bruyne, for their opening game, but that was not to be a stumbling block as they ran out 3-0 winners.
However, De Bruyne was still to prove his impact, ensuring The Red Devils progressed with maximum points coming off the bench after going 1-0 down to Denmark and completely turning the game on its head with an assist and the winning goal. If Belgium are to impress in this competition as they are widely expected to then the effectiveness and reliability of squad depth will be a defining factor.
Headlines found themselves focus on the Denmark squad for reasons completely unrelated to football as the team became subject to worldwide praise for the brave manner in which they displayed solidarity and togetherness in the horrific circumstances surrounding Christian Eriksen. Away from the football, Simon Kjær acted instantly to help a teammate in distress and was later told his heroic actions saved his teammates life, whilst the squad formed a barrier to shield their teammate from coverage under emotional circumstances. To end up bravely continuing their game after what could only be imagined as a severely harrowing circumstance and then qualify for the knockout stages, the entirety of the Danish squad should be applauded by football fans across the globe.
After finding themselves appear in a major tournament for the first time in their history, the Eagle-owls also won their opening game by a 1-0 scoreline. However, two consecutive defeats meant they failed to qualify within the top two and failed to accumulate enough points to go through as one of the best third placed teams, seeing them exit the competition. However, Finland will be satisfied with their efforts due to them providing stern competition in what will almost certainly be the first international tournament of many.
After impressing in front of their home fans at the 2018 World Cup, promising performances on the competitive stage were to be swiftly discontinued as Russia finished bottom of their group, conceding seven and only scoring two.
Frank De Boer’s side finished top of their group with maximum points, scoring eight goals along the way. Despite keeping two clean sheets, Dutch fans were left concerned with the sides 3-5-2 formation, leaving Oranje exposed in defense when inevitably facing more capable attacking outlets as the tournament progresses.
Some fans resorted to flying a plane with a banner begging De Boer to alternate to 4-3-3 in which has historically seen a lot of success for The Flying Dutchmen. Despite this, the team look to be firing on all cylinders in attack with captain, Georginio Wijnaldum, scoring three goals as well as new Barcelona signing, Memphis Depay, displaying his attacking talents, capable of causing any nation defensive headaches.
Austria found themselves qualifying for the round of sixteen, displaying their impressive ball retention skills with an 81% pass accuracy and helping them calculate 54% possession across their group games. As well as this, defensive qualities shone through, conceding 26 attempts (8.7 per match), with the average for other teams calculating at 11 per match in which could prove to be key to further progression in the tournament.
Despite scoring four goals, the Ukraine team could only accumulate three points, leading to a knockout tie against Sweden. It was defensive frailties that provided the difference for Ukraine as they failed to keep a single clean sheet, conceding three to the Netherlands and putting them on the back foot before conceding one to both Austria and North Macedonia.
North Macedonia: C+
North Macedonia became the smallest team to ever compete in the European Championships and provided spectacular entertainment for the neutral. Despite conceding three goals in two different games and failing to collect a single point, the team provided stern competition to their opponents and were even leading Austria before mental and physical fatigue set in, which allowed the bigger countries to take advantage. It will be a tournament where the players involved can hold their heads high and have represented their country in spectacular fashion.
An England team that came into the tournament filled with high expectations, which saw them top their group without conceding a single goal. An impressive feat, which consequently places them in a knockout tie against Germany and they will be hoping to continue their resilient defensive displays from hereon-out.
Despite their impressive defensive record, the winners of Group D only scored two goals in their three games, with both goals coming from the same player (Raheem Sterling). If England are to progress further than the round of 16, they will be looking towards talisman, Harry Kane, to open his account, whilst young talents such as Phil Foden, Mason Mount, and Bukayo Saka will also be looking to set the stage alight.
The previous World Cup finalists saw themselves qualify for the next stage of the competition, finishing second place in the group after having only won one game. It took until the third time of asking for Croatia to find their first win and it came at Scotland’s expense, knocking out the Tartan Army in the process. An underwhelming group stage left Croatian fans slightly nervous ahead of an upcoming tie against Spain in the next phase.
Czech Republic: B+
As the Czech Republic came into the tournament with the aim to simply not finish bottom, that is exactly what they achieved, whilst also qualifying for the round of 16 after accumulating enough points as a third placed team. The Czech national team got their tournament off to a flyer as they arrived at Hampden Park and simply stunned a previously jubilant Scottish crowd, winning 2-0.
Next, a 1-1 draw against Croatia saw them placed top of the group before losing by a single goal to England, seeing them drop down to third. However, throughout the course of the group stages, they have shown that they have the required competitive edge to be a threat in the next phase of the competition.
After qualifying for their first major tournament for 22 years, the Scottish faithful had little to get excited about, finishing rock bottom and gaining just a single point, whilst only scoring a single goal along the way. It was a learning curve for Steve Clarke’s men, who will be hoping to have gained the necessary experience to avoid such humiliation in the future.
A well-earned draw against favorites Spain on the opening game stood the Swedish national team in good stead for the remainder of the group stages. Scoring four goals and keeping two clean sheets, the Blue and Yellow qualified above Spain to top their group and setup a knockout game against Ukraine in which they will be confident of a positive result.
A mix of emotions for Spain as they failed to qualify first, thus meaning a second place finish and setting up a tie against Croatia in the knockout round. Spain showed their defensive competence, earning two clean sheets and backing manager Luis Enrique’s surprise emission of captain, Sergio Ramos, before the tournament.
Despite this, their attacking woes rose to the surface as they failed to break down a Sweden team and only scored a single goal against struggling Poland; earning just a draw. However, Spain will be hoping a 5-0 battering of Slovakia on the final day has proved enough practice to allow them to reignite their attacking capabilities for the knockout stages.
Although Slovakia finished third, earning only three points would not be enough to see them progress as a best third placed team. It was a positive start for Slovakia, as they ran out 2-1 winners against Poland, however, two defeats in a row showed that they lacked the necessary quality to progress.
Earning a draw against Spain would prove to be the only positive of a woeful tournament for Poland. The Polish team found themselves relying heavily on the influence of goal scorer, Robert Lewandowski, and neglected their defensive duties, costing them advantages in games. The Polish scored four goals throughout the three group games, conceding a whopping six in which meant they finished bottom of their group with just a single point.
With the World Cup holders coming into the tournament as heavy favorites, an impressive showing would see them come out on top of the ‘group of death’ with a total of five points. An impressive 1-0 win against Germany on the opening day set a precedence and proved to be enough as two following draws at the hands of Hungary and Portugal eased them through. Despite a strong start, the two remaining games showcased France’s vulnerability, highlighting that they are not invincible.
An opening day defeat against France would not throw the German team off-course as a won and a draw followed, seeing them through in second place and setting up a tie against England in the round of 16. A clear German weakness is their lack of chemistry in defense, seeing them concede seven goals in just three games, with two at the expense of Hungary. Adopting the five at the back formation hindered Joachim Löw’s men and will be something that needs to be quickly addressing as it could be a deciding factor on how far they progress.
The previous winners of the European Championships qualified as one of the best third placed teams, just as they did when achieving success in 2016. Scoring seven goals showed their fluidity in attack, with a huge presence being held by European Championship record goal scorer, Cristiano Ronaldo. Portugal will be hoping to gain motivation from their jubilation in 2016 as they face a difficult round of 16 game against Belgium.
Having been drawn into the ‘group of death’. Hungary found themselves against three giants, but managed to total two points; sensationally drawing against both Germany and France. However, it was not to be for Marco Rossi’s team as they leave knowing they showed an incredible togetherness and performed above all expectations.