EURO 2020: A Recap
Euro 2020 has come and gone, albeit a year late, and it was a rollercoaster ride. Roberto Mancini’s all-conquering Italian side battled their way to the trophy and England (!) found themselves in their first major final since 1966. Plucky Denmark overcame the on field death (and thankfully recovery) of talismanic attacking midfielder Christian Eriksen to make the semi finals. Spain also progressed late into the tournament despite an early profligacy in front of goal during the group stages.
TEAM OF THE TOURNAMENT
GK: Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy)
Donnarumma was head and shoulders above everyone in this tournament. While Jordan Pickford had more clean sheets and fewer goals conceded the protection he was offered by the England back line was extreme. Pickford’s distribution was also dreadful, in particular his insistence at hoofing it long helped Italy retain possession for most of the final. Donnarumma has no weaknesses. He’s a giant, make great decisions (see his penalty saves) and has excellent vision and distribution. He’s not at the same level of distribution as, say, Ederson who can pick out 50 yard passes but he has the common sense to feed the midfield playmakers. Honourable mention: Yann Sommer.
RB: Denzel Dumfries (Netherlands)
Even though Holland went out early, Dumfries was one of my favourite players to watch in this tournament. He bombed forward at every opportunity and scared the bejesus out of the opposition defence. If he’d been found with a better pass in the opening minute against the Czechs we might be talking about a different outcome at the Euros. Honourable mention: Kyle Walker.
LB: Leonardo Spinazzola (Italy)
Spina was key to Italy’s attacking mentality. They basically played with a back three to allow Spinazzola to plough forwards. It’s a pity he ruptured his Achille’s tendon in the middle of the tournament but I’ll not forget how well he played and the problems he caused opposition defences with his roaming attacks. Often the extra man, allowing Italy to overwhelm teams on that left side. Honourable mention: Luke Shaw.
CB: Giorgio Chiellini (Italy)
Chiellini is in here not just for his sublime defensive play but also the intangible stuff that makes a player more important. Chiellini is a leader, an inspiration and a dirty bastard. Most teams that win tournaments tend to have a dirty bastard though, it’s a key position. I loved watching Chiellini in this tournament. His gamesmanship with Jordi Alba destroyed Spain before the penalty kicks were taken in the semi. I know a few English people who are fuming at the foul on Saka but it was a yellow card, let’s move on. Chiellini won’t lose any sleep over it.
CB: John Stones (England)
John Stones may be the most underrated player at this tournament. While Maguire will get the plaudits for his leadership qualities and Kyle Walker has those incredible recovery runs the best defender of the three is Stones. He’s the smartest, he knows when to stick and when to go. He also seems to be in the right position and he’s clever with the ball. I’ve heard a few names randomly thrown around as “England’s best player” but because no one seems to notice the basics, no one is mentioning Stones. Honourable mention: Simon Kjaer.
DM: Jorginho (Italy)
The midfield holding player was key in this tournament. Most of the teams had one, some of them had several. All the successful teams had a great one. Look at Busquets for Spain or the English duo of Phillips and Rice. Jorginho did all the hard work for Italy to allow the more creative midfielders time and space to do their thing. Would Marco Verratti have the incredible passing stats he got from this tournament if he was running around doing the dirty work? It’s hard to say. Jorginho was near perfect and one of the keys to protecting Italy’s aging backline and rampaging left back. I don’t think Italy make the final without him and it’s no coincidence that he’s won Champion’s League and European Championship two months apart. Honourable mention: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.
CM: Pedri (Spain)
Pedri was unreal in this tournament. I saw him play a lot of Barcelona last year but in that environment he’s got Messi to pass to in order to make things happen. Here he was running the show. He’s 18 years old. I expect exciting wingers, or creative forwards to break into the first XI’s at an early age but not a central midfield player. Pedri controlled the flow of games, regardless of opponent. The Spain midfield had a stunning amount of possession and just shut teams down. Pedri was creative going forwards too and, as always, Spain just failed to take the chances created by this midfield ace.
CM: Marco Verratti (Italy)
He wasn’t even in the team at the start of the tournament because of an injury and his replacement, Manuel Locatelli, was brilliant. As soon as Verratti snuck into the team for the third group game it was impossible to dislodge him though. UEFA ranked him as the number one player at the tournament. 93% pass completion (even higher than Pedri), 30 tackles, 32 balls recovered and over 400 completed passes. He only played five games! Add in three assists and you’ve got the best midfield player at the Euros. Hands down. Honourable mention: Georginio Wijnaldum.
LW: Raheem Sterling (England)
Ghosted into spaces, ran in behind defenders, had an almost telepathic relationship with Luke Shaw on England’s left side. Scored three goals and forced a fourth OG through his attacking run against Denmark. Plus he was fouled for the penalty that won England their semi-final. He was positive and exciting to watch. Keeping in mind he wasn’t even in the Man City team at the end of the season, had no form and was under pressure from Grealish, Sancho and Foden for playing time. He ended up showing why he has such a great record in International football in recent years.
RW: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
I’m cheating slightly here as Ronaldo didn’t play RW but rather through the middle but if I’m doing a 4-3-3 formation he’s going in there. I’ve heard the arguments against Ronaldo’s inclusion but the arguments for are that he dragged an underachieving Portuguese side out of a tough group, scored five goals in the process and was only denied a run later into the tournament because they ran headlong into Belgium, who were arguably the third best team at the tournament. Oh, and if we’re complaining because he scored penalties…scoring penalties is HARD. Honourable mention: Andriy Yarmolenko (Ukraine)
ST: Patrick Schick (Czech Republic)
Scored the goal of the tournament, a sensational lobbed finish, against Scotland. He went on to record five in five games, matching Ronaldo as tournament top scorer. He was lethal in and around the box, scoring all kinds of different goals from poachers finishes, target man headers and, of course, great goals from long range. It wasn’t a striker’s tournament as most forwards moved around a fluid front three. The outright strikers who did play didn’t stand out at all (Morata and Yilmaz spring to mind). Karim Benzema could have troubled this spot if France hadn’t gotten knocked out so early and Romelu Lukaku was great until Italy turned up.
So, that’s the best eleven. Italy deserved to win the tournament but as I said on the Arn & Eddie Experience right after the final; this was England’s chance at glory. They may never see days like this again. All the pieces dropped into place. Italy eliminated tough teams like Belgium and Spain while England got lucky in the draw and only had to get past Germany. That was a great performance and England deserved to win it but you’ll never get a run like that to the final again. Ukraine were a weak, young side and Denmark, with all due respect, were a weak opponent at semi-final level. Combined with big nations like France and Portugal disappearing early and I seriously doubt England will have that run, combined with that luck, combined with home advantage again in my lifetime.
Being an England fan is hard. It’s hard to support the team when so many of my fellow supporters are terrible human beings. The scenes from Wembley over the weekend were an embarrassment. Fans trying to break into the stadium with no tickets, trampling stewards and having no regard for anyone but themselves was a disgrace. For some to turn around on social media and claim they had the right to “jib” into Wembley because the ticket prices were so high are the same people who voted for Brexit. You don’t have a god given right to be at a football game. No one does. You’ve got to earn it. Like the players. Do I agree with UEFA’s ticketing policies? Not really but they’re easier to attain than tickets to Premier League games where clubs force you to pay to be a “member” to line their own pockets.
There is greed in football and the bigger the game, the bigger the chance to exploit fans. You don’t have to fall into this trap. I didn’t go to Wembley. I thought about it but I generally dislike being around throngs of England fans, all pissed up from 7am. This is why my next live football game is a local one, with free entry and the club making their money at the bar. Grassroots football is fundamentally fun, especially compared to the Premier League. The richer the league, the more you are taxed as a fan to enjoy it. Which is why I just enjoy the sport, regardless of the level. Did I get heavily invested in Euro 2020? Yes, absolutely, 100%. Will I enjoy a 7pm kick off at Fairfield Villa later, getting to chat to my dad about his experiences? Absolutely. I would rather do that than go to Wembley because it’s not about the money and the prestige, it’s about you. Make your own narrative. Just enjoy football for the great sport it is. That doesn’t just go for live games either. If you’re bored of the Premier League then watch some Serie A or check out the A League from Australia. The quality isn’t the same but the desire to win and the entertainment value is way higher.
If anyone reading wants to go to a game with me this season just slide into the DM’s on Twitter @ArnoldFurious or @arn_fm and I’ll get back to you. I’m ready to go back to the roots.