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ALL ROADS LEAD TO ROME

Euro 2020 Cup flies to the Italian capital

Author:

15.07.2021

Euro 2020 was an extraordinary event from the very beginning. Former UEFA President Michel Platini wished to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first European Championship. Therefore, it was decided to hold Euro 2020 in 12 different countries and cities and thus arrange a real European football holiday. However, due to the pandemic, it was postponed to 2021. Therefore, it was the first European Championship held on 11 stadiums in 11 cities of 10 states. The original list included one more stadium, but the Irish authorities abandoned the idea to hold one of the games of the tournament in Dublin. In addition, the Spanish matches of the championship were not held in Bilbao, as originally planned, but in Seville.

Despite all the difficulties caused by the pandemic, including restrictions on the number of fans at stadiums (they were different in each city), we can confidently say that the football holiday was a success. Euro 2020 was remembered for vivid football, fancy goals, unique intrigue and drama – like the matches Spain-Croatia or Switzerland-France.

 

Final

Before the start of the tournament, only few experts forecast the final game between Italy and England. Although both teams are in top 10 in the world rankings (England and Italy being the 4th and the 7th strongest teams, respectively), their chances were assessed differently. While the England national team was considered one of the favourites of Euro 2020 also because it played 6 of 7 games in London, Italy was, rather, a dark horse of the competition capable of surprising the many. But it was difficult to say how effective of a game it would demonstrate. The Italian team coached by Roberto Mancini has changed dramatically over the past three years. Since Mancini himself was a forward in the past, he, as a coach, tried to make the team show attacking type of football. As a result, his team set a new record with 34 official games without defeat. Now they are only one step behind the world record of Spain and Brazil (35 games without defeat) to become the absolute record holder.

As for Britons of Gareth Southgate, who was a defender himself, England demonstrated rational type of football aimed at the score, that the Italian type of performance. In more than 60 games under Southgate's leadership, England has conceded only 39 goals, while scoring over 120 goals. And in this tournament, England became famous for its defense potential, setting several records.

The English team hoped very much that they would be able to win the Euro for the first time in history, also because of the native stadiums it would play on. The last triumph of the team was 55 years ago at the 1966 World Championship. The following 26 major tournaments were a series of sheer disappointment. During this period, all countries usually classified as the best of the best have already secured the title of world and European champions, including Germany, Italy, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Argentina, and Brazil. Even Denmark and Greece were European champions. Yet for all these years the English team could not reach the final stage of either the Euro or the World Cup.

Conversely, the Italian national team regularly played in the final stage of major tournaments every decade. In 1968, the Italians won the Euro Cup for the first time; in 1982 and 2006 they became world champions; in 1970 and 1990, the Italians also played in the final stage of the world championship, but lost both times to Brazil. In 2000 and 2012, the team reached the Euro finals but both times lost.

Both Italy and England were the most stable teams in Euro 2020, and their entry to the final stage of the tournament can hardly be considered accidental. Both teams won 5 of 6 matches before this stage. The goal difference for both teams was +9 (Italy scored 12 with 3 conceded goals, England scored 10 and missed 1).

Until July 11, 2021, England and Italy met each other 13 times, and the statistics were not in favour of the British with only 2 wins and 7 defeats on their account. The last three games between these teams have invariably ended in a draw. The final match of the recent tournament was no exception, with the main and extra times ending with a score of 1:1. The British scored the first goal very quickly – in the 2nd minute (Shaw), but then decided to play catenaccio against the Italians, who ‘invented’ the scheme. Gradually, the Italians seized the initiative and hit back in the second half – in the 67th minute (Bonucci). In the remaining time, the Italians were closer to victory, but in the end the fate of game had to be decided in a penalty shootout - for the second time in Euro history (first time in 1976).

Apparently, the penalty shootout was Southgate's personal tragedy. During Euro 1996, which, incidentally, was held in England, Southgate could not score the decisive penalty in the semifinals with Germany. In 2020, Southgate published his book Anything is Possible, in which he described the consequences of the penalty: “Without a doubt, a penalty miss in the Euro 96 semi-finals was the lowest point in my career. I felt that I let everyone down – myself, my teammates and the nation. Eerie feeling, but this episode was an important experience for me: I felt that the worst thing that could have happened was left behind."

However, 25 years later, Southgate was doomed to see an even greater disappointment - his substitutions during the penalty made everything that the English team had been striving for so long worse. Three of five penalty kickers (Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rushford) entered the filed during the match. The last two appeared in the 119th minute. So now the English coach will be remembered not only for Euro 1996, but also of Euro 2020.

Euro 2021 began on June 11 with a match in Rome between the national teams of Italy and Turkey, and ended in London on July 11. For the British, who reached the final stage of the tournament for the first time, Euro 2020 was held under the slogan “Football is going back home”. However, the Cup now will fly to Rome, because all roads lead to Rome...

 

Disappointing Euro 2020

While Italy is the triumphant winner of Euro 2020, a number of national teams more expected to become winners of the championship, frankly disappointed the fans. One of such teams is the Turkish national team. Many experts expected the team to be successful, suggesting that Turkish athletes would be able to repeat the success of the 2002 World Championships and the 2008 European Championships, when Turkey received bronze medals. After all, for the first time in the Turkish national team, it had a large number of legionnaires (17) playing in the top championships of Italy, England, France, and Spain. In addition, the Turkish national team played 2 of 3 matches in the group stage in Baku, i.e. actually at home. However, the team was the biggest disappointment of this Euro - three defeats in three matches with horrifying statistics - only 1 goal scored and 8 goals conceded and, accordingly, the last, 24th place in the tournament.

Another disappointment was the German national team, which was dropped out during the 1/8 finals losing to England. Germany lost in the group stage to France, the game against England, barely drew the last match against Hungary. Germany had only one victory - over Portugal (4: 2), but this is clearly not enough for the national team, which most often reached the semifinals and finals of major football tournaments. Euro 2020 also put an end to the head coaching career of the 13-year-old German national team leader Joachim Loew, who can be called the most successful coach in the history of the Bundesteam. Under his leadership, the team won medals in almost all tournaments in which they took part. The crisis in the German national team was already visible during the 2018 World Cup, when Germany could not leave the group, but then the leaders of the German Football Union gave Loew another chance, which he did not use. Now Germany will have a new head coach and will go some restructuring.

The French national team was yet another disappointment of the tournament. The reigning world champion, vice-champion of the previous Euro Cup, and unanimously referred by all experts as a favourite of Euro 2020 had every chance to make a double and repeat its success (1998, 2000) - to win the Euro 2020 after winning the World Championship. The team demonstrated a very strong and confident performance in the opening match against Germany, but then caught threw consecutive draws with Hungary (1:1), Portugal (2:2), and Switzerland (3:3) in 1/8 (elimination on penalties). In the match with Switzerland, the French were confidently leading 3:1 in the middle of the second half, but conceded two goals in the end, when the most expensive young football player in the world (Mbappe) could not score the decisive penalty.

 

Surprise teams

Every Euro Cup reveals the so called surprise teams, which are not expected to succeed but, nevertheless, become a real surprise of the tournament. At Euro 2020, one such a team was the Danish national team. In the first match, the Danes lost their main player Christian Eriksen, who lost consciousness due to heart problems in the game against Finland in Copenhagen. As a result, the match continued after several hours of break. During the match the Danes completely dominated the field with a surprising ratio of hits (23:1), but that single hit of the Finns was effective. We saw the same situation in the second game with Belgium, when the Danes repeatedly hit the opponent's goal, but lost the mage eventually (1:2). This was followed by three victories: over Russia (4:1), Wales (4:0) and the Czech Republic (2:1). So, Denmark reached the semifinals of a major tournament for the first time after a historic victory at the 1992 European Championship. But in the semifinals against England, the Danish team had to show a defensive game almost throughout the entire match. They made it to extra time, but missed a goal after a very controversial penalty. And in the last 15 minutes of overtime, the Danes generally played out with ten players, one of the players was injured, and it was no longer possible to make replacements. In any case, the Danish national team was remembered for its sparkling attacking football, hence increasing the number of its fans.

Yet another pleasant surprise was the Hungarian national team. Initially, the Hungarians were unlucky - they ended up in the ‘death group’ with France, Germany and Portugal. But they did not hesitate and demonstrated a deserving performance against the giants of football, scoring a draw with the French and Germans. With Portugal, the Hungarians could count on a draw again, but an unlucky ricochet in the 84th minute led to the team’s defeat. The emotional speech of the Hungarian captain in the locker room before the match against Germany can confidently be included in the textbooks on how to encourage colleagues and partners.

One of the discoveries of the tournament was the Czech national team, which last succeeded back in Euro 1996, when it lost to Germany in extra time in the final stage, and Euro 2004, when it took the third place. The current Czech national team, having no stars, nevertheless reached the quarterfinals, and in the course of the tournament confidently beat the Netherlands in the 1/8 finals. The forward of the Czech national team Patrick Schik, who scored 5 goals in 5 matches, became one of the top scorers of the tournament.

 

Baku as one of the organizers of the holiday of football

Incidentally, one of the cities that hosted the Euro 2020 was the capital of Azerbaijan. Four games took place in Baku, including the quarterfinals, which laid a direct path for Denmark to bronze medals. Among the honorary guests in the National Olympic arena were both the presidents of Azerbaijan and Turkey, Ilham Aliyev and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the top leaders of world football - presidents of UEFA and FIFA. Alexander Čeferin and Gianni Infantino highly appreciated the organization of Euro 2020 matches in Baku. Azerbaijani fans felt like a part of a big football holiday. We can only hope that the football players of the Azerbaijani national team will feel the atmosphere of the tournament at Euro 2024.

 

Records and numbers of Euro 2021

· 142 goals scored in 51 UEFA Euro 2020 matches (108 in 2016). The average performance at Euro 2020 was 2.79 goals per match. This is the highest figure in the last 6 European championships held in the 21st century (average performance was 2.12 per match in 2016).

· Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo and Czech Patrick Schick became the best goalscorers of the tournament - 5 goals each. Swiss Zuber was named the best assistant (4 assists). According to the goal + pass system, Cristiano Ronaldo (5+1) became the top scorer. The Portuguese set a record for the number of goals (21) scored in the finals of the World and European Championships, breaking Michel Platini's record for the number of goals at Euro (13), and also caught up with the world record holder - Iranian Ali Daei - in the number of goals for the national team (109).

· Italy and Spain scored the most in (13 goals each), but Italy scored in all 7 matches.

· England set a European championship record for the number of matches without a goal conceded. The British did not miss in five starting matches, and their goalkeeper Pickford's ‘clean record’ exceeded 700 minutes (including matches before the start of Euro).

· Italy beat France's 1984 UEFA European Championship record by winning all 5 opening matches.

· A record 11 auto-goals were recorded (against 3 at Euro 2016). Not all of them can be considered auto-goals, but UEFA has its own approach. Nevertheless, the fans will remember the auto-goals of the goalkeepers of the Slovak and Spanish national teams, as well as the German defender Hummels.

· A record 16 penalties were awarded, of which 9 were successful. In the France-Portugal game, 3 penalties were awarded, which were successful too. And in the Ukraine-North Macedonia match, each team once had the right to take a penalty kick, but none of them were able to realise it. The Spanish team received the right to break through 2 penalties at the group stage, but both attempts did not bring success.

· Italy was the only national team to win two penalty shootouts (in the semi-finals against Spain and in the final against England). In addition, the Italians beat Austria in extra time in the 1/8 finals (2:1).

· The VAR system was used for the first time.

· For the first time in European championships, both semi-finals and the final fell short of regular time (two penalty shootouts and one extra time).

· Overall, 8 of 15 playoff matches (1/8, 1/4, 1/2 finals and final) ended either in extra time or in a penalty shootout (against 5 such matches in Euro 2016).

· Only 2 games ended 0-0 (both in the group stage), compared to 4 in 2016.



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