Euros 2020: Best tournament for 50 years.

Italy started and ended this tournament on a high. The Azzurri lit the blue touch paper 0n 11th June in Rome when they eased past Turkey with effortless elan and exactly one month later they slowly but surely wrested the initiative back from England after conceding the earliest goal in a European Championship Final. Nobody can deny that overall they were the most complete team and deservedly won their second European title, 53 years after their previous one. As they revelled in their victory they cocked a snook at the rising English triumphalism with their own catchphrase of “It’s Coming Rome.”

Despite the contentious and convoluted nature of this multi-national competition and its 12 month delay, Euros 2020 was up there with the 1970 World Cup as one of the best of all time. It contained all the elements you could possibly wish for in an international tournament and, it will not surprise those of you who know me, I have identified seven reasons why this was such an excellent four weeks of football. First and foremost, as highlighted above, the best team won. It is always a slight blot on the landscape when an inferior team, think Portugal in 2016, succeeds. 

Secondly, there were hardly any duff matches, with England’s clash against Scotland one of only two goalless games, a match that had so much riding on it but which delivered very little. One of the strengths of the Euros compared to World Cups is that there are very few mismatches and nearly every game had an element of tension. There were goals galore – 142 in total, at 2.78 the highest ratio per game since 1976 – and some exceptional ones at that, Patrick Schick’s passable impression of David Beckham from the halfway line against Scotland was the most spectacular while Manuel Locatelli’s first against Switzerland was an example of Italian fluidity at its very finest.  

If great goals are important then adding an orgy of own goals brings another dimension of tragicomedy in which we all deep down revel. There were eleven own goals, which is untold riches, and two more than all the previous 15 tournaments between 1960 and 2016 put together. There was the usual mixture of the unfortunate and unbelievable including the inevitable keeper clangers of which the extraordinary Unai Simon cock-up against Croatia has pride of place as well as the odd banger such as Mat Hummels’ bullet finish in the France game. Surely a compilation of this special XI is on its way, where is Danny Baker when you need him?

Fourthly, while Italy were the best team, there were a couple of young players who stood out from the crowd. Mikkel Damsgaard was pressed into action because of the harrowing loss of Christian Eriksen but he stepped up to the plate for Denmark and some. He knitted play so well and always provided a threat going forwards with an eye for goal and scored the only direct free-kick of the tournament with the opener against England in the semi-final. Damsgaard did not win the award for best young player as he was outshone by a Spanish teenager, who was a revelation. 

Barcelona’s Pedri was such a joy to watch, he passed with precision and moved around the pitch with the assurance of someone who had amassed hundred caps rather than an international novice who had just three caps prior to the start. The 18 year-old is not only easy on the eye but he also has the stats nerds purring in their darkened rooms. He led the charts for most attempted passes in the opponents’ half with 348 in six games and had the third highest completion rate at 91%. In the semi-final he completed 65 of his 66 passes, with the only failure in extra time. He already appears to be the natural successor to Xavi and Iniesta. 

Pedri was also involved in what could lay claim to being the greatest day in tournament history, Monday 28th June. If the overall quality of the Euros was pleasingly high there was one day, which stood out and elevated us to unimaginable heights. The two games packed enough drama, twists and turns for an entire tournament, along with fourteen goals and the eventual toppling of the World Champions, France. The first of these began in inauspicious circumstances for Pedri when his spinning 50-yard back pass was missed by his keeper and continued its not so merry journey into the Spanish net. Spain’s rehabilitation looked to be complete when they held a 3-1 lead with less than five minutes remaining. Croatia then struck twice to force extra time when Spain were equal to the task to finally come out as 5-3 winners.

It was breathless stuff but we barely had time to recover before the France Switzerland game was underway. The eerily similar pattern of the less fancied team taking the lead only to be pegged back and then overtaken by the favourites put us back on the roller-coaster from which we had only just recovered from an hour earlier. Pogba’s sumptuous curling strike was a strong candidate for goal of the tournament but the football gods did not rest there. Sure enough two late Swiss goals tied things up and we were able to gorge ourselves on another 30 minutes of this frenetic feast. After the Swiss prevailed in the penalty shoot-out it was time to return to earth and breathe.

If all this hectic action wasn’t enough we had an England team who proved capable of being serious challengers and who came tantalisingly close to the prize. Raheem Sterling proved all his doubters wrong with vivacious displays and goals to boot. Both Kyle Walker and Declan Rice proved me wrong as I had queried whether they were international class and they most emphatically proved that they were. Jack Grealish, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho twinkled briefly. 

Losing a final on penalties is heartbreaking and every true fan will feel nothing but sympathy for the three players who missed. The moronic, racist vitriol which tumbled on to these players’ heads was depressingly predictable and highlights some fundamental issues with our divided society, which need to be addressed not swept under the carpet as it has been before. And any politician who asks for footballers to focus on football not politics can wind their hypocritical necks in as they are quite happy to jump on the bandwagon when footballing success unites the nation.

Lastly, there was one incident that illustrated how football can bring out the best of people. The response of the Danish team and indeed the nation to the shocking collapse of Eriksen in the Finnish game was admirable. When the players formed a protective circle around their stricken teammate they showed a decency, solidarity and humanity that makes Denmark the real winners of this tournament. Italy may have the Delaunay trophy but the Danes won something far more worthwhile, our everlasting respect. 

FOOTNOTE

I will be taking a short break from weekly posts and would welcome any feedback, ideas for topics etc. for the future. Having not tried to generate any revenue from The Football Mine over the last year there are likely to be some changes on my return. And for those of you who don’t want to let the memory of the Euros go, I will be hosting a special Football 7th Heaven quiz on Zoom next Tuesday 20th July at 7pm – please email me at fosterfootballmine@gmail.com for details.

Published by richardfoster60

Author, broadcaster, historian, journalist. A regular contributor to the Guardian, Sky Sports and talkSPORT, my latest book is highly acclaimed Premier League Nuggets - "brilliantly written" - Darren Fletcher, "I love Premier League Nuggets" - Guy Mowbray, "the book is a labour of love" - Peter Drury.

8 thoughts on “Euros 2020: Best tournament for 50 years.

  1. Ref future articles:

    Amidst the orgy of self-congratulation of diversity within the England set-up, the elephant in the room is the lack of players of English players of Asian origin playing at the top level. The sole exception of whom I’m aware is Chowdury, of Leicester City. An investigation into the causes of this omission would be interesting.

    Thanks for your posts. Football is greater than ever; the game, that is, rather than the money, corruption and exploitation of fans.

    Simon Malloni

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    1. It is certainly worth a look. By coincidence I have just started reading Ricky Hill’s book and was unaware of his Indian origins.
      Glad to know that you have been enjoying the posts.

      Like

  2. Enjoyed the blog throughout its debut season. Appointment reading every Friday since I heard you were doing it. Nice balance of the serious with the quirky, the contemporary with the nostalgic/historical. Like to see a return for the own goals feature, or expand it to the broader concept of ‘comedy goals and gaffs’.

    As for current issues, your thoughts on the implications of a proposed Italy/Saudi World Cup would be appreciated. Leaving aside the politics of those specific countries for just a moment, I personally had been expecting something like this. The expansion to 48 teams surely means multiple hosts will be common. Even the USA ain’t going it alone in 2026 (and for all the anguish over distances it’s worth bearing in mind Canada and Mexico are further apart). Splitting the tournament in two, with each half being held in a separate part of the world surely follows on from that. Sensible compromise, or a break with tradition too far?

    It strikes me that football everywhere, not just in England, is at its most momentous crossroads since Nineteen Ninety Two; ‘fan-led’ reviews here, VAR (my Lord) there. Competitions being set up/restructured left, right and centre. And the increasing instability of our world throwing massive spanners at all of it. Personally, I’ll keep the faith until Elon Musk buys Peterborough…

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    1. Thanks very much Adam, so glad you enjoyed the debut season and delighted to be part of your regular Friday schedule.
      Will certainly consider looking into the proposals for future World Cups and the multi-national hosting concept; it’s interesting to note that Ceferin said Uefa were unlikely to repeat spreading the Euros over so many countries again.
      Certainly true that football is reaching a tipping point with commercial interests at odds with the increasingly active supporter groups, be fascinating to see what happens next, even if Elon Musk’s interest in the Posh is as yet undeclared…
      Richard

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      1. Hadn’t seen Ceferin’s comments about the ‘no-host’ experiment. An intriguing idea when first proposed (albeit itself a fudge when UEFA didn’t want to give it to Turkey), but comes from a world that may have just vanished.

        Seems very Game of Thronesy in football right now, with all the organisations constantly tooling up for the next battle. But also, both inside and outside the elite, it feels like there’s a lot of different models for how to run a modern football club being placed on the table. Interesting times ahead…

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  3. Hi Rick

    Thanks for this: another excellent article, especially the closing paragraph. Have a well-earned break. You asked for feedback. All I can say is that I really enjoy reading these blogs, well-written, interesting, varied and incisive; I really cannot think of how they could be improved (and that is not a lazy response.). I even enjoy the references to Crystal Palace; any true footy fan will recognise the helpless devotion another has for his/her team. A few years ago I found myself fast falling out of love with, and interest in, sport in general, and football in particular. But then Leicester went and won the league and what I thought was an extinct passion erupted uncontrollably like a volcano!

    I definitely think your blogs merit some remuneration. Would this be as an annual subscription or a ‘pay as you go’ system?

    Ben

    On Fri, Jul 16, 2021 at 11:08 AM The Football Mine wrote:

    > richardfoster60 posted: ” Italy started and ended this tournament on a > high. The Azzurri lit the blue touch paper 0n 11th June in Rome when they > eased past Turkey with effortless elan and exactly one month later they > slowly but surely wrested the initiative back from England afte” >

    Like

    1. Hi Ben,

      Thank you for your kind comments and appreciate you indulging my continuous stream of Palace references, can’t seem to shake them off.
      As for remuneration, still to be decided but veering towards subscription model. Will keep you informed.

      R

      Like

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