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Euro 2020: group stage good and bad, rising stars, final selection

After the Euro 2020 group stage was over and dusted off, we asked our writers for their opinion on some big questions based on what we saw. Which teams can do better, which players have made a name for themselves and who will contest the final?

Euro 2020: News and features | Brackets and Bracket | Table position | Squad | Live on ESPN | VAR clock | Select them

Did Euro 2020 meet your expectations?

Mark Ogden: Given the workload of last season and the strange format of the games being played in 11 cities across Europe, my expectations were low and the tournament lived up to my pessimistic prospects. But nobody ever remembers the group stage and it’s all about the knockout games, so I expect Euro 2020 to really come to life from the round of 16 onwards. The 24-team format meant a huge gap between the top teams and the underdogs then you have a betting system that resulted in Group F being stacked in with three potential winners France, Germany and Portugal, so there is definitely room for improvement in terms of format. The lack of a single host has also led to a disconnected feeling so far, but it gets better from now on as knockout games between top teams always bring memories and excitement.

Gave Marcotti: No It exceeded expectations. Concerns that players would be exhausted, that travel / logistics would be impossible, that COVID-19 would have devastating effects, that teams would be conservative, they were all overdone. In my opinion it has been a really good tournament so far.

Julien Laurens: As much as I’ve loved every game, including the boring ones, I can’t help but be a little overwhelmed by the quality we’ve seen so far. I think the level wasn’t that great in most of the tournaments. We saw brilliant moments here and there and some great passages of the game, but overall I’m a bit disappointed. I expected more, but maybe the best will come in the knockout round. All the top teams are there, all the big players will want to deliver when it matters most. The real quality will come.

James Olley: Yes. Increasing the squad to 26 allowed for more rotation to compensate for fatigue, but in any case the level of football was good. COVID-19 cases were minimal, and perhaps the horror Christian Eriksen Leiden made it clear to all of us that we should enjoy the moment a little more. The tournament is worse overall for the bloated format, but nonetheless there was still a lot of intrigue in the group stage, most obviously in Group F as Portugal occupied all four positions in the final 90 minutes on Wednesday. However, this results in an unbalanced draw for the round of 16.

– Marcotti: Denmark seizes second chance after Eriksen horror
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Tom Hamilton: There were wonderful goals and amazing individual achievements. Although there were a few monotonous matches, the overall quality was high. Wales Great fun watching while Denmark has won the affection of many after everything she (and Christian Eriksen) went through. We still saw the best of it England, Portugal and France while Italy and Belgium have flown out of the blocks. Netherlands could still surprise us all and move into the final while Spain and Germany are still a bit unpredictable. The pan-European approach also went well – despite the various logistical nightmares with travel restrictions – while even VAR wasn’t a complete shock. The only downside was the lack of group stage threats as teams can qualify from third place, which UEFA certainly needs to revise.

Rob Dawson: The danger of a big tournament after such a long season was that the teams would focus on being hard to beat to get results, but there was a lot of offensive intent in the group stage. Italy, Belgium and Portugal have each scored seven goals in their three games, while the Netherlands have eight goals, and there have been more entertaining games than those that made you want to relax. Hopefully the knockout games will continue when more of the big teams compete against each other and the energy level is high.

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Shaka Hislop explains why anyone from Group F who plays England in the round of 16 shouldn’t worry.

Which of the big teams has the greatest need for improvement?

Laurens: It has to be England. I don’t know how anyone could be excited about what we’ve seen so far. We haven’t even seen 50% of what this team can do. When Gareth Southgate finally finds the right formula, this super talented team will have so much more to offer than the three average performances we’ve seen so far. England was only introduced by a little individual brilliance Raheem Sterling or Jack Grealish.

Olley: Spain could have beaten Slovakia 5-0, but this result owed much to an implosion of their opponents and a farce portrayal of goalkeepers Martin Dubravka. They dominated the ball in their first two group games but made little of it and striker Alvaro Morata has to somehow break free of the introspection that appears to be influencing his performances. England and Germany also need to find a better balance overall, but the story of their rivalry – and a partisan 45,000 spectators at Wembley – are sure to sharpen their heads.

Hamilton: Germany was unpredictable and vacillated between ruthless and threadbare. For the brilliance of the 4-2 win against Portugal was also the weak performance against France and the 2-2 draw against Hungary showed her at her best and worst. They’re still weak at the back, and although they look a lot better on a 3-4-3 than on a four on defense, there are opportunities for the opponent. They are more effective, though Thomas Müller and Leon Goretzka are on the field but this is a team still trying to cheer. Jamal Musiala need to get more playing time while adding some momentum to this midfield. Joachim Löw will be eliminated from Germany after this tournament and his team will have to improve significantly to get him sent off.

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Marcotti: England and Germany have beaten the most under their weight, but whether you think they can get better depends on how much confidence you have in Southgate and Low, which is not that much. So I say Spain. You didn’t play badly; they just aren’t finished until the last game.

Dawson: England. The pre-tournament feeling was that their forte was attacking, with all the options Southgate had, but it didn’t turn out that way. They were solid and organized with midfielders Declan rice and Kalvin Phillips in front of a back four. They didn’t concede a goal in the group stage, but in the future they were largely pedestrian. England have pace and skill in each of the strikers’ areas and in, Harry Kane, one of the best finishers in the world, but too often they looked slow and predictable.

Odden: England. Spain were very weak in Group E, but Luis Enrique’s team is changing and entered the tournament with little expectation. The situation is different with England, which only scored two goals in three games and does not show the offensive flair that one would expect from a team with so many top-class strikers. England qualified as Group D winners and achieved their main objective, but they will have to improve their game to go much further.

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Italy’s Manuel Locatelli copies Cristiano Ronaldo and removes Coca-Cola bottles in his press conference.

Which players who have been under the radar so far have impressed?

Hamilton: There have been some outstanding unsung heroes. Wales’ Danny Ward and Czech Republic‘s Tomas Vaclik were both outstanding in goal. On the back of Germany Germany Robin Gosens‘Netherlands’ Denzel Dumfries, Austria‘s Stefan Lainer, Ukraine‘s Mykola Matviyenko and Finland‘s Paul Arajuuri impressed everyone. Italy Manuel Locatelli had a great tournament in midfield during Denmark Mikkel Damsgaard, Switzerland‘s Breel Embolo‘Wales’ Kieffer Moore and the Czech Republic Patrick Schick did well up front.

Dawson: Dumfries. Frank de Boer has taken a lot of criticism in the Netherlands for his decision to play with a back three instead of 4-3-3, but the system worked mainly due to the offensive threat from Dumfries from the right full-back. He’s already scored twice and could have done more, and anyone who faces the Netherlands in the knockout rounds must come up with a plan to counter their raiding runs.

Odden: In terms of attacking players, it was really the usual suspects Cristiano Ronaldo, Romelu Lukaku and Luka Modric Made the headlines, but also some lesser-known players in the background had good tournaments. Martin Hinteregger was defensively solid and a threat to Austria while Domagoj Vida again had a good tournament with Croatia. And during Scott McTominay is known as a Manchester United Midfielder, his performances as a central defender for Scotland were impressive and showed that he has the potential to be trained as a defender over the long term.

Laurens: I would say Alexander Isak and Locatelli. Both had great seasons with their clubs – Real Sociedad and Sassuolo, or – but to improve and shine in this competition is something else. Isak, 21, is a little younger than Locatelli, 23, but they both showed so much talent, confidence and character. They are stars in the making.

Marcotti: I don’t know if Isak is considered under-the-radar, but he was great. Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum is not under the radar but I didn’t think he would have so much energy after the season at Liverpool. Greetings to England and Leeds midfielder Kalvin Phillips /

Olley: Billy Gilmour wasn’t under the radar for anyone who saw it Chelsea on the few occasions he got a chance, but nonetheless the 20-year-old shone in the biggest game of his life when Scotland fought England at Wembley. It was devastating for him that a positive COVID-19 test excluded him from the group-defining game against Croatia, but there are still many great days ahead of the midfielder. Honorable mentions to Dumfries from the Netherlands and Locatelli from Italy.

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1:09

The FC crew discussed how France completely defeated Germany in the opening game of the Euro 2020.

Which teams are expected to play the final on July 11th?

Odden: France and England. Even though France have only won one of their Group F games, they still sit at the top of the toughest group and they still haven’t taken the best gear. If England can beat the weakest German team in years in the next round, they will have a clear run into the final.

Laurens: France make it to the final. They are in the tough half of the draw, but this team thrives in a big playing field. They will be physically and mentally strong with their experience in the final after winning the 2018 World Cup Russia and her runner-up performance as host at Euro 2016. On the other side of the bracket, I think that the winner of the round of 16, England against Germany, will reach the final. I choose Germany.

Marcotti: On paper, one side is much stronger than the other. I’ll give up and say Belgium versus Germany, but that’s because I don’t have the courage to choose an outsider.

England’s safe approach will not win them Euro 2020

Olley: Although France have only won one game, they have led the toughest group and have an inviting draw against Switzerland in the round of 16. It gets tougher from then on, but they have the talent to run up the gears. The England v Germany winner will envision reaching the final from the bottom half, but the Netherlands are arguably in better shape than either of them.

Hamilton: It’s still hard to look past France, but Italy, Belgium, Germany and England could all still break the party. Spain and Portugal appear to be lacking in attack and defense. The Netherlands started well, but I think they will end in the knockout round. France are still favorites and I think we could see them against England on July 11th.

Dawson: Despite England’s problems, they are on the friendlier side of the draw and can reach the final if they get past Germany in the round of 16.

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