Thursday, June 17, 2021

Euro 2020 Days 5&6 - Ten More Hit the Onion Bag

Hungary 0:3 Portugal

The first full house of the Euros was in Budapest as 61,000 packed the Puskas Arena, but the Hungarian heirs to the Mighty Magyars flopped 0:3 at home to Portugal in Group F.

Whatever the wisdom of such a mass event at a time of rising infections and variants, the sight and sound of a full football stadium was undeniably tasty. It is easy to forget this tournament is unique in allowing Euro minnows to host matches so the expectation in places like Baku, Budapest and Copenhagen has been immense.

Euro 2020 Days 5&6

Whilst I was never convinced Platini's legacy was a wise one, I am beginning to warm to the concept of multiple host nations for the reason stated above.

Nevertheless, despite a wall of sound and the first true home advantage of Euro 2020, Hungary left the field losers.

Portugal were the better side but struggled to break down their motivated opponents until very late in the game when the floodgates opened and the evergreen Cristiano Ronaldo ran amok. Having ditched the sponsors' Coca Cola for water at the pre-match press conference, he showed the magical power of H2O for footballers in their late thirties.

This match hinged on an incident ten minutes from time. Substitute Szabolcs Schon cut in from the left and beat Rui Patricio at his near post, raising the roof of the Puskas Arena. Hungary, outplayed and under the cosh, looked to have pulled off a robbery, but the strike was ruled out for offside (c) VAR.

With the home side dazed, Portugal grabbed a deflected goal in the 84th minute to grab control of the match. As they twisted the knife, Ronaldo dispatched a penalty and waltzed through the defence to make the final scoreline look like a rout. 

The Hungarians will have another full house to enjoy on Saturday. All they have to do to make their fans happy is beat France.

Germany 0:1 France 

This might have appeared to be the juiciest pick of the first round, but hopes of another Espana '82 were never realistic. 

Growing acceptance of Germany's continued shortcomings, coming on the back of their spectacular elimination by South Korea at Russia 2018, had engendered sympathy for Der Mannschaft in Munich. The current edition is not the machines which won Italia '90 or Brazil 2014 and are ranked only 8th in Europe by FIFA.

I am still wondering why this current German eleven is so underwhelming considering they have top players from top clubs - Bayern, Chelsea, Man City, Real Madrid etc.

The last poor German side at the Euros was in 2000 but the individuals are much better this time. Nevertheless, their telepathy was awry at the Allianz and their finishing second class, unless you count Mats Hummels shanking it into the roof of the net to give France the win.

It was clear to see why Les Bleus are the favourites to lift the Henri Delaunay. They can field a star in almost every position, play with an unmatched fluidity and win the ball back with alacrity. Oh and they have Kylian Mbappé.

The world's highest-valued footballer scored a beautiful goal against Germany but saw it ruled out for offside, a fate replicated by Karim Benzema. 

Mbappé's left swerve and curling shot is such a distinctive move it is a wonder why defenders fall for it so often. Another one is Cristiano's spot-kick demeanour, arms close to his side, eyes intent on sending the goalie the wrong way.

Turkey 0:2 Wales

Wales recorded their first finals win since beating Belgium at Euro 2016 with a 2-0 victory over Turkey in Baku in Group A.

The Azerbaijani capital was said to be an effective home game for the Turks but once more the home team fell flat and despite forging a few half chances, never managed to put the Welsh under sustained pressure. Judging by the sweaty yellow shirts (was that Australia in disguise?) it was a tropically humid night in Baku but it did not affect the visitors.

Manchester United winger Daniel James was just one who ran his socks off all night.

The Welsh were worthy winners. In a dominant first period, Aaron Ramsey missed two good chances before he opened the scoring while Gareth Bale missed a second half penalty to boot. 

The running track at the Baku Olympic Stadium exaggerated his spot-kick miss, as the ball ballooned into space, much like Chris Waddle's did at Italia '90.

In injury time though Bale had the last laugh after performing the same trick twice in succession from a corner, selling his marker a dummy before charging goalward along the end line. 

On the second occasion, he picked out Connor Roberts who fired home to clinch the match. In the first half Bale had thrice picked out a diagonal run from Ramsey into the box, so the Turks were certainly warned he was on repeat.

Shortly before the end, there was the biggest brawl of the Euros so far, sparked by Turkey captain and striker Burak Yilmaz, who had been howling at every decision for all of the 90 it seemed. For a while it looked like the referee would flash red cards but instead he showed three yellows to shrewdly cool a rather overheated evening.

Russia 1:0 Finland

Russia got their first points of the Euros with a morale-boosting win over neighbours Finland in St Petersburg. Stanislav Cherchisov had rung the changes and was rewarded with an attack-minded performance.

Alexey Miranchuk's winner will be one of the goals of the tournament contenders for a little shimmy, switch of feet and top corner finish, shades of Dennis Bergkamp or Davor Suker's magic touches.

Euro2020

Joel Pohjanpalo looked to have given Finland the lead with a flying header in under three minutes but good old VAR dampened the flames once more. Is it just me or are more goals being disallowed than in previous tournaments?

Finland goalkeeper Lukas Hrádecky made a world class save to deny Daler Kuzyaev late in the second half and Rifat Zhemaletdinov missed a brace of chances to double the Russian lead. 

In truth, both sides had shortcomings and failed to grab this game by the scruff of the neck or finish properly, but the last-ditch Russian defending and a moment of skill made the difference.

The Finns probably profited from the Christian Eriksen scare in their first match but today their luck ran out. Their counter-attacking game did not produce and striker Teemu Pukki did not get the ball enough.

If Denmark can beat Belgium tomorrow, all four teams in Group B will be on three points.

Italy 3:0 Switzerland

Picking up from where they left off in their impressive 3-0 win over Turkey, Italy began with aplomb in Rome against Switzerland, attacking at a high tempo, making good use of both flanks and trying to forge shooting opportunities.

But then after 20 minutes the fates conspired to ruin skipper Giorgio Chiellini's night. 

On his fourth European Championship, the Italian veteran thumped home for the Azzurri only to see it ruled out for a handball no-one seemed to have noticed.

Siamo tutti Azzurri

Four minutes later he limped off with a pulled hamstring but was smiling as Manuel Locatelli slipped his marker and finished off a counter-attack to give Italy the lead and Sassuolo its first scorer at a Euros.

A second from Locatelli and a third from Ciro Immobile made for another resounding Roman night, both goals shots from the edge of the D.

Switzerland had offered little, only attempting without success to repel their rampant hosts and showing a surprising regression from their first match against Wales. 

After a second comprehensive win, the newly-minted attack-minded Azzurri confirmed they are definitely one of the favourites.

Memories of the sensory overload of Italia '90 are inevitable on such summer nights in the Stadio Olimpico, but Azeglio Vicini's men never played with such verve and fervour like Mancini's men did.

Che bella, Italia.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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