duminică, 13 iunie 2021

Euro 2021 - First day

There is a school of thought that states the Euros are somewhat harder to win than the World Cup. The reason being, you need to play the exact number of matches to win it as in a World Cup, except all opponents are European, hence presumably better rated than the average non-European team. The only non-European teams worth considering - according to this line of thinking - are Brazil and Argentina, anyway. And maybe, just maybe, Uruguay, seen as they've won the World Cup twice.

Besides the highly Euro-centric perspective, I don't subscribe to this idea and I'd go as far as saying it misses much of the point of what a World Cup represents: it's a meeting of cultures, including football cultures, of ideas about the game, of the very best each confederation has to offer, and a space to discover surprises, evolution, and potential. As for ratings and value, an Asian team has made the semi-final in 2002, African teams have repeatedly qualified in quarter-finals, and if you think the likes of Columbia or USA are, on an average day, lesser opponents than Hungary or Finland, you might not have the best idea what you're talking about.

So clearly, the World Cup is where it's at. That's partly the reason I never got too hyped up about the Euros. Another part is that the '7 games to win' format is quite new, first Euro I've seen (1992) was a weird, 8-team, two-group affair in which a team that didn't even qualify for the tournament ended up winning it. How serious can a competition be if Denmark (granted, with probably their best generation yet) can win it?

In addition, the qualifiers have been weird and hard to understand, the tournament takes place one year later and all over the place, and nothing seems typical about this tournament.

And yet, spurred by the English media's massive overestimation of England's squad's chances and by friendly match starting times, I have decided to follow, or at least take this tournament seriously.

As such, I will comment on games and make predictions. Off the bat, before the tournament started and without having watched any qualifiers, friendlies or international football in general since the last World Cup, my prediction for winners of the tournament is Portugal. Come back in a month to see how that panned out.

Turkey - Italy 0-3

Based on each team's tradition I expected an offensive festival of the Turks being professionally and expertly handled by a hyper-efficient Italian football machine, a game that would result in a low-scoring result favorable to Italy. 1-0, 1-1, 2-1.

What I saw was a thoroughly disappointing Turkish team, that set out to defend without being good at defending. So isolated was Yilmaz upfront that Turkey might've started with 10 men and get the same results. He did get a few useful passes (three, if I'm not mistaken), and they did result in Turkey's only shot on goal. But a lot more is required if you set out to bother Italy at all.

It might've been Turkey's lack of bite, but Chiellini looked so comfortable leading the defense and so majestic going forward that he's already one to watch in terms of picking the best players of the tournament.

I don't know much about this Italy team and I don't recognize many names, but they do have the makings to be amongst the favorites. Immobile is a poacher in the vein of Pippo Inzaghi, only he runs a bit more. His goal was opportunistic, sure, but also expertly executed, with the ball far from the reach of the keeper. And Insigne, hard to take seriously when judged by height alone, was a revelation. The amount of stuff he created, Turkey is lucky to have left with only 3 conceded. A far cry from the days of Hasan Sas and Umit Davala.

Wales - Switzerland 1-1

Although the Swiss were slight favorites on paper, I expected this game to be pretty even, and I expect these two teams to battle for second place in the group. For now, they've both postponed the battle. It will be a matter of who can withstand Italy better and who can beat Turkey by more. Emotionally I lean towards Wales. Although Switzerland has dominated the game - at least the stats game, I felt 1-1 was a fair result, and a result that gives Wales a solid shot at qualification, especially as they don't get to play Italy until after squadra azzura would probably have qualified already.

Denmark - Finland 0-1

Massively overshadowed by what will certainly be one of the headlines of the tournament, this game delivered the first surprise, in the shape of a Finnish win.

Of course, it was an atypical game. Christian Eriksen's collapse scared the world and shifted the focus away from football. I thought restarting the game was madness, though probably a bit less so than the logistical nightmare of replaying it in a different day. 

What sort of focus might the Danes have had when they've just seen their star player fighting for his life? How can Kjaer be concerned with beating Finland an hour or so after being concerned with saving a teammate's life? After the restart, most Denmark could've hoped for was a dull 0-0 draw and some respite to process the events of the day. Going 1-0 down was unlucky, but not unpredictable. And missing a penalty might prove to be the cherry on top of this gloomy day for Danish football.

Finland strikes me as a team that's trying to make up for lack of talent with discipline and hard work. Much like Iceland in the last two majors. Today, it worked. And it just needs to work one more time - against an apparently frail Russia - for the beautiful football dream of the Fins to continue beyond the group stage. Will it? Hopefully.

Belgium - Russia 3-0

The result was expected, though the gulf in class does seem a bit too big. Russia can be rather unpredictable, so even if this is their real level they are perfectly capable of pulling a performance way above this, so their opponents have to be on their toes at all times.

But Belgium should top this group easily, potentially with the best goal difference of all the groups. This makes Lukaku a favorite for the tournament's Golden Boot, though I don see Belgium hitting semifinals. Probably quarters for them. 

Tomorrow is a big day for England, with a strong chance of being spoiled by Croatia. Most interesting game of the day by far. Austria - Macedonia is the novelty feature, no one expects much from either team. And Netherlands, although with a team much below the standard they usually have, should still dispatch Ukraine easily. Let's see.

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