Euro 2020: Day 3
Day 3 saw the return of international tournament football to England as a sunbaked Wembley played host to the opening game for England, as they faced Croatia. Leading into the game, and day, there was still some anger and resentment at the way the previous evening’s events had been handled in aftermath of the sad scenes we saw around Christian Eriksen, and you didn’t have to look to far again at this game to see players who may also have been affected, either as current club colleagues or former team-mates of the Danish international, who touch wood appears to be making some positive progress in hospital.
Aside from that, as is always the case with England, the biggest talking points were around team selection, an indication why it is often touted the impossible job or most difficult job in football, as everyone seems to have an opinion and few tend to agree. The biggest concerns and criticism I saw on social media were around the inclusion of a right-back at left-back, in Kieran Trippier, and also Tyrone Mings at the back, given his shaky performance in the final few warm-up games. However, I’m inclined to feel the two go hand in hand, and once the decision was made to partner Mings with Stones at the back in the absence of Harry Maguire, then the decision to include Trippier was for his experience to coach and assist Mings through the game, and with the benefit of hindsight it worked well.
Attacking, where England seem to boast an abundance of talent, the nod was given to Sterling alongside Kane and Foden, a decision which again seemed justified given the outcome. In a first half which seemed to suffer as much from the heat as the expectation, there were few chances of note although a fine piece of individual skill from Phil Foden as he cut inside saw his curling effort fire back off the inside of the post. England controlled the game and barely looked threatened, but seemed to lack any cutting edge themselves. The extreme temperatures no doubt played a part as there was far less pressing than normal from either side, with both happy to let the ball do the work.
One player who did seem full of running was Leeds midfielder Kalvin Phillips, and it was his brilliant through ball just before the hour mark which allowed Raheem Sterling to break the back line and fire England in front. It was a brilliant piece of play from the Leeds man, who had been outstanding throughout, and to credit Sterling he showed the composure often missing from his game to steady himself and fire home. It was the first major tournament goal for the Manchester City forward, and perhaps he could have had another late on, but he never stopped running and posed the biggest threat behind the Croatia back line, in a game where England talisman Harry Kane was largely ineffective. In the end, Croatia only mustered on shot on target in the entire game, with England sealing their first ever opening game win in the European Championships, which will fill them with confidence ahead of the game against Scotland on Friday,
The early evening game saw North Macedonia, the lowest ranked country ever to qualify, make their tournament bow as they faced Austria in Bucharest. Austria surprised many when they opted to start David Alaba, such an attacking threat for Bayern Munich the last few seasons, at centre half, but they still found themselves in front just 18 minutes in. A fine cross field ball by Marcel Sabitzer was met by an equally impressive volley by full back Stefan Lainer to give Austria the lead.
10 minutes later North Macedonia found themselves level, veteran striker Goran Pandev benefitting from a defensive mix-up to pull his side level. Despite Austria enjoying more of the play, North Macedonia looked like taking a point from their first ever tournament game until two Austrian substitutions made the difference. With Alaba eventually given licence to roam, he produced a cross of the highest order which was met by substitute Michael Gregoritsch to put Austria back into the lead. This was followed with a goal at the death from former Stoke City and West Ham striker Marko Arnautovic, who rounded the keeper to put the result to bed, appearing to show a level of disdain and anger that he wasn’t included from the start in his celebration of the goal. North Macedonia face Ukraine next, while Austria will take on the Netherlands in Amsterdam.
And it was in Amsterdam where the final game of the day took place, as the Netherlands got their campaign underway with a 3-2 victory over Ukraine. Much had been made coming into the tournament around the absence of Van Dijk, and there was a further blow when the Dutch lost De Ligt in the build up, 19 year old defender Jurrien Timber coming in for just his 3rd appearance for the Oranje. The only surprise of the first half was that it ended 0-0, with a free flowing game and both sides having chances to score. Any absence of goals in the first half was rectified in the second, the Dutch taking the lead on 52 minutes through soon to be PSG midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, who showed the level of calmness in the finish which had seen him net 8 times in qualification.
The lead was then doubled, following a VAR check for both a foul and offside in the build up, with a second from lanky striker Wout Weghorst, who was quickest to react on the turn to smash home from a tight angle, the keeper unable to keep the effort out. To credit Ukraine, tipped by some as a dark horse, their heads didn’t drop and they were rewarded when West Ham striker Andriy Yarmolenko scored the goal of the game with a curling effort from 25 yards out, veteran Dutch keeper Maarten Stekelenburg having no chance. The Dutch were undone again 4 minutes later as Ukraine looked set to steal a point, Roman Yaremchuk finding himself unmarked in the middle to head home a set piece.
Credit to both sides as they continued to press for a winner, rather than settle for the point, and it was the Dutch, perhaps with the benefit of home advantage, who secured the win with 5 minutes remaining. Manchester City defender Nathan Ake, who had come on as substitute, produced the cross, and Denzel Dumfries got the better of Ake’s club colleague Zinchenko to head home and send the Dutch fans into raptures. As a spectacle, this was probably the best game of the tournament to date, although both will have question marks over some of their defending. That said, both showed enough that you would expect them to get the better of both Austria and North Macedonia to progress to the later stages.
Away from the Euros, the Copa America also got underway over in Brazil, and the hosts were in fine form as they cruised to a 3-0 victory over Venezuela in their opening game. The deadlock was broken just 23 minutes in, when poor defending allowed Marquinhos to somehow bundle the ball over the line. Richarlison thought he had added a second, only to be denied by VAR. After the break, the dominance continued for the home side, Neymar grabbing his 67th goal for Brazil from the spot. He also added an assist in the dying moments, rounding the keeper before gifting colleague Gabriel Barbosa an easy tap-in, a score line which in truth reflective the balance of play, where Venezuela had just one shot on target compared to 7 by Brazil.Share this: