As the glorious finale looms, we analyse a Euros that has been daft, daring and almost deadly


It always seemed a daft idea. There was little support in 2012 when UEFA voted it through at the behest of their now-discredited president Michel Platini.

The only positive noises for a European Championship across the continent came from sponsors delighted to be increasing their ‘commercial exposure’. Platini’s best response to fans who looked at the logistics in horror was that it would be easier than the 2012 edition in Poland and Ukraine.

In a post-pandemic world, the idea seemed even worse. It was dangerous. They should have scrapped it last year. It would have helped contain the spread of Covid-19 and created room in the calendar for everyone to breathe and reorganise before the mayhem of Qatar next year. Instead, they pressed on. Again, to satisfy ‘partners’ (sponsors, broadcasters and owners of venues). An international circus took over a partially vaccinated Europe, all the time pushing for bigger crowds and quarantine exemptions. Money talked, as usual.

Euro 2020 has been a tournament that has delivered in terms of entertainment value

Euro 2020 has been a tournament that has delivered in terms of entertainment value

HEALTH AND SAFETY

German politicians branded the idea ‘irresponsible’, which leaves you asking why they didn’t forfeit their host nation status, especially as they will be hosts alone in 2024.

Strict regulations made Munich one of the hardest venues to reach and one of the least atmospheric. With places still closed and face coverings mandatory, it was probably the least enjoyable, too.

Airport queues were huge, more than an hour to check bags in, as documents and test certificates were scrutinised. Further queues at passport control, security and the gate left travellers feeling they would not return in a hurry.

There were different rules for coming and going between the 11 venues, all liable to change at any moment. Strange exceptions and legal loopholes were forced open for those with tickets to games and to media. A significant spike in positive Covid-19 tests in Scotland was linked directly to the Tartan Army’s invasion of London.

Munich was one of the hardest venues to reach and one of the least atmospheric

Munich was one of the hardest venues to reach and one of the least atmospheric

FAST AND FURIOUS

If the true cost of the Euros with regard to the pandemic will only become clear over time, the players are feeling it now. They have played virtually non-stop since Project Restart in June 2020 and their bodies are at breaking point.

Barely a game passes without a serious injury. Subs are coming on and going off injured. Breel Embolo, Leonardo Spinazzola, Serhiy Kryvtsov and Nacer Chadli added to the toll in four games over the weekend. Kevin De Bruyne played in Belgium’s quarter-final against Italy with damaged ankle ligaments.

Mason Mount will play his 68th game in 295 days since the start of last season if selected for England on Wednesday. It will be his 80th appearance in little more than a year since Project Restart. All this in an age when football is faster than ever, always on the front foot. Who knows if the non-stop nature of modern football played a part in Christian Eriksen’s heart failure? Just thank goodness he is alive.

Chrisitan Eriksen's heart failure was was the most shocking moment of the tournament

Chrisitan Eriksen’s heart failure was was the most shocking moment of the tournament  

HOT AND BOTHERED

Home advantages and differing schedules warped the tournament. A ‘joke set-up’, fumed Chris Gunter of Wales, who flew almost 5,400 miles for games in Baku and Rome, before getting thrashed in Amsterdam by Denmark — who didn’t leave Copenhagen until the short hop to the Dutch capital.

Travel took its toll on Belgium. After losing host nation status, they flew twice to Russia, clocked up 5,700 miles and played in stifling humidity.

Elsewhere, temperatures reached 38˚C (100F) in Budapest. It sizzled in St Petersburg, Bucharest and Baku, while England enjoyed London’s temperate climes.

It is little surprise that all four semi-finalists played their group phases entirely on home soil.

BREATHLESS AND BRILLIANT

DESPITE all this, the players have produced a thrilling spectacle, with breathless and brilliant games such as Spain’s 5-3 win after extra time against Croatia. Or, on the same day, France’s shock exit on penalties after Switzerland fought back to draw 3-3. Or Germany’s display to overwhelm Portugal.

For fabulous goals, think Patrik Schick from 50 yards, Luka Modric against Scotland with the outside of his right foot, Paul Pogba from long range against Switzerland or Lorenzo Insigne’s trademark curler against Belgium. For goalkeeping heroics, think of Peter Gulacsi, Yann Sommer and Danny Ward.

Paul Pogba's stunning strike from long range against Switzerland was one to remember

Paul Pogba’s stunning strike from long range against Switzerland was one to remember

FOOTBALL’S COMING ROME

The players deserve credit for entertaining us while the organisers deserve praise for somehow putting this show on the road. The spine-tingling rendition of Nessun Dorma by Andrea Bocelli on the opening night in Rome was a perfect start, triggering emotional flashbacks to Italia 90 and launching the Azzurri with a new, fresh look under Roberto Mancini.

THRILLS AND SPILLS

It was impossible not to focus on another self-destruction by world champions France. Karim Benzema returned with his first international goal in six years and Pogba sparkled, but then Kylian Mbappe, having failed to score, sealed their exit with a missed penalty, amid familiar rumblings of discontent within the camp.

Germany spluttered and faded, Thomas Muller missed a sitter and it was farewell to Joachim Low. A moment of madness from Matthijs de Ligt sent the Dutch packing. Spain wobbled before finding their form, while Alvaro Morata lurched from the ridiculous to the sublime. And Denmark surfed through on a tidal wave of emotion following Eriksen’s trauma.

TOP OF THE POPS

When he wasn’t tutting about Coca-Cola, Cristiano Ronaldo was toppling records. He became the first to play in five Euros and eased clear of Platini as the all-time top scorer. His second against Hungary was a delight and he went out with his personal haul of international goals at 109, equalling Ali Daei’s world record tally for Iran.

The moment Ronaldo reached 109 with a penalty against France to keep holders Portugal in the tournament was pure theatre, preceded by a long, dramatic pause and followed by major pose as missiles were hurled from the stands. If anyone deserved a capacity crowd of more than 60,000 in Budapest, it was Ronaldo.

Cristiano Ronaldo made a point of removing bottles of coke during a press conference

Cristiano Ronaldo made a point of removing bottles of coke during a press conference 

THE BUDAPEST BUZZ

For anyone lucky enough to savour the atmosphere in Budapest, there was a glimpse of what Platini might have envisaged. Hungary has a rich footballing heritage and is largely responsible for evolving the modern game but, beyond the Puskas Arena, they don’t have the infrastructure to host a tournament on their own.

After Viktor Orban’s populist right-wing government secured a capacity crowd via an ambitious vaccination policy at odds with the EU, the noise when Attila Fiola fired Hungary ahead against France was incredible.

Five hundred miles east, in Bucharest, without a home team to cheer, people revelled in seeing Switzerland knock out France. It was almost one in the morning when it ended and the cafes and bars of the Romanian capital were alive throughout the night.

It was a reminder of football’s unique power to connect and overcome nationality, creed or colour.

The atmosphere in Budapest was something to behold during the group stages

The atmosphere in Budapest was something to behold during the group stages 

EVEN VAR WAS OK… 

Almost everything was wrong, and yet there has been lots to like about Euro 2020 as we reach the end of its international phase. Even the use of VAR was better.

From a partisan perspective, England are the big winners of UEFA’s scheduling lottery and if Gareth Southgate’s side win the tournament, Platini’s idea won’t seem so daft at all.

We will cherish this Euros fondly in England for many years, and maybe the best is still to come.

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