A MIXED BAG: HOW DID THE HOME NATIONS FARE IN THEIR OPENING EURO 2020 GAME?
After Matchday 1, it is fair to say the British teams’ performances in the Euros was a mixed bag.
England stood their ground as one of the favourites of the tournament with a precious win against Croatia in Wembley. Wales drew their opening game in Baku against a strong Switzerland team, while Scotland lost their opener against Czech Republic.
So here is a roundup of how the British teams fared in their opening games of the tournament.
Saturday 12th June – Group A – Switzerland 1-1 Wales
Starting without Harry Wilson up front might have been a surprise to many avid Welsh supporters and followers, but at the end of Saturday’s clash in Azerbaijan, it was his replacement Kieffer Moore who bagged the only goal for Wales. His height, physical presence and his heading abilities were crucial to the Dragons who struggled to create a lot of chances. In a team which had Bale and Ramsey, the best chances actually came from the runs of Dan James and Moore getting into small pockets of space.
On the other end was Switzerland. It is fair to say that Embolo was their key player, with not many attacking players showing up in this first game. His darting runs, on and off the ball, enabled Switzerland not only to move up the field, but also create most of their chances. His run straight through the Welsh defence early into the second half push Ward to a very good save, only for the Monchengladbach player to score a header from the subsequent corner. 1-0 to the Swiss and it was coming. Wales were not creating anything and the Swiss were dangerous on the counter every time. However, the goal changed things around, with the Welsh going on the front foot to get back into the game.
Yann Sommer had already pushed away a few chances in the first half but was brought to contribution more after the opener. He unfortunately couldn’t get close to Kieffer Moore’s header after a short corner. His heading abilities had been a constant threat throughout the game and this was another instance where he played a key role in the game 1-1, which was eventually the final score. Wales did not show much throughout this game and were fairly disappointing, while Switzerland could feel a bit hard done by the result, maybe hoping for the win.
Having stopped playing in the last half hour of the game, they could not handle the constant pressure of the Welsh. The Dragons will have to improve to get some points off Turkey on Wednesday. While being disappointing in their opener against Italy, the Turks are, on paper, a far better team. The Swiss could struggle a lot against a very impressive Italian team.
Sunday 13th June – Group D – England 1-0 Croatia
Fans flocked to Wembley to witness England in their opener of their competition against Croatia. Starting Kalvin Philipps, Rice and Mount in the midfield meant it was going to be a hard-working midfield. And that was exactly what we got, with transitions from the defence into attacking being very slow. A general lack of creativity from the England team was quite obvious, in addition to the lack of runs in behind. This was caused by Foden, Sterling and particularly Kane dropping very deep to touch a few more times the ball, leaving the front line completely empty.
On the other side, Croatia also lacked creativity up front. Perisic is far from his best years, Kramaric has never truly impressed at the highest level and Rebic felt very lonely at times up front. In midfield, Brozovic was unable to have his usual activity, leaving Kovacic and Modric doing even more work and therefore less time on the ball. With the English players pressurising them constantly, Croatia struggled to create anything and it led to a very dull first half.
However, once things started picking up in the middle, with Philips breaking the lines more and more often, things started opening up. The Leeds player was at the start of the move that led to Sterling’s goal: after pushing through a few players, he moved inside, while Kane dragged a defender with him, leaving space for Sterling to run into. Philips brilliantly delivered a through ball to the Manchester City forward, who slotted home England’s first goal of the tournament. Other than Bellingham getting a few minutes, becoming the youngest ever player to play at the Euros, there were not many highlights in this game.
England felt very narrow, lacking creativity at times and there is certainly an argument for Rice to be dropped with a more attacking player like Grealish to come into the side that will face Scotland this week. But ultimately, the communion was intense between fans and players and England won their first game at a European Championship for the first time ever and that is a satisfaction. Especially taking into account Croatia are their rivals for top spot in the group.
Monday 14th June – Scotland 0-2 Czech Republic
Welcoming Scotland at a major competition for the first time in 23 years was always going to be a special moment, but having the game played at Hampden Park, back home, made it even better. And what a game this was! Both goalkeepers were put into action very early into the game and played a key role throughout. End to end action throughout the first half. Patrick Schick’s great header just before the break did somewhat calm the noise in the ground, with the Scotts trailing at half time.
While not always being very well organised tactically, both teams just went at each other with what they had, putting their body on the line for each challenge. Vaclik kept the Czechs in the game numerous with some sensational saves. However, the limelight goes to their centre forward, once again. 7 minutes after the break, a deflected ball falls to Schick’s feet on the halfway line, who smashed the ball first time over Marshall’s head, scoring the goal of the tournament within the first week of the competition. He might have scuffed a few opportunities for him to bag a hattrick, but his goal certainly will make him enter European Championship pantheon of goals.
Similarly, to the Swiss, the Czechs started hanging back and soaked up the pressure, while Scotland brought on more attacking players to try getting back into the game. Unfortunately, the Scots were pushed away by either some very good defending or Vaclik, yet again. They will have to be a lot better when facing England or the hopes of qualifying could fly away due to a bad goal difference and Croatia being their final opponent in the group.
The British teams have tried hard in their first games, with a variety of successes and failures. Inherently, they are all far from their best level and will need to switch things up in order to achieve their goals of qualifying for the last 16. Bare minimum will not suffice in this competition, especially considering the level shown by some of the smaller nations who were not expected to perform. Matchday 2 will see Wales go against Turkey, while the Scots and the English will play a heated derby this week in Wembley.