* A tactical, almost “chess-like” game unfolded in the second half and the equaliser duly arrived in the 68th minute
* The two teams that captured the imagination of neutral fans were Denmark and Switzerland
* The Euros has become the second-most popular football tournament after the FIFA World Cup with millions following it world over
It did not come home in the end. Football remained resolutely in the continent in the hands of four-time World Champions and now two-time European champions — Italy. England going out again in a penalty crap-shoot seemed like a cruel twist of fate for the players as well as their fans. After 55 years England reached the finals of a major tournament only to trip on the last hurdle.
The finals could not have started in a better way for England, with left-wing back Luke Shaw scoring in the third minute of the match from a terrific cross from Kieran Tripper.
England seemed to have the better of the earlier exchanges but mid-way through the second half the Italians slowly started asserting themselves — Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Chiesa, in particular posing questions to the English defence. But the English defenders held firm and clear-cut chances remained few in the first half.
At half-time England was still leading by a solitary goal but the second half seemed to promise a great deal of excitement. Italy have surprised many by playing an uncharacteristically expansive brand of football but not hesitating to fall on their traditional virtues of tenacity and obduracy when needed, as they showed against Spain in the semi-finals.
In the second half Italy played a Spanish version of ‘tiki-taka’ by hogging possession and not showing the ball to England. Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling were kept quiet by the Italian midfield for large parts of the match — Marco Veratti, Jorginho and Emerson being impressive. Early in the second half Sterling was pushed inside the penalty box, which warranted a penalty. But the rather soft penalty he got in the semis against the Danes seemed to have been weighing on the mind of the referee.
A tactical, almost “chess-like” game unfolded in the second half and the equaliser duly arrived in the 68th minute after a corner from defender Leanardo Bonucci. After that the Italians defended and controlled the midfield with a resilience they are most famous for and the match went to extra time and then to the dreaded penalty shoot-out. When Italy’s Andrea Belotti missed Italy’s second shot, it seemed for a moment that the gods were smiling on England. But Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka missing their penalties duly handed the Cup to Italy, despite Jorginho missing his shot for Italy.
Did England’s manager Gareth Southgate, who was widely praised for his tactical nous throughout the tournament, get it wrong in the end by making Sancho and Saka take penalties instead of the more experienced Sterling and Jack Grealish?
For Italy winning this trophy was a great redemption after suffering the ignominy of missing out of the 2018 World Cup, the first ever time failed they failed to qualify. Roberto Mancini deserves full credit for turning around Italian football and assembling an array of new talent such as Chiesa, Insigne, Spinazzola and Bernardeschi.
A cracking tournament
In the end Euros 2020, which was postponed by a year due to Covid-19, more than lived up to its billing. It produced some genuinely exciting football at every stage of the tournament. The group stages saw some lively encounters especially Group F which had World Champions France, defending European Champions Portugal, as well as Germany and Hungary. Hungary after playing such good football must have been gutted to go out at the group stages.
The two teams that captured the imagination of neutral fans were Denmark and Switzerland. Denmark had an almost tragic beginning to the tournament when their star player Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch during their first match against Finland. To call those crucial minutes when he was revived by the medical staff nerve-wracking would be an understatement. Denmark then went on to play some exciting football and reached the semis. Denmark going on to lift the cup would have been a truly fairy tale ending for them. But they went out fighting hard against England in a pulsating semi-finals.
Who would thought that minnows Switzerland would defeat the World Champions France who up to that point played some sparkling football with sublime passing and seemed like genuine contenders to the title? That France threw away a 3-1 lead to go down in penalties was truly astonishing.
The match of tournament — it would be a toss-up between the Spain-Italy semi-finals and France-Switzerland Round of 16 match. My vote goes to the Spain-Italy match where Spain played their best football and dominated large parts of the match yet ended up losing.
The moment of the tournament — Italy Captain Giorgio Chielini having a big smile on his face and hugging Spain captain Jordi Alba just before the nerve-shredding penalty shoot-out in the semi-finals.
Popular in India
The Euros has become the second-most popular football tournament after the FIFA World Cup with millions following it world over. In India the Euros were first shown live on Doordarshan in 1988 and Marco Van Basten’s wonderful volley from an insane angle and Holland’s Ruud Gullit lifting the Cup captured the imagination of the football faithful in this country. After the satellite television explosion in the 1990s the Euros became an important fixture in the calendar of footballing fans in India.
The Euros were shown by Sony Sports Network and according to a company press release, 54 million Indians watched the first 46 matches of this tournament. The Hindi, Malayalam and Bengali live feeds too raked in almost 25 million viewers.
The major brands that advertised on TV during the matches included payment app Cred, Renault Kiger, Byjus and Airtel.
Though the deaths and devastation wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic cannot be reversed, the Euros did bring some joy and a sense of normality. Football fans will fondly hope that dark days of the pandemic will be soon behind them and they can get ready to consume next year’s FIFA World Cup at Qatar.