UEFA’s Euro 2020 – soul food for the people

UEFA, in their technical review of Euro 2020, have claimed the event was “food for the soul of football”, although few would consider the events on the day of the final at Wembley were anything but that. By that time, however, the competition had established itself as a worthy month of good football and a big step towards normality.

UEFA were saying all the right things in their report, insisting it was a “fascinating tournament of great diversity”, a reflection – to some extent – of the concept of multiple locations which may have seemed inappropriate in the current climate. In Scotland, for example, 2,000 cases of covid-19 were linked to one of the Euro 2020 games.

From an entertainment perspective, Euro 2020 was a success. It was the most goal-happy European Championship with a goals-per-game rate of 2.78 – a big jump from 2016’s 2.12 and higher than any competition since the Euros were expanded to 16 teams in 1996.

Ironically, in a year in which so many goals were scored, the player of the tournament was Italy’s goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. Champions Italy provided five of UEFA’s team of Euro 2020, Leonardo Bonucci, Leonardo Spinazzola, Jorginho and Federico Chiesa joining Donnarumma in the line-up. England, the runners-up, provided three: Raheem Sterling, Harry Maguire and Kyle Walker. 

According to UEFA, Italy were one of the few teams in Euro 2020 to play with a three-man defence. Their use of full backs like the excellent Spinazzola was very notable. The fleet-footed Italian defender recorded a sprint of 33 kilometres per hour in one game. UEFA also highlighted how traditional centre forwards found the going tough thanks to very congested penalty areas. Patrik Schick of the Czech Republic not only scored the best goal of the tournament, but impressed throughout and ended joint top scorer in terms of goals scored. Cristiano Ronaldo won the award for leading marksman, though, on account that he played fewer games than Schick.

The Czechs covered more ground than any other team, an average of 113.97 kilometres per game. Russia (112.48) and Italy (111.28) were not far behind. Pedri of Spain, one of the outstanding players of Euro 2020, covered an average of 12.69 kilometres per game, slightly more than Italy’s Jorginho (12.35) and Austrian midfielder Marcel Sabitzer (12.19). 

By possession, Spain enjoyed the highest game average, a remarkable 71.9%. The finalists, Italy and England, recorded averages of 53.7% and 50.5% respectively. 

Euro 2020 demonstrated “great tactical flexibility and high level of competiveness” which could have produced a number of different winners. From UEFA’s point of view, they must have been pleased to get the tournaments out of the way after the trials and tribulations of the pandemic. It may also have been further evidence of a resurgence in national team football. With Moscow 2018 still fresh in the memory, a World Cup that restored faith in FIFA’s flagship bun-fight, Euro 2020 was an enjoyable month of football. In an age where elite clubs are desperately trying to mould the structure of the game to their advantage, we may eventually look back on Euro 2020 as a benchmark for future major summer competitions. We wondered if spreading the love across the continent was a good idea, but it seemed to work, didn’t it?

@GameofthePeople

Italy’s trophy winners – from 1934 to 2021

Italy’s victory over England in the delayed 2020 European Championships was their second European success and became their sixth major trophy. The Azzurri also won the Olympic Games football competition in 1936 in Berlin.

1934

Gianpiero Combi, Eraldo Monzeglio, Luigi Allemandi, Attilio Ferraris, Luis Monti, Luigi Bertolini, Enrique Guaita, Guiseppe Meazza, Giovanni Ferrari, Raimundo Orsi, Angelo Schiavio, Felice Borel, Armando Castellazzi, Mario Pizziola

Achievement: World Cup winners 1934.

Manager: Vittorio Pozzo

Key men: Raimundo Orsi, Argentinian-born winger, quick left-footed, excellent dribbler with sublime technical ability; Giuseppe Meazza, tricky forward, capable of mazy runs and dancing a decent tango! A great character who played for Inter, AC Milan and Juventus; Luis Monti, another Argentinian-born, strong tackling defensive midfielder.

Perception: Tough, fast-moving team with a high level of individual skill. Won the World Cup as host nation.

Giuseppe Meazza

1938

Aldo Olivieri, Alfredo Foni, Pietro Rava, Pietro Serantoni, Michele Andreaolo, Ugo Locatelli, Amedeo Biavati, Giuseppe Meazza, Silvio Piola, Giovanni Ferrari, Gino Colaussi, Eraldo Monzeglio, Piero Pasinati.

Achievement: World Cup winners 1938.

Manager: Vittorio Pozzo

Key men: Alfredo Foni, full back who won Olympic gold medal in the 1936 games in Berlin. Lazio player, he also enjoyed long management career; Gino Colaussi, Triestina forward who was the first player to score more than one goal in a World Cup final; Silvio Piola, Serie A’s record goalscorer, he netted five goals in the 1938 World Cup, but also impressed with his work rate and technical ability.

Perception: Rebuilt side from 1934, as robust as ever and full of talent. Deservedly retained the World Cup.

1968

Dino Zoff, Giacinto Facchetti, Tarcisio Burgnich, Aristide Guarneri, Ernesto Castano, Giovanni Lodetti, Giorgio Ferrini, Antonio Juliano, Sandro Mazzola, Angelo Domenghini, Pierino Prati, Pietro Anastasi, Luigi Riva, Gianni Rivera.

Manager: Ferruccio Valcareggi

Achievement: European Championship winners 1968, beating Yugoslavia in the final and the USSR in the semi-final. 

Key men: Pierino Prati, AC Milan forward who was opportunistic in front of goal. Strong all-round player, good in the air and full of pace – could also play on the wing; Dino Zoff, imposing goalkeeper who was pragmatic rather than flamboyant. Played for Napoli from 1967 to 1972 before joining Juventus. Won the World Cup in 1982 during a 112-cap career with Italy; Giacinto Facchetti, Inter Milan and Italy skipper who played 94 times for Italy and made over 600 appearances for Inter. Combined pace, stamina and power to become one of the best full backs in the world.

Perception: Defence-minded team, hard to beat, strategically savvy.

Gianni Rivera

1982

Dino Zoff, Gaetano Scirea, Claudio Gentile, Fulvio Collovati, Giuseppe Bergomi, Antonio Cabrini, Gabriele Oriali, Marco Tardelli, Bruno Conti, Francesco Graziani, Paolo Rossi, Giancarlo Antognoni, Gianpiero Marini, Alessandro Altobelli

Achievement: World Cup winners 1982, European Championship fourth place 1980.

Manager: Enzo Bearzot

Key men: Dino Zoff, imposing goalkeeper, unspectacular but reliable and steady. One of the all-time great keepers (112 caps) and captain of the Italian team; Claudio Gentile, Tripoli-born hard man, tough, tenacious and uncompromising, 71 caps for Italy; Marco Tardelli, hard-tackling but skilful midfielder with a powerful shot. 81 caps; Paolo Rossi, returned from a ban to become leading scorer and player of the tournament in the 1982 World Cup. Quick, agile and prolific.

Perception: Not necessarily the best team in 1982, but a focused side that came to its peak in the competition.

Paolo Rossi

2006 

Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluca Zambrotta, Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso, Francesco Totti, Luca Toni, Marco Matterazzi, Fabio Grosso, Mauro Camoranesi, Simone Perrotta, Alessandro Del Piero, Daniele De Rossi, Alberto Gilardino, Vincenzo Laquinta, Alessandro Nesta.

Achievement: World Cup winners 2006; European Championship Quarter-finals 2008.

Manager: Marcelo Lippi

Key men: Gianluigi Buffon, Juventus goalkeeper, calm, agile and strong. A great shot-stopper; Fabio Cannavaro, central defender and captain, read the game superbly, versatile and tactically intelligent; Francesco Totti, Roma legend who played almost 800 games for the club, attacking midfielder, versatile; Andrea Pirlo, gifted AC Milan midfielder, excellent vision and passing ability.

Perception: Underrated and unfancied winners of the World Cup. Some good individuals, strong in defence.

2021 

Gianlugi Donnarumma, Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Emerson, Nicolà Barella, Jorginho, Marco Verrati, Federico Chiesa, Ciro Immobile, Lorenzo Insigne, Leonardo Spinazzola, Manuel Locatelli, Federico Bernardeschi, Bomenico Berardi, Andrea Belotti, Alessandro Florenzi, Bryan Christante.

Achievement: Euro 2020 winners 2021, beating England on penalties in the final.

Manager: Roberto Mancini

Key men: Gianluigi Donnarumma, giant goalkeeper, moved from AC Milan to Paris Saint-Germain in tournament, strong with good technique; Giorgio Chiellini, veteran Juventus centre back who combined aggression with excellent timing and tackling as well as aerial ability; Federico Chiesa, fast and skilful winger with Fiorentina, outstanding in Euro 2020.

Perception: Great team ethic, determined after failing to qualify for 2018 World Cup, and consistent. Euro victory was their 33rd game without defeat.

Italy celebrate their latest success.

Euro 2020: The result can be brushed aside, but worry about the reputational damage

NOBODY should be too surprised that the aftermath of the European Championship final descended into primitive times: the hospitals anticipated increased A&E traffic, people predicted “there will be all hell let loose” if England lost and you just knew that racism would come to the fore. 

In short, while Gareth Southgate’s team performed heroically throughout Euro 2020, the players, the nation (and humanity) were all let down by thousands of drunk, aggressive and racist fans.

We’ve seen it before, of course, one of our top sporting exports in the 1970s and 1980s was football violence,  but we assumed the worst had passed thanks to the gentrification of the game. But in the past five years, there has been a resurgence of ignorance, a rise in racism and anti-semitism, popular nationalism and, overwhelmingly, increased xenophobia. And there’s been more than a sprinkling of arrogance. We don’t need to dig too deeply to find the root cause, but it is fuelled and almost egged-on by certain toxic political elements. Football has always been vulnerable to be exploited by those that want to whip-up prejudice and bigotry.

As soon as Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka missed their penalties, it was inevitable the blame for defeat would head their way. On the London Underground afterwards, black fans were attacked, while anyone Italian was under threat on their journey home from Wembley. So very disgusting, so very sad – but so very predictable.

We buried our heads in the sand for some years, believing racism was no longer a problem, but every now and then, an incident would be reported and we were always open-mouth horrified. But it really never went away, it was just beneath the surface, ignored and, often, played down by the media. We’ve had a series of wake-up calls and the whole “Black Lives Matter” campaign, which was jeered by a lot of fans, indicated something was very badly wrong. 

Dovetailing the racist element was the general behaviour in London during the hours leading to kick-off, with fans climbing on red buses, trashing the streets, sticking flares in their orifices and urinating in public, all of which points to a society with problems. Football just happens to be an outlet for it. Boris Johnson said they should be ashamed of themselves, but will they really care? And the storming of the Wembley gates? Have they learnt nothing from crowd disasters of the past? 

Do these people not realise that reacting in this way to defeat only makes the loss harder to take? In such circumstances, empathy and the spirit of “we’re in it together” is vital, but the way fans invariably respond to disappointment is to become angry and to seek a scapegoat. All the pre-match singing, all the fake affection and bonhomie, amounted to nothing. Football fans have always been fickle, but instead of venting their frustration, true football fans sympathise and console the vanquished, and real sportsmen and women congratulate the winners, not kick their fans.

For many years, UEFA and FIFA refused to award England a major competition. The events of July 11 2021 will probably set back the nation in terms of sporting credibility – England look like sore losers. Such a pity, as England’s young players performed very well and were the second best team in Europe – a status that should have kept their runners-up medals around their necks. Right now, the fans involved in this debacle should ask themselves, what did they really do for their country?

@GameofthePeople