What have we learned after the first round of games at Euro 2020? Gab Marcotti offers up his impressions of the tournament so far.
France are so much more talented than the competition, there are really only two ways they can be stopped: Either coach Didier Deschamps screws things up or too many starters underperform in a single game.
Judging by the performance against Germany in Tuesday's 1-0 win, the players won't let the team down. France demonstrated an intensity and diligence that ran straight through the side. The players defended deeper, like they often did at the 2018 World Cup, disrupting most German forays into the final third. And, perhaps most impressively, the level of effort and concentration from the star players lasted a full 90 minutes.
That effort shouldn't be taken for granted. On Tuesday, Les Bleus' stellar attacking quartet (the front three plus Paul Pogba) turned in legitimate, hard-hat, blue-collar performances, running constantly and sacrificing themselves for the collective. We may be used to it with Karim Benzema, but Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe are often asked to play differently with their clubs, sparing themselves and letting others do the grunt work. Not here. Not against Germany in Munich. They did it, and they relished doing it, and they still managed to create a hatful of opportunities at the other end.
Deschamps has his foibles as a coach, but there's no question that he excels at transmitting the right blend of confidence, work ethic, swagger, grit and team spirit into his crew. That's how they won the World Cup, after all. Sure, it's easy to point out that it's not difficult to find that motivation against Germany in the opening game of a European championship and wonder whether we'll see those same levels against, say, Hungary, but truth be told, they won't need it against Hungary. Their talent will probably be enough there.
Germany's flaws are fixable with time. Problem is, they don't have much
Germany midfielder Ilkay Gundogan suggested after the defeat to France that a draw might have been a fair result. Easy there. A one-goal margin, some chances spurned in front of Hugo Lloris' goal and a one-sided Expected Goals (xG) score (1.26 to 0.29) do not mean these two teams were on level footing. France dominated and could have won by more.
That said, it doesn't mean Germany were bad. They did what they could in a system that doesn't quite suit them, with square pegs in round holes, but which at least allows them to get most of their best players on the pitch. Folks will point to manager Joachim Low's 3-4-3 and note that the system has really only worked well once in their past six games (against Latvia, no less). That's true, but so are two other factors.
One is that Germany weren't exactly pulling up trees under the old system. The other is that Low is facing the basic tournament conundrum of national team managers: How do you get the balance right between tactical vision and talent in the side? You want a system that works, but you're also cognizant that you have little time to work on it and, unlike at club level, you can't simply sign players to fill needs.
Germany are a better squad with those two and probably a better team too -- it doesn't take much -- but the issue is that Muller has to play an entirely different role than he does with Bayern, where he usually operates behind a high-end center-forward with two wingers either side of him. Hummels' presence basically forces you to play a back three not because he can't play in a back four (he often does with Borussia Dortmund), but because, unlike at club level, there is no defensive midfielder sitting ahead of him.
Joshua Kimmich adapting to right wingback -- when he's arguably the team's best central midfielder -- is another example. Big picture, it probably matters more that he's playing out of position than the team's lack of a genuine center-forward -- Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Muller can all play there, each in his own way -- since Germany really haven't had one in a long time.
They won't play anybody as talented as France unless they meet them in the knockout stages, and the impression is that the kinks will get ironed out as this team spends more time together. The question is whether they'll get that time. Slip up against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal -- the teams face off on Saturday in Munich -- and you no longer control your destiny.
Hard to see what UEFA could have done different in Eriksen situation
Denmark said Inter Milan star Christian Eriksen should be released from the hospital in the next 48 hours. The pictures of him smiling and waving from his hospital bed lifted everybody's spirits. All that matters now is his heath.
UEFA have been criticised in some quarters for leaving the decision up to the Danish and Finnish federations on whether to resume playing on Saturday or finish the match Sunday. It feels like a case of hammering the organizers for the sake of it.
I don't think you can blame them for involving the two federations -- and by the way, it was the two federations who made the call, not the players on their own. They knew the players state of mind better than anyone; they had trained medical and psychological professionals capable of assessing the situation. Not consulting the FAs at all would have been wrong.
Had Eriksen not recovered, or had there still been some doubt over whether he would make it, the situation would have been different. Thankfully, he was out of immediate danger when the decision was made.
The protocol was the same as it would have been in case of bad weather, floodlight failure, crowd trouble, whatever: Finish same day or next day.
Could they have gone outside it and either called the game at 0-0 or tried to squeeze it in between the end of the group stage and the knockout round? Theoretically, yes, but it would have set a precedent and raised a range of other problems. The former would have undermined the integrity of the tournament. So would the latter, with the added issue of forcing players to play two games in three days. And, more importantly, neither federation asked for this.
In the end, they treated it as they would have treated a bad injury to a star player. It was far from ideal, and the players will carry the scars from what they witnessed. But in that situation, nothing was ideal.
Luis Enrique's critics miss the big picture as pressure mounts for Spain
As I wrote at the time, I don't think Spain were poor against Sweden. Sometimes games simply play out that way. That hasn't stopped Luis Enrique from receiving a boatload of criticism back home after the 0-0 draw, with plenty going all Chicken Little.
Some may want to revisit history and look at how Spain won the 2010 World Cup, a tournament in which they actually lost the opening game and won all of their knockout matches by the same score, 1-0. Others may want to consider that what this side needs are tweaks, like maybe more of Gerard Moreno up front and a dollop of Thiago Alcantara in midfield, rather than a complete overhaul.
There are limits to this team -- of course there are -- and Alvaro Morata will continue to blow hot and cold (if he continues starting, which is by no means assured). But they look to me like they're on the right track.
Southgate breaks from past England managers
Longtime England watchers know that in the past, those in charge of the Three Lions have tended to rule by consensus. So many England teams have felt like they were a case of shoehorning in the best 11 players, thereby placating national sentiment and a local media who wield disproportionate clout.
Not Gareth Southgate. Against Croatia, he played Kieran Trippier, a right-back by trade, on the left, picking him ahead of Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell. Raheem Sterling started in the front four ahead of guys like Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho (arguably England's most gifted player). Kalvin Phillips, who likely would have been watching the Euros on TV if the tournament had been played last summer, not only started but did so in a different position, further forward, than the one he plays for Leeds at club level.
Southgate is far from perfect, and despite the 1-0 win, you can find flaws in this performance. But he's been in the job long enough to know that the starting lineup isn't a popularity contest, and that sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.