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Euro 2020 Matchday 1 Review: France edge past Germany, Southgate finds a winning formula & much more

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Over a year later than what was initially planned, the 16th edition of the Euros kicked off in Rome.

24 nations, divided into six groups of four, participated in the first of three rounds of fixtures in the group stage to decide the competitors of the round of 16 and onwards.

There was drama, tactical intrigue, some moments of brilliance and much more in the 12 fixtures that were played out in the span of five days, so let us review all the action from matchday 1:

Group A

The curtain-raiser in Rome featured the home side, Italy, who were facing a Turkey team that many backed as their dark horses.

Their performance, however, was just plain dark, as they tried their best to dig deep and defend in a new 4-5-1 system.

The first half was not too bad, but when Cengiz Ünder replaced Yusuf Yazıcı in midfield at half-time, Italy found a way to pry open the Turkish block, with Merih Demiral ultimately inadvertently putting the ball in his own net.

The visitors had to open up and be more expansive thereafter, allowing their opponents to score two more goals, with the final strike coming from a high turnover as the Turks tried to play out from the back from a goal-kick.

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Wales faced Switzerland in the other match, which followed a similar pattern in the first half with the Dragons sitting deep in a 4-5-1 block.

The Swiss finally broke through in the opening minutes of the second half via a corner, but unlike Italy, they took their foot off the gas there.

Wales made them pay by equalising through a set-piece routine of their own, after which they defended well to hold on to a 1-1 draw.

All of this bodes incredibly well for Italy, who now need one win to secure progression, and most likely, the top spot in the group.

Turkey’s next match with Wales will prove crucial to see which other side secures direct qualification to the knockouts.

Although Switzerland should not be written off yet, they will probably be playing catch-up if they fail to beat Italy.

Group B

Finland’s men’s team’s first-ever match in a major tournament might have been a 1-0 victory through a Joel Pohjanpalo strike which was their only shot of the match, but that was the least of anyone’s concerns at the time.

That was because of an incredibly worrying moment late on in the first half when Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch, which led to some fearing the worst.

The good news, though, is that he was declared stable in about an hour, largely thanks to the heroic actions of all those involved – the medics, the referee, Anthony Taylor, and the first responder, Simon Kjær.

The match went on after that agonisingly long delay, but there is no point in analysing it due to the incredible psychological effect all of these events must have ended on both sets of players.

Football was utterly irrelevant at a time when one of their fellow professional’s life was in danger, so there can be no match-related takeaways that should be drawn from this match.

Not too long thereafter, Belgium met Russia at St. Petersburg, with the hosts trialling a four-man backline that they were unaccustomed to.

It did not end well at all, as Belgium breezed through them with an inspired performance from Romelu Lukaku, and even a return to a back-three at half-time could not alter Russia’s fate.

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So, in Group B too, the favourites have already established a solid position. Behind them, Finland might have a serious chance of making the knockout stage with Denmark’s campaign potentially adversely affected by what went on in Copenhagen, although it may also drive them to bounce back.

Russia are looking the most troubled on paper, though, as their terrible goal difference might well hurt their chances of progression, especially if they fail to get the better of Finland in the first clash of matchday 2.

Group C

England kicked off their Euros campaign against Croatia at Wembley, with Gareth Southgate’s team selection garnering a few questions pre-match. It all worked out well in the match, though, as a flat Croatia side failed to pose any questions to their hosts.

A back-four without Harry Maguire was sub-optimal, of course, but the usage of Kieran Trippier at left-back was most fans’ concern.

His main role was defensive in nature, though, and he was arguably the best choice for that.

Further up, the partnership of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips in midfield worked a treat as the former stayed back in possession while the latter was more of a box-to-box midfielder, and boy did he excel as he came up with a brilliant assist for the only goal of the match.

The beneficiary of that assist, Raheem Sterling looked bright on the left as he caused problems with his clever movements and out-to-in runs, while Mason Mount’s tactical intelligence and control of the left half-space made him irreplaceable too.

Scotland’s long-awaited return to the Euros began against the Czech Republic, which turned out to be a rather old-fashioned long ball fest, as the two sides contested 57 aerial duels and delivered 47 crosses combined.

Scotland were certainly the better side, as their 19 shots and xG of 1.8 proves, but two moments of brilliance from Patrik Schick sealed the victory for the Czech Republic.

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All of this works nicely for England, who might already be comfortable despite being second in the group.

Croatia still have to be the favourites to follow them into the knockouts via a top-two spot, but there will be a bit of pressure felt when they face the Czech Republic on matchday 2, where a positive result for the Czechs would effectively secure a spot in the Round of 16.

Group D

Austria’s clash against North Macedonia was not expected to make too many headlines, but it was arguably the feistiest battle so far.

Franco Foda’s pragmatic switch to a 3-5-2 for Austria with David Alaba at the heart of defence might not have fully worked in an attacking sense, but it did allow them to control the midfield, with Marcel Sabitzer pulling the strings and assisting the opener.

North Macedonia were unfazed by this, as they happily used the flanks to build their attacks with some flying wing-backs (Ezgjan Alioski especially) and split centre-backs in a 3-5-2.

Their goal was a bit fortunate as it involved several defensive mistakes on Austria’s part, but they, unfortunately, could not hold on to a draw as they conceded twice late on, with Alaba creating his side’s second after switching to left centre-back.

The Netherlands faced Ukraine later on, and their clash was even crazier. Both sides disregarded the existence of midfield control in the first half and worked purely on vibes-based transitions, leading to some of the most exciting football we have watched in quite a while. 14 shots later, there were no goals in the first 45.

Frank de Boer’s side managed to establish some control in the centre of the park in the second period, particularly thanks to the brilliance of Georginio Wijnaldum and even more so Frenkie de Jong, which led them to take a 2-0 lead.

Ukraine pegged them back with two strikes in about four minutes, though, so Denzel Dumfries, who squandered several great chances in the first half, had to come up with a winner in the 85th minute.

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Of course, these results are great for Austria and the Netherlands, but there is a high chance that the third-placed side in this group progresses too if they manage to win, which certainly looks possible in the case of Ukraine.

Group E

Poland and Slovakia kicked off their Euro 2020 campaign in St. Petersburg, and their match certainly was an interesting one.

Slovakia were operating without a striker but looked to hit their opponents on the break using the quality of Ondrej Duda, Robert Mak and Marek Hamšík.

Therefore, they set up in a 5-2-3 in defence as they jeopardised their midfield to have more joy in transition.

Poland had far more of the ball with 57.3% of possession, but they struggled to find a way past the staunch Slovakian backline for long periods of the match.

Their most potent attacking threat came on the left, where Piotr Zieliński was able to help create an overload and drop into pockets of space to receive the ball, but he too struggled to create much in front of goal.

Robert Lewandowski had a very quiet match, as he was well-marshalled by the Slovakian centre-backs

A red card for Grzegorz Krychowiak proved to be the final nail in the coffin for the Poles, as Slovakia retook the lead through a set-piece to come away with a 2-1 victory.

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Spain and Sweden were involved in the other Group E fixture, and this one was certainly more tactically intriguing.

Luis Enrique set his side up in a possession-based 4-3-3 with some very healthy counter-pressing, which was quite successful as the hosts saw 85.1% of the ball.

However, they created little in front of goal, and the few chances they had were either squandered or brilliantly saved by Robin Olsen.

Plenty of credit for that must go to Sweden, as their well-drilled 4-4-2 restricted Spain for large periods of the match.

They had a couple of presentable chances themselves too, with Alexander Isak’s half-blocked effort hitting the post and the Real Sociedad striker creating a glorious chance for Marcus Berg, but that did not go in either, so the match ended as the first goalless draw in this edition of the Euros.

Slovenia will, obviously, be the happiest side in the group, but they will still have a massive job to do against Sweden on matchday 2.

Poland and Spain were the favourites to progress directly into the knockouts by finishing in the top-two, but their clash next week could see one of the two effectively robbed of that possibility.

So, it will be all to play for in Group E in the next couple of matchdays.

Group F

Defending champions Portugal were drawn in the ‘Group of Death’, but their first match was a relatively straightforward one against Hungary – at least on paper.

The game itself was a tense affair, as the hosts, bolstered by a packed Puskás Aréna, fought hard with a solid defensive 5-3-2 shape and a respectable threat in transition through the hard work of Ádám Szalai and Roland Sallai.

Portugal created a few big chances in the first half which they failed to take, but looked absolutely blunt for long periods, as their double pivot in midfield seemed rather unnecessary when they were almost certain to dominate possession.

Fernando Santos’ substitutions seemed frustrating too, but in the end, the only man brought on before the 80th minute – Rafa Silva – played a key role in all three goals.

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The headline act was the last one, as France took on Germany at the Allianz Arena to conclude matchday 1.

The visitors looked better in midfield as the duo of İlkay Gündoğan and Toni Kroos could not do much in the way of defence to stop the French, with Paul Pogba, in particular, looking other-worldly.

Joachim Löw’s side looked disjointed in attack, as their frontmen never really got firing (partly due to the congested midfield), and their wing-backs failed to have a pronounced impact in the flanks.

They were faced with a disciplined low block late on as France dug in, but in truth, Kylian Mbappé and co looked a lot more likely to change the scoreline (netting a couple of offside golazos too) than their German counterparts.

France will obviously be sitting most comfortably now, as they could secure progression next week by beating Hungary.

Germany and Portugal’s matchday 2 meeting might prove to be a huge one, as a success for the Seleção might see Germany bow out in the group stages of a major tournament for the second time in a row.

Stats courtesy WhoScored, Fbref and SofaScore.