The Euros are just a few days old, but some early trends have emerged. Here’s what we learned after the tournament’s opening weekend.
Just three days in and the Euros have given us goals, drama and even heartache.
From Italy’s win in the opener Friday against Turkey to six games this past weekend, the European Championship that was delayed last summer because of the pandemic has been a showcase for the top-notch soccer we all expected.
What we didn’t expect was how emotional it could all be. To see Italy finally host a game with fans after COVID-19 had put a stop to it in March 2020 to the sudden ailment that hit Danish midfielder Christen Eriksen, it was the human element that has overshadowed the goals.
Eriksen’s health cast a pall over much of Saturday, although the love and solidarity that encircled him and the Danish team was both heartwarming and yet another reminder of how unimportant this game can be.
Just even games into the tournament, here’s what we have learned so far.
There’s no place like Rome
One of the nations hit hardest by the pandemic, Italy, hosted Turkey at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico. A team devoid of big-name superstars, the Italians won 3-0 after coach Roberto Mancini spent the past two years assembling a mostly young team that’s looking to win what would be just their second European title after their lone success in 1968.
“It was important to start well and it’s satisfying for us, for the crowd and for all Italians,” Mancini told reporters after the match. “It was a wonderful evening and I hope there will be many more.”
Strikers Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne, who both bagged goals, looked strong up front, while the team’s midfield, anchored by Jorginho, was the key to their opening match success.
The Azzurri are now unbeaten in 28 matches and go into Wednesday’s game against Switzerland as favorites to grab another win in Group A and stamp their ticket to the knockout stage.
Fragility of life
A day after the Euros opened in Rome amid hope and joy, Eriksen collapsed in Copenhagen during Saturday’s Group B encounter against Finland.
The distressing moments that followed, as doctors worked frantically to do CPR on the midfielder, won’t soon be forgotten. Teammates cried and fans watched in shock as Eriksen was stretchered off the field. He remains hospitalized as Eriksen undergoes further testing.
The game resumed a few hours later with Finland recording a 1-0 victory and Eriksen was named Man of the Match. That evening, Belgium defeated Russia 3-0 in Saint Petersburg. Romelu Lukaku, Eriksen’s teammate at Inter Milan, scored twice — even dedicating them to his friend.
“Denmark has lost, but life won”: That was the headline on Sunday in the Danish newspaper Ekstra Blade. It’s hard to disagree.
Dutch win but questions remain
The Netherlands may be a nation with a long soccer tradition, but Sunday’s win against Ukraine won’t be remembered for being one of their best. The Dutch opened their Group C campaign with a 3-2 thriller, but it was a win that could have easily been a draw.
Up 2-0, the Netherlands conceded two goals in four minutes late in the second half and eventually needing a header from defender Denzel Dumfries five minutes from the end to grab the points in Amsterdam.
The narrow win cast further doubt on manager Frank de Boer’s ability to field a side strong enough to win the tournament. He made two substitutions in the second half that turned out to hurt his side. The move allowed the Ukrainians to put on just enough offensive pressure that the Oranje buckled.
“You have to try not to give away dangerous moments to the opponents,” de Boer admitted after the match.
We shall see what the next week brings. Fortunes can change quickly during short tournaments. The teams that can remain consistent over the next three weeks will be the ones that will get far at these Euros.