One year later, Euro 2020 is finally underway. At the end of every matchday, we’ll be dissecting the biggest talking points from all the action. Below, we look back on Monday’s games.
De Boer has big decision to make
The Netherlands already secured top spot in Group C, but Frank de Boer was reluctant to make changes after two rather unconvincing displays to begin the tournament. Nine players kept their places in the XI to face North Macedonia on Monday, as the head coach sought a morale-boosting win to take the Dutch into the knockout rounds.
He got exactly that with a 3-0 victory, but one of the two players given an opportunity in the starting lineup suddenly made his job more challenging. Donyell Malen, the 22-year-old PSV Eindhoven attacker, added a new dimension to the team, creating the most chances in the match (four) and providing an assist for Memphis Depay that underlined the potential of their partnership up front.
Malen gained possession in his own defensive third, surged upfield, and then steered his run down the right channel after offloading the ball to Depay. Malen was at full speed when he got the ball back, but he had the presence of mind to roll it across the 18-yard box to Depay’s left foot. It was a superbly executed counter-attack.
“You see that every time they play together, they look for each other; they also get on well,” Wesley Sneijder, who has a record 134 caps for the Dutch men’s team, told Simon Hughes and James McNicholas of The Athletic before the tournament kicked off. “There’s a lot of movement with those two in the front. And I would rather opt for movement, with two players who can dive into the spaces, than a static striker.”
The static strikers are obviously Wout Weghorst and Luuk de Jong, two experienced, gangly frontmen who are yet to bring Depay’s talents to the fore. There will be pressure for De Boer to start the promising Malen ahead of Weghorst and De Jong in the round of 16 following his impressive 66-minute showing.
Alaba leading Austria into unchartered territory
When Austria needed its talisman most, David Alaba answered the call with a stellar performance in Monday’s monumental win over Ukraine.
The Real Madrid-bound superstar simply couldn’t be stopped and tormented Ukraine on route to helping Austria clinch its first-ever berth in the knockout round of the European Championship. His phenomenal vision and precision were on full display, as Alaba often joined Austria’s attack to put Ukraine’s defense under loads of pressure.
Just over 20 minutes into the contest, he was at the center of the biggest goal for Austria at the Euros, teeing up Christoph Baumgartner with a flawless cross from a corner for what would be the winner. It was his second assist of the tournament.
The 1-0 victory – Austria’s second-ever win in the tournament – ensured an automatic place in the last 16, during which dependence on Alaba will continue to be massive against an unbeaten Italy side. Italy is undoubtedly the safe bet to advance, but Austria can make things interesting if its star can bring out the best in his teammates with another strong display.
Best is yet to come for Belgium
It was always going to be a tall order for Finland. And, for over an hour, securing an unlikely point against Belgium looked possible until Roberto Martinez’s men stepped up late in the match to slam the door on Finland’s hopes of securing an automatic spot in the last 16.
The Red Devils overcame the stubborn challengers with a wonderful attacking display, as Kevin De Bruyne starred once again to help Belgium top its group and finish the opening round with a perfect record.
But the best for Belgium may be on the horizon, especially if De Bruyne – who was named Man of the Match on Monday – can stay healthy and continue to form a lethal partnership with Romelu Lukaku.
Damsgaard rises to occasion for Denmark
It was a setting made for the emergence of a national hero.
With Denmark reeling from Christian Eriksen’s collapse in the first group-stage outing against Finland and stuck at the bottom of the quartet on zero points, a packed house at the Parken Stadium pined for something to cheer about.
Eriksen’s deputy in the starting XI, Mikkel Damsgaard, shone the brightest in the 2-1 defeat against Belgium on Thursday. And in the spirited 4-1 win over Russia in the Danish capital, Damsgaard propelled his country to a famous victory.
With 38 minutes played in a hotly contested goalless stalemate, Damsgaard received a precise line-breaking pass from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in a central position eight yards outside the box. Damsgaard shimmied to his right to create a half-yard of space before firing a swerving rocket beyond the outstretched limbs of Russian ‘keeper Matvey Safonov.
The 20-year-old became the youngest player to score at the European Championship, beating out Austria’s Baumgartner, who set the standard earlier Monday against Ukraine. He also became Denmark’s youngest-ever goalscorer at a major tournament.
The strike lifted the crowd heading into the interval and sparked an attacking elan within Kasper Hjulmand’s side, which has largely been missing in the absence of its main creative contributor. Damsgaard has combined well on the left flank with Atalanta wing-back Joakim Maehle, offering pace and incision while providing support for a front-two of Yusuf Poulsen and Martin Braithwaite.
Suddenly, Denmark is a threat going forward, and much of that is due to the unbridled verve of Damsgaard. His emergence has come at a perfect time for a team that went from the bottom of Group B to harboring realistic quarterfinal ambitions.
Own goal for Hungary’s tourism board
Budapest is a beautiful city. Its stunning, varied architecture reflects off the Danube River; spectacular smudged-orange sunsets can be viewed from the Liberty Bridge; and the capital’s ruin bars – drinking establishments inside abandoned buildings – offer the opportunity to explore old bathrooms and deserted cinemas with a pint in your hand.
But why would you want to go now?
The abhorrent policies of Hungary’s government and alleged behavior of its fans at Euro 2020 have acted as a deterrent to potential visitors to Budapest and the rest of the country.
Last week, prime minister Viktor Orban passed a law banning anything in schools and on children’s television that could be construed as promoting homosexuality. While this news reached global outlets, Hungary supporters were accused of unfurling a homophobic banner and making monkey noises during the team’s first two matches at Budapest’s Puskas Arena. UEFA opened an investigation into the matter on Sunday.
So, the local authorities in Munich wanted to make a statement. The German city is awaiting approval from UEFA to light the Allianz Arena in rainbow colors in solidarity with the LGBTQ community for Hungary’s visit on Wednesday, and this has unsurprisingly ruffled feathers in the Hungarian government.
“It is extremely harmful and dangerous to mix sports and politics,” Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said Monday. “Historical experience shows that this is bad, and if anyone, the Germans certainly know this well.”
Let’s hope UEFA makes the right call. Light that stadium up.