The Roberto Mancini juggernaut rolls on. Three games, three wins, seven goals scored and none conceded in the group stage. Italy are unbeaten in 30 games, have not let in a goal for more than 1,000 minutes and beat Wales in their last group game having made eight changes. The introduction of Marco Verratti in that match added another layer to their game – he had been injured – and they are huge favourites against Austria
The main question before the tournament was whether the reintroduction of Karim Benzema would destabilise the squad, but they won the group of death and the Real Madrid striker scored twice in the 2-2 draw with Portugal. “I knew as soon as I would be in the national team, the critics would come out – but I never give up,” he said after the game. The style of play has not been swashbuckling but Paul Pogba has been in fine form and the head coach, Didier Deschamps, said: “Maybe other teams gave a better impression than the French team but now it is a new competition that starts.”
“It’s now about getting every individual at their very best,” Roberto Martínez said, ominously, after Belgium’s third straight win, against Finland. It is promising for them in that regard: Kevin De Bruyne has gone from not playing at all, to coming on against Denmark and starting against Finland. Romelu Lukaku is looking in excellent form and Eden Hazard is picking up vital playing time after yet another injury-hit campaign. They face the champions, Portugal, on Sunday.
Frank de Boer’s side completed the group stage with a maximum nine points and there is a growing feeling in the Netherlands this side can go far in the tournament. True, they were expected to win all three games, being at home in arguably the weakest group, but you can only beat what is put in front of you. The 22-year-old PSV forward Donyell Malen has made a real impact and you sense this young side can still improve.
It is unusual to see them as perplexed as they were in the second group game against Germany. They simply could not deal with Robin Gosens and Joshua Kimmich’s wing-play and deservedly lost 4-2. However, where there is Cristiano Ronaldo there is hope. He has scored five goals and, as always, looks as if he is on a mission. The defence is susceptible to pace, though, and Belgium will be a real test in the next round.
Denmark enter the knockout stage feeling proud and buoyant. It is unlikely a country has ever felt the swirl of contrasting emotions the Danes have experienced since Christian Eriksen’s horrifying collapse against Finland. With Eriksen now in reasonable health, the way they have channelled that experience for good has been awe-inspiring. Ferocious performances against Belgium and Russia were the product of that although it is also important to remember that, with or without Eriksen, they are a genuinely fine team.
The most uneven of group phases. They were flat against France, scintillating against Portugal and increasingly desperate against Hungary. In the end they got through and, as Joachim Löw said, “it will be a completely different game against England”. The introduction of the 18-year-old Jamal Musiala made a difference against Hungary and the discussion of where Joshua Kimmich should play will resurface after he was moved into the middle towards the end of that game.
Won their group, having collected seven out of nine points, but progress was, rightly, met with muted enthusiasm. The three clean sheets were a positive but England were static going forward, at least until the last group game against the Czech Republic when Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish started and Harry Kane looked a bit more dynamic. Germany awaits. “We have known for 18 months that we could face a tough last-16 game but we are ready,” said Gareth Southgate.
After the pain, the release. Two mediocre draws against Sweden and Poland and two penalty misses (Gerard Moreno and Alvaro Morata) were followed by a gift of the opening goal against Slovakia in the most comical of fashions, Martin Dubravka pushing the ball into his own net instead of over the bar. From that moment Spain were in complete control, winning 5-0 and qualifying as second in the group. Morata looks like he is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, though, and the question is how long Luis Enrique can carry on starting him.
Turned on the style when they needed to, in the last group game against Scotland, outplaying the hosts and securing second place in Group D, having scored one more goal than the Czech Republic. Their reward is a last-16 game against an improving Spain. Luka Modric was key again against the Scots – “I don’t know how he keeps doing it,” Zlatko Dalic said – and Nikola Vlasic may well have earned himself a starting place.
Produced a performance of extraordinary defensiveness against Spain but got the point they were after and have improved since then. The second half in the 1-0 win against Slovakia was a step forward and the three goals against Poland showed there is attacking quality in the squad. Alexander Isak has been the standout player while Emil Forsberg has three goals. The late winner against Poland means they won Group E and face Ukraine rather than Croatia in the last 16.
Few thought a repeat of the fairytale Euro 2016 , when they reached the semi-finals, would be possible, but are two wins away from doing just that. Denmark and then the Netherlands or the Czech Republic stand in their way and after an encouraging group stage the players will feel that anything is possible. Many of them have not been regulars for their clubs but always seem to find an extra gear when playing for Wales. The win against Turkey was impressive but how much was down to the opponents being poor?
Were facing another group-stage exit before a much-improved performance against Ukraine secured progress and second place in the group behind the Netherlands. “We wanted to write history, this was our objective – from the first day on we defined this target,” the coach, Franco Foda, said after the 1-0 win. They are through to the second round of a major tournament for the first time since 1982.
Vladimir Petkovic’s side has done what they normally do at major tournaments, qualify for the last 16, but the prospects of going further than in 2016 and 2018 look bleak as they are now face France on Monday. After a draw against Wales and comprehensivec defeat against Italy, Xherdan Shaqiri turned on the magic against Turkey to finish as one of the best four third-placed teams. “Against Italy we played as individuals, against Turkey as a real team, that is the way forward,” said Haris Seferovic.
15) Czech Republic
Perhaps unfairly far down in the rankings but it is difficult to know how much a threat they are after one win against Scotland thanks to some Patrik Schick magic, one draw against Croatia and defeat against England when they knew they were already through. Jaroslav Silhavy has created an obdurate side but it would be a huge upset if they manage to win against the Netherlands in Budapest on Sunday.
It was difficult to comprehend how flat Ukraine were in their decider against Austria. They lost 1-0 and it should have been heavier. “I saw a team that lacked energy,” Andriy Shevchenko said. “We gave everything in the second half but sometimes you have these games where whatever you do, nothing goes well.” They rallied well against the Netherlands in the first game and there is quality in the squad, but a much better performance is needed against Sweden on Tuesday.
The cruellest of eliminations. Hungary were six minutes (plus added time) from going through from the group of death but then Leon Goretzka struck in Munich and they finished where everyone expected them to: last. They held Portugal for 84 minutes before drawing with France and Germany. “I’m very proud of my team and very proud to coach this side,” Marco Rossi said. “We’re disappointed because we went very close.”
The tournament debutants came within a whisker of qualifying for the last 16 as one of the four best third-placed teams but lost out on goal difference to Ukraine. The players – and the fans – behaved impeccibly as Denmark tried to deal with seeing Christian Eriksen collapse in the opening game and came within 16 minutes of holding Belgium to a draw. “It felt great to be at the tournament and we want to play [at this stage] again,” the goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky said.
It just wasn’t to be. Preparations for two of their games were disrupted when Kieran Tierney injured himself before the opener against the Czech Republic and then Billy Gilmour tested positive for Covid before the final game against Croatia. Both those games were lost although Scotland created enough against the Czechs to get a point and could have won against England after a spirited performance at Wembley.
Despite winning their opening game against Poland, they were eliminated at the group stage as one of the two worst third-placed teams. They would have expected to lose against Spain – although perhaps not so heavily – but will kick themselves they did not do more against Sweden. They are probably too reliant on an ageing Marek Hamsik to have made an impact, even if they had got a draw against Sweden.
It probably came down to Grzegorz Krychowiak’s unnecessary sending off in the opening game against Slovakia. Poland lost and despite a deserved draw against Spain they are out after the 3-2 defeat to Sweden. Robert Lewandowski did what he could, scoring three of the team’s four goals including a beauty against Sweden. He hit the bar twice in the same sequence of play in that game and if one of them had gone in maybe Poland would still be in the tournament.
22) North Macedonia
There have been far worse tournament debutants than North Macedonia, even if the final standings in Group C were not pretty. They were a fair advert for the Nations League path to Euro 2020, creating chances in all of their games and producing a lovely moment when Goran Pandev equalised against Austria. It was some way for Pandev to sign off 20 years after his debut. “I’s the right moment to step back,” he said, but his country hope it is only forwards from here.
What a pity that a country with Russia’s vast size and resources fields such a listless football team. Alexei Miranchuk’s winner against Finland bears rewatching but Stanislav Cherchesov’s side were overwhelmed by Belgium and Denmark, whose players were better and hungrier. “You need a strong personality to get your best performance in tournaments,” Chershesov said, but Russia never looked like recapturing the spirit of 2018.
Came into the tournament as one of the dark horses but left after three straight defeats and minus seven in goal difference. Perhaps they were unlucky to come up against a brutally effective Italy in the opening game because they never seemed to recover. The defeat in the last group game against Switzerland was their best performance but they could have no complaints about finishing last in the group.