Euro 2020: our writers select their highs and lows from the tournament

·21-min read

Match of the tournament

Ed Aarons It was going to take something to beat Spain’s thrilling 5-3 victory over Croatia after extra-time but the sequel on a crazy Monday evening was even better. Paul Pogba’s elaborate celebration having scoring France’s third goal came back to haunt him as Switzerland scored twice in the last 10 minutes to force extra time before Kylian Mbappé missed from the spot to eliminate the star-studded world champions.

Nick Ames Don’t tell our editors but, although thrilled to be in Bucharest for France v Switzerland, I had fairly low expectations of the game. It smelled of a routine, if fairly narrow, win for France; three fraught hours from kick-off later, via several rewrites and a choice selection of swear words, I could hardly have been happier to be wrong. Both sides won and lost a game of blistering quality and exceptional goals a couple of times over; in the end it came down to an unthinkable blunder from Mbappé and plenty of tournament predictions – naturally including mine – had to be ripped up.

Nicky Bandini France-Switzerland had everything: brilliant goals, rattled woodwork, and an underdog who looked like they had blown it when they missed a penalty while leading 1-0, only to then pull off a stirring comeback after falling 3-1 behind. The evening ended with a shootout, Mbappé fluffing his lines and arguments between players’ families in the stands. Oh, and the world champions going home.

Related: Euro 2020 team of the tournament: from Donnarumma to Sterling

Paul Doyle France 3-3 Switzerland. Thrilling drama with great goals and in which a skilful team full of resolve beat gifted but disorganised world champions.

Ben Fisher France v Switzerland was a belter. A topsy-turvy last-16 tie culminated with Mbappé’s penalty miss but had everything: a Paul Pogba screamer, a stupidly late equaliser courtesy of the Swiss super sub Mario Gavranovic and a sublime display by the goalkeeper Yann Sommer.

Andy Hunter For entertainment, Germany v Portugal was up there and, for quality, Belgium’s last-16 win over Portugal or the Italy v Spain semi-final. So many valid choices reflects a fine tournament.

David Hytner Switzerland beating France in the last 16. I knew that Ricardo Rodríguez would miss his penalty for 2-0 and Switzerland would cave in thereafter, which they did. I did not foresee the comeback.

Jamie Jackson Italy 1 Spain 1. What a wrestle this was from the tournament’s two best sides (sorry England) in which Spain’s mesmeric pass-and-move patterns met Italy’s supreme game-management. Federico Chiesa’s bullet was answered by a driving Álvaro Morata equaliser before extra time went to penalties and Roberto Mancini’s men triumphed.

Jonathan Liew Perhaps the richest Euros ever in terms of wild, full-throttle, meaningful games. But for sheer mind-bending, pendulum-swinging drama, it’s hard to look past France 3-3 Switzerland.

Sid Lowe There was a joy about Denmark’s games against Belgium and Russia, Germany-Portugal was fun, and the quality at speed of Italy-Spain was really something to see close up, from Wembley’s unusually low writing position. But it has to be Spain-Croatia at Parken (a great ground), which was as silly as it was brilliant and a challenge – good luck explaining that – and was immediately followed by France-Switzerland.

Paul MacInnes France 3–3 Switzerland. Difficult to think of a game that hit so many of football’s key notes: beautiful goals; irresistible team play; sudden swings of fortune; personal redemption/disaster. All encapsulated in Pogba scoring an impossible goal, performing three dances to celebrate it, then being robbed of possession as Switzerland confirmed a two-goal comeback in the 90th minute.

Ewan Murray Italy’s 2-1 defeat of Belgium in the quarter-final was the epitome of top level football.

Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku misses an opportunity to score against Italy.
Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku misses an opportunity to score against Italy. Photograph: Stuart Franklin/AP

Barney Ronay Italy v Spain, a wild, gripping thing.

Jacob Steinberg Switzerland’s barmy victory over France had it all: an underdog punching above their weight, a missed penalty sparking a stunning comeback,Pogba being utterly magnificent, France completely imploding when they were 3-1 up and the world champions going out when Mbappé, a genuine superstar, saw the decisive penalty kick saved in the shootout.

Louise Taylor The Italy v Spain semi-final was a high calibre slow burn classic but, for sheer drama, it has to be France v Switzerland. Two goal leads can be dangerous things but it remains hard to comprehend how a team as gifted as France led 3-1 but still ended up losing. Hats off to Switzerland for refusing to abandon hope.

Jonathan Wilson Italy 1 Spain 1. Other games had more goals, but for sustained quality and drama this was unsurpassable.

Player of the tournament

EA The Italy captain had waited almost a decade for the opportunity to avenge the 4-0 humiliation against Spain in the Euro 2012 final and was the outstanding individual of the most outstanding team in the tournament. Giorgio Chiellini was meant to retire after this tournament but he looks more than capable of playing on until at least next year’s World Cup.

NA On the international stage, if not in Serie A, Federico Chiesa had been a fairly well-kept secret until this year. No longer: he turbo-charged Italy despite starting Euro 2020 on the bench, scoring brilliant goals at crucial times in the knockouts, and played with a drive and intent that befitted this tournament. Chiesa can hold this jointly with Raheem Sterling, who silenced his doubters – something he is seemingly required to do far too often – with a contribution for England that deserved a winner’s medal.

Federico Chiesa

NB Jorginho. Even in his worst game, against Spain, he was the still the one holding things together in Italy’s midfield. He intercepted 25 passes over the course of the tournament – the most since Opta started keeping track in 1980 – as well as running further than anyone else. There is a reason Roberto Mancini was prepared to give anyone in this Italy side a breather except him.

PD Leonardo Bonucci.

BF Given his imprint on the competition, it is easy to forget Marco Verratti missed Italy’s first two group games following injury. He dictated things against Wales on his return and from that moment on no player created more chances (14), completed more passes (388), made more tackles (18) or made more recoveries of possession (37). Mikkel Damsgaard, who turned 21 on the day Denmark progressed to the semi-finals, enjoyed a superb tournament, while the electric Breel Embolo shone for Switzerland.

AH Denmark captain Simon Kjær showed leadership comes in many forms and Chiellini was an inspirational force for Italy – loved his celebrations after making a goal-saving tackle – but Bonucci pips his captain for me on the basis of a formidable display in the final.

DH I’ve had my Pedri epiphany. Outrageously composed on the ball, smooth and incisive passer and what a performance in the semi-final. Eighteen years old, you say?

JJ Luke Shaw. The 26-year-old emerges from Euro 2020 as a total footballer left-back who is courageous in defence, technically slick, and a terror in attack as his three assists and goal illuminate. José Mourinho reckons he’s limited.

JL Leonardo Spinazzola. The best player on the best team, and above all embodied the new Italy: athletic, skilful, enterprising and fearless.

SL They said Pedri was too young and Busquets was too old, but it could be either of them. Early on, it felt like it might be Kevin De Bruyne or Romelu Lukaku. Sterling, maybe. Chiellini, Bonucci: 70 years, 221 caps and European champions. But my choice would be Kjær.

PM Chiellini. There was the off-the-field stuff, like the cheery psy-ops on Jordi Alba and the buddhist hand signs, which were all a great lark. On the field the 36-year-old dominated as Italy kept every one of their opponents at arm’s length. He may not always have been above board, but he was never under pressure.

EM Sterling has very strong claims here but his issues with balance cannot be ignored. Gianluigi Donnarumma’s interventions were ultimately the most meaningful of the tournament, hence he deserves the accolade. Italy have their new Buffon.

BR Chiellini. For the persona, the anthems, the shithousery as much as the actual grabbing of shirts/defending.

JS Sterling was great for England and I enjoyed watching Damsgaard’s clever performances for Denmark, but it has to be a player from the champions – and who better than Chiesa? He scored some cracking goals, constantly ran at defenders and led Italy’s stirring second-half fightback against England in the final.

LT Chiesa. Sterling and Spinazzola were strong contenders but Chiesa shades it. Dynamic, determined and dangerous, Chiesa morphed from a fringe first team to undroppable. Robert Mancini’s one real attacking game changer invariably had spectators on the edge of their seats and represents a very big reason why Italy lifted the trophy.

JW Jorginho: the metronome at the back of Italy’s midfield, essential to their new approach under Mancini.

Related: David Squires on … England’s Euro 2020 final defeat against Italy

Goal of the tournament

EA It’s hard to look past Patrik Schick’s moment of magic against Scotland in the group stages but Mikkel Damsgaard’s dipping strike from outside the area against Russia and Luke Shaw’s volley in the final will also live long in the memory.

NA When Cristiano Ronaldo cleared a Germany corner and, seconds later, finished off a thrilling counterattack you sensed Portugal were on their way. Not so: likewise France when Paul Pogba’s sumptuous, whipped 25-yarder against Switzerland seemed to have sent them into the last eight. Pogba in particular took the breath away with that finish, the kind he produces a couple of times a season, but it will be lost to history.

NB Pogba’s goal against Switzerland has stayed with me, despite the disappointing outcome for his team. He had done well just to claim a ball that was running away from him, but the finish was perfection: a hair inside the angle of post and crossbar.

PD Luka Modric v Scotland. A delicious flick with the outside of the boot from 20 yards.

BF Pogba’s piercing strike was a peach but Schick’s lob from the halfway line at Hampden Park, which left David Marshall tangled in his goal net, was mesmerising.

David Marshall tries (and fails) to keep out Patrik Schick’s long-range lob.
David Marshall tries (and fails) to keep out Patrik Schick’s long-range lob. Photograph: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images

AH Has to be Schick’s outrageous chip against Scotland.

DH Raheem Sterling versus Germany purely for the carnage of the celebrations.

JJ Shaw v Italy. Watch again how he initiates the sequence from deep inside England’s half and wheels forward 60 yards into Italy’s area before coolly watching Kieran Trippier’s high ball drop onto his boot for a supremely executed half-volley in the biggest match of his life. After only two minutes play. For a debut international strike.

JL Schick v Scotland. I’ve got a particular penchant for long-range goals, which are not only much harder than they look but these days actively discouraged, frowned upon, crushed under the tyrannical stiletto of Big Stats. So well done to Schick for scoring. But most of all, well done for trying.

SL You could choose any of the three Italy scored across the quarter and semi-final, the outside of Modric’s boot, and of course Schick against Scotland. But for everything it meant, for the journey, and just for how good it was, watching Álvaro Morata bring that ball down and smash it into the net against Croatia was very special.

PM The Pogba strike against Switzerland: minimal backlift, maximum power and meticulous placement.

EM Schick did not receive the credit he deserved for a ridiculous piece of skill which facilitated a 50-yard goal against Scotland. Yes, Marshall was poorly positioned but Schick’s execution was superb.

BR Lorenzo Insigne versus Belgium. An incredible piece of skill on the run, a winning goal against the world No 1s and perhaps the moment the winners were decided.

JS Pogba’s brilliance against Switzerland. It’s just a shame it counted for nothing in the end.

LT Schick, Czech Republic v Scotland. He had spotted Marshall’s tendency to advance way off his line and resolved to seize the moment. His near 50-yard wonder goal was an amalgam of opportunism, audacity, poise and incredible technique. Watching it live felt almost surreal. A moment of suspended animation which proved perfection is, occasionally, possible. Do not be surprised to see the Czech centre forward in the Premier League next season.

JW Modric v Scotland – a precise first time finish with the outside of his boot.

Luka Modric

Personal highlight

EA Seeing supporters back in the stadiums and the general feeling of happiness that abounded in the days leading up to the final. The sense of pride created by this new generation of England players can be such a unifying force in the future.

NA Covering Denmark v Belgium in Copenhagen: an extraordinary occasion I will never forget. The emotions everybody in the country had experienced five days previously, when Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch, spilled out in the most – literally – life-affirming way. An azure sky, 25,000 red shirts inside Parken, an atmosphere as highly charged as any I can remember and a fizzing first-half performance from Denmark that signposted their progress to the semi-finals: it was impossible not to be profoundly moved.

NB Being there in person to see Italy win a European Championship. Better yet, to see them deserve it. I grew up with an Italian dad and English mum, but my heart has always been a little bit more with the Azzurri. It did break a little bit, though, for Bukayo Saka at the end.

PD Always enjoy when a vilified player proves his worth so it was heartening to see Renato Sanches run Portugal’s midfield when he played and, most of all, Granit Xhaka inspire Switzerland to victory over France.

BF Witnessing Italy’s players sway to the national anthem at Stadio Olimpico was a goosebumps moment, even with only 16,000 in attendance.

DH So many. England versus Germany for the head-wrecking intensity; England versus Ukraine – a stress-free and genuinely enjoyable England knockout tie (lol); actual face-to-face player time at St George’s Park (Jack Grealish and Declan Rice particularly good value); getting to interview Paul Ince.

AH There were many, fortunately, and the reaction inside an almost full capacity Puskas Arena when Attila Fiola gave Hungary the lead against France will live long in the memory. Being present inside the same arena when Cristiano Ronaldo broke the European Championship appearance record and goalscoring record against Hungary, however, and then equalled the all-time international goalscoring record against France was a real privilege.

JJ The tournament as a whole. There was colour, music, fans (in reduced numbers), an England run to the showpiece game, wonderful individual stories and contests that add up to the following: a feast and festival of the game. And, of course, hearing that Eriksen was recovering after his cardiac arrest.

JL Just about pipping the several hair-raising renditions of the Italian national anthem: Andrea Bocelli belting out Nessun Dorma at the Stadio Olimpico ahead of the opening game. The moment when you felt: yes. OK. This thing is now on.

SL “Highlight” really, really isn’t the right word, but the strength, dignity and solidarity, the love, of the Danish players forming a protective circle around Eriksen may be the most terrifying, powerful and moving thing seen on a football pitch. Then there was the fans’ reaction, Lukaku’s message, and above all the fact that Eriksen pulled through, testimony to genuine heroes. Please do consider supporting charities like The Daniel Wilkinson Foundation.

EM The pre-match scene at Hampden as Scotland prepared to meet the Czech Republic, their first tournament match in 23 years. It was only ever going to go one way once the football started.

PM Seeing England do bloody good. Love the lads, love Gareth, even like the football. Some of the fans are good fun too.

BR London Bridge station after the Germany game, a really nice vibe, people dancing on the platform, rain chucking it down. It really doesn’t have to be “like that”.

JS Getting to follow England all the way to their first final in 55 years. It was a flat ending but there’s so much to like about Gareth Southgate and this group of players. It hasn’t always been this easy to feel a connection with England.

An England fan celebrates Luke Shaw’s early goal in the final against Italy.
An England fan celebrates Luke Shaw’s early goal in the final against Italy. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

LT Watching Croatia’s Luka Modric against Scotland. Sorry Scotland but Luka Modric’s brilliant Hampden Park masterclass served as a reminder of football’s enduring ability to bewitch. A wonderful player provided memories to treasure; well, at least for neutrals.

JW The news coming through that Eriksen was alive.

Biggest disappointment

EA High-ranking government ministers including the home secretary refusing to condemn those who booed the players taking a knee and then jumping on the jingoistic bandwagon when it all started going well. And the horrific experiences some Denmark supporters were subjected to at Wembley. A national disgrace.

NA Having contested a “Group of Death” of such climactic drama, the subsequent offerings by France, Portugal and Germany were a letdown. Off the pitch, though, it was a shame more fans could not be present to watch some of the classics – and there genuinely were many – that unfolded across the continent.

NB Turkey. Everybody’s favourite dark horses before the tournament. Utterly dreadful once it started.

PD The number of times Harry Kane got free-kicks for flopping to the ground.

BF The despicable scenes outside and on the concourses at Wembley before the final overshadowed for many what should have been, regardless of result, a memorable occasion for all the right reasons.

AH The behaviour of so many England fans outside Wembley in the hours before the final. An absolute disgrace and an embarrassment.

DH England losing the final to Italy from a position of strength. After six previous shootout defeats at major tournaments, it doesn’t get any easier to take.

JJ The vile English minority. They are not fans, they are lost and grim people who think they can racially abuse Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka for having the courage to take a spot-kick.

JL Uefa’s spineless stance on LGBTQ+ rights amid its headlong rush to impress Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban. Racist, homophobic fans in the stadium? How would you like to host the semis and final?

SL La Cartuja really wasn’t great. And three-quarter empty stadiums aren’t either, but then again, given when we came from that was still something, and I couldn’t really think of a major disappointment ... until the very last night. Not so much for what happened on the pitch, although that too, as what happened off it.

PM Scotland. Got their big night right against the English but borked the rest of it. Took the gloss off qualifying and put the pressure back on Steve Clarke.

EM Being contact traced from a flight back from Scotland’s draw at Wembley. This denied me the opportunity to cover Sweden v Ukraine at Hampden. Euros involvement cruelly ended and not even on performance-based terms.

BR France were pretty bad let’s face it. And they behaved like brats.

JS Did it really have to be lovely Saka who had his heart broken in the final?

LT France and Turkey are joint winners. What idiot forecast the final would be contested between that pair? Admittedly, predictions have never been my forte but that one may take some beating! Yet if Turkey were – badly – misjudged – a richly talented France have only themselves to blame for self destructing and becoming distracting by silly off-field squabbles.

JW The behaviour of a substantial section of England fans: aggressive, boorish, racist, horrible.

Related: England’s repressed craving for shared experience reveals its ugly side | Jonathan Liew

Trickiest off-field moment

EA Trying to stream the games to an outside projector via a laptop - a nightmare when there is a penalty shootout and you are a minute behind your neighbours.

NA Not going to lie, missing the final after being advised to self-isolate was a blow – but anyone able to attend even one of these games was fortunate in the wider scheme. Most spots of off-field bother out in the field were, similarly, related specifically to these times: squeezing inside the door of a Covid-19 testing clinic in St Petersburg as it attempted to shut for the day, having queued for two hours, with a place on my flight home at stake was one such example. Who is going to moan about these things though, really? None of this was a privilege to take lightly.

NB I hate ending with this, because it isn’t jolly, but mine was sharing a train carriage on my way to the final with an England fan who announced unprompted that if anyone in an Italy shirt stepped on board, he would “fuck them up”. An unpleasant thing to hear at the best of times as someone of mixed Italian and English heritage, and even more jarring for the fact that their group had seemed to be in good spirits, working their way through Three Lions, Southgate You’re The One and more of England’s greatest hits. That whole day, at Wembley, I was struck by how perilously thin the line seemed to be between joy and violence.

PD It was beautiful escapism from start to finish. Even the Slovakia-Sweden game had a miserabilist charm.

BF A travel bug meant arrival in Amsterdam was not as smooth or enjoyable as it could have been. Luckily, colleague Jamie Jackson, staying in the same hotel, was only too happy to deliver supplies of water to room 340.

AH Waiting for countless PCR and lateral flow test results to get in/out of countries and games.

DH Getting from London to amber-list Rome and back for England against Ukraine while hitting the various testing windows to satisfy both countries and Uefa. Ratio of logistical faffing and form-filling to minutes spent abroad extraordinary.

JJ None. When the mandatory Covid test to cover four matches in Amsterdam came back negative each time but failed to generate the bar-code required (via an app) for entry I might have been met with jobsworth officialdom. But, no. The staff at the Johan Cruyff ArenA were beyond helpful: it summed up a tournament that was life-affirming – which for the obvious reasons we can all be thankful for.

JL Trying to get a taxi out of Wembley after the last Tube has gone with thousands of fans still milling around.

A bitter end: rubbish piled up outside Wembley.
A bitter end: rubbish piled up outside Wembley. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

SL Yeah, yeah, take out the world’s tiniest violin and all that. The endless PCR tests and paperwork: without Blake and George, the Guardian’s very own Winston Wolf, we would have probably ended up stranded somewhere a very long way from home. Kept a flight waiting in Copenhagen and in Russia had a frantic, panicked dash to a dark, hidden, windowless place that with its single neon light, metal doors and curved awning looked worryingly like ... well, the kind of place you don’t want to be late on a Friday night when you don’t understand anything.

PM Wembley on the final night. Awful scenes which felt like echoes from the past but were actually something quite modern.

EM Watching a lad, 15 sheets to the wind, crash into and smash a glass sign at Newcastle station as I awaited a train to Scotland’s Darlington training base. The look from a member of the local constabulary implied I had taken the bloke out with one of Spiderman’s lasers.

BR Waiting at Heathrow departure gate having got up at 5.30am to go to Rome, refreshing my email every 10 seconds for a day-late Covid test certificate so I could get on the plane. It didn’t. The traffic back was OK so there’s that.

JS Walking through the broken glass on Wembley Way before the final. Are we … are we the bad guys?

LT Morphing into naive English tourist mode after being handed change in a shop in Glasgow. “Wow, Scottish money,” I declared, admiring the note in my hand. The withering look from the man behind the counter spoke volumes.

JW The race from Hampden to Glasgow Central to catch the sleeper after Ukraine v Sweden. Made it by eight minutes.