In a wild night of Euro 2020 action, France, Portugal and Germany all qualified for the round of 16 as Group F came to a remarkably dramatic end.
What did we learn?
1. Prince Paul Reigns Supreme
There was so much in flux during the final games of the Euro 2020 group stages but the one constant was the midfield excellence of Paul Pogba. From the first minute to last he was a shining beacon for France, the only player who looked remotely capable of handling Portugal.
His long-range passing was simply outrageous. The way he was casually slinging arrows behind the Portuguese defence, deadshot passes finding their target with perfect weighting you’d swear his name was Hawkeye. One of them led to Kylian Mbappé being found and France’s penalty, the other put Karim Benzema clean through to score France’s second goal.
The midfielder then drew a stunning save out of Rui Patricio in the second-half with a long-range blast. He didn’t get a goal, or another assist, but he confirmed himself to be one of the absolute best midfielders so far at Euro 2020.
2. Highs and Löws for Hungary
Hungary came into Group F without star man Dominik Szoboszlai, injured on the eve of the tournament. No one was giving them a chance but the wild truth is they’ve been equal participants in every single one of their three games. In the end they were perilously close to winning a place in the knockout rounds as they counter-punched to perfection against Germany, only to be undone by a late Leon Goretzka strike.
Hungary drew with France and Germany and only succumbed to Portugal at the very end of their game when they had a late collapse. In fact they were ahead for longer and trailed for fewer minutes than anyone, and given the disparity in the quality of players they could field vs. their opponents that is remarkable. Certain sections of Hungarian fans may have disgraced themselves with bigotry but the players on the field have been nothing short of heroic. Respect.
3. England vs. Germany: international grudge match
Gareth Southgate and co. would have been on tenterhooks for the night, waiting for the results to come in. As the night wore on they were drawn against all possible opponents at one point or another before things finally settling on the tastiest option: England vs. Germany.
On the one hand, Germany are an intensely vulnerable defensive outfit playing a 3-4-2-1 shape without the defenders or central midfielders to function in the system, but on the other hand they are an engine of pure will and determination able to fight their way back into games and their use of width will absolutely devastate England if Kyle Walker and Luke Shaw aren’t on their games (by the way you can pen Bukayo Saka in for another start given how diligently he covers his full-back).
England didn’t concede a single goal in the group stages which was good, but they also scored just twice. Gareth Southgate will fancy his players to better that against a wobbly German team but it’s also true that England’s defence hasn’t been tested by anything like the fire of the German attack going all guns blazing. It is genuinely a game in the balance, and you just know Thomas Muller is looking forward to rolling back the years to 2010 when he devastated England in Bloemfontain.
Cancel your plans! England vs. Germany at Wembley. One of international football’s greatest grudge matches is set.
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4. France have no full-backs
The French are through as group winners and will face Switzerland in Bucharest, after that they will face the winner of Croatia and Spain. It’s not the easiest path but they are games a squad the talent of France’s will expect to win.
Well, most of a squad.
For some reason Didier Deschamps took just one outright full-back to the Euros in Lucas Digne. His starting left-back Lucas Hernandez is a hybrid centre-back and left-back while Benjamin Pavard is a centre-back. Anyway, they’re all injured. Pavard didn’t play today at all and Lucas started but went off injured, and then his replacement Digne also left the field hurt.
This means France ended the game with Jules Koundé, a centre-back, and Adrien Rabiot, a centre-midfielder, at full-back. That’s a weakness that is now there to be exploited by someone. The Swiss? The Spanish? Someone else? Let’s see.
5. Cristiano Ronaldo: History Maker
No man in the history of football has scored more international goals than Cristiano Ronaldo and that is a fact. The Portuguese rattled home two penalties against France to take his tally to 109 goals for Portugal which leveled Ali Daei’s long-standing record.
The goals also meant that now has 21 goals at major international tournaments (Euros and World Cups) which moves him ahead of Miroslav Klose’s record for a European man of 19 goals scored at major international tournaments.
Now he has a game against Belgium where he can set a new record for international goals with his 110th strike for Portugal. Would you bet against the man who already has five goals in the tournament? Can you imagine those Belgian defenders not giving away a penalty?
Cristiano Ronaldo, like Thanos, is inevitable.