Three years, one World Cup semi final and one pandemic later, Euro 2020 is finally underway and a new post is well overdue.
A few weeks ago – when I started planning the resurrection of this blog – I was thinking how nice to have something to look forward to after the last year and a bit we’ve had: one of the main reasons that the Euros could turn out to be a lot of fun basically because it’s a distraction from what’s going on around us in public health terms as well as being an very different way to run a tournament. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the original plan of having multiple hosts was made by Michel Platini, who has gone from international superstar to persona non grata within world football.
As ever, the question is if England are going to win it. The bookies think so, but they always think that and when was the last time you saw a bookie on a bike? We don’t have a particularly good record in the Euros – two losing semi final appearances, the last of which was a quarter of a century ago – and with a recent record that’s not disimilar to two of our group stage opponents, but still better than our northern neighbours, who we meet next Friday.
However, I’d say there are grounds for cautious optimism this time round. The latest FIFA rankings – which won’t be updated until after the tournament – have England in 3rd place in the UEFA table (behind Belgium and France) and 4th in the world. Considering that three of the last five winners of the Euros were in the top five teams in the World before those respective tournaments started, that’s a pretty good standard. The major outlier was Greece (2004) who were roughly at the same level as Hungary are at the moment.
However, the fact that we’re hosting the final – as opposed to being the hosts – is a bit of a problem. In case you needed reminding, we’ve done rather well in tournaments that we’ve hosted, but the Euros haven’t been won by the country that hosted the final since France won in 1984. I think it’s fair to say that home advantage is a bit of a red herring these days – it’s been 23 years since the host won the World Cup – but even so I can’t see England failing to qualify from the group. We did it in both 1966 and 1996 but if we win the group then we hit a considerable hurdle: the prospect of Portugal, Germany or France in the Round of Sixteen.
Admittedly that will be at Wembley, but a more tortuous but possibly easier route to the final might be coming second in the group and giving up home advantage to play in Copenhagen possibly either Sweden or Poland or even trying to be a best third placed team and taking your chances that way. A narrow defeat to Croatia tomorrow wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world as long as four points were earned against the Scots and Czechs, However that’s an incredibly risky strategy to attempt and failure to qualify from the group really isn’t an option, especially with fan expectations being possibly more febrile than usual.
And that would have been the end of this post. I was intending to follow up on Monday with my thoughts on Sunday’s game, but as you all know by now, something potentially catastrophic happened in this evening’s game between Denmark and Finland. I was watching with my wife and we both feared the worst when we saw the close ups – which really shouldn’t have been broadcast – of Christian Eriksen clearly in considerable distress. Fortunately, Eriksen was taken to hospital – where he is now stable and recovering – but once again it’s a reminder that life is precious and football is only a game.
Enjoy tomorrow. I think we’ve all deserved it.