The group phase matches of Euro 2020 concluded on Wednesday and in some groups, like Group E, qualification went down to the wire. In 36 matches, 94 goals were scored with the Netherlands the highest goal scorers with eight while there were just the two goalless draws.
The Azzurri look like the real deal
Roberto Mancini’s Italy team looks menacing from back to front. A tight defensive set-up led by Leonardo Bonucci has not conceded and have scored seven goals with Ciro Immobile and Manuel Locatelli on two goals apiece.
While Switzerland, Turkey, and Wales are not in the top echelon of European football, Italy’s victories were convincing and straightforward. Marco Verratti did not play in the first two matches but came into the team against Wales and was world-class.
In goals scored, they are second; in ball possession, they are third behind Spain and Germany, and in goal attempts; they are second to Denmark. If Italy beat Austria as easily as they conducted their group matches, many will have to sit up and revise their predictions for Euro 2020 winners.
France and Belgium have not been tested
France are the world champions and ranked No. 2 in the world behind Belgium but both teams have done just enough to get to the round of 16.
Stacked with world-class talent in every position, there have just been glimpses of that quality in the first round. In Group B, Belgium showed their teeth in the second half against Denmark, especially after introducing Kevin De Bruyne while Romelu Lukaku continues to show why he must be counted in any top-three best forwards in world football.
Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante have kept the script for Didier Deschamps’ France, who have scored four goals in three matches despite the presence of Antoine Griezmann, the returning Karim Benzema, and the rapid Kylian Mbappe.
The round of 16 will surely bring out both team’s better qualities.
Younger teams have more challenges
According to research by CIES, the most successful national football teams have an average age -between 27 and 28. In this year’s Euros last 16 clashes, England and Wales are supposedly at a distinct disadvantage because of the average age of their squad.
England has the youngest team [25.3] at Euro 2020 and Gareth Southgate’s have already shown that naivety, even though they could top their group and book a last 16 encounter with Germany, one of their most fearsome opponents over the years.
The youthful teams have the skill, the speed, but are burdened by a lack of big-game experience. This lack will become more apparent when they play against more savvy teams, even though France won the 2018 FIFA World Cup with a squad with an average age of 25.6.
VAR can be quick and efficient
There have been no delays caused by consultation with Video assistant referees [VAR]. Offside calls have been largely been dealt with promptly and referees have not needed to consult the pitch-side monitors.
The referees have also been competent and almost invisible except Spanish referee, Mateo Lahoz, who was the cynosure of all eyes in the last Group F match between France and Belgium.
The 15-minute period after halftime is crucial
The 45-minutes to the 60-minute mark has proven to be the most dangerous time to concede at Euro 2020. About 23 percent of the 94 goals scored in the group stage were scored during this period.
Teams have scored more goals in the second stanza of matches than in the first: 56-38. It could be because of fatigue, with the European leagues having taken so much out of the players, a better understanding of the opponent’s strategy and setup, and more intensity. There should not be a departure from this when the round of 16 kicks off on Saturday.
Round of 16 matches
17:00 Wales v Denmark
20:00 Italy v Austria
17:00 Netherlands v Czech Republic
20:00 Belgium v Portugal
17:00 Croatia v Spain
20:00 France v Switzerland
17:00 England v Germany
20:00 Sweden v Ukraine
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