Another week, another 6 new storylines to follow after the second round of games are now officially over. Unlike the previous week, Matchweek 2 provided us with a variety of results as not everyone who was expected to emerge victorious this week did so, prompting more questions and potential scenarios heading into the final round of group stage games.
Whilst some teams solidified their position at the top of their groups, with the Netherlands, Italy and Belgium all having confirmed their place into the knockout stages, others still have all to play for, with the difference between a point and a win being all that important as the teams prepare for potentially their last game of the tournament.
As we head into a week full of excitement and some potential drama, here are the biggest storylines from Matchweek 2.
Group A: Wales showing 2016 was no fluke
Following their extremely lucky 1–1 draw with Switzerland during Matchweek 1, it seemed that Wales were not going to perform any miracles in this rendition of the tournament. Maybe all their luck and style was gone with the team of 5 years ago, the one that came so close to reaching the final of the Euros with a more upbeat Gareth Bale, a more consistent Aaron Ramsey and Cruijff-turning striker Hal-Robson Kanu.
Instead of looking back at the past and wondering what if, The Dragons roared back to a 2–0 win over Turkey, a victory that means Wales could still finish top of the group if they are to beat Italy. Whilst the game was anything but comfortable, with Turkey managing 64% possession and taking 18 shots to Wales’ 16, the Welsh side simply looked more poised throughout the game, especially with Ramsey pulling all the strings in midfield and Bale running riot whenever he had the ball.
It wasn’t impressive but Wales might have rediscovered the form that almost made them European champions. If Bale and Ramsey continue to have elite performances like the one we saw against Turkey, it isn’t a stretch to see this Welsh team find itself deep in the tournament. They will first have to go through the tournament’s best team in Italy to ensure their qualification. If they can burst the Italian bubble and top their group, Wales will prove that 2016 was no fluke.
Group B: Star quality not enough to lead Belgium to victory
On Thursday, the game between Denmark and Belgium became the first one of the Euros that saw one of the pre-tournament favourites be humbled by a team that displayed much more heart, much more passion and a larger desire to win. Denmark, fired up by an emotional crowd in Copenhagen, should’ve been the winners of this game, outshooting the Belgians 21 to 6 and constantly put Thibaut Courtois under pressure. Heading into the half, Denmark had a deserved 1–0 lead as De Rode Duivels looked lost, failing to create anything too dangerous.
Enter Kevin De Bruyne. The Manchester City man, coming back from a broken eye socket injury, absolutely ran the show for Belgium. Assisting 9 minutes after his entrance, Belgium now had a goal back despite their horrendous first-half display but De Bruyne wasn’t done yet. A 70th minute strike saw him find the net and single-handedly give Belgium a 2–1 lead. Unfortunately for Denmark, the game would end 2–1 as Kevin De Bruyne showed why he is one of, if not the, best player in the tournament.
This, however, is a big issue for Belgium. Whilst they have already qualified, one cannot help but think that a team with more quality and that is more mentally prepared to face the challenge of Belgium will not allow one of De Rode Duivels stars to make such a difference. The squad isn’t fully fit yet, but even at full strength, a team like Italy, France or any other tournament favourite will be more clinical in front of goal and more stern defensively. The individual, elite quality of Belgium may be enough against Denmark, but it won’t be enough to lead them to glory.
Group C: Denzel Dumfries is that player
We’ve seen it countless of times. James Rodríguez became a sensation after his 2014 World Cup. At the 2016 Euros, Renato Sanches was the player on everyone’s lips after a very strong tournament. Russia’s 2018 World Cup saw Aleksandr Golovin get his big move after dazzling displays. This year’s player, the one that gets the big money move as everyone confusedly watches him and thinks, “where did this guy come from?”, has already been found. That of course is the Netherlands right-wing back, Denzel Dumfries, who has already scored twice in 2 games as his side outright won the group after their 2–0 victory over Austria.
The 25 year old, who plays for PSV Eindhoven, is now De Oranje’s top goalscorer at the tournament, but his performances for the side have also made him their most dangerous player so far. With the team playing a 5–2–1–2, Dumfries has unlimited freedom on the right side of the pitch and he has taken this liberty by the scruff of the neck, making the whole right side of the pitch his own. The combination of his physical traits, particularly his speed, with this new found freedom has allowed the Sparta Rotterdam product to simultaneously shut down any attacks down his side and become a dangerous, tucked-in winger when the Netherlands reach the final third. His impact on both sides of the pitch has been immense for a team that has looked toothless in attack and not very commanding defensively despite 2 victories on the bounce.
Being linked with Everton, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich prior to the start of the Euros, many more clubs will come knocking if Dumfries continues his stellar form. As the number of clubs increase, so will his value, and Denzel Dumfries will become the next that player from a major tournament that we look back on and remember fondly.
Group D: The most dramatically boring group
Matchweek 2 was one to forget for fans of Group D. Croatia and Czech Republic played to a boring 1–1 draw that saw a total of 2 shots on target, one for each team, throughout the whole 90 minutes. If you thought this game was one to forget, Scotland and England had other plans. Expected to be a game where The Three Lions would dominate one of their biggest rivals, instead we were treated to an extremely dull 0–0 draw, with Scotland looking the better team at full-time.
Whilst these games, and with the ones we saw last week except a Patrick Schick halfway line goal, were not fun to watch at all, yet Group D has become the group with all to play for heading into the final game. Mathematically speaking, all teams have a chance to qualify, with Croatia and Scotland needing a victory to secure their place whilst England and Czech Republic can both qualify with a point minimum.
The expectation is that England will top the group and Croatia may be able to sneak into 2nd, however, with the only certainty being that next week’s game will probably not feature a lot of goals, who knows what the final standings will look like. All we can hope for is that this drama-filled group begins to have more exciting football. We all sure want to see it.
Group E: Toothless Spain less surprising than expected
What has happened to Spain? As a 10 year old boy, I remember the team consisting of Iniesta, Xavi and David Villa become the greatest national side, and perhaps the greatest, to ever play football. The team that has showed up to the Euros don’t look like they could last 30 minutes against the legends of the past, and this is a team that I had a surprising amount of faith coming into the tournament.
The selection was questionable from Luis Enrique but the team reminded me heavily of Antonio Conte’s Italy during that last edition of the Euros, an underdog story with an extremely talented manager and above average players. However, after 2 extremely shy performances from La Roja, they sit 3rd with 2 points and all the marbles to lose coming into the final set of group games. Álvaro Morata and Gerard Moreno have both failed to impress in front of goal, with Morata missing key chances in both games and Moreno hitting the post from the penalty post during the game against Poland.
Spain now face Slovakia, a team that was beaten by an Alexander Isak-inspired Sweden but still sit 2nd virtue of last week’s 2–1 win versus Poland. If their main men Morata or Moreno go missing, and no other player can create a spark, Spain will leave the Euros in a shameful manner. At least they’ll exit with 85% possession.
Group F: Thank you Joachim Löw
On Saturday, we witnessed one of the scariest sights in football. As the old saying goes, “Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.” That outcome was never in doubt during Germany’s 4–2 thrashing of reigning champions Portugal. Even after a Ronaldo goal which put Portugal in the lead, it seemed only a matter of time until Germany would find a way through. Two own goals, a Kai Havertz tap in, and a Robin Gosens header had Die Mannschaft 4–1 up in 60 minutes, embarrassing their opposition in Munich.
After criticising Löw’s repetitive tactics during the last round of games, I have to take all my words back. After all, this man has single-handedly been responsible for most of the heart break I felt growing up. He somehow always had a way to beat Argentina so it felt slightly rewarding to criticise his team. However, the squad that showed up on that Saturday was the one that reminded all of us why Löw is among the best of all time, especially on the international stage. Having held the position for 15 years, the success he continued to bring for the German national team cannot be understated, as he ensured the tradition of teams that excelled in teamwork, selflessness and domination would carry on from the teams of the past.
Germany might still be out of the Euros pending on the results against an inspired Hungarian side but regardless of how far Germany do manage to go in the tournament, this game was one final reminder as to why Joachim Löw should be revered as a legend of the game. Thank you Löw.