If there is one lesson that the Euro 2020 has already imparted to its players, officials, and viewers alike, it is to expect the unexpected.
Is the Euro 2020 Shaping up to Be the Year of the Underdog?
Scotland to Ukraine: The Underdogs Provide an Excitement
Whether we consider the once-in-a-lifetime coinciding of a 70th minute penalty awarded to Russia in Copenhagen, and the decision to disallow Belgium’s 65th minute goal over in Krestovsky Stadium – or, of course, those 90 odd minutes that did not go to plan for England when they came head-to-head with Scotland for the first time in fifteen years – the group stages alone have proved that history and rank only take us so far.
In other words, already, the Euro 2020 has exemplified precisely the reason why we follow sports as avidly as we do. That perfect balance of prediction and surprise, of following on from history in one moment and, the rest of the time, of making it right there on the spot.
Of course, Scotland’s unexpected tie with England is also just one example of a wider trend in Euro 2020 – a trend that falls in favor of the so-called underdogs. It is one that has been bubbling since the qualifiers, and which continues to cast a fresh aura of excitement over the upcoming knockout stages.
What Has Happened so Far?
A more applicable question would likely be, ‘What hasn’t happened?’ Take, for instance, Finland, who made a strong entrance onto the Group Stage of their first UEFA European Championship, beating both Denmark and Russia 1-0. On Monday night, their luck took a turn against Belgium – but the door remains open, and you can click here to see quite how much interest Finland is continuing to attract as the Group Stage reaches its final curtain.
Around 3500 kilometers away, Welsh fans entered into the Euro 2020 with a keen sense of apprehension following their strong performance in 2016, which memorably took them all the way to the semi-finals. Of course, it has been no secret that the 2020 team – led by Gareth Bale – falls short of what Wales could boast five years ago but, following a landslide victory against Turkey (and a strong resistance against Italy, despite being one man down in the second half) the team have already guaranteed themselves a position in the knockouts.
Ukrainian players, too, are no strangers to the label of ‘underdog’ – but the team has demonstrated a remarkable propensity to hold their own against historically stronger teams, and put itself in with a strong chance of advancement.
What Can We Expect?
At this stage: everything, and nothing. The narrative of the UEFA Euro 2020 is has proven itself highly changeable. Matches can change on a dime, expectations can change at a moment’s notice, and fans can rest assured that no two games will be alike as star players from across the continent seek to live up to – or, in the case of Wales, Ukraine and Finland, to overrule – past labels, and to stake their claim on the pitch as the competition fast-approaches the UEFA Euros 2020 semi-finals at Wembley.
At this precise moment, we can expect to see at least a couple of so-called underdogs making their way into the knockout stages – and, hopefully, demonstrating quite how worthy they are of a spot in this next stage of the tournament.