Euro 2020 Chronicles – Part Three: The Group of Death

Euro 2020

Euro 2020 brought us countless unforgettable moments, both good and bad. This is the third in a series of articles that will tell the many stories of this summer’s competition.

Euro 2020 Chronicles

Spanish Struggles at Euro 2020

Spain had struggled to find success after their Euro 2012 title and they didn’t seem any closer to finding it in their opening match against Sweden. It was especially disappointing since they played in front of their home fans in Seville, and would do that throughout the group stage. La Roja didn’t suffer from a shortage of chances, but they suffered from an inability to convert them. The group stage’s best goalkeeper Robin Olsen’s heroics were enough to rescue a point for Sweden, despite Spain having 84% possession. Historic numbers. 

It didn’t look much better against Poland, even though Alvaro Morata ended his and Spain’s goal drought, but Robert Lewandowski proved too much for Spain. Morata’s missed penalty summed up Spain’s night. 

The nightmare had only just begun for the Juventus striker, who received death threats and insults to his family.

“I understand that I am criticised because I have not scored a goal, but I wish people would put themselves in the place of what it is like to receive threats, that they tell you that your children should die. What bothers me is that they tell my wife, that they tell my children. They tell them everything”, Morata told Spanish radio station CadenaCOPE

Spain’s coach Luis Enrique didn’t hesitate to defend Morata, either:  “We have much faith in Morata. Coaches have access to information that journalists and supporters do not. I have said things about him to give him confidence, but also because he does many important things for the team”, Enrique told Spanish newspaper Marca.  

Poland in Peril, Despite Robert Lewandowski Masterclass

Spain were winless after two matches, just like Poland. The White and Reds got a nightmare start against Slovakia, conceding an unfortunate own goal that would’ve done greater justice being attributed to Robert Mak after his great individual performance leading up to it. Poland got the best start imaginable in the second half, equalizing after only a few seconds. Then Grzegorz Krychowiak got his second yellow card and the game slipped out of Poland’s hands. Slovakia made full use of the extra man and won 2-1.  

Sweden kept on impressing after holding Spain to a draw and then winning 1-0 against this underappreciated Slovakian side thanks to an Emil Forsberg penalty. The same side Poland failed to beat. Now the two stood against each other in a Baltic Sea derby on matchday three. It took Forsberg almost 77 minutes to find the back of the net against Slovakia. He didn’t need nearly as much time against Poland, scoring the tournament’s fastest goal after just 82 seconds. Fourteen minutes into the second half, the RB Leipzig winger doubled Sweden’s lead and they appeared to be heading towards a comfortable win. Then Lewandowski showed why he’s one of the best strikers in the world. His brace ultimately only served as consolation, though, as Viktor Claesson won it for Sweden in the dying minutes.  

The Spain We’re Used to Seeing Presents Itself

Spain’s, and particularly Morata’s, ordeal continued against Slovakia, missing another penalty. Fortunately for him, this was overshadowed by one of the tournament’s most bizarre own goals. Slovakian goalkeeper Martin Dubravka accidentally punched the ball into his own net when trying to clear it. This was the beginning of the end, as Spain soared to a 5-0 demolition. Five different goalscorers, but Morata was not one of them.

Viktor Orban’s Dream

Hungary are a sleeping giant of international football, dreaming of once again being the greatest team in the world like during parts of the 1950s. Few people cherish this dream as much as Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban. His first foreign trip as PM was to the 1998 World Cup final and it’s said he occasionally watches as many as six matches per day. It’s no coincidence that Orban’s regime has invested £2 billion in Hungarian football, £460 million of which were spent on the Puskas Arena, the only Euro 2020 stadium with full capacity. This meant the Magyars would play in front of over 50,000 home fans in their matches against Portugal and France.  

Cristiano Ronaldo Becomes Historic

Despite their ambitions and support from the stands, Hungary seemed destined to be the ‘whipping boys’ in the group of death, but their start against reigning European champions Portugal was unexpectedly solid. It even seemed Szabolcs Schön secured Hungary a historic and sensational win as the last ten minutes were approaching. However, he was offside and the Budapest frenzy ended faster than it began. Then Portugal seemed to realise they have a title to defend, winning after three late goals, two of which were scored by the tournament’s eventual top scorer, Cristiano Ronaldo. Not only that, after the match, he was also the top goalscorer in the history of the competition.

The Juventus striker crushed Hungarian hearts faster than he crushed Coca-Cola’s advertising revenue by removing their bottles at a press conference prior to the match. That’s at least a popular belief, but it’s untrue. In reality, there had already been a fall accounting for a majority of the share price reduction before the press conference, and other factors may also have contributed to the drop.

Own Goals Galore and Manuel Neuer’s Rainbow Armband

Later that evening, France were poised to take on Germany in Munich. However, the match was delayed briefly due to a Greenpeace activist with a paramotor. He got stuck on a rope during the flight, started descending, injuring a couple of people in the stands before landing on the pitch. Then it was time for kick-off. France and Germany met in the 2014 World Cup quarter-final, where Die Mannschaft won thanks to a Mats Hummels goal. This time Le Bleus won, also thanks to a goal by Hummels.             

It was one of the championship’s 11 own goals. The proportions reached their peak during the match between Portugal and Germany. The Germans won 4-2, but four of the goalscorers were Portuguese. Own goals or not, it was an emphatic display by Die Mannschaft. Germany were seemingly rejuvenated after their fiasco at the previous World Cup, which was a big talking point. Another hot topic was Manuel Neuer’s captain’s armband in rainbow colours, used to show support with the LGBT community. UEFA started an investigation but ultimately didn’t impose a penalty on Neuer. They assessed the armband as a “team symbol for diversity” and “a good cause”.  

Hungary Wins Point Against the World Champions

Hungary were eager to make the most of their last match in Budapest against France.

Le Bleus played well but suffered from one key problem: bluntness – a problem Attila Fiola perfectly capitalized on when he gave Hungary the lead in the dying minutes of the first half. Euphoria ensued, of which one reporter, in particular, became aware, as her table was smashed. Thankfully, she also saw the funny side of it and raised her arms in celebration. The celebrations were cut short after an Antoine Griezmann equalizer, but it’s still a historic point for the Magyars.

Entertaining Match Overshadows Political Controversy

Hungary’s last group match was against Germany in Munich, a tie whose build-up was drenched in drama. The Munich City Council applied to have the Allianz Arena be illuminated in rainbow colours as a sign of tolerance and diversity. UEFA viewed the action as a protest against a law passed by the Hungarian Parliament that limits young people’s information rights concerning gender transitioning and homosexuality. UEFA aims to be a religiously and politically neutral organisation and rejected the illumination proposal on those grounds. 

Despite the political turmoil off the pitch, the match is still mostly remembered for what unfolded on it. Adam Szalai gave Hungary another shocking lead early on. Kai Havertz didn’t equalise until far into the second half. But just as the German celebrations were settling, Andras Schäfer made it 2-1 to Hungary. A result that would see Germany eliminated and the Magyars advance from the group of death against all odds.   

Leon Goretzka saved Die Mannschaft from another debacle, though, equalizing in the 84th minute. It wasn’t the only 2-2 match of the evening. Given how Hungary performed, they would’ve probably advanced from any other group, but not the group of death.

Karim Benzema’s Comeback at Euro 2020

Ronaldo gave Portugal the lead with a penalty. Then another superstar announced himself from the spot. Karim Benzema had not won an international cap since 2015 ahead of the Euro 2020. Either way, he was instrumental against Portugal and rescued France a crucial point. Benzema later made it 2-1 after a stunning pass from Paul Pogba, but another Ronaldo spot-kick denied Le Bleus revenge for their 2016 Euro final loss. 


To read part one of the series, click here.

To read part two of the series, click here


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