With the first round of fixtures of Euro 2020 over, we’ve seen a number of dominant wins, underdog stories start to be written and teams looking to stamp their mark in European history.
We opened the tournament with Italy thrashing Turkey 3-0 and ended the first round of fixtures with France nabbing a 1-0 over Germany. Proven stars like Raheem Sterling and Romelu Lukaku have shown their skills in the tournament as expected, but the true joy of the competition is seeing breakout stars make their mark on the biggest stage of them all.
In Euro 2004, Wayne Rooney showed the world why Everton gave him his first starts as a bright eyed 16-year-old. A 21 year-old Mario Balotelli scored the winning goals to send Italy to the 2012 final, and who could forget Renato Sanches bullying midfields en route to Portugal’s 2016 victory. Every tournament has a breakout star, a youngster who shocks the world and puts all the big clubs clamouring for his signature.
Group A – Danny Ward, Wales
Prior to the tournament, Wales’ Goalkeeper Danny Ward was a non-entity at club level. The Welshman joined Leicester City from Liverpool in a £12 million deal, but as of writing has yet to make a league appearance for the Foxes. Stuck behind club legend Kasper Schmeichel, Ward has been relegated to appearances in the FA Cup and League Cup. However, due to Wayne Hennessey falling out of favour at Crystal Palace, Ward has been handed a chance to start for his country.
He saved a penalty and had a fine performance in an eventual 3-0 loss to world champions France and kept his place for Wales opener against Switzerland. He conceded a thunderous header from Breel Embolo, but the Swiss striker could’ve scored three or four if Ward hadn’t been in such fine form. He saved the team on many occasions, tipping away many of the 12 corners Switzerland, even denying Embolo right at the end with a acrobatic save.
He is still only 27, so has many years yet to nail down a number 1 spot, and this Euro’s could be his ticket out of Leicester and into a transfer to another Premier League team.
Group B – Jonas Wind, Denmark
The football in Group B has become a second priority after the sudden collapse of Denmark midfielder Cristian Eriksen. The Inter Milan playmaker collapsed late in the second half, and had CPR performed on him for over 10 minutes before being rushed to hospital. At the time of writing, he is awake and talking, and everyone at Back Page Football wishes him a speedy recovery.
The match was an emotionally draining affair in the second half. Finland eked out a 1-0 win with a goal from Joel Pohjanpalo, but a player who caught the eye was young Danish striker Jonas Wind. The Dane impressed with his movement, and despite his six foot three frame showed great agility and speed when in attack, and had numerous chances to put Denmark ahead.
Denmark dominated the first half until the tragic incident, and if Wind improved his finishing, that game would have been put to bed. He is still only 22 years old, and looks to be a star for Denmark in years to come. He looks to be a player in the mould of Nicklas Bendtner, who scored 30 goals in 81 games for Denmark. Wind has three in seven already for “The Red and White” and if he keeps it up, could be a feature in Denmark’s team for the next decade or so.
Group C – Elif Elmas, North Macedonia
For a team entering a tournament final for the first time, North Macedonia are not a team playing like one. In their 2-1 loss to Austria, they took the game to the European giants, with 38-year-old Goran Pandev scoring the equaliser that sent the country into hysterics.
But one man who really showed what he’s about is Napoli midfielder Elif Elmas. Already a regular at Napoli, he showed against Austria that he can run a midfield of players with less quality than his. He was excellent on the break with North Macedonia, with his cross field balls to the likes of Alioksi and Nikolov.
He ability on the ball was also showcased, turning and spinning to keep the ball away from the oncoming Austrians, but he kept the ball well and kept the North Macedonian’s in the game right until the end.
Group D – Phil Foden, England
Foden is a known name across European Football, but has still to hold down a starting berth in Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side. He was given the nod over former youth team mate Jadon Sancho by Gareth Southgate, and repaid his faith by a star making performance in a solid 1-0 win over Croatia.
The English midfielder proved himself extremely dangerous down the right-hand side, causing Rangers’ left back Joska Gvardiol a whole host of troubles. He came close in the first half, cutting inside on his left foot, with his powerful shot striking the post. His movement and first touch were exceptional, and he was my man of the match for the entire match.
He kept possession very well, his quick feet being a real problem for the whole Croatia defence when he cut inside with the ball. He is at home with the ball at his feet, and he looks to be doing his best Gazza impression (not just with the hair!) in inspiring England to Euro greatness.
Whilst Kalvin Phillips impressed with his driving runs in midfield, the space made for him by Foden’s runs and his incredible impact on the game make him my one-to-watch for England this tournament.
Group E – Kamil Jozwiak, Poland
Despite Lewandowski being the star for Poland, the young winger from Derby County stood out in a experienced Poland side in their 2-1 defeat to Slovakia. The winger looked dangerous with the ball at his feet, and created some good chances for the likes of Zielinski and Lewandowski. Almost all of Poland’s attacks went through him on the right hand side, in the first half.
He was a part of the incredible one-touch passing goal by Poland less than a minute into the first half, and continued to be a force down the right hand side. His crossing ability with both feet was crucial in finding Zielinski and Lewandowski in the box for headed chances.
Poland lost 2-1 to Slovakia after a red card for Krychowiak for two bookable offences. However, Jozwiak showed the hunger, desire and ability to fight until the last minute. He showed he will be a key player on the right hand side for the remaining tournament, and Derby boss Wayne Rooney will surely have some competition to keep him at Pride Park next season.
Group F – Diogo Jota, Portugal
While Cristiano Ronaldo rightly gains the plaudits for his two-goal haul against Hungary, Diogo Jota is the one who truly caught the eye in Budapest. The Liverpool forward was a constant presence for Portugal, constantly popping into the box and pulling off shots that tested the goalkeeper.
His short passing and quick feet inside the box helped create a number of chances, and he himself had multiple attempts on goal, He will feel unlucky to have not scored at least once, with Hungary’s Peter Gulacsi playing tremendously to keep him out. His teammates, however, did show their frustration when he elected to shoot rather than pass. Both Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes were in acres of space in the first half when Jota had his shots saved by Gulacsi, rather than passing to his fellow countrymen.
Jota has shone for Liverpool since his £41 million move from Wolves, but still has to remember that Ronaldo is still the main man in Portugal. He will need to play less selfishly in the later matches of Euro 2020, with Ronaldo visually seething when Jota didn’t pass the ball to him in a great position. However, his work rate and technical ability made him an incredible asset and helped Portugal run out 3-0 winners in Budapest.