The first round of Euro 2020 fixtures is now complete, and four of the seven Leeds United players representing their nations got minutes on the pitch, with differing fortunes. It was a round in which, despite there being no major upsets in terms of results, there was plenty of action, including an early Goal of The Tournament contender, a first ever major tournament victory and Gjanni Alioski in a police car... seriously.
Kalvin Phillips was the shining light of Elland Road representatives, producing a midfield display worthy of Player of The Tournament, never mind Man of The Match. Others were less fortunate with Liam Cooper, Mateusz Klich and Alioski all featuring in defeats whilst Tyler Roberts, Diego Llorente and Robin Koch all watched on from the bench.
In his first major tournament appearance, and a first for any Leeds player since Rio Ferdinand and Danny Mills in the 2002 World Cup, ‘The Yorkshire Pirlo’ announced himself onto the world stage with a Man of The Match worthy performance in England’s 1-0 win against Croatia, playing the full 90 minutes and laying on an assist for Raheem Sterling’s winner.
Phillips was - to some clamor - deployed in a more advanced midfield role with Declan Rice and Mason Mount in with him. It didn’t take long for many to come round however, and when the ball dropped to the 25 year old on the edge of the box, following a headed clearance from a corner, his sweetly struck volley went through the crowd and called Croatia’s Dominik Livaković into action with a smart save.
Phillips maintained a 100% pass accuracy in the first half - the only player on the pitch to do so - and just 12 minutes after the break he burst forward to receive a pass from Kyle Walker. Joško Gvardiol (remember him?) stretched, and missed, before Phillips jinked inside Duje Ćaleta-Car and slipped a perfectly weighted ball into the path of Sterling, who tucked the ball away for 1-0.
Phillips’ performance ensured he remained on the pitch for the full 90 as England saw out a comfortable 1-0 win against an abject Croatia side on the day. He ended the game as most people’s pick for Man of The Match (although the official Uefa ‘Star of The Match’ went to Sterling) and earned some high praise from the likes of Michael Ballack, Mesut Ozil and Nigel De Jong.
◉ Passing like Pirlo— Squawka Bet (@SquawkaBet) June 13, 2021
◉ Tackling like Gattuso
◉ Dribbling like Kakà
Kalvin Phillips is not the Yorkshire Pirlo, he's the entire Milan midfield. pic.twitter.com/gYVwPJ6Fi1
Phillips and England are now second in Group D. They have a massive game on Friday against Scotland, at Wembley.
In Scotland’s first game in major tournament football since 1998, Cooper played the full 90 minutes as the Tartan Army suffered a 2-0 defeat to the Czech Republic, courtesy of an outstanding Patrik Schick brace at Hampden Park on Monday.
The Whites skipper played on the left of a back three for Steve Clarke’s side, replacing the injured Arsenal full-back Kieran Tierney. And despite the occasion being one to remember, the game itself was one to forget.
Scotland started with the enthusiasm you would expect of a side experiencing their first finals for 23 years, and Cooper was more than just a stand in, recycling the ball comfortably from the back and progressing to the likes of Andy Robertson and Stuart Armstrong.
The Czechs kept it tight and rode out early Scotland pressure before pouncing in the 42nd minute. Vladimir Coufal found space on the right before crossing to Schick who rose the highest and glanced a header into David Marshall’s far corner. Neither Cooper nor Grant Hanley could make a significant enough challenge to effect the Bayer Leverkusen forward.
Just seven minutes into the second half came the moment of the game, and a shoe-in for the Goal of The Tournament shortlist. Jack Hendry’s tame shot was blocked and as the ball rolled just over the halfway line Schick struck as sweet a strike as you’re likely to see all summer, curling and looping the ball past a hapless Marshall from all of 49.7 yards.
The Czechs rode out the rest of the game fairly comfortably in the end, barring a couple of snap-chances for Scotland, and Cooper was left with little to do as Scotland pushed forward in search for a couple of goals. The 29 year old didn’t look out of place one bit in what was only his sixth cap for Scotland, you would expect Tierney to come back in for the England game, however, should he regain fitness.
Scotland and Cooper sit bottom of Group D, with that massive game against England at Wembley on Friday.
North Macedonia’s first ever appearance at a major international tournament ended with a 3-1 defeat to a well-respected Austria side, but the tournament new-boys were in the game for the most part, conceding in the 78th and 89th minute as legs tired.
Alioski started at left-wing back and played the full 90 minutes for his country, with typically mixed fortune. He lost track of Stefan Lainer in the 18th minute as the winger latched onto a cross with a beautifully deft volley into the far corner. Just 10 minutes later, however, his loose cross-field ball sparked chaos in the Austria half and paved the way for one of the tournament’s great stories, as 37 year old Macedonia legend Goran Pandev, who made his international debut in 2001 and played against the now 57 year old David Seaman, latched on to a series of rebounds and deflections to roll into an empty net. Cue pandemonium.
Alioski and North Macedonia provided solid account of themselves throughout a tight second half, bringing energy and determination to a game that lacked much quality. It wasn’t until the 78th minute and a pinpoint cross from newly-signed Real Madrid player David Alaba that Austria took command, with Michael Gregoritsch poking in from close range. Then in the 89th minute Marko Arnautovic picked up a loose flick and rounded the keeper to make it 3-1.
Both of the deciding goals came down Macedonia’s right-hand side, with Alioski having little involvement in either of them. It was, overall, a performance you would come to expect from the wing-back: packed full of energy and with moments of quality way above his compatriots, however a swift lapse in concentration is what allowed Lainer to drift in behind and open the scoring.
The defeat leaves Alioski and North Macedonia bottom of Group C, with Ukraine to play on Thursday.
Paulo Sousa’s Poland side fell to a disappointing 2-1 defeat at the hands of Slovakia in Saint Petersburg on Monday, in which Klich started and played 85 minutes as the engine in central midfield.
It didn’t start well for the Leeds hero as his side went 1-0 down after just 18 minutes, courtesy of an unfortunate Wojciech Szczęsny own goal. And with that the first half went by without much contribution from Klich - or anyone on the pitch for that matter.
It took all of 30 seconds for Poland to equalise after the break, with Klich playing a key role in the goal. It was the Leeds man that picked the ball up on the edge of the area before controlling, swivelling and sliding in a perfect reverse ball in one movement for Maciej Rybus, who laid the ball on a plate for Karol Linetty to tap home from close range.
Poland carried their momentum through and looked the more dangerous following their equaliser, with Klich making several bursting runs into the box and linking play effectively in the attacking third. But when Grzegorz Krychowiak was given a second yellow card just past the hour mark Slovakia regained control. Despite Klich and Poland’s best efforts in an outnumbered midfield, Milan Škriniar nicked the winner in the 69th minute, latching onto a knockdown from a corner and smashing home.
With Slovakia a goal and a man to the good, they were able to ride out the remaining 20 minutes with relative comfort. Klich was replaced in the 85th minute and came off as one of Poland’s better players in an all-round disappointing day.
The defeat leaves Klich and Poland bottom of Group E. They face Spain on Saturday.
Just a few days after signing a contract extension which will keep him in Leeds until 2024, Roberts was an unused substitute in Wales’ hard-fought 1-1 draw against Switzerland, in Baku, on Saturday.
In a game significantly effected by the sweltering heat in Azerbaijan, the two sides went in at 0-0 after a lethargic opening 45 minutes. It only took four minutes after the break for Xherdan Shaqiri’s corner to find Breel Emoblo, who held off Connor Roberts before nodding past Danny Ward from close range.
Wales levelled in the 74th minute after a short corner presented to ball to Joe Morrell who’s inviting cross was met by Kieffer Moore, clinically glancing the ball into the far bottom corner.
Switzerland looked to have won it in the 85th minute, however Mario Gavranovic’s close range volley was ruled out for offside by VAR.
Roberts and Wales sit joint second with Switzerland after the first round on a point a piece, two points behind leaders Italy. Their next fixture is on Wednesday against Turkey.
The Spanish centre-back, who has been a revelation at Elland Road since recovering from a spate of injuries, watched on from the bench as his side were held to a 0-0 draw with Sweden in Seville on Monday.
It wasn’t expected that Llorente would be part of the squad at all for the first game after the 27 year old tested positive for COVID-19. Three subsequent tests all came back negative, however, and the centre-back was given a guard of honour upon his return to training.
Spain, as expected, dominated the entirety of the game at the Estadio de La Cartuja, with Sweden opting to sit deep and deploy two banks of four. And despite Luis Enrique’s side recording an incredible 86% possession, they failed find the net.
Chances came and went for Alvaro Morata, Dani Olmo, Koke and Gerard Moreno, but despite having 19 attempts on goal, La Furia Roja painted a frustrated picture on the pitch as the minutes ticked on.
Ultimately, Sweden looked comfortable for most of the second half, and were happy to finish the night with a point and a clean sheet. The draw leaves Spain joint second, with Poland to play on Saturday.
The final game of the first round of fixtures happened to be between two of the biggest footballing nations in the competition in Germany and France, and Robin Koch watched from the bench at the Allianz Arena as his Germany side were beaten 1-0 by Les Bleus.
A classic it was not, but within a tightly fought game between two attritional sides, it seemed apt that it was decided by an own goal. Paul Pogba’s searching cross-field pass found Lucas Hernandez who drilled the ball across the German box where Mats Hummels, starting in what would’ve been Koch’s position, clumsily shinned the ball into his own net.
And whilst Germany managed to record 62% possession, they very rarely troubled Hugo Lloris in the France goal. Once Didier Deschamps’ side had their lead they sat on it to great effect, pouncing into a counter attack on several occasions.
Adrien Rabiot hit the post when he may have squared it to Mbappe, and Mbappe himself had a goal disallowed just past the hour mark for a relatively clear offside. The PSG forward was judged to be offside again - tighter this time, but still correct - after he slid the ball across for Benzema to tap into an open net, following a Pogba through ball.
And whilst Germany continued to dominate possession in the search for a goal, they lacked the quality in the final third to break down an outstandingly tight French defence. By the time the final whistle came both sides looked to have accepted the result for some time.
Germany sit third in Group F following the defeat. They next play against Portugal on Saturday.