It all seems to mean more in the second round of tournament football. Everyone’s had a feel for the atmosphere, everyone’s got used to the pace of play, and all of a sudden every-one has every-thing to play for.
All of this was also helped, of course, by some mouthwatering fixtures, especially amongst the contingent of Leeds United players. England hosted Scotland at Wembley on Friday, Germany played Portugal on Saturday and no other than Gjanni Alioski made history against Ukraine on Thursday.
Kalvin Phillips / Liam Cooper
The oldest international fixture in football (not that anyone mentioned it) and the fixture which brought that Gazza goal (no ones really shown that one either). England vs Scotland, at Wembley, on Friday evening was the first meeting in a major tournament since Euro 96. Predictably, it did not live up to the hype, and finished 0-0.
After last week’s outstanding performance, Kalvin Phillips was a shoe-in to make the XI as Gareth Southgate made two changes, both at full-back. Phillips played the full 90 minutes, whilst Liam Cooper, on the other hand, looked on from the bench. His solid performance against the Czech Republic on Monday understandably doing nothing to sway Steve Clarke away from the fit again Kieran Tierney.
Scotland will rightly receive the majority of the plaudits for bouncing back from Monday’s defeat with a resolute and intelligent game plan, with standout performances from Che Adams and Billy Gilmour, the former of which had several chances to score. Chances also fell to Stephen O’Donnell and Lyndon Dykes, both were unlucky not to have found the net.
Southgate’s England side, despite having the majority of possession, underwhelmed. John Stones hit the post from a corner in the first half but the Three Lions only had one shot on target and were frustratingly pedestrian. Phillips was unable to carry the quality of performance through from the Croatia game and at times looked lost as Scotland’s midfield dominated the major aspects of the game.
All in all Phillips was part of a lacklustre midfield within an attritional match. Whilst not making any major mistakes or being particularly poor, he was unable to make any significant contribution to the game and was likely kept on by Southgate to ensure England didn’t lose.
The draw leaves England in second place behind the Czech Republic who they play on Tuesday. Scotland are bottom of Group D on one point, but a win against third placed Croatia on Tuesday will put them on four points and likely take them into the knockout stages.
The North Macedonian wing-back played the full 90 minutes on Thursday, but despite becoming Leeds’ first player to score at a major international tournament since Rio Ferdinand at the 2002 World Cup, Alioski’s penalty rebound wasn’t enough as his country fell to a 2-1 defeat against Ukraine in Bucharest.
Some interesting footage of North Macedonia’s training methods surfaced before kick-off with a video of Alioski and his team mates in some sort of egg-and-cup style relay race, only with footballs and big dribbling cones.
The unorthodox routine hadn’t look to have helped Igor Angelovski’s side who were on the back foot from the first whistle as a far superior Ukraine side controlled possession and attacked at will.
It took 29 minutes for the breakthrough to come, with Oleksandr Karavayev flicking a corner on at the near post before Andriy Yarmolenko snook in at the back and tapped home. Five minutes later Ukraine had their second when a ball out to Yarmolenko wasn’t closed down quick enough by Alioski. The West Ham winger’s first-time pass found Roman Yaremchuk in acres of space, who calmly rolled the ball into the bottom corner.
But North Macedonia came out fighting in the second half, and just 10 minutes in, when Aleksandar Trajkovski’s thunderous strike smashed the crossbar, Goran Pandev poked the ball away from Karavayev who caught the veteran forward and conceded a penalty.
Up stepped Alioski, who’s initial penalty was poor, and saved by Heorhiy Bushchan, but the rebound fell kindly and the man who missed the penalty was there to smash home the rebound.
However despite Alioski and North Macedonia’s best efforts they were unable to find that crucial equaliser. Ukraine had a penalty themselves after VAR adjudged Daniel Avramovski to have handballed, but Ruslan Malinovskyi’s poor penalty was saved by Stole Dimitrievski.
The Netherlands’ win against Austria now means that North Macedonia have been eliminated at the group stages. That nevertheless does nothing to diminish the pride and the effort from this, the lowest ranked team to ever grace a European Championship finals.
North Macedonia will travel to Amsterdam to play the Netherlands, in their final group game, on Monday.
Mateusz Klich / Diego Llorente
The final game of the second round of fixtures saw Spain and Poland go head to head in Seville on Saturday. Mateusz Klich started for Poland and played 55 minutes before being subbed off whilst Diego Llorente was an unused substitute as the two sides drew 1-1.
Spain, as you would expect, controlled much of the game and dominated possession, but as with the draw against Sweden they were left to rue missed chances.
Despite Spain’s possession it was Klich himself who got off a good early shot from all of 25 yards, his effort flying just over the top of Unai Simón’s top right corner.
The Leeds midfielder struggled to impose himself on a technically outstanding Spanish midfield, however, and with 25 minutes gone, Gerard Moreno’s scuffed shot ran through to Alvaro Morata to tap in. The linesman initially gave offside however VAR showed that the Spanish forward was just on.
Klich was booked 11 minutes later for a late foul on Pedri and struggled to make his mark on the first half. Both sides had great chances to score as half-time approached. Firstly, Karol Świderski rattled a shot against the post in the 43rd minute and Robert Lewandowski had his subsequent rebound blocked by Simon. Then in the 45th minute Jordi Alba whipped a cross in to Moreno at the near post, only for his shot to go wide.
Lewandowski found himself with another golden chance just nine minutes after the break when Kamil Jozwiak swung a cross in after winning possession in midfield. He beat Aymeric Laporte in the air and nodded past Simon for 1-1.
But Klich was taken off just a minute later for 17 year old Kacper Kozłowski and Spain ultimately continued to dominate the game, recording 77% possession and completing 707 passes by the final whistle.
La Furia Roja were unable to turn possession into goals though, and when Moreno missed a penalty in the 58th minute you knew it just wasn’t going to be Spain’s night again.
Klich and Poland go to St Petersburg to play Sweden on Wednesday knowing they’ll need a win to stand any chance of progressing into the knockout stages. Spain will need to beat Slovakia in Seville to get into the top two ahead of them.
Roberts was once again an unused substitute for Rob Page’s side in their 2-0 win over Turkey, in Baku, on Wednesday - a win which all but guarantees their place in the knockout stages of the tournament.
The lack of creative spark in Wales’ previous draw with Switzerland lead to calls for the Leeds forward to make an appearance in this crucial Group A clash, but Page opted to name an unchanged side for this pivotal fixture.
His decision paid off, and Wales produced an electrifying performance of equal parts organisation, determination and skill. Twice, early on, Bale drifted in from the left and clipped a ball in behind for Ramsey, twice Ramsey missed.
It was third time lucky in the 42nd minute when Bale and Ramsey linked up in a carbon copy of the previous two chances. Ramsey didn’t dare miss again.
From start to finish the game had fans and neutrals alike on the edge of their seats, and Turkey played as much a part in the drama as Wales did, flooding towards the Dragons’ goal in a desperate search for an equaliser to keep their hopes alive.
Wales rode out the Turkey pressure, however. In the fifth minute of added time Bale collected a short corner - just as he had done on the opposite side about 30 seconds previous - and burst into the Turkey box. This time he laid the ball back to Connor Roberts who tucked away for 2-0.
Wales go into Sunday’s game against Italy, in Rome, in second place, three points ahead of Switzerland with a five-goal gap on goal difference.
Koch was an unused substitute again in Munich on Saturday as his Germany side demolished Portugal 4-2 in the game of the tournament so far.
The ease at which Germany were controlled in their opening defeat to France was cause for concern for Joachim Low, but his unchanged side couldn’t have looked more different for Saturday’s victory.
Early dominance should’ve paid off when Robin Gosens smartly finished, but Serge Gnabry was judged to be offside. Just 10 mins later Portugal struck a cruel blow with a clinical counter-attack finished off by none other than Cristiano Ronaldo - international goal number 107, now two off Ali Daei.
Germany didn’t panic, however, and the experience of the likes of Thomas Muller and Toni Kroos kept heads level. The wing backs - Joshua Kimmich and Gosens - were outstanding, and their relentless running paid off in the 35th minute when Kimmich’s cross found Gosens who drilled the ball across the face of the goal. Ruben Dias was the unlucky man to smash into his own net.
And with that Germany went on to dominate. They had a second, and another own goal, just four minutes later as Muller’s cross reached Kimmich. He again punched the ball back into a dangerous area where the unlucky man this time was Raphaël Guerreiro.
Goals from Kai Havertz and Gosens rounded off an outstanding performance only dampened by a Diogo Jota consolation, and put the Germans right up there with the favourites again, where they belong.
Germany’s final game is against Hungary on Wednesday. They go into the final round of fixtures in second, ahead of Portugal on goal difference.