The final round of group stage games were arguably the most enthralling of the tournament so far. All but one of Leeds United’s players had qualification for the knockout stages to fight for, although not all were successful.
As with all tournament football there was a mixture of ecstasy and heartbreak in equal measure amongst the Leeds players, with some key performances from the likes of Kalvin Phillips and Gjanni Alioski.
Phillips became the only England player to play the full 90 minutes in all three group games on Tuesday, featuring in two roles within the English midfield during a 1-0 win against the Czech Republic at Wembley.
Gareth Southgate opted to start the Leeds born midfielder in his ‘usual’ role for the Three Lions; in the right of a midfield three, but when Jordan Henderson was brought into that role at half-time, the England manager chose to drop Phillips into his usual single-pivot role whilst bringing off Declan Rice - an encouraging statement for Leeds fans.
Phillips was involved in the build up to Raheem Sterling’s early goal, linking play with the outstanding Bukayo Saka before the Arsenal youngster’s cross found Jack Grealish, who in turn found Sterling at the far post.
Saka and Phillips had good chemistry throughout the first half, and Phillips’ new-found liberation in the midfield trio allowed him to push into good attacking spaces and play alongside the likes of Saka, Sterling and Jack Grealish.
One of the most telling signs of Phillips’ importance to Southgate came just before kick-off for the second half. Eager to reintroduce Henderson for the second period - as much for competitive minutes as tactical tinkering - Southgate decided to bring off Rice and move Phillips into his more natural ‘single-pivot’ role, rather than go purely man-for-man by bringing off Phillips.
The role change highlighted Phillips’ new-found versatility within the England side and allowed him to play in a position he is much more familiar with - albeit within a much slower and more pedestrian side.
Despite the passive nature of the game, Phillips still managed to have a positive influence from defensive midfield, winning the ball high up the pitch, dictating the tempo from deep and even clipping a good ball over the top which, unfortunately, just ran away from the advancing Saka.
Kalvin Phillips Euro2020 Group Stage Stats— All Leeds TV (@AllLeedsTV) June 23, 2021
Pressures- 93(Most for England, 3rd in tournament)
Tackles- 6(Most for England)
Ball Recoveries - 28(Most for England)
Minutes played - 270(Most for England)
Distance Covered - 32.6km(Most for England, 5th in tournament) #EURO2020 pic.twitter.com/TmQHmlHb27
The win put England top of Group D with seven points from their three games, and whilst only scoring two during the group stages, Southgate will take a lot of comfort in the fact they have kept three clean sheets - and he will only be too aware of Phillips’ role in such an achievement.
England are at Wembley again for the massive Round-of-16 clash with Germany on Tuesday evening.
The Leeds left-back played the full 90 minutes as his North Macedonia side bowed out of Euro 2020 with a 3-0 defeat to the Netherlands in Amsterdam.
The major tournament debutants were already eliminated by the time they kicked off on Monday, but that did nothing to dampen another spirited performance from the side ranked 62nd in the FIFA World Ranking - some 48 places below their 12th placed hosts.
Conversely, North Macedonia actually started with a flurry of positive attacking play. They had the ball in the net after just 10 minutes when Ivan Trickovski found the bottom corner, only for their celebrations to be cut short by the offside flag.
Mid-way through the first half North Macedonia came close again, this time when Aleksandar Trajkovski’s 20 yard curling effort found the base of the post.
It was the Netherlands who struck the crucial blow, however, in the 24th minute when Ryan Gravenberch charged forward from his own half before exchanging some slick passing with Memphis Depay who eventually tucked home from a Donyell Malen pass.
From 1-0 up the Netherlands continued to find the clinical edge during the second half, and whereas North Macedonia continued to commit bodies forward and provide the quality to create chances, the killer instinct in the final third was definitely missing.
Two goals in seven minutes, both from Georginio Wijnaldum, killed the game off early in the second half, and all that remained to play out was an emotional send-off for Goran Pandev, who was subbed off in the 69th minute of his 122nd and final appearance for his country.
Goran Pandev's international career is 20 years old. It took him a career to lead #mkd to a major tournament, but he finally made it.— B/R Football (@brfootball) June 21, 2021
On his 122nd and final game for his country, the Netherlands showed their respect for Pandev with a Dutch shirt pic.twitter.com/zjHmSUIvtG
Alioski and North Macedonia eventually finished bottom of Group C having lost all three of their games. They leave the competition with great dignity, however, and at no point looked considerably out of their depth amongst Europe’s elite.
And for Alioski himself, a goal at a major international tournament and the first for a Leeds player in 19 years, definitely something to remember.
The Leeds midfielder played 73 minutes in St Petersburg as Poland lost 3-2 to Sweden and went crashing out of Euro 2020 at the group stage.
It’s a disappointing end to the tournament for Paolo Sousa’s side who go home having earned just the solitary point. Leeds fans may look more positively at the early exit as an opportunity for the midfield engine to enjoy a well deserved rest.
It took all of 82 seconds for Poland to go behind. After failing with several attempts to clear, the ball eventually fell to Emil Forsberg who slid away from Kamil Glik and fired into the bottom corner.
Sweden were typically resolute, and Klich struggled to have much of an impact on the game. Poland’s biggest chance fell twice to Robert Lewandowski who’s downward header from six yards bounced up and hit the bar, before bouncing straight back to him to, unbelievably, hit the woodwork again.
Sweden had their second in the 59th minute, and it was Forsberg again guiding the ball in from six yards following another swift counter and cross from Dejan Kulusevski. But Poland came straight back into it thanks to Lewandowski, who brilliantly cut inside from the left before curling a beautiful shot past Olsen and into the top right corner.
The game looked to have settled from that point and Klich was taken off in the 73rd minute, again for Kacper Kozlowski. But when Przemysław Frankowski’s cross fell to Lewandowski just six yards out, he tucked away for 2-2 and suddenly it was game on, with Poland needing a winner to qualify.
There was a winner as late as the 94th minute. Unfortunately, for Klich and Poland, it came from Viktor Claesson who latched onto a Kulusevski ball before firing in at the near post.
The defeat means that Poland finish Group E in bottom place, racking up just one point with their draw against Sweden; a disappointing campaign.
Wales lost their final group stage fixture 1-0, to Italy, In Rome on Sunday, and despite Rob Page making three changes - replacing the previously booked Kieffer Moore, Chris Mepham and Ben Davies - Tyler Roberts was unable to make a breakthrough. He watched on from the bench.
Roberto Mancini opted for a more wholesale approach to squad rotation with just Gianluigi Donnarumma, Leonardo Bonucci and Jorginho retaining their places from the win against Switzerland. This did nothing to dampen their approach, however, and the Azzurri played with typical dynamism and energy, dominating even when Wales had 11 men.
Early chances fell for Andrea Belotti, Federico Bernardeschi and the outstanding Federico Chiesa before, in the 39th minute, Marco Verratti’s cross found Matteo Pessina who flicked the ball into the bottom left corner for the only goal of the game.
Italy continued to dominate into the second half, and when Ampadu went in late and dangerously on Bernardeschi, Wales were reduced to ten and the task got that bit harder, conscious of Switzerland’s commanding lead over Turkey squeezing the goal difference.
Page’s side showed great resolve, however, and despite conceding 70% possession and 23 shots to the Italians, managed to keep the score at 0-0. They may well have nicked an equaliser when Gareth Bale found himself in space on the end of a knockdown, but his lashed shot flew about as far over the bar as his penalty last time out.
Roberts will have considered himself unlucky not to have made the cut for the 86th minute triple substitution which saw David Brooks, Dylan Levitt and Davies brought on. His legs in the middle of the park may well have added some needed energy to a dwindling Welsh side, but Page opted against him.
Wales’ superior goal difference means they finished second in Group A with one win, one draw, one defeat and four points. Another fairytale finals continues into the Round-of-16 for the Dragons, who play Denmark in Amsterdam on Saturday.
Koch was once again an unused substitute on Wednesday, watching on from the bench as Germany drew 2-2 in a thrilling clash with Hungary in Munich.
After naming an unchanged defensive unit for the third game in a row it seems as though that part of the side is settled, as Koch eagerly awaits an opportunity to make his mark on the European stage.
The game itself was an incredible one and Hungary, who may well have qualified with a win, brought as much to the spectacle as Germany. The underdogs took the lead after 11 minutes when Ádám Szalai met Roland Sallai’s cross with a powerful header.
And Hungary kept hold of that lead going into the break, with only Mats Hummels crossbar-bound header to note. They looked good value through the first 20 minutes of the second period as well but, when Péter Gulácsi came flying out to claim a free-kick and ended up in no mans land, Germany pounced, Kai Havertz nodding in the equaliser, and it looked like they would regain control.
In keeping with a night of thrills in both groups, it wasn’t to be so simple. Straight from kick-off, Szalai clipped a ball over the top for András Schäfer who went past Leroy Sane and nodded in past a hapless Manuel Neuer for 2-1.
Germany pressed in a desperate search for an equaliser - a defeat would see them eliminated and humiliated - and Toni Kroos went close with around 10 minutes left before, in the 84th minute, Timo Werner’s blocked shot fell to Leon Goretzka who’s smashed rebound deflected into the Hungarian net.
Germany’s late equaliser earned them second place in Group F, and a date at Wembley against England in the Round-of-16. Koch will be desperate to make a good impression in the build up as he looks to face club-mate Kalvin Phillips on Tuesday evening.
Cooper was again an unused substitute for Steve Clarke as his Scotland side lost 3-1 to Croatia at Hampden Park on Tuesday, missing out on the knockout stages of the tournament in the process.
After the unfortunate news of Billy Gilmour’s positive COVID-19 test and subsequent isolation, Clarke was forced into a change in the midfield. The performance of the Scottish back three against England, however, meant there was no opportunity for Cooper to regain his place in the starting lineup for the final group game.
The exemption of such an influential player in the England result was likely to have a negative effect on Scotland and coming up against a Croatia side that had to win to stand any chance of reaching the knockout stages was always going to be a tough task.
Croatia were understandably at the races on Tuesday, and it only took 17 minutes to take the lead via a Nikola Vlasic finish, tapping in from close range after an Ivan Perisic knockdown.
Both sides created chances during the first half, with Luka Modric forcing David Marshall into a solid save wit a strike from 25 yards before John McGinn’s cross agonisingly evaded both Che Adams and Lyndon Dykes just minutes later.
Scotland eventually equalised towards the end of the first half when Andy Robertson’s cross ends up falling to Callum McGregor who smashed home from the edge of the box to take Scotland into the break at 1-1.
Croatia continued to have the better of the play as the second half got underway, and when Luka Modric’s beautiful 20 yard strike with the outside of this boot found Marshall’s top corner Scotland were behind again.
They added a third in the 77th minute, courtesy of a Perisic header, and for most of the second half Scotland struggled to gain any momentum or create many big chances. Croatia ultimately rode out the game with relative ease.
Scotland’s defeat means they are now eliminated from Euro 2020 at the group stage, but Clarke was keen to remain positive about the campaign, hoping to use it as a learning curve for future major tournament football.
After two games as an unused substitute, Llorente was left out of the squad altogether for their final game of the group stages, a 5-0 thrashing of Slovakia in Seville on Wednesday.
The reasons for his absence seem purely tactical and there has been no injury news with regards to the defender. He posted the following message on social media following the win: “Proud of this team. Eighths (last 16) of Euro 2020. Very grateful to all the fans for their support come on Spain!”
Watching inside the stadium, Llorente was treated to a vintage Spain performance against a woeful Slovakia side on Wednesday Luis Enrique’s side smashed five past their visitors.
It looked to be another game of frustration in the first half as early possession and chances failed to convert into goals. Alvaro Morata’s missed penalty - saved by Martin Dubravka - summed up the striker’s Euros experience so far.
It was Dubravka who gave Spain a helping hand, however, palming the ball into his own net in the 30th minute after a freak bounce off the crossbar. Aymeric Laporte managed to add a second before the break after Dubravka, overly keen to make up for his mistake, raced out of his goal and left an open net for the defender to nod in.
Spains two goal lead allowed them to play without the pressure of a needed goal, and this only increased their potency going into the final third. Pablo Sarabia stroked home a Jordi Alba cross from near the penalty spot in the 56th minute before Ferran Torres scored with his first touch in minute 67, following a drilled Pedri cross.
There was ample time for another Slovakia player to score into his own net, this time Juraj Kucka failing to clear after a Pau Torres header - incredibly the eighth own goal of the tournament already, one more than that of the last five Euros put together.
The win meant that Spain finished second in Group E with five points. They play Croatia in the Round-of-16 in Copenhagen on Monday.