Mission 1: Accomplished.
That’s right, folks. Forget the barrage of hate towards Gareth Southgate on social media. Forget the draw with Scotland. Forget the negativity. England are into the Round of 16 of Euro 2020, and they’ve done it in comfortable fashion.
Seven points, three clean sheets and hardly a sweat broken. Judging by the Twitter onslaught, you’d think the Three Lions had done a proper Turkey (not my surprise package, by the way, but please don’t check here).
Now, all England supporters can do is watch Group F’s finale unfold on Wednesday evening, and speculate over which of the four nations they’d rather face. Whichever team finishes second in Group F will endure the misfortune of being slain by Southgate’s soldiers on Tuesday 29 June – a fate I’m sure they’re all desperate to avoid.
But who should England prefer to take on? 90min assesses the strengths and weaknesses of all four of the Three Lions’ possible opponents in the Euro 2020 Round of 16.
We start with the current group toppers and, err, the legit champions of the world. So yeah, they’re pretty good. The French players appear comfortable to sit back, soak up pressure and then counter attack with the speediest speed that you’ve ever seen.
Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba are living on a frightening wavelength of their own, and although the offside flag has robbed them on occasion, there are more goals in this team than the statistics suggest. They’re the favourites for a reason.
Okay, so the forward line is still terrifying, that hasn’t changed. But there are areas of weakness in the squad. If Juventus flop Adrien Rabiot is starting in midfield, and his backup is Bayern bit-part star Corentin Tolisso, then we have to assume there is little depth behind Pogba and N’Golo Kante.
The defence doesn’t seem as watertight either, and with Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez in the full-back spots, this backline is not invincible. Perfect for a team with a plethora of wide creative midfielders and wingers…
Tournament form – Well, France have not flown out of the blocks in lightning fashion, but neither did they at the 2018 World Cup, so we can’t read too much into that, I fear. But the draw with Hungary showed that they’re not impenetrable, and when they had to turn the game around, they struggled to transfer possession into genuine chances.
Do we want them? Not in a month of Tuesdays. Anyone but France.
“Under strengths, you’ve just put, ‘Robin Gosens’?” The Atalanta star is one of the most free-scoring and potent wing-backs in world football, and he’s finally provided evidence of that on the international stage. He and Joshua Kimmich are the key to Germany’s attacking wing-back system, and if you defend too narrowly against them (or play Nelson Semedo), you will get punished.
It’s not only out wide where Germany are stacked, though. If you’ve got so much central power in Toni Kroos and Ilkay Gundogan, that you can afford to stick Kimmich at wing-back, then you are more blessed than most nations in world football.
Germany only stumbled upon this formation on the eve of Euro 2020, and there have been some teething problems. They are incredibly susceptible to the counter-attack, and could have conceded four or five against France.
This naivety was capitalised upon by Portugal, who soaked up the pressure and then sucker-punched them on the break to open the scoring. It didn’t prove costly in the end, but a pattern has begun to occur.
Tournament form – The opening defeat to France was not filled with promise. While it was only a 1-0 loss, they never really looked like scoring, and could have been hammered. The 4-2 win over Portugal has taught us what we all knew: never write off Germany.
Do we want them? Only a fool would ever want to challenge the Germans in a fight to the death, but somehow, they’re one of the more tempting prospects right now. This is not the Germany of old, and they can be got at.
Portugal have got the blueprint for success, having lifted the trophy in France only five years ago. That blueprint has been built upon, as they now possess a crop of attacking stars of whom they could only have dreamed in 2016.
The likes of Bruno Fernandes, Diogo Jota and Bernardo Silva are all very familiar foes for English supporters, and we’re all far too aware of just what they can conjure in a split second. Oh yeah, and they’ve got some old dude called Cristiano Ronaldo, too. Harmless, right?
They may possess some of the most dangerous forwards on the planet, but coach Fernando Santos doesn’t know how to use them (that must sound very familiar to some frustrated England supporters). His defensive style of football stifles these stars, and has resulted in two largely stale performances.
The defensive, underdog blueprint no longer suits this Portugal team, and they seem to be caught between wanting to attack, and having to stick to their rigid game plan. Also, Semedo is a huge weak link at right-back – target him, and Portugal could crumble.
Tournament form – The early form suggests that these players are not enjoying themselves out there. It took 84 minutes to grind Hungary down, and they were then comprehensively spanked by Germany. Their performance against France will be a huge indicator of what this team is really capable of – time will tell.
Do we want them? Do we want Ronaldo to score a tap-in, a header and a penalty, whip off his shirt and break our hearts? No, not really. But they’re not the scariest defending champions in history, that’s for sure.
No matter who you are, extreme organisation can carry you into the depths of international tournaments. You’ve got more chance of sneaking into the latter stages by being defensively solid and resolute, than trying to blow teams away with free-flowing football (take note, England fans).
Hungary have got the desire, togetherness and organisation to disrupt the bigger teams’ rhythm and make life difficult, while also possessing some attacking threat to hit them on the counter. It’s effective, but not always sustainable, as we soon found out…
Hungary have thrived in front of their home crowd thus far, and it can’t be argued that the packed out Puskas Arena spurred them on to claim a great draw against world champions France. But that luxury will be ripped away and flipped on its head if they finish second, when they’ll travel to London to play England at Wembley stadium.
Away from the exterior factors, the starting lineup does lack in quality, especially when compared to the other teams in the group of death. The last five minutes against Portugal were also evidence that once the heads drop, their superhuman desire cannot stem the flow of superior talent.
Tournament form – The scoreline in Hungary’s 3-0 defeat to Portugal does not tell the whole story. They were in that game until the deadlock was broken in the 84th minute, sparking a major collapse. The 1-1 draw with France was a much better reflection of their contributions to this tournament.
Do we want them? It would be classic England if they were to be blessed by the Gods and draw Hungary in the next round, only to then lose 2-1 and suffer the ultimate humiliation on home turf. I’d rather get battered by France, to be honest.