Three Reasons Why Euro 2024 Has Been Brilliant
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Three Reasons Why Euro 2024 Has Been Brilliant

03/07/24 13:12

From 24 teams when Euro 2024 kicked off, we are now down to the final eight. It has been a wonderful tournament so far, filled to the brim with drama, new records, underdog stories and not least some wonderful football. With just 7 matches remaining in Germany, let's have a look at the three things that have made this tournament so enjoyable.

Shocks in the Group Stage

International group stage football always has the potential to contain a shock, and this in itself is not surprising. Sweden topped a group containing Spain, Poland and Slovakia in 2020, while back in 2008, Turkey had to rely on dramatic added time winners over Switzerland and the Czech republic in consecutive matches to qualify.

But this year it was the sheer number of surprises that has caught everyone by surprise. Chief amongst these surprise performers were Georgia, who playing in their first ever major international competition, were almost entirely written off before the tournament began.

Their campaign started as many expected it to, with a 3-1 defeat to Turkey, albeit a very marginal one in which either team could have won. A draw against the Czech Republic gave them a glimmer of hope that they may qualify, but with heavyweights Portugal as their final group game, it looked like a long shot.

But with a counter attacking masterclass, Georgia wrangled a deserved 2-0, and though the Portugal squad was almost entirely rotated, many would argue that the second string team put out on to the pitch by Roberto Martinez had more than enough quality to put the Georgians to the sword. The victory not only ensured Georgia qualified for their first ever knockout stages, but it was also their first ever major tournament win, a brilliant 90 minutes which will go down in the country’s footballing history.

They even led current favorites Spain early on after an own goal, and world football tuned in to see a potentially gigantic shock. However, it was a bridge too far for Georgia, who ended up folding against a slick young Spanish attack to the tune of a 4-1 scoreline. But they had shown their hand in a major tournament, and their determination and doggedness will long live in the memory.

Austria were another surprise package, although they are not a small nation, and they certainly have historic footballing pedigree. Despite being drawn alongside pre-tournament favorites France, dark horses the Netherlands, and Poland, they came top of the group, scoring three goals and dominating in their games against the Dutch and Poland. However, just as people had started to whisper that they wouldn’t want to face the Austrians on their path to the final, they were eliminated after a thriller with Turkey in which neither side truly deserved to lose.

Slovakia and Romania were two other unexpected qualifiers, making out of group F alongside Ukraine and the flagging golden generation of Belgium. Though all of these teams are now heading home, they leave us with fond memories, mouth-dropping moments, and an intangible fondness that us fans can’t help but feel when we watch an underdog exceed expectations.

A Record Breaking Tournament

From experience, we all know that anything can happen at the Euros (England somehow reached a final if you remember!), but the record setting nature of this year's installment has beggared belief.

Firstly, Lamine Yamal, labeled “the next messi”, became the youngest ever player at a European Championships, at 16 years 338 days. This kid is an incredible player, and with 11 caps to his name already, he is about to be a big part of Spain’s footballing future, potentially for the next 2 decades.

On the other end of the scale, Portugal center back Pepe became the oldest player to ever grace the pitch in a Euros tournament, aged 41 years 126 days as of Portugal’s remarkable shootout win of Slovenia. He is set to break that record again when Portugal face France on Friday, and you can see why.

His pace may have declined, but his intelligence and wealth of experience are invaluable to Portugal. Incidentally, he is older than a third of the other nations at the tournament, many of them only becoming independent from Yugoslavia 30 or so years ago.

Sticking with the older end of the scale, Luka Modric became the oldest ever goalscorer at the Euros when he prodded past Gianluigi Donnarumma in Croatia’s draw with Italy, at the age of 38 years 289 days.

One of the most memorable goals of the tournament so far, he scored just moments after seeing his penalty saved by the Italian keeper. But he stayed alert and tucked home a rebound after Donnarumma made an outstanding save from Ante Budimir. It may be the last time we see Modric at a major tournament, but he has ensured his name is inscribed in the annals of Euro history.

Early goals have been a major feature of this year's competition, with three of the tournament's top 5 fastest goal ever goals coming in the last 3 weeks. Albania’s Nedim Bajrami scored against Italy after just 23 seconds on the tournament's second match day, smashing the previous record of 1 minute 7 seconds held by Dmitri Kirichenko of Russia, a record which had stood since 2004. Turkey’s Merih Demiral also beat the previous record, scoring after 57 seconds to open the scoring against Austria.

There is nothing quite like the feeling a fan gets when drama unfolds from the very first minute, imposing a red-hot atmosphere and an exciting precedent for the rest of a game. Here’s to hoping that early goals and record breaking trends continue!

Unbelievable moments

Smashing records and providing shocks is not the only thing that Euro 2024 is capable of. The biggest stage often beckons the biggest names to provide the biggest moments, and this summer has been no different.

Jude Bellingham’s 90+5 equalizer against Slovakia is a good example. After a slow-moving, lethargic display from an immensely talented England side, they trailed 1-0 to underdogs Slovakia with just a minute of added time remaining. A long throw is launched into the Slovakian box, and Marc Guehi flicks it on. Jude Bellingham finds himself with the ball coming to him at head height, in the critical stages of a knockout game where England will be completely torched if they end up on the losing side.

So obviously, he jumped, with his back to goal, in the last chance saloon, and bicycle kicked a goal of the tournament contender into the bottom corner. How many other players at the tournament could do that in those circumstances? Who else is more fitting to provide such a moment for England? He single handedly kept England in the tournament, and gave them another chance to clear up their act.

World class long range shots have also frequently punctuated the tournament, like Arda Guler’s bullet against Georgia, Nicolo Barella’s snap half volley against Albania, and Romania’s Nicolae Stanciu raising the roof with a first time screamer to get the Romanian fans rocking, all of which are also in with a genuine shout of goal of the tournament.

Exceptional performances and moments produced by lesser known players are always crowd pleasers, such as Georgia’s Giorgi Mamardashvili diving in front of anything and everything, or Slovenian center back Jaka Bijol making 30 clearances in three games to heroically carry his country to the last 16. One moment in particular stands out, in what was genuinely the last second of regulation play in Turkey’s knockout clash with Georgia.

Pushing for a late equalizer, the ball was pumped in the Turkish box, and Julian Baumgartner arrived unmarked at the back post. He headed into the ground, making great contact with the ball, and he, along with every fan in the ground, must have been certain he had scored.

But goalkeeper Mert Gunok had other ideas, reacting at the speed of light to magnificently, almost gymnastically, push the goal bound header over the bar. Compared to Gordon Banks’ iconic save against Brazil at the 1970 World Cup, it was a moment of pure awe and astonishment.

Benji Kosartiyer
Journalist
Harry Pascoe

Football Writer

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