Some big guns, some small guns.
England 1-0 Croatia
A repeat of one of the World Cup semi-finals from 2018, the narrative was very much the expected two top teams in the group going head to head. In the game itself, Croatia were poor and created very little, while England didn’t need to do a lot to win the game.
The English never had to get beyond being pretty good. Kalvin Phillips (who I’d later learn was Irish eligible) was excellent and provided the assist for Raheem Sterling’s goal. I wondered before the tournament how Southgate would fit in both Mount and Foden. and they managed to coexist successfully. Kane was dealt with well, but if that becomes a theme throughout the tournament that will open up more space for the rest of the England attack. Rashford was good when he came on, and Bellingham was lively upon his entrance. Possible questions about why there were only 3 England subs, then again, at 1-0 you can run the risk of disturbing the team.
Croatia made positive substitutions, but none of them had an impact on the game. The Croatians were a shadow of their 2018 World Cup team, and offered very little. I expected them to be favorites for the group, but they may infact struggle to get out of it.
England will likely get through to the last 16 with relative ease before having to play to their full potential.
Austria 3-1 North Macedonia
North Macedonia were made their first ever appearance at a major tournament, and did not disgrace themselves.
The game was fairly even in the first half, with Austria taking the lead. The Austrians seemed to have that little bit of extra quality, and took the lead arguably against the run of play. North Macedonia settled down a bit and got their equalizer ten minutes later. As expected, Goran Pandev got their goal, and the celebrations were wild. It was what they deserved.
The game was even’y matched for the first hour, but the Austria subs made the difference. North Macedonia don’t have a great squad depth, and ran out of steam. Austria had that bit extra on the bench. Two late goals, from Gregoritsch and Arnautovic, sealed their first ever Euros win.
Austria look like they could offer something of a threat in this tournament. I had back North Macedonia to shock everyone, but they needed a win here to go deep into the tournament. They didn’t embarrass themselves, but may suffer from a lack of overall quality in the squad.
Netherlands 3-2 Ukraine
Netherlands surprised me by playing positive football. Their midfield was excellent and they went for the game. They started excellently, but Ukraine did come into the game as the half went on.
Netherlands would get their rewards in the 2nd half through Wijnaldum and Weghorst, They seemed to take their foot off the pedal from there and stopped being as positive. Yarmolenko got one back for Ukraine with one of the goals of the tournament, before Yaremchuk equalized. Suddenly the game had opened up. Dumfries got the Dutch winner late on.
Ukraine could have got something here in the end. Netherlands were the better team but almost let the game slip away. That will be an issue against bigger sides.
All in all two of the 3 games were exciting spectacles. Didn’t see anything from any of the teams that would make them a favorite to go on and win, but the group stage is for getting through, not necessarily shining.