Despite difficult circumstances, UEFA Euro 2020 was one of the best international tournaments of all time
When Rome hosted the kick-off of Euro 2020 between today’s finalists Italy and Turkey this summer, I would imagine that the football world would breathe a sigh of relief. I mean, if we’re being honest, the exhale has probably become a recurring theme with fans everywhere since the pandemic was the focus. It has been a difficult 14 months for everyone, football fan or not, and the kick-off of a major tournament in the splendor of the Stadio Olimpico of Roma and Lazio with 25% spectators was another moment to gently suggest that we are slow but sure in Towards normalcy. But this is not an article about the pandemic or the role of football in it because these topics are here whether we mention them or not, maybe for the rest of our lives.
This is indeed a small tribute to the 2020 UEFA European Championship, a competition that gave us everything. From a moment of horror that eventually became an inspiration, to solidarity against the background of social rights, to the action on the field, which was sometimes breathtaking and gave us memories that can only arise during an international tournament. It’s fair to say that not everyone appreciated the multi-venue idea, especially because of the distance, travel responsibilities, and the benefits of certain nations playing in front of their own fans. But I think the concept is worth re-evaluating, maybe once normalcy is fully restored. After all, it’s nice to see Europe’s cultural melting pot.
As Sunday draws closer and we close the curtain on the European Championship, let’s first look back on a majestic football month when the old continent hosted one of the greatest tournaments the beautiful game has ever seen and some of the countries that did have shown up, clenched and delighted us all.
1. Italy impress everyone
The story begins with Italy, and how could it not. The land of Renaissance art has added another to its catalog: Roberto Mancini, who wore Giorgio Armani and held his jacket over his shoulder after every post-game press conference, exuded class and style. The tournament was La Dolce Vita and he played Marcello Mastroianni. Its Italian side brought back memories of past legends that also provided resilience and poise, but here they added something: a modern twist. That was now a complete package. From Giorgio Chiellini’s seasoned charisma to Lorenzo Insigne’s insane creativity, Italy started the tournament the only way it can: with heart. They have never looked back and are now heading to Wembley to grab another trophy in their decorated cabinet.
2. Favorites that did not meet expectations
The favorites impressed but ultimately failed to live up to expectations. However, this is less a criticism of their performance than a commendation of their opponents. France, for example, shone brightly and was full of verve and confidence. With an embarrassment of wealth, Les Bleus knew from the start that the road would be difficult and in the end, faced with a stoic Switzerland, realized that France’s greatest obstacle was France itself. So as not to take anything from the powerful Swiss, since they appeared heroic, but France fell apart because of its own success. Talent alone will never be enough. Spain knew this better than most, and Luis Enrique – who ran this competition while also providing free content to GQ magazine – knew his Spain were a talented team struggling to get going, but for They were also ready to pop him a bottle of champagne (I wish he’d take a good txakoli wine from the Spanish Basque Country as an example) Germany wanted to close a chapter of Jogi Low’s tenure with a decent goodbye, and from a ridiculously difficult group getting out is an achievement in itself, but an old enemy stood in the way, one who had the support of his people. In the end it was just too much. But better days are ahead for this Goliath of European football who is sure to return … and this time something tells me he will come back with a productive point to prove it.
Belgium is a beautiful painting that knows it will be replaced in the museum. There is still time to present another exhibition, but Roberto Martinez knows that the dates will be tight. Still, there are dates and Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard understand what their people want: a big trophy. Don’t discount them yet.
There’s no point in spending too much time in Portugal because just like storms in tropical weather, this nation never disappears. Cristiano Ronaldo has made an unprecedented story by becoming the highest male goalscorer in European Championship history and equaling Ali Daei’s record in the all-time international men’s goalscorer list with 109 goals. It’s only a matter of time before he breaks it and because he’s built like a real Adonis, another European Championship may honestly not be ruled out. Adonis was killed by a wild boar so I don’t necessarily see that in Ronaldo’s future, but like the mythological Greek god and Portugal itself, I see a return to life.
3. Denmark inspires us all
If there is one country that deserves its own distinction at this tournament, it is Denmark. The people team. To enter the competition as a legitimate dark horse where the team’s first obstacle wasn’t Finland but the delicate reality of mortality. As is well known, the French philosopher Albert Camus said: “There is no love for life without despair of life”, and I think we all – not just Copenhagen – will forever remember where we were on Dec.
When their leader and brother Christian Eriksen fell to the ground, our breath fell too. There was silence and a collective sense of desire, in the hope that Christian would give us a sign that he was fine. His teammates and opponents formed a circle to protect not only Christian, but the world from a reality that shook us all. Then – after grueling moments of waiting and hoping – the picture appeared, thumbs up, and we exhaled again. The moment was not over, however, and tragedy – because it plays the role of unexpected confusion – reminded us that after all, we are only human. Well worth it, I think it was a hideous mistake to keep playing the game because unfortunately I know too well what your mind goes through when faced with unspeakable horror. Rationality goes a long way, so the moment you are asked to make decisions that have nothing to do with your emotions, especially if you do so immediately afterwards, you are almost always making the right decision. Not even the most important thing. This is the reason why Denmark deserves so much praise, not only for making it to the semi-finals of a major tournament, but for the whole time they have faced two opponents on the pitch: the team they played against and their own emotional struggles. That’s why Denmark has already won for me, no matter what happens on Sunday.
4. Surprising goalscorers
There were courageous performances like the Czech Republic and of course Patrik Schick, who gave us one of the best goals in recent years, let alone the tournament. He is the joint leader of the Golden Shoe with Cristiano Ronaldo and if Harry Kane fails to score a brace on Sunday, he will share the trophy. Yes, of course I’ll mention own goals. An unbelievable statistic for you: Only 20 own goals were scored in 16 EM at this point in time, 11 in EM 2020. I don’t know why that was, but I can tell you that it was a long, exhausting domestic season – one that took place during a pandemic – is certainly part of the narrative. The physical demands – even for an athlete – can often be too high.
Either way, make sure to keep track of Mr. Own Goal and his next move this summer. Heard PSG might make an offer.
5. Off-field advocacy
We must not forget the political aspect of this tournament and the right to make societal calls for unity, representation and of course acceptance. Whatever the motives for refusing a stadium to digitally paint themselves in colors that support the LGBTQ + community, or fans who boo or get on their knees against the rights of players – especially black and brown players, It is important to remember that our sport is political because life is political, we are all deeply rooted in shaping social rights, racial, economic and cultural issues. When our communities suffer, the football that lives in them also suffers. So I think we should never hide from this point: football and politics are closely interwoven and the sooner we accept and accept that, the easier it will be to communicate. Never forget that before kick-off, life comes first.
6. England, of course, England
After all, we end up with a country that is so close to my heart. The country in which – when I grew up in Peru – I actually found out which country I was born in. The country that took in a Peruvian family in the early 1990s and supported my upbringing and the most important years of my life. The land of my own family members and friends that host my mother while she rests in peace, and now the land one game away from winning all over again, another great trophy. The first since 1966. 1966. I start this paragraph with this personal statement because I suddenly realized how emotional I have become to see England during this competition. Part of that is nostalgia. I grew up during Euro 96. I was a junior in high school and I have fond memories of the energy of England during the tournament. That is the same. Even more, because this team is an inspiration. They grew out of personal struggles and have faced every kind of adversity that may be brought against them, especially from their own media and even from political leaders.
Former Aston Villa captain Gareth Southgate suffered during Euro 96 but has now achieved something greater than any previous memory. He unites the nation, not just because of his performances on the pitch but because of the message that his England squad is made up of what England should inspire. Diverse, heroic, accepting and empathic, and that is a strong vision for me.
Yes, I am rooting for England on the personal, but make no mistake, I am writing this tribute to honor every team that has entered this competition because, in my humble opinion, they gave us a memorable tournament, one that also reminded us that this game – thanks to its global appeal and recurring moments of humanity – really is the greatest.