The group stage of Euro 2020(1) is now done, and the round of 16 has been set. Of the nine teams with Juventus representatives on their rosters, only two of them — Turkey and Poland — have been eliminated at the first hurdle.
The final round of group games saw some wild rides — especially at the very end in Group F, when Portugal occupied all four spots in the live table at some point during their match with France. Earlier in the day, Sweden scored a late winner to confirm themselves at the top of Group E, while the Netherlands and Italy cruised to perfect starts.
Let’s look at how Juve’s players fared in the final round of games as the group phase wrapped up.
Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Federico Chiesa, Federico Bernardeschi
The Wings of Fede finally got to stretch out in the Group A finale against Wales. With Italy assured a spot in the knockout rounds and only needing a draw to clinch top spot in the group, Roberto Mancini rotated heavily, resting both Domenico Berardi and Lorenzo Insigne and giving his backup wing pair a chance to shine.
On balance, both did to varying degrees.
Chiesa was by far the better of the two. He was named man of the match by UEFA and deserved it. Starting on the left wing, he soon switched to the right and thrived. He amassed two key passes and a game-high three dribbles, and his game-changing pace was on display all night, repeatedly blowing past defenders who thought they had a step on him to get on the ball and gallop toward goal. He put one of four shots on target, and had another blocked off the line by Ethan Ampadu. The performance might not dislodge Berardi from the starting XI for the knockouts, but he’s absolutely going to be a key man for Mancini going forward, whether he starts the game on the field or on the bench.
As for Bernardeschi, he wasn’t quite as prolific but still had his moments. He made a pair of key passes himself, and also made a number of defensive contributions, including a pair of interceptions. He very nearly doubled the team’s lead in the 53rd minute when he cracked a free kick through a discombobulated wall and off the base of the post. He was also subject to one of the decisive moments of the game, taking a nasty studs-out challenge on his ankle from Ampadu, the result of which was a straight red for the young defender that pretty much decided the rest of the game.
As for Juve’s defensive duo, Chiellini was, as expected, out after his injury against Switzerland. He is expected to miss the round of 16, though he may make the bench. Bonucci played the first half before being rested after halftime, recording a single tackle and making a characteristic impact with his passing, completing 5-of-9 long balls. That skill could very well be a key for Italy as they navigate what is by far the stronger side of the bracket, starting with their round of 16 game against Austria on Saturday.
Welsh manager Rob Page made the curious decision to start the game with a 3-4-3 formation that employed Ramsey as a false 9. The move was likely an attempt to protect striker Keiffer Moore, who came into the game carrying a yellow card, as much as anything else, although Page’s decision to bring Moore on in the second half was just as mystifying.
Regardless of Page’s decisions, the fact that Italy took control of the game early meant that Ramsey was relatively anonymous, and Ampadou’s red card effectively saw him defending for much of the rest of the game. I’ve never been shy about criticizing Ramsey, but in this particular game the fact that he wasn’t particularly effective really came down to the tactics of his coach as opposed to anything he did on his own, and then the red card changed everything in the second half. It’s likely that he’ll return to his usual role when the Welsh face off against Denmark in the round of 16.
From a statistical standpoint, Demiral was pretty good on Sunday against Switzerland, racking up eight clearances to go along with three tackles and an interception, as well as 93.9 percent pass completion and a key pass. But, as is often the case with Demiral, it was the little details that hurt him and his team as the game went on. On first glance, I thought he’d closed the shooter very well when Haris Seferovic hit a worm-burner for the early opening goal, but on closer inspection he actually overran the veteran Swiss striker, giving him an opening to nutmeg him with his shot and then beat the keeper through a tough window at the far post. It can also be argued that he could’ve done a better job closing down Steven Zuber before the wingback’s long ball that set up Switzerland’s third.
Demiral’s shortcomings probably weren’t decisive when it came to this game or in the tournament in general. Turkey, who came into the tournament as trendy dark horses, showed nothing of the intensity and drive that gave them that label when they steamrolled the Netherlands in their first World Cup qualifier, and given the way the team played as a whole nothing Demiral did or didn’t do would have prevented them from becoming the most disappointing team in the tournament. His personal performance showed that he remains unchanged from when he’s at his club — a highly talented but incredibly raw center back who needs to be refined before it can be said he’s hit the next level.
Matthijs de Ligt
De Ligt was stout as always in the middle of a Dutch back three in their 3-0 victory over North Macedonia to wrap up the top spot in Group C. The stats were impressive: three tackles and a game-high six clearances helped contain a North Macedonian side that was game and had their chances early on, and he was also a threat at the other end, having a header from a corner blocked off the line by Ivan Trichkovski early in the second half.
It’s safe to say that de Ligt will continue to be an integral part of the Dutch defense as they navigate the easier side of the knockout bracket, beginning with a tussle with the Czech Republic on Sunday.
It’s been a rough tournament for Szczesny, but at the very least we didn’t see any of the more shambolic errors from him that we saw earlier in the tournament in the Group E finale against Sweden.
All of Sweden’s goals in their 3-2 win were more the fault of a shambolic Polish defense as opposed to anything Szczesny did. The first two were both rockets off the foot of Emil Forsberg, and the last saw the entire Polish defense collapse on Dejan Kulusevski and allow Viktor Claesson to walk into the channel for a 1-on-1 with a stranded Woj, who did his best in bad circumstances. Those who knock Szczesny’s ability to marshal a defense may try to use this performance — and this tournament — as another point against him, but the fact of the matter is Poland’s back line is still relying on Kamil Glik as their top center back — which is to say they simply aren’t good enough for this level and no amount of help from the keeper is going to make them much better.
Still, when Szczesny returns to Coverciano, the staff will have to do some work getting him back into form after a really bad patch in the 2021 calendar year.
Kulusevski finally made his tournament debut after missing the first game of the group due to COVID-19 and being an unused substitute on his return to the roster against Slovakia — and boy did he make an impact.
Coming on in the 54th minute, Kulu continued the rich vein of form he found at the end of the season for Juve, making numerous strong runs into the Polish half and assisting on both of the goals they scored in the second period, notching three key passes overall, leading the team in that category despite only playing 36 minutes. The second of those assists came in stoppage time, snuffing out a Polish comeback and confirming Sweden as group winners.
Sweden’s counterattacking style plays to all of Kulusevski’s strengths, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him playing a key role in Sweden’s run through the knockout round, which starts on Tuesday against Ukraine. Should they get past that, it’s not hard to see them surprising England or Germany, who are both in rough form, and reaching the semifinals.
When you see Spain win in a 5-0 rout over Slovakia, it’s not the greatest of signs that Morata wasn’t on the scoresheet. He had the absolute best of chances to when he stood over a penalty in the 12th minute, but he put it far too close to Martin Dubravka and had it saved, which is somewhat uncharacteristic given how good a penalty taker he tends to be at the club level. It might be a team-wide thing, given the fact that the Spaniards have missed both of their penalties at the Euros (the other came from Gerard Moreno against Poland) and their last five spot-kicks overall — a first in team history.
Morata had some flashes — he forced a sharp save from Dubravka with a powerful strike in from the top of the penalty arc in the 23rd minute — and put three of four shots on target overall, but he hasn’t been nearly as clinical as he needs to be to lead the Spanish line. Juventus have already triggered their option to extend his loan, and if my personal reading of the tea leaves are correct Massimiliano Allegri intends him to play a supporting role to Paulo Dybala in attack, but this is a bad run of form when he really needed to pop positive. Spain will have a tricky round of 16 game against Croatia on Monday, and they’ll need him to perform in order to advance.
After two good games to start the tournament, Rabiot was given a rest on the bench, with Didier Deschamps opting for a 4-2-3-1 instead of the 4-3-3 he used in the first two games. But Rabiot would be called upon — albeit in an unorthodox fashion. Starting left back Lucas Hernandez was replaced at halftime with a knee injury, but replacement Lucas Digne only lasted seven minutes before suffering a thigh injury. With few other options on the left side Deschamps had to call on Rabiot as an emergency fullback — something that, to my knowledge, he had never done before.
To his credit, Rabiot was pretty good while he was there, completing 95.8 percent of his passes, making one key pass, and constantly supplying some pretty good overlapping runs in attack, along with some good play defensively. Obviously the hope for France is Deschamps isn’t forced into something similar from the start of their round of 16 game against Switzerland on Monday, and there is hope that Hernandez, who Deschamps said after the game was taken off in order to avoid any risks, will be fit with Rabiot back in a more familiar midfield role.
As effective as Rabiot was on Wednesday, I’m all for someone hiding the tape of this game from Max. Let’s ... let’s do that.
Ronaldo had never scored in six previous games against France, but picked up a brace—both from the penalty spot — to tie the game and keep Portugal — who for some time during the second half were in position to crash out of the tournament — in the running for the knockout stage. I personally thought the first of the penalties was dodgy — yes, Hugo Lloris’s contact with the head of Danilo (not that one) was pretty scary, but he did get part of his fist to the ball after the midfielder headed it, goalwards, and for me the contact was frightening but ultimately fair. But Ronaldo was cool as you like on both spot-kicks, and in the process equalled the men’s international scoring record held by Ali Daei of Iran at 109.
(For the record, the all-time record scorer of international goals is Christine Sinclair of the Canadian women’s national team, who has scored 186 goals over an incredible 20-year career — that’s still going.)
Apart from the penalties Ronaldo had a relatively quiet game. He only took three more shots — one of which was one of those levitating headers that went wide under pressure — and only tested Lloris once. He didn’t create much as a passer either. But ultimately, when his country needed him to step up under the biggest pressure moments of one of the biggest games of the tournament, he delivered and propelled his team to the knockout stage, where they’ll continue to defend their title, starting on Sunday with another match of big teams against Belgium.