Euro 2021: Five matches not to miss at this summer’s Championships

From England against Scotland to a meeting of the European and World champions

Mario Mandzukic of Croatia celebrates with team mates after scoring his team’s second goal during the 2018 World Cup semi-final against England. Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty

Mario Mandzukic of Croatia celebrates with team mates after scoring his team’s second goal during the 2018 World Cup semi-final against England. Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty

 

Group D - Sunday June 13th - England v Croatia, Wembley stadium

The only pity is Mario Mandzukic hopped off the carousel after his winner in the 2018 world cup semi-final against Gareth Southgate’s latest iteration of a golden generation.

“They didn’t show enough quality,” said Roy Keane on ITV that night as Gary Neville, Ian Wright and Lee Dixon blubbered excuses about England looking jaded despite Croatia existing in extra-time for the entire tournament. “It was just a step too far for them,” added Keane.

Luka Modric is 35 so his glorious career, capped by winning the 2018 Ballon d’Or, is ending just as these rising English stars enter their prime years. Perhaps a statement victory at home, to erase a horrendous record of failing to win their first match at any Euros, will be sparked by Borussia Dortmund duo Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham.

The onlooking Irish can only feel bitter sweet about this England team considering Harry Kane, Declan Rice and Jack Grealish spurned the granny rule for a substantially more lucrative international existence under Southgate. Mason Mount and Phil Foden offer the quality that Keane felt was lacking three years ago when the pressure reaches its zenith. A Champions Cup winners/losers medal has them primed to rewind Wembley to the delirious summer of 1996.

Group F - Tuesday June 15th - France v Germany, Allianz Arena, Munich

Joachim Löw, the outgoing German coach after 15 years, was the first to declare this “a group of death” but Thomas Müller is only 31. There is plenty of life left in him. You might think the goal-addicted midfielder has been around forever but his 100 caps (and 38 goals) are spread over nine seasons when we subtract the last two years of exile. Mats Hummels also returns to help spoil France’s second modern period dominating the beautiful game.

“The group is incredibly difficult - you have the reigning European [Portugal]and world champions [France], then Germany,” said Löw. “Every team will be pushed to the limit from the beginning.”

If any defensive structure can clamp down on Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappé it should happen on the opening night in Munich. Then again, Griezmann could well be in the shop window if Barcelona’s reported clear out happens this summer. If he adds to the six goals scored at Euro 2016, France should prove unstoppable.

More likely, this will be a cagey no score draw, as opposed to the 3-3 extravaganza that had West Germany advancing to the 1982 World Cup final on penalties, thanks mainly to Toni Schumacher’s flying hip joint. The German goalkeeper’s collision with Patrick Battison left the French sub with two broken teeth, three cracked ribs, a damaged vertebrae, all before he slipped into a coma. As soon as the stretcher disappeared, Dutch referee Charles Corver signalled for a goal kick.

Imagine Manuel Neuer trying that on Paul Pogba.

England celebrate Paul Gascoigne’s goal against Scotland in 1996. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty
England celebrate Paul Gascoigne’s goal against Scotland in 1996. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty

Group D - Friday June 18th - England v Scotland, Wembley stadium

Time for Baddiel, Skinner and Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds to reap another royalties windfall (the comedy duo can blame Spotify for ‘Three Lions’ only earning them £837 in 2018).

Brace yourself. Memory Lane will be impossible to avoid in the build up as Paul Gascoigne’s majesty against Scotland in ‘96 will be revisited ad nauseam. The jingoism will be excruciating but what a sun kissed memory it remains; Gazza, back in the UK with Rangers after three occasionally mesmerising but mostly injury sullied years at Lazio, darted from the centre circle to delicately lift Darren Anderson’s diagonal ball over Colin Hendry before slamming home the volley.

“Take a bow,” yelled Brian Moore on commentary, “FOR THAT IS UNBELIEVABLE.”

Gascoigne went one better by swiping Andy Goram’s water bottle and insisting Alan Shearer, Steve McManaman and Jamie Redknapp squirt the contents down his throat in a reprisal of the infamous “dentist’s chair” tequila antics at a pre-tournament bonding session in Hong Kong.

“DISGRACEFOOL” blared The Sun’s headline pre-tournament, “Look at Gazza, a drunk oaf with no pride.” Adhering to their usual disregard for historical lessons, the British tabloids are priming Phil Foden as heir apparrent to the beloved Geordie angler.

Scotland have the Czech Republic at Hampden Park first up, so they should have three points in the bag, but it is almost impossible to see John McGinn and pals causing an upset at Wembley.

Gareth Bale is crowded out during his side’s recent friendly defeat to France. Photograph: Franck Fife/Getty/AFP
Gareth Bale is crowded out during his side’s recent friendly defeat to France. Photograph: Franck Fife/Getty/AFP

Group A - Sunday June 20th - Italy v Wales, Stadio Olimpico, Rome

Giggsy’s shadow hovers over the Welsh camp. This game could be irrelevant but at some stage, be it against Turkey or Switzerland, Gareth Bale must elevate his skills to where they belong.

It needed goals from Ronaldo and Nani to stop Wales at the semi-finals of Euro 2016.

There is a feel of Ireland’s dramatic victory over Italy from four years ago to this fixture, in that Roberto Mancini’s Azzurri could be safely through to the knockout stages, leaving the door ajar for Bale, Juve’s Aaron Ramsey and maybe even Joe Allen to bring their 30-something experience to bear.

The ingredients are there for Bread of Heaven to ring around the Stadio Olimpico but, just as easily, the night could be ruined by Italy’s miserly possession based approach.

All eyes on Bale, who may warm to the idea of seeing out his 30s alongside Ramsey in Serie A.

“Gareth is one of those players who needs to be happy and comfortable in his surroundings and maybe sometimes this year at Tottenham surprisingly I don’t think he has been,” said another Welsh great Mark Hughes after Bale was largely overlooked by Jose Mourinho in the first part of the loan spell at Spurs from Real Madrid.

Wales did beat Italy 1-0 all the way back in 1988 thanks to a goal by Ian Rush during the pasta adverse striker’s exceptionally brief sojourn in Turin.

It would be remiss to gloss over the Ryan Giggs situation, as the 47-year-old was forced to step aside as Wales manager after being charged with assaulting two women and coercive or controlling behaviour. Giggs has denied the charges.

“I look forward to clearing my name,” said the former Manchester United winger.

The best player on the planet? Kylian Mbappe has the chance to prove it against Portugal. Photograph: Sebastien Nogier/EPA
The best player on the planet? Kylian Mbappe has the chance to prove it against Portugal. Photograph: Sebastien Nogier/EPA

Group F - Wednesday June 23rd - Portugal v France, Puskás stadium, Budapest

A game that will captivate the football world, and with the Republic of Ireland travelling to the Algarve on September 1st for a World Cup qualifier, Stephen Kenny will be as interested as anyone.

So much depends on how both nations go against the Germans but the group of death should guarantee one of them is dangling from the cliff’s edge.

Ronaldo will be pushing 38 come the next World Cup in Qatar. A repeat of the Euros final four years ago - the mosquito game - when Éder’s extra time goal ended Portugal’s 40-year losing streak to France and allowed Ronnie to finally lift a major international trophy could turn the tournament on its head.

The history of this fixture overflows with magnificence, particularly Zinedine Zidane’s trickery at Euro 2000. The scene is set for Mbappé to confirm his status as the best player in the game. Unless Ronaldo produces the spectacular - age is just a number when you have gobbled up 103 goals in 173 internationals.

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