Eurozone 2020: Third place prize makes a mockery of group stages

Jeopardy is removed and mediocrity rewarded; Denmark reflect on magical night

Third-place price sucks the fun out of group stages

Wednesday’s concluding round of group fixtures should hold serious jeopardy for some of the continent’s true heavyweights.

In Group E, Spain know a victory over Slovakia will see them through to the last-16 - anything else and they could be in trouble.

In Group F meanwhile, one of France, Germany and Portugal will miss out on the top two - with defending champions Portugal meeting world champions France in Budapest.

But while the traditional tournament format would ensure one of the game’s elite would be packing their bags and heading for the airport on Thursday morning, the new set-up could see them all limp into the last-16.

Only eight teams are heading home after the group stages, with four third place sides progressing into the knockout stages. It’s an unpopular and confusing format which essentially rewards mediocrity and dilutes what was the purest of competitions, pre-2016.

But, if you think the Euros set-up is bad, wait until you hear about the 2026 World Cup. Forty-eight teams, split into 16 groups of three, leading to a last-32. Is nothing sacred?

Number of the day

22 - Minutes Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell reportedly spent speaking to Billy Gilmour in the Wembley tunnel.

Quote of the day

"We hoped it would be a magic night." - Denmark boss Kasper Hjulmand and his squad got their wish, as they routed Russia 4-1 in Copenhagen.

Word of mouth

"I am responsible for this. Players and individual mistakes are also responsible." - Turkey boss Senol Gunes reflects on a disastrous tournament, where the dark horses played like, well, Turkeys.

"I'm not finished, far from it. I'm almost 35 but have the hunger of a 20-year-old guy. Count on me, grandpa is not dead!" - Olivier Giroud is not finished, he's only 34.

"I don't know if he is the type of player that you can count on, he's not the smartest." - Patrick Vieira with a less than glowing assessment of Germany and Chelsea centre-half Antonio Rudiger.

The dark side to crowd scenes in Hungary

Praise has been heaped on Hungary and their supporters at Euro 2020, with viewers enthralled by the scenes beamed out of Budapest and a full house of more than 60,000.

It has been great to see the raw emotion of a packed stadium again. But it is also worth bearing in mind that Hungary’s fanbase have links to the far right - including neo-Nazi ultras group, the Carpathian Brigade.

Fans marched to the Puskas Arena on Saturday carrying an anti-kneeling banner, while Uefa are investigating an allegedly homophobic banner and monkey noises at Hungary’s first two games.

This follows the booing of Irish players after they took the knee ahead of a goalless draw earlier this month.

More word of mouth

"I'm absolutely gutted to have to miss tonight's game. I'll be cheering on the boys as usual and ensuring that I'm ready to go again when called upon. Come on @England." - Mason Mount tweets from isolation.

"Racism, homophobia, sexism, and all forms of discrimination are a stain on our societies - and represent one of the biggest problems faced by the game today." - A Uefa statement, in which they decline a request to illuminate the Allianz Arena in rainbow colours ahead of Germany v Hungary.

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden is a former sports journalist with The Irish Times