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Euro 2020: Talking Points From The Opening Week

As an eventful international break draws to a close, we round up some of the biggest talking points from the start of the Euro 2020 qualification campaign.

England have strength in depth. Gareth Southgate used 17 players across England’s two games and most of them impressed. When you consider that the England manager was missing Trent Alexander-Arnold, Luke Shaw, John Stones, Joe Gomez, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Jesse Lingard, Harry Winks, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Marcus Rashford through injury, Southgate will have some serious selection dilemmas in the near future. It’s a problem that, in years gone past, England could have only dreamed of.

…And can score goals for fun. Scoring five goals in consecutive games is hugely impressive at any level of professional football. Only two other sides, Italy and Cyprus, scored five or more in either of their international fixtures and England’s ten combined goals were two more than anybody else managed. It is an especially impressive feat against the standard of opposition that England faced, neither of whom are pushovers. With Marcus Rashford still to return, England now possess a dazzling array of young, attacking talent who will only improve.

 

 

Scotland are in trouble. The 3-0 humbling by Kazakhstan led to calls for Alex McLeish to resign and he desperately needed a big reaction against San Marino. Unfortunately, it wasn’t forthcoming. They got the job done and were never in trouble but, after a fourth minute opener, it took until the 74th minute to find a second which also proved to be their last. To put that in perspective, Luxembourg beat San Marino by three goals on two seperate occasions last year.

Michael O’Neill continues to work miracles with Northern Ireland. After two games, Northern Ireland sit ahead of Germany and Holland at the summit of Group C with maximum points. The points came courtesy of home wins against Estonia and Belarus, which means their remaining fixtures are only going to get harder, but they won’t worry about that now and can afford to feel very satisfied with their weekend’s work.

 

 

Italy are back with an exciting young squad. A failure to qualify for the World Cup was a huge source of embarrassment to the four-time world champions. During their qualification playoff against Sweden, Italy started seven players over the age of 30, with several more bloating an aging squad.

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Fast forward two years and the number of 30+ players in their squad has reduced to five, with only three starting against Liechtenstein. They looked rejuvenated whilst scoring eight unanswered goals in their opening two matches and appear set to qualify with the minimum of fuss this time.

France still look ominous. England’s double high five may have caught the headlines but France weren’t far behind, putting four past Moldova and Iceland. Griezmann, Mbappe and Giroud each found themselves among the goals in both games, providing a stark reminder that the French attack is among the most dangerous in world football.

 

 

Our faith in Portugal was misplaced. Having tipped Portugal to emerge from their inconsistent form and defeat Ukraine, the Iberians could only muster a home draw, a result they repeated days later against Serbia. It might be too early to suggest that they are in danger of missing out on qualification but, having failed to beat their two primary group rivals at home, there is now a distinct possibility that they will need to defeat at least one of them away.

Things are less rosy to the south of the Irish border. The Irish are top of the Group D table with victories in their opening two matches, yet that doesn’t tell the whole story. They laboured to victory over minnows Gibraltar on Saturday, missing a host of chances against a side who had shipped ten goals to Armenia and North Macedonia in their previous fixtures. It could have been worse for the Irish as well; a wondersave from Darren Randolph preventing Gibraltar from taking an unlikely lead.

As with Scotland, a reaction was needed but didn’t materalise. Ireland limped over the line against Georgia by a single goal having once again spurned numerous chances. With sterner tests against Denmark and Switzerland to come, they will need to become more clinical.

 

 

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