This is what International football is about. When our expected big nations managed to get out of the group stages comfortably, everyone believed that the unmatched fixtures between the big guns and the relatively smaller nations would be another easy walkthrough for the likes of the French, the Dutch and the Germans. But as we said, this is what International football is about.
The last three days have witnessed something unbelievable in European football. First, it was the ousting of the Netherlands at the hands of Czech Republic, then it was the 6-goal thriller between France and Switzerland which led to the World Champions bowing out and finally the English prowess over the fallen German counterparts. Three days of pure footballing joy, huge upsets and very unlikely results.
Today we talk about the two favourites of the Euro 2020 crashing out so early — France and Germany. Coming out from the Group of Death, ahead of Portugal and Hungary, these two sides were destined for success considering the level of football that they had played coming into this Round of 16 of the European Championship. But alas, this is football — unpredictable and full of surprises.
Football is a game which gets its result on the pitch, but is won or lost mostly off the pitch in the preparation and training. The highlights cover everything which went down in the two games, but in this piece, we try to decode what went on behind the scenes as the two giants fell from glory, notably after starting their respective games very well.
Fatigue from the Group of Death
A big factor that nobody is talking about really. The Group of Death (Group F) pitting Portugal, France and Germany together meant that there was going to be high octane pressure right from the first whistle of the tournament for the big nations. The first two games for all the groups usually are the ties where coaches experiment and are trying to settle in. Here, the teams were playing the tournament favourites right from the first touch.
In addition to the same, there was Hungary. It was believed that the fourth seeded team in the group of death will end up being a punching bag for the big guns. But it was certainly not so. With a draw with France and pushing Germany almost out of the competition in the last game, the Hungarians did everything impossible that nobody dreamt of.
Coming to the impact on this on the Round of 16 — both France and Germany were dealing with immense fatigue (both physical and mental) ahead of the games. In the space of two weeks, Didier Deschamps and Joachim Loew have had their sides prepared tactically for four different opponents with four different personalities.
The result has been evident. Both France and Germany were rattled in the last 20 minutes of both their respective games and this is absolutely down to the physical as well as mental fatigue.
Not a time to experiment, Didier!
One of the biggest shocks of Monday night was France’s lineup announcement. The 2018 World Cup winners named a three man defence of Raphael Varane, Clement Lenglet and Presnel Kimpembe, pushing Benjamin Pavard and Adrien Rabiot as the two wing-backs. Now this speaks about three fundamental mistakes by Dider Deschamps, which cost them magnanimously.
Firstly, France had never played a back-three in a knockout game for a long, long time. In fact, they had never won a major game using this kind of formation. To experiment with the base of the team in the first knockout game of the tournament is the worst fundamental mistake any coach can make, and it proved really costly.
Moreover, it was probably done to match Switzerland’s three-man backline and their wing-backs. But the Swiss had been practicing and training under this formation for years now, which made them well versed with what can go right or wrong with it. You cannot instill these values in the French side within a matter of 4 days.
Lastly, putting Adrien Rabiot on the left-wing-back role meant that France could alternate between a 4-man backline and a 3-man defence between the game. This was a good move, until it backfired. With Rabiot losing his position multiple times as an inexperienced wing-back, the right wing for Switzerland was an open park to enjoy.
It was very strange to see a World Cup winning coach make such mistakes on the night he would never forget for the rest of his life.
You are not our rivals, Germany!
Since the group stages ended, the German media were quick to play their mind games against their English counterparts. As we previously mentioned, a lot of games are influenced off the pitch and this was one of the moves Germany undertook to rattle England off the pitch even before the first whistle.
While England-Germany has been a very vibrant tie over the last century, the Germans were quick to announce that they hold a much bigger rivalry with France and Spain, with the Three Lions not considered as a big rival by Die Mannschaft. The German narrative was clear — put the Englishmen under the pressure 48 hour before the game.
To support this narrative, Germany actually did play like the home team at Wembley in the first 20 minutes. They started the game strong, bossing the midfield, even getting English midfielder Declan Rice a booking in the eighth minute of the game. But they could never finish their chances.
The Three Lions replicated their coach Gareth Southgate’s calm and composed attitude on the pitch. They were surely under huge pressure, first by playing at Wembley and secondly due to the German pressure that was being inflicted every moment. But they never gave in.
After the Germans had tried everything for the first 75 minutes and missed their chances, England broke the deadlock before making it 2–0 to send a strong message to the outgoing tournament favourites — You are not our rivals too, Germany!
It’s an old saying but it cannot be truer — Offence is the best defence. Didier Deschamps and France learnt it the hard way on Monday night. One-nil down at half-time Deschamps made it clear what he wanted to do. He wanted the World Cup winners to put in everything they could, with respect to attacking the Swiss. He was partly successful too.
After switching Clement Lenglet for Kingsley Coman before the second-half began, France changed the system back to a 4-man defence. The impact was visible as France absolutely destroyed Switzerland for 30 minutes, scoring three goals to make it 3–1 in favour of the on-paper hosts. But there again, Didier Deschamps fell apart.
The substitution of Antoine Griezmann for Moussa Sissoko will never be forgotten in the French footballing history. The replacement meant that France was clearly going to park the bus for the last two minutes of the game, something they never do and are inexperienced in. The result was obvious, the Swiss equalized in the 90th minute courtesy of Mario Gavranovic.
A clueless Deschamps was off his seat again, replacing Karim Benzema and Kinglsey Coman for Olivier Giroud and Marcus Thuram respectively. This was the final nail in the coffin because France never had their first choice penalty takers if the game went to the spot after extra time. No Griezmann, No Benzema nor Kinglsey Coman.
Ultimately, the Swiss prevailed. The game was not lost in the penalty shootout, rather in the 88th minute itself when Griezmann was taken off.
Jack Grealish — the Hero of Euro 2020?
The win over Germany meant that England are the favourites to make it to the final now. They face Switzerland in the quarter-final before embarking on a semi-final date against either of Denmark or Ukraine. This might just be the most favourable path for any nation to the possible final of the tournament.
With that being said, England will be dominating both the games before the final. This is where it may go wrong for Southgate. This English side which plays a 5-man back-line visually, has been on the other end of dominance in most of their games. Southgate’s England usually is the side playing good defensively disciplined positional football, letting other team maintain possession, but finally scraping a 1–0 or a 2–0 win on the counter.
This is not going to work against Switzerland, Ukraine or Denmark at all. These sides will surely let England dominate, which the latter are not comfortable in, on the ball. But, reality is reality, Southgate and co have to deal with it.
With most of the English games seeing under 2.5 goals, they have been criticized a lot for their non-creativity. Fancy betting on the English side, go for less than 2.5 goals to be scored blindly or take a look at what the experts at Mighty Tips have to say about betting on the Three Lions. Trust me, they are good.
Coming back to England’s lack of creativity, there is one name which pops up instantly. On Tuesday night, Jack Grealish created two chances after coming on in the second half — both the chances ended up in Manuel Neuer’s net in the 2–0 win. Grealish has been a different gravy altogether for Aston Villa and England so far. He will surely be crucial to feeding Harry Kane or any other English Lion to win them the Euros this season.