TOAs the 2024 European Championship will take place in Germany, I am naturally interested in the appearance and impact of the local teams in the current tournament. It is important to the atmosphere and scope of a tournament that a local team plays with courage and spreads optimism. It is important that you have characters within the squad that the fans can identify with. That players are aware that they are playing at home and that the public can feel that.
The public wants players to take responsibility and for a team to grow over the course of the tournament. If, in addition, they develop a specific style for that country, which happens frequently, the importance of success at home in a European Championship or World Cup can be enormous in football and social terms. Football already has examples of this added value: England in 1996, France in 1998 or Germany in 2006.
In the pan-European tournament in 2021 we have seen several hosts and two are in the final. England have spent all five games at Wembley for their fans. The players rely on tremendous athleticism and being strong in the air, which is the football we are used to in the Premier League and in England in the past.
Gareth Southgate has given his team a lot but two things stand out. First, with his letter to the nation, in which he addresses racism, among other things, he showed that he sees his role as coach of the national team as something social and soccer. Secondly, he has led his team to believe in his plan, which is: no one will score against us easily or quickly. England have only conceded one goal in this tournament, in the semi-final against Denmark.
Up front, Southgate can rely on many talents, but most of all Raheem Sterling. It is also worth noting that he is happy to use many players from clubs that are not part of the so-called Big Six, namely Leeds, Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton. This also strengthens the identity of England.
Another big winner of this tournament is Italy. From the start of the opening match in Rome, Roberto Mancini’s team has shown that they are a very strong unit with a clear focus. The team is combining that old Italian virtue of defense, which was particularly necessary in the semi-final against Spain, with international components further up the field.
Italy does not depend on the catenaccio; rather they are gaining a lot of possession in half of their opponents. In this way, they have gone beyond what we traditionally know from Serie A. The highly mobile trio of midfielders – Marco Verratti, Nicolò Barella and Jorginho – have a short ball recycling time and this creates a good flow.
Tactically, that’s the best the tournament has had to offer so far. The 11 players from Italy act almost as homogeneously as if they were playing for a club and that is a great achievement. The connection between the coach and the players can be felt in Mancini’s post-match comments. Italy acts with conviction.
Denmark also impressed as a host. At Parken in Copenhagen, the coronavirus rules may not have been strictly enforced, but who could blame them after what happened to Christian Eriksen? Despite two losses, the team became a unit with its fans.
In the all-or-nothing games that followed, they played like an unleashed team and played soccer the way it should, as a celebration of the sport. With their spirited runs and tackles, the players proved they were immersed in a national unity. Let them feel Danish. And the country celebrated its players. The Danes played football reminiscent of their great days in the 1980s and early 1990s. The Brazilians in Scandinavia simply ran out of strength against a physically superior England.
In Seville, all Spaniards could immediately recognize their team by the way they played. Spanish football thrives with a clear philosophy; from under 15s to seniors, they play technical combination soccer. Luis Enrique’s team lacked avant-garde at first, but redeemed themselves with a 5-0 win over Slovakia.
Spain was the team with the most ballplayers of the tournament and had outstanding footballers, as it has done in so many tournaments. There is a high probability that Pedri, Dani Olmo, Ferran Torres, Rodri or Mikel Oyarzabal will follow in the footsteps of Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Xabi Alonso or Fernando Torres.
Hungary also benefited from the advantage of playing at home and the Dutch were pushed into their traditional attacking football by the fans in Amsterdam. All of these examples show the value of a national football identity.
Germany also had the opportunity to play at home with three games in Munich. However, it only seemed to help in the 4-2 win against Portugal. Then, against England at Wembley, they did not play with the necessary dynamism and determination. The reason cannot be that the players weren’t good enough. However, the last three years, after the early departure from the 2018 World Cup, have led to a loss of confidence among the fans, in the team’s performance and, of course, in the German Football Federation.
Joachim Löw will now be replaced by his former assistant Hansi Flick, who won six titles with Bayern Munich in a year and a half as head coach. He will have to rely on the younger generation when qualifying for the World Cup resumes in September. The Champions League winners Antonio Rüdiger, Niklas Süle, Leon Goretzka, Joshua Kimmich, Serge Gnabry, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner can be used to form a formidable column and a team in which Germany can recognize themselves.
Southgate and Mancini have led by example. They have developed a style adapted to the country and the players. Southgate has also managed to convey to its highly paid stars that they are not just playing soccer. It lets them take social responsibility. That creates an identity. Now all of Europe wants to know who is going to win the final. The format of the European Championship works, it is clear for all to see.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism