Tension Heightens As EURO2024 Engages Second Gear

0
145

With thirty-six of its fifty-one match schedule played out in its first round, the UEFA European Cup of Nations 2024 has served up a potpourri of action, gumption

By Isidore Emeka Uzoatu

With thirty-six of its fifty-one match schedule played out in its first round, the UEFA European Cup of Nations 2024 has served up a potpourri of action, gumption and commotion. Respectively, the participating national teams showed an unparalleled resolve to make it to the final rounds.

So far, the contests have lived up to their bidding. Of course, while most matches went according to predictions, there were some surprise results. The most significant as yet remains the wins recorded by some hitherto lowly teams on their supposedly mightier foes. This was well advertised in Belgium’s 0-1 loss to Slovakia in Group E, Austria’s 3-2 triumph over the Netherlands in Group D and first timers Georgia’s 2-0 hammering of Portugal in Group F.

National growth LS

Another aspect, perhaps, is an emerging apotheosis of the own goal. While Germany’s Rudigger opened the gates in the opening match, the most scandalous was the back pass by S. Akaydin of Turkey in the 28’ of their 3-0 loss to Portugal. With the latter already one goal up, they wasted no time in adding one more to secure the game.

Late goals have been scored by as many as five teams – Portugal’s 90+2 clincher against Czechia in Group F and Italy’s last gasp leveller against Croatia in Group B scored by Mattia Zaccagni in t90’+8’. A result that sent the runners-up at the last World Cup home unannounced.

And that’s not forgetting the antics of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR). O yes, as always it flared its infallible fangs now and then. The most notable being the disallowance of two Romelo Lukaku goals in Belgium’s 0-1 loss to Slovakia in Group E. As well as the lengthy review it took to disallow the Netherlands goal in their drab 0-0 draw with France at Leipzig Stadium in the first drawn game of the tournament.

**”*

Of course, the quadrienal tournament kicked off with pomp and pageantry on Friday the 14th of June 2024. On the day, hosts Germany took on Scotland at the Allianz Arena in Munich, trouncing them 5-1.

Ever since, the rest of the twenty-two other national teams that qualified for the competition are fighting tooth and nail for a place in the grand finale scheduled for the 14th of July in nine other venues.

Broken into six groups of four teams, the top two in each automatically qualified for the subsequent round of 16 to be made up by the best four losers.

The round which commences on Saturday, June 29th, 2004 will see Switzerland (Group A runners-up) take on Group B runners-up Italy while Germany who topped Group A take on Denmark who were 2nd in Group C.

Interestingly, the Danes only finished ahead of Slovenia because of a yellow card shown to their assistant coach. Otherwise, either team finished level on points, goal difference, goals scored and yellow cards.

And talking of yellow cards, a new tournament record  of 18 was flashed in the Turkey vs Czechia game and the commotion that ensued after the final whistle of the tempestuous match.

The next day (30th June) the first match sees England (Winners Group C) facing Slovakia (Third in Group E). Thereafter almighty Spain who won Group B will take on giant killers Georgia whose chivalry made them third in Group F.

On the 1st of July, France (2nd in Group D) will lock horns with Belgium (Runners-up in Group E) while killed-giants Portugal, who still topped Group F tackle Slovenia who came a distant 3rd in Group C.

The last Round of 16 pairings comes up on the 2nd day of July. In the first game Romania (Group E winners will try the Netherlands (3rd in Group D) for size. Thereafter, the revelation of the tournament Austria (Group D winners) will flex their newfound muscles under coach Ragnick on Turkey who qualified as runners-up in Group  F.

Though it’s morning yet on prediction day, the quarter finals that’ll follow the Round of 16 clashes promises to unearth a few more surprises. Some pundits are already lining up behind the underdogs.  ‘If any of them makes it to the final’ says one pundit, ‘they’ll be a hard nut to crack!’

*****”””

Like it should, this piece cannot end without mentioning the performance of the various supporters from the bleachers. In a decisive departure from their African counterparts, most European national teams are not prone to fearsome jungle monikers. Scotland for instance. They have none, but their supporters do. Known as the Tartan Army, their reputation is legendary. 

In the opening match between their team and the hosts, they never stopped cheering their team on till the final whistle. In fact, the soundtrack, more than the Vuvuzela in South Africa during the 2010 World Cup, was deafening, to say the least. Even with the Germans roasting their team, they roared on till the end.

They even stayed on to toast them out of the pitch after their 0-1 loss to a 90’+10’ Hungarian goal in their last group match. Much unlike the English fans who booed their team after their slovenly goalless draw with Slovenia. Not minding that they topped their group afterwards.

Anyway, the Tartan Army only lived up to their reputation – according to an aged acolyte of theirs over here. He recalled how they were once banned from Wembley for a home international between England and Scotland back then. The sanction meant that tickets for the match were made unavailable to them. Characteristically, on match day they ended up out populating the England fans in their own backyard. In a major addendum they managed to unfurl a banner lambasting the then English FA for daring to  ban them.

Just like In another memorable faux pas during the match between Scotland and the then USSR in the Espana ‘82 World Cup. The banner that time read: Communism Vs Alcoholism.

Finally, it’s really perplexing that unlike in Africa where the teams brim with aliases from the jungle, their European counterparts are often just called the national eleven or selection. In fact, apart from the Three Lions of England and and perhaps the Eagles of Poland, the rest cope with names that are neither animal, vegetable nor mineral.

Easily observable is that the distinction most prominent in their names here happen to be colours. Here The Les Blues of France holds the ace. After all their numerous achievements on the field, they are just content with being known for the hue of their home strip. Imagine that. Without even a qualifier adjective. A development definitely opposed by the late Michael Jackson in his hit-track Black Or White. A team spending its life just being a colour!

Anyway, another notable European coloration in the football field is the Netherlands national eleven. They are generally associated with their prominent orange-coloured gear. Such that the cohesion exhibited by their1974 and 1978 World Cup squads earned them the Clockwork Orange appellation. Any wonder they ended up as runners-up at both Mundials?

However, The Crusaders of Georgia and Crescent Stars of Turkey served a good mnemonic for when Christians and Muslims traded tackles of war. As typified in their group clash in the first round, they may both hold the ace to the title – from the rear, that is.

  • Uzoatu lives in, and writes from Onitsha Anambra State, Southeast Nigeria.
Follow Us On WhatsApp