Group F made its debut in the EURO 2020 today with two outright results, first with Hungary and Portugal, and later, Germany and France.
The Hungarians made life much more difficult than expected for the Portuguese even though they ultimately fell 3-0, sticking in physical challenges and knocking opposing attackers off the ball when they approached dangerous areas. This was effective against the technical but less imposing Portugal side that wanted to dance into the box and were not prepared for the strength of the home side.
Hungary’s game plan worked well for most of the match and fit their five-at-the-back formation, although they gifted a chance to Cristiano Ronaldo late in the first half by allowing him to run unmarked through the center of the box and strike a volley that wound up sailing far over the crossbar.
Szabolcs Schon made an impact off the bench for Hungary by sneaking the ball past Rui Patricio’s nearside right post in the 80th minute and breaking the deadlock, only to be ruled offsides by the linesman. The score was reset to 0-0 and play resumed.
Ronaldo avenged his earlier miss shortly after Raphael Guerreiro had opened Portugal’s account in the 84th minute with a slicing attempt that ricocheted off of a defender and nestled into the bottom-left corner, first by sending goalie Peter Gulasci the wrong way on a penalty kick and five minutes later capping off a well-worked move by rounding the keeper and slotting the ball firmly into the netting.
Ronaldo’s brace made him the first man to score 11 total goals in the history of the European Championship, a testament to not only his brilliance but his teams’ ability to advance in the tournament and give him more chances to score. Ronaldo now holds the highest goal-scoring mark in two major competitions— the Champions League and the European Championship— and is making his case for the greatest to ever lace up a pair of boots.
The result signified Portugal’s first first-game victory in its past five appearances in the Euros and Hungary’s first loss in 11 games. The result flattered the victors and was rather unfair to the challengers, but such is the way of the game. Hungary is now sitting on a -3 goal difference and will have to win outright by a decent margin against either France or Germany if they hope to advance to the knockout stage, which is asking quite a bit.
The afternoon game between France and Germany was the most intriguing matchup thus far in the tournament, pitting the most recent World Cup winners against one of the greatest footballing nations of all time.
The French have been in the headlines because of the unrest in their team, stemming mostly from attackers Karim Benzema, Kylian Mbappe and Olivier Giroud. Mbappe and Benzema got the start against Germany and worked themselves into dangerous positions, yet nothing significant came of these chances.
France’s midfield was world-class today, with the pairing of N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba looking especially sharp in all aspects of the game. Kante was ready to sweep up any mistakes on the defensive end and combine with Pogba to advance forward, usually resulting in the ball finding itself in the attacking third.
The Germans were slight underdogs at home but made it clear that they were approaching the match as if they were the prohibited favorites, and they played one of their best matches in recent history. The three center-backs functioned well together and contained the pace of the French attack while the midfield kept possession of the ball and worked a few opportunities to the front line, the most notable of which came on a cross from the left flank to Serge Gnabry on the right side of the box: Gnabry got solid contact on his volleying attempt, but sent the ball a few inches over the top of the crossbar after initially bouncing it into the turf. The shot appeared to be out of reach of France’s Hugo Lloris but ended up harmlessly going out of bounds for a goal kick.
A calamitous Mats Hummels own goal in the 20th minute proved decisive, as the match finished 1-0 to the favorites. Hummels was victimized by an unfortunate bounce after France’s Lucas Hernandez fired a low cross into his flailing right leg, redirecting the ball into the German net.
Now that every team has played one game, Portugal and France sit atop the group with three points and the Portuguese ahead on goal difference. Germany and Hungary are still looking for their first points, with Germany claiming third and Hungary rounding out the bottom.
The “Group of Death” will return to the field on Saturday, June 19, when France takes on Hungary at 9:00 a.m. ET and Portugal square off with Germany at noon ET.
No teams have produced higher quality performances than these four, and they represented themselves and the reputation of the group excellently, regardless of the final scores. These four are must-watch teams for the rest of the Group Stage.
Grant Mitchell is a sportswriter and multimedia contributor for the Sports 2.0 Network dealing with basketball, football, soccer, and other major sports: you can connect with him on Twitter @milemitchell to stay up to date with the latest sports news and to engage personally with him.