Euro 2020 Final Preview

I’ll try to be as brief and to the point as I can here, but it’s difficult not to feel nervous/excited about today.

I was alive in 1966, but I have no memory of it – I was two years and six days old and my mum and my grandmother had to take me to the local shops because I think I was probably interrupting my dad and my grandad’s viewing. I say probably, I’ll go with ‘definitely’ πŸ™‚

Since 1985 we’ve played the Italians three times at Wembley and we’ve won none of those encounters. The last time we beat them there was way back in November 1977 in a World Cup qualifier, which was almost irrelevant: we’d already last in Rome the year before, which brings back a memory of about sixty of us schoolkids waiting outside the PE block for one of the teachers to tell us the score. It was a lunchtime kick off in Italy and finished 2-0; yet another England disappointment from the Seventies.

I think I mentioned in the original preview that the hosts haven’t won the Euros since France did it in 1984; Italy won ‘their’ tournament in 1968 but that was when it was semi finals/final only rather than group stages. Regardless of format, that’s still a long time ago, but it’s important to remember that England aren’t the official hosts for this tournament, despite the location of the final.

Italy

In this tournament, the Italians have been somewhat slow starters when it comes to goals, having notched none in the first 15 minutes so far. They have a tendency to wake up immediately before and immediately after half time: 40% of their goals scored with 90 minutes have been between the 31st and 60th minute, including both in the game against Belgium.

Defensively, they have faltered as they’ve played better sides as the tournament has continued: three goals isn’t really a sample size that’s representative enough, but two of those goals have been at the end of each half. That may or may not be significant.

I’ll take my hat off to Roberto Mancini, he certainly seems to have mastered the art of using his five (still seems weird writing that) substitutions in both the tactical and strategic senses. However, it remains to be seen how well his team holds up if they go behind: they haven’t been in that position since Edin Dzeko scored for Bosnia/Herzegovina in Firenze in a Nation’s League game last September.

England

One of the possible advantages we have is that we have started well at the start of both halves: 50% of our goals have come in the first 15 minutes of each half, even though all of those came in one game (Ukraine in the quarter final). We’ve scored two in the last 15 minutes of each half but – and this is a strange thing to say – our defensive prowess is arguably better than it has been for years: we’ve only conceded once in the entire tournament – Martin Damsgaard’s cracking free kick last week. That’s been the only time we’ve gone behind in Euro 2020.

I don’t think there’ll be many surprises in the starting lineup, but considering some of the subs benches we’ve had in the past, we’ve got depth to die for this time round – especially in attacking terms. I’m not sure how long Jack Grealish will get today though πŸ™‚

Conclusion

Four of the last five European Championship finals have been settled by a margin of one goal – the exception was when Spain battered Italy 4-0 nine years ago – but only two of those games went beyond 90 minutes. The 2000 final was settled by a Golden Goal by David Trezeguet and Portugal won the last series in extra time. However, only *one* of those last finals featured a goal by both teams, which I think may change this evening as we’re as capable of unlocking their defence as they are with hours.

I’m going to leave it there as I need to fill the fridge with beer and the BBC coverage is about to start. There will be an update after the game.

It just might not make sense.

Update: same shit, different tournament. Next game: World Cup qualifier in Budapest on September 2nd.

Germany Preview Part 2: Kane Unable?

I had hoped to have this part up on Monday evening, but then two classic games of football broke out πŸ™‚

Considering that the Czechs beat the Dutch on Sunday and Croatia put three past SpainΒ in a valiant losing effort yesterday, I think we can be pleased with having beaten both of them without conceding a goal. I know group stage games are usually more about jockeying for position than anything else – unless of course you’re Scottish, when earning a point and scoring precisely one goal is seen as a national triumph – but nonetheless our results in Group D don’t look half as shabby as the pundits would have had you believe a couple of weeks ago.

The big problem I can see for England this evening is that although we’ve gone nine games without losing and have kept eight clean sheets whilst doing so, we haven’t scored more than one goal against the opposition since battering San Marino in March. Harry Kane hasn’t scored in any of the last five and hasn’t scored for England from open play since notching against Albania in March.

I wonder if it’s time for Gareth Southgate to consider other options upfront, because the downside of another game in which Kane fails to make an impression might mean yet another defeat by Germany. It’s not like we’ve never been in this situation before. I mentioned to a friend during the game against the Czechs that Alf Ramsey had to make changes when Jimmy Greaves was injured before the 1966 Quarter Final against Argentina; considering that Dominic Calvert-Lewin have scored as many goals as Kane in the last ten I wonder if the Everton striker deserves a chance in a big game in the same way Geoff Hurst did when he replaced Greaves. However, replacing Kane would mean choosing another captain: Jordan Henderson would be the obvious choice.

Additionally, Kane is the only player to have appeared in eight of the last ten games but he’s only completed three of those matches. For someone who expressed a desire to leave Spurs, he’s not done a particularly good job of advertising himself to other clubs: I wonder if this is one of the stories that develops after the tournament finishes – possibly along the line of he’s been playing with an injury since February, needs off season surgery etc. It’s all very well being loyal to players who aren’t having a great run of form, but that can often have a detrimental effect on other team members: Southgate gets paid a fair whack for this job and needs to be able to take difficult decisions.

That being said, despite obvious experimentation before the tournament, Southgate has been pretty consistent with his team selection during this tournament with ten players having started at least two of the three games. Mason Mount‘s enforced isolation after Billy Gilmour’s positive Covid test after the Scotland match was the reason why Buyako Saka was selected against the Czechs – and Mount is going to find it difficult to get his place back after the teenaged Arsenal midfielder had such a good game. The only other issues I can see are if Harry Maguire keeps his place in defence or not, if Phil Foden starts – that’s not guaranteed – and who Marcus Rashford will replace.

Having such a good defence presents an analytical problem. As we’ve only conceded three goals in the last ten games, it’s almost impossible to present a case for when England are most likely to conceed a goal – although the two goals Belgium scored in the Nations League defeat last November were both before 30 minutes had elapsed. Offensively, it’s far clearer: half of England’s first half goals in the last ten games have been scored between the 16th and 30th minute with 44% of our second half goals being scored in the final fourteen minutes – if you read part one of this preview, you’ll know that’s significant as that’s exactly when Germany are vulnerable.

In context of other six round of 16 games, four were eventually won by the team ranked higher in the most recent FIFA rankings – good news for England, who are currently 77 points ahead of Germany, which is about the same as the difference between us and Croatia in our first game of the tournament. Half of the games in this round so far have gone to extra time with an average of 3.16 goals per game scored in 90 minutes but possibly the most significant factor is that tonight’s game is the only Round of 16 match where one of the participants has home advantage. So far only 50% of games where one side had home advantage have been won by the hosts, but 41% of the remaining matches finished all square.

It’s tough to be objective considering the amount of history between the two countries – football or otherwise – especially when your first memories of supporting England are based the first time we ever lost to West Germany in a home game (1-3, Euro 72 Quarter Final, April 29th 1972 – it was 1-1 with seven minutes left!). However, as I wrote in the first part of this preview, this is not a vintage German team by any measure and this afternoon’s game is a good chance to finally earn a first win over Germany in England since December 1935.

I just hope it doesn’t go to bloody penalties again.

Germany Preview Part 1

Let’s start with a fact that I’ve not seen anywhere else. Yet.

We have never beaten Germany at Wembley since their re-unification in 1991. The record since then includes four defeats in six games and a goal difference of -4, with the Germans scoring in every single encounter we’ve had since the Berlin Wall came down.

In fact, the only time we’ve ever beaten Germany on English soil was in December 1935:

Germany had been beaten semi finalists in the 1934 World Cup but the team that arrived in London almost eighteen months later contained only four players that went on to feature in their suprise 2-0 defeat quarter final by Norway in the Berlin Olympics a few months later. Despite their amateur status, Reinhold Munzenberg, Ludwig Goldbrunner and Ernst Lehner are still widely acknowledged as being German footballing legends. The fourth – midfielder Rudi Gramlich – was eventually honoured as a Vice President by his club Eintracht Frankfurt, but that title was stripped posthumously at the start of 2020 when researchers discovered Gramlich had been a member of the SS and an active Nazi.

To put that result into perspective, Eddie Hapgood, Stanley Matthews, Raich Carter, George Camsell and Cliff Bastin were in the England team; Camsell – who scored twice in a comfortable 3-0 win – still holds the highest goals to games ratio in England goalscoring history: a remarkable 18 goals in nine games between 1929 and 1936. And if you didn’t know Sir Stanley Matthews retired from playing First Division football just after his 50th birthday, you do now.

Back to tomorrow’s game now: how do Germany look at the moment?

The Nationalelf have been less than impressive recently. They’ve only won half of their last ten games keeping only two clean sheets in that sequence and they failed to score against Spain and France as well as losing to North Macedonia. A lot of this inconsistency was down to Joachim Loew’s not knowing what his best team was before the finals began and the defeat to the Macedonians only exacerbated that issue. Only Matthias Ginter and Serge Gnabry have started in those last ten games and in total 32 players have been involved since the game against Ukraine last November. That situation seems to have stabilised for this tournament as ten players have started all three games but even given that the number of subs has now been increased, I still thing using eighteen players in just three games is excessive, considering that’s only produced one win.

Germany seem to be at their most effective in attack between 15 minutes and an hour into the game. They’ve scored 68% of their goals in the last the last ten games within this time frame, including all four in their win against Portugal ten days ago. Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Ilkay Gundogan have all scored three goals but so far only Havertz has scored at the Euros and Germany’s leading goalscorer at Euro 2020 is Own Goal with two.

Defensively they are most vulnerable at the start of the first half and especially after a hour has gone: over 40% of the goals they’ve conceded since last November have been in the last fifteen minutes, including Andras Schaefer’s sensational effort for Hungary in the last group game.

I don’t think this is a vintage Germany side at all. It’s Loew’s farewell tour anyway and there was some consternation in the German footballing press when he decided to stay on for this tournament: so far Germany have been outclassed by France, went behind to Portugal before turning in what might be described as a vintage performance against the winners of Euro 2016 and then struggled against a Hungarian side that was only eight minutes away from beating them. However, this makes them unpredictable – a word that cannot usually be used to describe the Germans. It also makes them potentially dangerous than any of the teams we’ve faced so far.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a similar preview for England.