Euro 2020: The underdogs have their day and add to the romance

Slovakia impressed to earn three points and North Macedonia went close to earning a draw… every underdog has their day and they’re adding to the romance

  • The tournament format screams farce with many third-placed teams rewarded
  • But opening days of Euro 2020 have provided an opportunity to reconsider
  • Slovakia earned impressive win and North Macedonia were not out of their depth
  • It’s time to enjoy the romance the underdog stories bring to the tournament
  • Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here.

Let’s head straight for the bush: everything about this tournament format screams farce.

How can you justify a group stage where two-thirds of the teams make it to the last 16? Should there really be any reward for finishing third? How can it be right that a team, as Portugal did in 2016, fail to win a group game and go on to win the tournament? It shouldn’t sit comfortably.

And yet, the opening few days of Euro 2020 have provided food for thought. The obvious criticism that has followed UEFA since it expanded the Euros from 16 to 24 teams is that more teams inevitably means worse teams. And worse teams mean worse games.

Portugal, captained by Cristiano Ronaldo (C), failed to win a group game but won Euro 2016

But the opening days of Euro 2020 have provided food for thought after underdog showings

Yes, it is lovely when a nation unexpectedly reaches a major tournament. But the bubble rapidly bursts if they’re on the end of an early shellacking. Famous last words, but already the seeds of underdog tales have been sown.

Since Turkey’s submission on the opening night, Wales fought back to earn a good point against Switzerland, while victory for Czech Republic over Scotland gives them a real chance of upsetting the apple cart — suddenly the ball is in Croatia’s court.

Slovakia tamed Robert Lewandowski and Poland to secure only their second win at a Euros, while Goran Pandev’s North Macedonia, one of the nominated whipping boys, were 12 minutes from a draw against Austria. Finland — perceived by some to be the worst team at the tournament — are well-placed for the knockout stages after beating Denmark.

Yes the circumstances of that 1-0 victory were more nightmare than fairytale but what belief they will have heading into Wednesday’s game with Russia: suddenly second spot in Group B is in their hands. Even sides such as Scotland and Russia know one result and they’re back in the mix.

Is that a good thing? Perhaps not and perhaps most people will never get over their cynicism about the expansion. But this format isn’t going anywhere. So let’s enjoy the small crumbs of romance while they last.

The format might be flawed but it’s not changing so let’s enjoy the small crumbs of romance

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