Euro 2020 team of the group stage with Cristiano Ronaldo, Jorginho and Danny Ward

These players have thrived in the opening games – sometimes even when their sides have not

Karl Matchett
Friday 25 June 2021 15:06
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The group stage of Euro 2020 has come to a close and it’s time to pick out the best performers so far.

From the opening game which saw an impressive Italy carve apart Turkey, through to the relentlessly crazy final group games when so much was at stake between Hungary, Portugal, France and Germany, there have been exceptional showings from several players – but here we’re looking at those who have added consistency to their match-defining displays.

That can be somewhat harder when some sides were changed for the final fixture, but the players we’ve selected have been noteworthy right throughout the three group games for their respective nations.

Home nations supporters will have been pleased by a handful of their stars, while some of the biggest European nations – Belgium, Netherlands and Italy – put in three good showings to pick up maximum points.

Here are the 11 players who make up our team of the tournament so far.

Goalkeeper

Danny Ward (Wales)

There were a few other candidates, but the Wales No 1 was exceptional throughout, making a host of point-earning saves to keep the Dragons ahead or in the running, particularly against Switzerland. Fine reflex stops, confident aerial takes and some quick distribution at times all make this arguably the best month of his career – and it’s not over yet.

Defenders

Denzel Dumfries (Netherlands)

The right-back spot goes to the Dutch flier who has been incredibly impressive, attacking with freedom and getting into the box to add to the goal threat. Defensively he has been solid and hard-working when called upon, though with a back three behind him and a relatively routine group, he’ll be tested more as the competition goes on.

Raphael Varane (France)

His opening performance was as flawless as anyone is likely to offer during the tournament. He has barely put a foot wrong at the back for France, save perhaps for a few moments against Hungary’s counter-attack, and starts so many of the team’s moves with his passing out of defence. Aerially dominant and super consistent.

Leonardo Bonucci has three clean sheets with Italy

Leonardo Bonucci (Italy)

Italy have yet to concede a single goal at Euro 2020 and Bonucci was the only one of their defenders to start all three group games. While he wasn’t tested relentlessly, his composure and reading of the game was clearly in evidence, and he’s a huge figure within the squad.

Leonardo Spinazzola (Italy)

Spinazzola set the tone for this tournament of flying full-backs (and wing-backs) with his opening night performance in which he simply tore apart Turkey down the left. Being right-footed, he often checks back, but his power and dribbling, relentless running and willingness to clip a cross on his wrong foot made him an irrepressible outlet for the Azzurri.

Midfield

Jorginho (Italy)

Our holding midfielder is another Italian. Jorginho plated all three group games extremely well, particularly the opening two. He impressed with his controlled play, rhythmic passing, quick recycling of the ball and tireless defensive work.

Midfield maestro: Frenkie de Jong has stood out for the Netherlands

Frenkie de Jong (Netherlands)

The glue of the team for the Oranje, the Barcelona man has also been their star in his understated and brilliant way. He’s exhibited a full range of passing, defended well and can turns away from trouble in a heartbeat to transition the team from being under pressure to being on the break. An excellent tournament so far.

Gini Wijnaldum (Netherlands)

For the more attack-minded outlet from the centre of the park, it has to be the Dutch skipper. He scored three times in as many games to put himself among the competition’s Golden Boot contenders and overtook Marco van Basten in the process in his nation’s list of all-time scorers. A constant force in the attack with his switching of play, late arrivals into the box and ability to hold off two defenders at once.

Forwards

Antoine Griezmann (France)

Depsite scoring only one goal so far, Griezmann has been an incredible link player, sitting behind the strikers at the top of a diamond and roving between tenacious ball-winner to keep France on the front foot. He has covered every blade, made great tackles, found gaps to exploit and kept his team on the attack.

Lukaku is a contender for the Golden Boot

Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)

The Belgian striker was unplayable in all three games, never giving defences a chance to get near him and rattling in three goals. He’s a man on a mission in this tournament and Golden Boot contender for a reason. Beyond his clinical edge, though, Lukaku has been fantastic in hold-up and link play, dribbling one-on-one and forcing moments of danger for his team.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

The final pick goes to the tournament’s current top scorer. He was relatively quiet outside the penalty box in the first two games, but his link play and channel work definitely improved against France. Even so, that’s no longer his job: Cristiano remains a killer in the box and that’s where Portugal want him, with the line behind the striker expected to feed him opportunities. There, he has been unstoppable: five goals and one assist in three games. What more do you want?

Honourable mentions

Hungary’s Peter Gulacsi and Sweden’s Robin Olsen have been performed well between the stick, as have Jordan Pickford and Gigi Donnarumma – though the Italy No 1 is yet to be tested against a top attack.

In the full-back roles, Hungary’s Attila Fiola was an incredible bundle of energy down the left, defensively and as an outlet, while Denmark’s Joakim Maehle also impressed and Joshua Kimmich has grown as the tournament has gone on for Germany on the opposite flank. Meanwhile, Sweden’s Victor Lindelof only blotted his copybook somewhat in the final game centrally.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg of Denmark, Xaver Schlager of Austria and Pedri of Spain all deserve mentions in midfield, as do France duo N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba.

In attack Italy’s Domenico Berardi would have been in but for Ronaldo’s goals, while Memphis Depay of the Netherlands and Alexander Isak of Sweden have also impressed so far.

And there’s plenty more to come!

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