An opening match day of a tournament can say very little of a tournaments direction, in the last two major international tournaments, Spain have failed to win their opening game. In the Under 21 Championships it has been slightly different as Spain managed to beat Russia through an Alvaro Morata header, late in the second half. Spain were far from convincing, they lacked a clinical edge. Throughout Isco & Thiago showed their elegance & class with some neat midfield play. Spain were quite wasteful, Russia goalkeeper Nikolai Zaboltni never had a meaningful save to make during the ninety minutes. However, it was efficient, even not at their best Spain were a delight to watch. There is a sense that Spain could evolve as the tournament progresses.
A side that did impress in their opening game were Italy, Lorenzo Insigne & Marco Verratti bossed the game as they ran out 1-0 winners over England. The former, grabbed the winner with a splendid free kick. Constantly throughout the game the two added flair & control to the game, as they exposed England’s weak points to the maximum. The stats show just the gulf in the midfield of Italy & England as Marco Verratti managed 122 passes to Jordan Henderson’s 44. The whole game was purely déjà to the European Championship Quarter Final a year prior, this year instead of Pirlo. It was Verratti running the show.
England however, were worryingly bad. As good as Italy were in exposing England’s weak points, there was a lethargic nature about the three lions. Space seemed to be a word that was meaningless to them, as they allowed the Italian midfield to roam & dictate. Nathan Redmond was the only man that could shed any optimism amongst England fans on the game, as he made some useful runs across the game. A massive improvement is needed for Stuart Pearce’s men to save their tournament.
Germany will be licking their wounds, heartbreak in the final minutes as Leroy Fer scored from a corner to give Holland three points. They had done well it bring it back to 2-2, goals from Sebastian Rudy & Lewis Holtby drew them back level. In the first half they were poor, Holland simply had more desire. Never once did they test Zoet during the first half, disappointing for a side that have been tipped to win the tournament. With Spain coming up in their next game, Germany are on the edge of elimination.
Holland have an excellent opportunity to push onto to their first glory since 2007, the fighting spirit of clawing back to win 3-2 showed their character not to drop their heads. Playing Russia in their next game, they may fancy their chances to get out of the group as soon as possible.
Russia were quite disappointing, they held Spain well throughout the game. However going forward, they offered very little. Denis Cheryshev was poor, not once did he make a meaningful run or create a dangerous opportunity. They clearly lacked Alan Dzagoev, his presence would have been monumental for Russia. With him set to return next game, they can afford to be confident when facing the Dutch.
A first game tells us very little of the tournament. Spain still have lots of room improvement, Germany can learn from their mistakes. England still have many of their stronger players awaiting return, with the likes of Zaha returning for the Norway game they could be confident. Italy have not ultimately won the tournament from one game, they need to show their stubborn side when they take on an Israel who still very much in the tournament. And finally, Russia can still defy the odds and qualify from Group B.