Monday, August 2, 2021

Italy Dominates at Euro 2020 Despite the Absence of Ronaldo and Pogba

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It’s been a fantastic summer of football, culminating in Italy’s dramatic defeat of England, but who were the standout performers?

The imminent arrival of Gigi Donnarumma on a free transfer had already appeared to be a sensational piece of business by Paris Saint-Germain – now it appears to be one of the best deals in history.

The 22-year-old was absolutely massive as Italy won Euro 2020 in dramatic fashion, with their colossus of a goalkeeper two penalties in the final, including the game-winning penalty from Bukayo Saka.

The Arsenal teenager deserves full sympathy for his miss because there is no more intimidating shot-stopper in the world right now, as evidenced by Donnarumma’s five-for-five record in club and country shootouts.

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Just over six months after signing Joakim Maehle from Genk for €10 million (£8.5m/$.9m), the versatile winger is now arguably worth three times that amount thanks to his sensational performances for Denmark’s surprise semi-finalists.

Despite being right-footed, Maehle was a left-wing phenomenon, scoring two goals and creating another.

Indeed, in the quarter-final win over Czech Republic, the 24-year-old provided the tournament’s most outrageous assist, finding Kasper Dolberg in the area with a stunning outside-of-the-boot cross.

What was truly amazing about Leonardo Bonucci’s Man of the Match-winning performance in the final was how ridiculously simple he made it all look.

He was the epitome of serenity. On two occasions, he casually flicked headers back to Donnarumma, despite the fact that Raheem Sterling was close by, ready to pounce on any mistake.

Bonucci, on the other hand, delivered a flawless, outrageously composed performance.

His passing was fantastic as usual, and he was also on hand to score the crucial equalizer when Marco Verratti’s header rebounded off the post.

Bonucci has been accused of playing as a midfielder rather than a defender at times. He established himself as one of the most complete center-backs of the modern era at Euro 2020.

How could we possibly choose anyone other than Giorgio Chiellini to partner Bonucci in the heart of our defense?

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Italy’s greatest warrior won what is likely to be his final battle in the international arena with a spirited performance that belied his 36 years.

In the half, Harry Kane dropped deep to great effect, but Chiellini denied the England striker a single chance in the area.

And when Saka got away from him, the Juventus ruthlessly hauled the Arsenal teen to the ground, creating an image that quickly went viral. Chiellini was not going to let his moment of glory pass him by.

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There was no more deserving recipient of the Henri Delaunay trophy than the Azzurri’s inspirational captain, who has now established himself as one of the game’s all-time greats.

Losing Leonardo Spinazzola was a major setback for Italy, but it was an even bigger blow for a player whose career has been plagued by injuries.

When the 28-year-old turned in a Man of the Match-winning performance against Turkey in the tournament opener in Rome, it felt like the 28-year-moment old’s had finally arrived, and the marauding left-back was named the best player on the pitch again when the Azzurri edged past Austria in the last 16.

It was no surprise, then, that when he was stretchered off in the closing stages of the quarter-final win over Belgium, Roberto Mancini’s side suddenly looked a lot less menacing going forward and a lot more vulnerable in defense.

So it was wonderful to see Spinazzola make it to Wembley to receive his winner’s medal, and the hope now is that he recovers quickly from Achilles surgery so that he can shine again at next year’s World Cup.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, arguably the best midfielder on display at this summer’s Euros, was the driving force behind Denmark’s sensational run to the semi-finals.

The Tottenham player’s statistics are simply outstanding, demonstrating how he assisted his country in every way possible following the shocking loss of star playmaker Christian Eriksen to a heart problem during the group stage.

In addition to three assists, Hojbjerg created 11 chances, completed 10 dribbles, and won the ball back 51 times – more than any other player in the tournament.

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Just over six weeks after winning the Champions League with Chelsea, the Brazilian-born midfielder won Euro 2020 with Italy, capping off a summer of vindication for the 29-year-old.

Indeed, Jorginho’s ability has been questioned by supporters of his own club, but there can be no doubt about his greatness.

The former Napoli player was a key figure in Italy’s engine room, dictating play with his precise passing and relentless pressing.

The statistics are self-evident: He finished second in both successful passes (485) and possession won (48), and set a new European Championship record with 25 interceptions. No other player scored more than 14…

Pedri, how good was he at Euro 2020? Those comparisons to Andres Iniesta, on the other hand, no longer seem quite so premature.

Pedri was the standout performer on a team that to the final four and would have made the final if not for some sloppy finishing.

There was some doubt about whether the Barcelona teenager would play before the tournament began.

By the end of Spain’s campaign, the midfielder, who created 11 chances and completed more successful passes in the opposition half (317) than any other player, had become utterly indispensable, as evidenced by the fact that he appeared in all but one of his country’s six games.

After Pedri’s ridiculously composed performance against Italy in the semi-finals, coach Luis Enrique exclaimed, “I’ve never seen anything like that [from an 18-year-old].” Not even Andres Iniesta. It’s impossible to put into words.”

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That it was. Pedri is truly one-of-a-kind.

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Emma Hayes

There I was in a hot yoga studio with plenty of bright natural light and bending myself into pretzel like positions for the very first time.