A Tournament of Excellence
Reading Time: 5 minutes
It was the 89th minute. Switzerland found itself a goal down against World Cup champion France. Fans were devastated, heads in their hands, as they were waiting for the inevitable final whistle. But then it happened. After receiving Granit Xhaka’s swift pass, Swiss forward Mario Gavranović dribbled the ball away from the defender and scored precisely into the back of the net. He tied the score 3-3, and the fans went out of control. Switzerland later went on to win the game in the shootout, after the brilliant penalty save of goalkeeper Yann Sommer against Kylian Mbappé.
It was moments like these, filled with anticipation, excitement, and misfortune, that defined the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UEFA pushed the Euros to this year and set restrictions and precautions in preparation for the matches. The first Euros match, Italy vs. Turkey, kicked off on June 11 in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, with Italy enjoying a 3-0 victory. Fans absolutely loved the tournament’s several heroic comebacks. Many nations expected to excel during this tournament were surprisingly eliminated before they could make it into the final. After a month, the tournament concluded with the Italians claiming a 3-2 penalty shootout victory over the English in the final, following a 1-1 draw in extra time. Another European championship has ended, but who were the star players throughout the tournament?
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Donnarumma (22, Italy, Paris Saint-Germain)
Gianluigi Donnarumma is known as one of Europe’s best goalkeepers, and the Italian is only 22 years old. The keeper earned a call up for the Italian national team as a teenager, and since then, he has established himself in the first-choice squad. Donnarumma kept a clean sheet in three consecutive group stage games, helping Italy top Group A. In the semifinal against Spain, he saved a penalty in the shootout to help Italy advance to the finals, and in the final against England, he saved two penalties to win the tournament for the Azzurri. His heroics throughout the tournament earned him Player of the Tournament and a transfer to Paris Saint-Germain from AC Milan.
Left Back: Luke Shaw (26, England, Manchester United)
Luke Shaw was a pivotal player in England’s Euro 2020 run to the final. The Englishman has had many drawbacks in his career, suffering injuries including a leg fracture in his initial years at Manchester United. However, Shaw’s impressive form as of this season has cemented him a starting spot at left back for England. He played six matches for England in the tournament, and he scored England’s opener in the final against Italy. Despite the match ending in a penalty shootout win for Italy, Shaw was impressive. His former coach, José Mourinho, spoke about his performances: “I have to say: amazing tournament, fantastic final, [and] no defensive mistakes.”
Center Back: Leonardo Bonucci (34, Italy, Juventus)
Leonardo Bonucci is arguably one of the best defenders of this generation. Despite his faulty form and defensive mistakes at Juventus last season, he helped showcase what the Italian national team is capable of. The 34-year-old center back formed a strong partnership with his Juventus and Italy teammate Giorgio Chiellini, and the duo went the whole tournament without being successfully dribbled past. Bonucci himself started all seven of Italy’s Euro 2020 games and scored Italy’s equalizer in the final against England. Bonucci was subsequently named Player of the Match and included in the Team of the Tournament.
Center Back: Harry Maguire (28, England, Manchester United)
As the world’s most expensive defender of all time, Harry Maguire certainly justified his price tag in the European Championship. While he wasn’t the fastest player on the pitch, his positioning and natural strength allowed him to dominate most elite attackers he faced throughout the tournament. With Maguire on the team, England kept a total of three clean sheets. The Englishman scored from a Shaw corner against Ukraine in the quarter-final. Maguire also converted his spot kick during the shootout in the final against Italy, despite England’s eventual defeat.
Right Back: Joakim Mæhle (24, Denmark, Atalanta B.C.)
One of Denmark’s standout players during its semifinal run, Joakim Mæhle certainly turned heads during the Euros. The Dane currently plays for Italian team Atalanta B.C. and hasn’t previously played in a tournament for his country. However, the wingback displayed his impressive abilities after the sudden collapse of star midfielder Christian Eriksen in Denmark’s first match. Mæhle played every single minute of Denmark’s Euro 2020, with 41 total ball recoveries. He scored in a 4-1 win over Russia to send Denmark to the knockout stage. In the knockout stage, Mæhle scored in the Round of 16 match against Wales and provided an outstanding assist in the next quarter-final match against the Czech Republic.
Midfielder: Jorginho (29, Italy, Chelsea)
An integral part of Chelsea’s 2021 Champions League win, Jorginho enjoyed another successful tournament with Italy. He was the beating heart of the team and operated as a regista, or “director,” for the Azzurri. He dictated the tempo of the team and used his vision and passing ability to initiate attacks. Jorginho was also active on defense, making a record-breaking 25 interceptions throughout the tournament. His impressive performances were noted, and on August 26, Jorginho was named UEFA’s Player of the Year.
Midfielder: Pedri (18, Spain, Barcelona)
The Spanish wonderkid has featured in 76 matches for club and country, an astonishing number for an 18-year-old. Touted as the next Andrés Iniesta, Pedri lived up to the expectations and led Spain to the semifinals. Against the eventual champion, Italy, Pedri misplaced only two of his 67 passes. After Spain’s elimination that night, manager Luis Enrique praised the youngster: “Have you seen the tournament that Pedri has played? I’ve never seen an 18-year-old kid play like I’ve seen Pedri play in this tournament, not even Andrés Iniesta. It’s crazy.”
Midfielder: Paul Pogba (28, France, Manchester United)
Paul Pogba’s €105 million transfer from Juventus to Manchester United in 2016 broke the world record at that time. Most Manchester United fans would agree that Pogba has not consistently produced world class performances for the club, but nobody can doubt his brilliance when playing for France. In the Euro 2020, he scored a beautiful 25-yard curler against Switzerland and consistently created promising chances for teammates Karim Benzema and Mbappé. Despite France’s elimination, Pogba proved once again that he is one of the best midfielders in the world.
Left Winger: Raheem Sterling (26, England, Manchester City)
Raheem Sterling was by far England’s best player in the tournament. Before Euro 2020 started, soccer fans mocked Sterling worldwide for his infamous open-goal miss against Lyon and invisible performance in the 2021 Champions League Final. Nevertheless, Sterling silenced his critics with his performances for England, scoring three winning goals against Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Germany. Most importantly, he won the penalty against Denmark in the semifinal to send England to their first ever final since 1996.
Right Winger: Federico Chiesa (23, Italy, Juventus)
Federico Chiesa is a fast, skillful winger full of flair. Interestingly enough, the young talent was not even first choice in the group stage, as his competition Domenico Berardi was in excellent form before the tournament. Chiesa impressed when he came on against Austria and completely changed the game for Italy. His change of pace and trickery left defenders struggling and allowed Italy to break down a tight defense. Against Spain, Chiesa dribbled past Spanish center back Eric García and put Italy ahead with an exquisite curler. In the final against England, Chiesa was threatening again but was substituted early due to an ankle sprain.
Striker: Patrik Schick (25, Czech Republic, Bayer Leverkusen)
Patrik Schick has had an up-and-down career in the Bundesliga and Serie A. He is certainly an unknown name to many, but he introduced himself in a sensational fashion. In the opening game against Scotland, the striker lobbed over the Scottish keeper from the halfway line. His strike was later voted the best goal of the tournament. Schick kept up his performance, scoring five goals in five matches before being eliminated by Denmark in the quarter-finals. He finished as the joint top scorer of the tournament, sharing the glory with Portuguese legend Cristiano Ronaldo.