As the 2024 European Championship will take place in Germany I am naturally interested in the appearance and impact of the home teams at the current tournament. It is important for the atmosphere and reach of a tournament that a home team plays with courage and spreads optimism. It is important that it has characters within the squad with whom fans can identify. That the players are aware that they are playing at home and that the crowd can feel it.
The public wants to see players take responsibility and see a team grow in the course of the tournament. If, in addition, they develop a style specific for that country, which frequently happens, the significance of home success at a European Championship or World Cup can be huge in football and social terms. Football already has examples of such added value: England in 1996, France in 1998 or Germany in 2006.
In the 2021 pan-European tournament we have seen several hosts and two are in the final. England have been carried through the five games at Wembley by their fans. The players rely on tremendous athleticism and being strong in the air, which is football we are used to from the Premier League and England in the past.
Gareth Southgate has given his team a lot but two things stand out. First, with his letter to the nation, in which he addresses racism among other things, he showed that he sees his role as national team coach as a social one as well as a football one. Second, he has made his team believe in his plan, which is: nobody will score against us easily or quickly. England have conceded only one goal this tournament, in the semi‑final against Denmark.
Up front, Southgate can rely on many talents, but above all Raheem Sterling. It is also worth pointing out that he is happy to use many players from clubs not part of the so-called Big Six, ie Leeds, Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton. This also strengthens England’s identity.
Another big winner of this tournament are Italy. Since kick-off in the opening match in Rome, Roberto Mancini’s team have showed they are a very solid unit with a clear approach. The team are combining that old Italian virtue of defending, which was particularly needed in the semi-final against Spain, with international components higher up the pitch.
Italy are not relying on catenaccio; they are rather gaining a lot of possession in their opponents’ half. This way, they have gone beyond what we know traditionally from Serie A. The very mobile midfield trio – Marco Verratti, Nicolò Barella and Jorginho – has a short recycling time of the ball and this creates a nice flow.
Tactically, that is the best the tournament has had to offer so far. The 11 Italy players act almost as homogeneously as if they were playing for a club and that is a great achievement. The connection between manager and players can be felt in Mancini’s post‑match comments. Italy perform with conviction.
Denmark also impressed as hosts. At Parken in Copenhagen coronavirus rules were perhaps not strictly adhered to but who could blame them after what happened to Christian Eriksen? Despite two defeats, the team grew into a unit with their fans.
In the all‑or‑nothing games that followed, they performed like a team unleashed and played football the way it should be – as a celebration of the sport. With their energetic runs and tackles the players showed that they were embedded in a national unity. That they feel like Danes. And the country celebrated its players. The Danes played a football reminiscent of their great days in the 1980s and early 90s. The Brazilians of Scandinavia simply ran out of steam against a physically superior England.
In Seville, every Spaniard could immediately recognise their team from the way they played. Spanish football thrives on a clear philosophy; from the under-15s to seniors, they play technical combination football. Luis Enrique’s team lacked cutting edge at the start but redeemed themselves with a 5-0 win against Slovakia.
Spain were the most ball-playing team of the tournament and had outstanding footballers, as they have done in so many tournaments. There is a high probability that Pedri, Dani Olmo, Ferran Torres, Rodri or Mikel Oyarzabal will follow in the footsteps of Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Xabi Alonso or Fernando Torres.
Hungary also benefited from home advantage and the Dutch were pushed towards their traditional attacking football by the fans in Amsterdam. All these examples show the value of a national football identity.
Germany also had the chance to play at home with three games in Munich. It only really seemed to help in the 4-2 win against Portugal, though. Then, against England at Wembley, they did not play with the necessary dynamism and determination. The reason cannot be that the players were not good enough. The past three years, however – after the early exit from the 2018 World Cup – have led to a loss of trust among the fans, in the team’s performance and, of course, in the German Football Federation.
Joachim Löw will now be succeeded by his former assistant Hansi Flick, who won six titles with Bayern Munich in one and a half years as head coach. He will have to rely on the younger generation when World Cup qualifying resumes in September. The Champions League winners Antonio Rüdiger, Niklas Süle, Leon Goretzka, Joshua Kimmich, Serge Gnabry, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner can be used to form a formidable spine and a team in which Germany can recognise itself.
Southgate and Mancini have set an example. They have developed a style adapted to the country and players. Southgate has also managed to convey to his highly paid stars that they are not only playing football. He lets them take on social responsibility. That creates an identity. Now all of Europe wants to know who is going to win the final. The European Championship format works – it is clear for everyone to see.