There was a legitimate fear that Euro 2020 will disappoint.
With the introduction of Covid-19, its impact on league seasons, and the stumbling obstacles posed by an ostensibly impossible multi-country tournament, this was set to be a modest European Championship.
A stumbling over the finish line in 2020/21, with the highlight being that we got through it all.
Yet, we find ourselves reeling from one of the most exciting tournaments in recent memory.
And the credit goes to those who made it happen.
As they slink off into the sunset, we will marvel at how the players were able to summon the energy to offer us with the most exciting international tournament in recent memory.
Now that their part has been over, we can take a step back and appreciate what we’ve been provided in terms of entertainment and storylines.
Italy triumphed, with England portraying a likable foe, France as a woolly pretender, Belgium as the almost-never-men, and Denmark as the people’s favorite.
And there were favorites among them and the rest to align with.
We can rule out the typical suspects.
The outstanding talents we see and know in club competition are the stars of international tournaments.
But it’s hardly an exaggeration to suggest that the established, top-tier talent fell short.
At the quarter-final stage, Cristiano Ronaldo, Kevin De Bruyne, Paul Pogba, Thomas Muller, Robert Lewandowski, and Kylian Mbappe were all eliminated.
Nevertheless, like with any music festival, the main treat isn’t just seeing the well-known artists to say you’ve seen them, despite the fact that they’ve disappointed in the past.
It’s falling in love with the minor characters who emerge as the stars of the show.
One that they aren’t accustomed to receiving.
Cult heroes who emerge from simply doing their job or simply existing to grab the public’s imagination
There isn’t a bad word to be spoken about Leonardo Spinazzola, the marauding left-back who discovered an extra gear of speed to impress the neutrals.
His brilliance, particularly his unrivaled running, propelled this nu-wave Italy.
Spinazzola became a totem of Italy’s heart thanks to the outpouring of love that surrounded him, all the way up to the success of capturing the Euro 2020 trophy.
His tournament was cut short due to injury in the quarter-final against Belgium, but his performances up to that point served as fuel for Italy’s run to the Wembley final.
Jack Grealish, on the other hand, is an over-the-top and under-utilized maverick.
So much of him is the embodiment of the few and far between English magicians, with a mischief he wears so freely that he became a man of the people.
The persistent spine-tingling moments of Grealishs inclusion from the bench were the first clues of Grealishs inclusion from the bench, despite the atmosphere of Englands home games at Wembley.
One of the most memorable sounds in the sport will be the cheer as he warms up, followed by the building suspense right up until the huge pop as his name is announced as a second-half substitute.
Then there’s Pedri, the child mountain of a midfielder who caressed the ball as if it were a ribbon he was releasing.
Because he was the youngest player in any of Spain’s three knock-out matches, the Barcelona midfielder was able to achieve a number of firsts.
The spectacle of an 18-year-old in charge of an international midfield, covering the most ground up to the semi-final stage and delivering both cut and thrust, was a lesson to all.
Not only of youth’s brilliance, but also that the noises coming out of Spain this season were not merely exuberant half-truths.
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images) Those in the grey region between generational talent and fan favorites had the most fun.
Patrik Schick (Czech Republic), Kasper Dolberg (Denmark), and Alexander Isak (Sweden) all leave with elevated reputations as a result of spectacular performances that few saw coming.
Isaks’ quick feet, Dolbeg’s clinical finishing, and Schick’s all-around class were all major contributors to their respective teams’ success.
Schick also walked away with the goal of the tournament with his halfway-line stunner against Scotland in the Czech Republic’s 2-0 triumph in the first round.
Similarly, the importance of Haris Seferovic’s brace and Mario Gavranovic’s equalizer for Switzerland versus France will be remembered.
Similarly, Yann Sommer saved Mbappe’s chance in the shootout against the world champions, advancing the Swiss to their first major tournament quarter-final since 1954.
Not every person who has earned our hearts has done it through straightforward success.
Denzel Dumfries’ imperfect brilliance as a rampaging right-back for the Netherlands was an alternative to international football’s regimented rigmarole.
Billy Gilmour’s one start against England was enough to proclaim him the future of Scotland football: an extraordinarily composed performance at Wembley was bolstered by the tragedy of testing positive for Covid-19 and, by missing the last match against Croatia, which ended in defeat, elevating him to the “if only he was available” status that carries extra weight in competitions.
Perhaps there were others who piqued your interest, such as Hungarian workhorse Adam Szalai, Austrian metronome Konrad Laimer, or Wales striker Keifer Moore, a former lifeguard who came to their rescue in their opening Group A match against Switzerland, ensuring their qualification to the knockout stages.
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images) The players deserve a lot of praise.
Despite what is claimed about professional footballers’ privileges, particularly those who are fortunate enough to represent their country, the hard work they put in is coming to an end.
Despite the fact that everyone has had a difficult year, the enjoyment and range of performances on display at Euro 2020 has been an unexpected and, dare we say, necessary treat.
Sport only nourishes to the extent that it is required, and football had to bear a significant load as a result of lockdowns, travel restrictions, and the occasional administrative blunder.
Euro 2020 will be recognized as one of the most exciting and surprising championships in recent memory.
And it says a lot about the entertainment’s quality that each of us will associate it with a different player who has made us either one with their cause or proud of their plain class.
And perhaps the largest mark against the tournament will be the fact that it was characterized by a variety of players, each of whom influenced neutral partisan and impartial onlookers in their own unique way for at least one summer.