The most closely contested European Championships in history has now seen the first round come to a conclusion, and we now await what is sure to be a weekend of even more competitive match-ups in the quarterfinals. Some nations have met their expectations, some have even exceeded then. While others have fallen well short, and are on their way home earlier than expected.
But how do the teams grade in terms of their overall performance? I was brave enough to review each country’s school report, and grade them accordingly.
The Netherlands are the host nation and the country with the most pressure going into the tournament, along with the current holders, Germany.
The Dutch came through Group A with flying colors after three wins out of three, in what was perceived to be the most difficult group of the four. Sarina Wiegman’s side showed plenty of quality in their three games, with Lieke Martens, Shanice van de Sanden and Jackie Groenen particular standouts.
The Netherlands report card is almost flawless, with the minor criticism that they should probably have scored more goals. But they have been a joy to watch, and will be a real challenge for their quarterfinal opponents, Sweden.
The Danes face a tough challenge against Germany in the quarterfinals, and they will need to find some consistency if they are to overcome the current champions.
A fortuitous win against Belgium was followed by defeat against the hosts, before a win against the pointless Norway saw them finish with two wins from three. Pernille Harder, as expected, has been the team’s standout, but defensively the side has stood its ground, conceding just once in their three matches. Injuries have hit the side though, so they will have to be at their best, and find their shooting boots, if they are to come through against the Germans.
Belgium were the fourth-ranked side in the group but were a match in every one of their three encounters against sides ranked above them in the FIFA table. Led superbly by forwards Janice Cayman and Tessa Wullaert, with a bit more luck, the Belgians might have been able to sneak through behind the Dutch. But ultimately, it wasn’t to be, and that was largely down to a lack of big game experience. But their first win at a major competition against Norway will give them something to build on ahead of qualification for the 2019 World Cup.
Where to start with Martin Sjogren’s side? No points, no goals and an early exit for the 2013 runners-up. The biggest disappointment of the tournament without question, with so much expected of a team full of talent, and many people’s dark horses to win the tournament.
But they just never got going. Sjogren has only been in the job for seven months, and the tinkering with his personnel and formation suggests he has not had long enough to enforce his ideas on the side. Regardless, they should have been better, and while there are no suggestions Sjogren will lose his job, the pressure is on to get the best out of star players such as Ada Hegeberg, who cut a frustrated figure following the team’s three defeats.
The Germans were very German in their group stage matches – efficient.
Steffi Jones’ side come into the European Championship with more pressure than ever with this year’s tournament being so open and with a record to defend that has seen her side win the last six European titles.
The Germans came through top of the group with seven points, but none of their performances were overly convincing with three of their four goals coming from the penalty spot–the other was a goalkeeping error pounced on by defender Josephine Henning.
Dzsenifer Marozsan has been busy in midfield, but up front, Germany have not created the chances we would have expected. They were made to work for their points in all three matches, and they will now need to really click if they want to claim a seventh title.
The Swedes have been a bit of everything: brilliant at times, average in periods, and as they showed against Italy, poor in patches. But Pia Sundhage’s side will have been expected by many to finish runners-up to Germany, so the fact that they have does not hinder them in any way.
Defensively sound in their first two games, the forward line has also looked strong at times with Stina Blackstenius and Lotta Schelin in particular standing out. The side definitely missed Nilla Fischer against Italy, and that in part contributed to their shock defeat to the Italians. But those defensive lapses will not be possible come knockout football, and the Swedes now face the hostility of the home crowd when they face the hosts on Saturday.
Russia: D +
Russia came into the EUROs with few expecting them to probably even gain a point, so the fact they go home with a win exceeds what many will have predicted.
The truth is Russia are short of a team that can really challenge the big sides, but if they can unearth some more gems such as Elena Danilova, then there is no reason why they cannot be more competitive in the future. They showed signs against Italy of a side that can compete, and they did not disgrace themselves against Sweden or Germany, but they are well short of challenging for titles, and other than the first hour against Italy, didn’t show much.
Italy were one of the unluckiest sides at the tournament with injuries, and they showed against Germany and Sweden that if at full strength, they could have perhaps achieved the unthinkable and qualified out of the group.
But on the flip side, they were incredibly poor against Russia, losing 2-1 and only really showing any sort of quality when they went down 2-0. But soccer fans were treated to some individual brilliance from the likes of Barbara Bonansea and Daniela Sabatino, which helped the side overcome Sweden in their final game to send them home to Italy with some pride.
The story of the tournament along with Norway, but for overwhelmingly positive reason. Nobody, not even the most diehard of Austrian fans, could have expected an undefeated group phase that would see their side top the group, and in the process, finish above one of the tournament favorites, France.
The Austrians set the tone with their win over Switzerland in their opening game, Nina Burger leading the line superbly, before a dogged display against France earned a draw, with a win against Iceland to finish.
Their form coming into the tournament was pretty horrible, which will have added to the view that they would be going home early. But if they perform against a below-par Spain like they did in the group, the dream could live on even longer.
France were 12 minutes away from going out of the tournament completely before Camille Abily’s free kick spared the team an early exit and the wrath of the French media.
Like some of the other coaches in this tournament, Head Coach Olivier Echouafni has not been in post for that long, taking over the side after the Rio Olympics.
Their victory at the SheBelieves Cup meant France came into the EUROs as second favorites behind Germany, but they have not lived up to that billing. As we expect, they’ve had a lot of ball, and one positive has been the performances of Amandine Henry, but in truth, they haven’t created enough.
They now face an England side firing on all cylinders but will be without captain Wendie Renard and Eve Perisset (both suspended), which will make their task even more difficult to qualify for the semifinals.
The Swiss will be ruing their opening performance against Austria, which made their opportunity to qualify all the more difficult, with a game against France in their final group game.
Ramona Bachmann was particularly impressive throughout the tournament and was easily Switzerland’s biggest threat, but there was not enough around her to push them into the required level to qualify, with the only real highlight of their tournament being their 2-1 win over Iceland.
This was the team’s debut at the EUROs, and they will look at this as a step higher on the ladder than they were this time four years ago. But they have work to do to compete with the top teams in Europe and need to add some more players of Bachmann’s quality.
The only other team who finished without a single point, but the reason for the grade higher than Norway is the side suffered some crippling injuries before the tournament and were at least competitive in their matches.
Coach Freyr Alexandersson will have hoped for more from his players, and after a disciplined and organised display against the French, the hope will have been to build on that. But they were lackluster against Switzerland and made mistakes in their game with Austria, which meant an early exit. While the team is graded D-, their fans get a big A+ once again.
Call me biased, that’s okay, but England breezed through their group and could even afford to rest ten players in their final game with Portugal–even if it was probably a few too many.
The 6-0 win over rivals Scotland sent a clear message out to the rest of the tournament as to England’s attacking qualities, but if there was any questions over how they could perform defensively, they showed how robust they are when they beat Spain 2-0, with only a third of the possession.
The performance against Portugal was not at the standard of the first two wins, but the fact Sampson has used 21 of his 23 players shows the depth he has and the quality at his disposal. England are the real deal.
Many people’s dark horses, the Spanish have limped through to the quarterfinals without any real conviction.
Jorge Vilda’s side came into the tournament in fine form, which included a recent 7-0 win over Belgium and a first Algarve Cup triumph. But despite playing the way we know Spain can–dominating possession–two defeats against England and Scotland to follow their win over Portugal will have done little to fill Spanish fans with much hope.
Much was expected of star player Jenni Hermoso, but she has been quiet, while Vicky Losada has been busy in midfield, linking defense and attack. But in truth, Spain have been well below par, and they’ll need to be better against an Austrian side brimming with confidence if they want to progress to the last four.
Scotland were always going to have an uphill struggle with Kim Little missing, but the fact fellow starters Jen Beattie and Emma Mitchell were both missing, made the task even harder. The 6-0 loss to England was bad enough, but to lose star striker Jane Ross for the next two games with a shoulder injury was about as bad as it could get for the Scots.
The defeat against Portugal saw at least one positive in Chelsea’s teenager Erin Cuthbert, who scored her country’s first ever goal at a major tournament before Caroline Weir restored an immense amount of pride for her side after a surprise win over Spain. At full strength, Scotland could have qualified out of this group, but the absence of key personnel was just too much in the end.
Giving a team that finished bottom a C- will leave some puzzled, but this was a Portugal side that was the lowest ranked team in the tournament yet had a chance of qualifying until England took the lead in the second half of their final match. If the Portuguese had held on, they would have finished above Spain, and that would have been huge.
Portugal are ranked 38th in the world for a reason. They are well behind some of the leading nations, but they showed in the Netherlands that with some investment and more players coming through like captain Claudia Neto and Ana Borges, they could easily close that gap.
Mistakes, much like we’ve seen elsewhere in the tournament, cost them in two of their three matches, and as soon as they can rid those, they will be a team to watch in the future.