It was a weekend of humility for those of us who spent the preparation for the European Championships warning against boring football and exhausted and half-interested players. Saturday was a glorious technicolor football tournament day – possibly the best football day played anywhere in the world this year.
It blinded us, just as that crowd of celebrating Hungarian players blinded Edit Szalay, the pitch announcer who took his attention away from the action just after Attila Fiola’s goal against France. She seemed to be looking for something in a bag when suddenly Fiola and Laszlo Kleinheisler were right over her desk, screaming and sweating and scattering papers and plastic water bottles, as their teammates rushed to join the ruck and that ecstatic fans leaned over.
After the first moment of astonishment, Szalay smiled and raised his arms, half in celebration and half in self-defense. The order had been swallowed up by chaos, and he felt. . . good enough?
If the players are tired from the rigors of a long season, and many of them undoubtedly are, it looks like they are also inspired to play in front of the crowd again after a year in quiet stadiums. More so than being athletes, footballers are creative artists who respond to the energy of the spectators, and that, for all that we speak of coaches, tactics and strategy, at the end of many matches comes. sum up to which of these artists is inspired to seize the moment and bend it to their will.
The mood for the day was created by shots of Budapest’s massive Puskas Arena packed with 60,000 spectators, a once-familiar sight that now feels thrilling and eerie, like a futuristic barbarian colosseum at the end of the world. Hungary played it safe against Portugal and lost 3-0. They decided this time to die in boots and surprised France by attacking them in swarms. France missed enough chances to win three games. Hungary had a chance and Fiola made it count. Used to playing on their own, France struggled to shift into high gear when they needed it.
Big game atmosphere
The Munich stadium at 20% capacity didn’t quite have the intensity of the Budapest Thunderdome, but it turns out that when it comes to generating a big match atmosphere, the top 15,000 spectators are the most important.
In their loss to France last week, Germany had been tame and timid, gentle and gentle. Imagine the shock of Portugal when this time the Germans arrived like an uncontrollable motorcycle gang with the intention of destroying.
Only a few minutes had passed when Robin Gosens arrived at the far post contorting his body to smash it into a volley that looked like something out of a Matrix movie. The goal was scored by VAR, but the moment signaled Gosens’ bad intentions. Over the next hour, he would become Germany’s chief wrecker.
Portugal’s success in the last Euros was a question of defensive organization: few teams are so compact without a ball. Their ability to close the gaps, so effective against teams trying to cross the Portuguese lines, proved to be redundant against a team that passed them.
Germany’s method was as simple as it was devastating. They spread out onto the pitch, parked Portugal and placed the ball on the other side for Gosens to apply the hammer. With one goal and indeed two assists, the left winger was the man of the match, but it was just the most spectacular of several brilliant German performances.
Toni Kroos has been controlling top football matches for a decade, but he surely couldn’t have performed better than this. He made 85 passes of which 83 found a teammate, and when he wasn’t passing it himself, he was showing where he needed to go, shaping the game, choosing the point of attack. With Kroos organizing everything from the center, the German forwards can move forward confident that he will find a way to get the ball back to them at the right time.
Kai Havertz also produced an exceptional performance. When Gosens fired cannonballs against the Portuguese defense walls, Havertz was inside picking up the pieces. At 6ft 2in with the poise and quickness of a smaller man, he was equally adept at pulling away from defenders or hitting them to the ground, and whether he scored or fouled, he did it all. with the same pitiless coldness and without a smile. An indication of the irresistible forward momentum of Germany’s attacks was the way Havertz continued to find himself in Portugal’s nets, as if he had been swept away by a wave.
These German performances were ennobled by the presence in the opposing ranks of Ronaldo, which illuminated the match in defeat. The Portugal captain went 1-0 with a classic counterattack, his absolute desire to score prompting him to sprint out of cover before anyone who realized a goal was scored. Although the ball went to Bernardo Silva and then to Diogo Jota, Ronaldo still controlled the movement, with the game momentarily being forced to obey the gravitational field of his will. He helped Portugal second with an astonishing Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon move to cut the ball for Jota, and along the way he found time to taunt Germany’s meanest defender RÃ¼diger with a double showboat.
Ronaldo lost but he showed us what it was about, like Gosens, Kroos and Havertz did, like Robert Lewandowski would later do in Sevilla – putting Aymeric Laporte out of reach to save Poland with that header in second post – as equal the Spanish hamlet, Alvaro Morata, did it in its own way, indecisive and doomed to failure. And finally, watching these artists show us who and what they are is the thrill of it all.
The sight of Kroos and Ronaldo kissing at the end reminded us that while there had been a winner and a loser, we were only better for this experience we just had. At that point, you might forget what that means for the tournament, the qualifying permutations, whatever happens next that we spend most of our lives worrying about – and instead just feel simple gratitude. that they staged, and we had the chance to watch.