Euro 2020 is fast becoming one of my all-time favourite Finals tournaments, having thrown up some exciting, attacking football, outstanding individual performances and some highly unpredictable results.
From the moment the format was announced eight years ago – even its main proponent, Michel Platini, branded it “a zany idea” – it felt like an ill-fated affair, and the twelve-month delay, and the obvious issue of potentially empty stadiums, did nothing to lift confidence.
But almost as soon as Italy kicked-off against Turkey, the competition came alive and has got better and better, with few disappointing matches.
The group stage games are often dull, cagey non-events, but not this year. Virtually every team seemed to approach their fixtures in a positive fashion and that has contributed greatly to the much-increased goals tally.
VAR has, in the main, been unobtrusive and helpful, and there have been no great controversies, which has helped the overall feel.
Plenty matches went as expected, others much less so, and a number of nations had their moment in the spotlight, even the likes of North Macedonia, who finished pointless, and Hungary, who were desperately unlucky not to progress to the knockout stage.
The round of 16 produced a few epics as Denmark and Spain set new goalscoring records and some big names went crashing out. The night of Monday, June 28 will long be remembered.
I barely left the sofa for six hours as the Spanish finally edged out Croatia in an eight-goal thriller and Switzerland did for tournament favourites France, golden boy Kylian Mbappé failing to convert the decisive spot-kick.
The Sweden v Ukraine encounter was probably the least eagerly-anticipated of the round, and yet it also delivered as the underdogs snatched an unlikely winner seconds before the final whistle.
I was privileged to be at Hampden that evening, and for the two Scotland games there, and – while it would have been so much better with full houses – having fans creating a decent atmosphere inside the national stadium was a welcome addition.
The climax to Euro 2020 will determine its eventual place in the overall Finals pecking order. There have been previous tournaments which have offered similar entertainment only to run out of steam in the latter stages and I hope that does not happen this time round.
The competition has continued the recent upturn in quality at these events and it is to be welcomed. After some turgid Finals not so long ago, Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup were both excellent and easily make it into my personal list of favourites.
The 1970 World Cup Finals, the first I was aware of, will take some beating – if you’re too young to recall it, do yourself a favour and look it up online.
Spain ’82 and France ’98 are also high on my list, as is Euro ’96, but the current tournament has been truly special, and I really hope it gets the finish it deserves.
Dons fans may have to wait for a third striker
With the Dons’ first fixture of 2021/22 now less than three weeks away, it has been interesting to monitor events at Cormack Park, as the team has stepped up pre-season training, and the tweaks being made to the squad for the new campaign.
Of the half dozen new signings, Declan Gallagher and Scott Brown are best known. The former Celtic captain is a banker – he will make a huge impression at Aberdeen, and I would also expect Declan to ease comfortably into his new surroundings.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas was hit or miss at Livingston. He has certainly shown himself capable of producing magic, but not regularly enough, and there has been nothing in the last few years to suggest he can hit his self-proclaimed target of 20 goals. Perhaps this challenge will be the inspiration he needs.
Teddy Jenks is, I know, highly rated, and I look forward to seeing what he has to offer. Of the two imports from America, Christian Ramirez has attracted more headlines than Jack Gurr, and the striker seems to have helped raise optimism levels among the fans.
I would still like to see another proven goal scorer brought in, but I fear that may have to wait and will be dependent on what progress we make in Europe.