Source: Imago Images
Source: Imago Images

EURO 2024, round two: to score or not to score

EURO OlyBet 18.06.2024

Football is constantly changing, but great goalscorers – target men – have always been valued. But do you need one to be successful, or are there other ways to reach the stars?

When Italy found themselves 0-1 down 23 seconds into the tournament, it was by far (44 seconds, if you are in love with statistics) the quickest goal in EURO history. Some more numbers: seven games over the first weekend produced 22 goals, an average of 3.14 per match, up by almost half a goal from 2021 (2.78 per match). That was the highest mark since the group stage was introduced in 1980.

In modern football, goals are coming from all over the pitch, with no player scoring twice yet. Central strikers – on paper – have scored eight times, with midfielders currently on seven, wingers on three, and defenders also on three (plus the solitary own goal by Rüdiger).

 But do you need strikers to score anyway? Italy, the defending champions, did not have a stand-out scorer three years ago (neither do they have one now). When France won the World Cup in 2018, target man Olivier Giroud did not have a single shot on target, never mind a goal, despite playing over 500 minutes.

37-year-old Giroud is likely to lead the line for France again, and many still consider them favourites. Germany, another strong contender, started the tournament with creative multi-tool Kai Havertz up top after decades of players like Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez. There are only a handful of top strikers around, and Erling Haaland, maybe the best of them, is watching the tournament from home.

So who could step up? Bundesliga top scorer Harry Kane was largely anonymous for England vs Serbia despite hitting the bar (is that not what great strikers do?); Robert Lewandowski did not feature for Poland. Could Romelu Lukaku light it up for Belgium? What about Cristiano Ronaldo? And we should not forget the man who topped the La Liga charts, Ukrainian hotshot Artem Dovbyk.

Time will tell whether target men will shine again and decide games. But which games to enjoy in the second round of the group stage?

All times listed below are in Eastern European Summer Time (GMT+3).

Denmark – England

Thursday, June 20th 19:00

Neither can be particularly happy. Denmark dominated the ball and proceedings vs Slovenia, but could not do enough after Christian Eriksen scored first in the 17th minute. Their opponents were much better in the second half and deserved the draw (xG 1.72 to 1.14 for Denmark), but for the Danes, this was a disappointment. It could now get messy vs Serbia in the last round.

England managed to keep them at bay despite looking second best for quite a while, but their defence – supposedly a weak link – stood firm and only allowed the Serbs to have four shots (0.20 xG). Jude Bellingham stepped up to score early, but Denmark should be a better litmus test for England and their talks of it coming home.

Player to watch: Manchester United striker Rasmus Hojlund was not exactly standing out vs Slovenia, more will be expected of him. He should have something to prove here: the English press criticized him quite a bit, as it took the 21-year-old Dane until December (or 14 games) to open his account in the Premier League.

Spain – Italy

Thursday, June 20th 22:00

In what is supposedly the toughest group, both started with a win. For Spain, the 3-0 score vs Croatia was not a fair reflection on the game, as a few individual mistakes cost their opponents dearly; Croatia had more of the ball, more shots, and actually won the xG battle 2.27 to 2.11. There are issues beyond too, as both striker-captain Alvaro Morata and midfield lynchpin Rodri were forced off. Losing them would be devastating, so keep one eye on the injury report.

When Albania scored 23 seconds into the game vs Italy, things looked bleak, but the reigning champions responded well and it took them 15 minutes to restore normal service. Italy looked threatening and fully deserving of the three points, but this was against Albania, supposedly the weakest link in the group. Tougher tests await.

Player to watch: Three years ago, Federico Chiesa was a promising 23-year-old playing in his first final tournament. It has not been smooth sailing for him since then, but with the squad much younger now, Chiesa needs to be one of the leading men, and he tortured Albania constantly. Can he bully six-time Champions League winner Dani Carvajal as easily?

Netherlands – France

Friday, June 21st 22:00

The Netherlands had a tough day vs Poland but managed to sneak a 2-1 win thanks to super-sub Wout Weghorst (a prototype of a classic target man). But did we see enough to think they could do similarly against France? This is a flawed team, sure, but do not count them out. They have numerous ways to hurt.

Of course, at the time of writing, France has yet to step on the pitch. But do we need to see them after almost a decade of greatness? They have made the final in three of the last four major tournaments and were close to being crowned back-to-back world champions just 16 months ago. Led by Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann once again, France are the favourites to win it all.

Player to watch: With France expected to dominate the ball, the Netherlands could find themselves defending and playing for quick breaks. Right-back Denzel Dumfries excels at these moments, and the 28-year-old Inter Milan man could be the key to success.


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