Euro 2020 will always be unique.
A festival of football spanning across the continent after one of the bleakest years in history, some of the best players in the world delighted us for a month in a flurry of pulsating games.
While there may have been doubts about the physical condition of some of the stars after such a condensed campaign, the quality on offer was largely remarkable. Goals aplenty, there are a number of strikes that will live long in the memory.
With Italy now crowned as champions of Europe, it seems like a good time to reflect on some of the best (in no particular order).
Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal vs Hungary, 15th June
Although not exactly a goal to sit amongst the pantheon of memorable Cristiano Ronaldo strikes, his late penalty for Portugal against Hungary broke yet more records.
Indeed, the great Juventus forward became the first player to score in five different European Championships, before his second put him ahead of Michel Platini as the all-time top scorer in the history of the competition (11).
Lorenzo Insigne – Italy vs Belgium, 2nd July
All tournament, there was only ever one thing Lorenzo Insigne had in his mind.
Cutting in from the left-hand side to try and curl one in with his right foot, the Napoli star had hit the target against Turkey in the opening game but, largely, his aim had looked a little off.
That was until the Italians took on Belgium’s Golden Generation. Just before the half-time whistle, he doubled the Azzurri’s lead with a sumptuous strike.
Mikkel Damsgaard – Denmark vs England, 7th July
To suggest Mikkel Damsgaard was a complete unknown prior to the tournament would be unfair but, much to the delight of Sampdoria president Massimo Ferrero, the Denmark star certainly raised his profile with two goals during his country’s route to the sem-finals in the most difficult of circumstances.
Of the two, his free-kick against England at Wembley is surely the standout. Blasted past an impressive Jordan Pickford to finally breach the Three Lions’ otherwise impenetrable defence, it will no doubt have added a few million to his price tag this summer.
Paul Pogba – France vs Switzerland, 20th June
While world champions France did appear to self-destruct, Paul Pogba was arguably the player of the group stage.
Often criticised for his performances at Manchester United, the midfielder’s passing range was sometimes reminiscent of that of former teammate Andrea Pirlo’s. Against the Swiss in one of the games of the tournament, another side of his game was there for all to see.
Granted, his 25-yard strike that nestled into the top corner will largely be a footnote in a famous French collapse but it was something to marvel.
Aaron Ramsey – Wales vs Turkey, 16th June
Wales may not have repeated the heroics of their 2016 campaign but their performance against Turkey out in Baku was one of their most commanding in memory.
After struggling to make much of an impact against Switzerland, both Ramsey and Gareth Bale were on top form (the latter’s penalty aside) in the crunch tie with the Turkish, combining for the Juventus star’s opener.
Bale’s wonderful lifted through ball found its way to Ramsey’s chest before he controlled it beautifully to set the Welsh on their way.
Patrik Shick – Czech Republic vs Scotland, 14th June
Arguably the most memorable goal of the tournament.
Having already scored a header to ruin Scotland’s party at Hampden Park, the Czech striker then scored from 40 yards. As impressive as that sounds, it doesn’t even do the strike justice.
Italy vs England Final Highlights | Euro 2020
Shick’s shot appeared to be flying well past David Marshall’s empty goal before curling back around the post while airborne and hitting the back of the net, sparking many a meme across social media.
Thorgan Hazard – Belgium vs Portugal, 27th June
Belgium’s flurry of top stars might not have convinced on the grandest stages of them all, but there’s certainly a huge amount of quality running through their ranks.
Their campaign might not exactly have been a particularly eye-catching one but, against Portugal, Thorgan Hazard proved the difference with a wonderful strike from the edge of the 18-yard box, swiveling past Rui Patricio.
Robert Lewandowski – Poland vs Sweden, 23rd June
Undoubtedly an elite level striker, it’d be fair to say that things have never really worked out for Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski at international tournaments.
Indeed, the Poland international had only scored twice during his three campaigns prior to Euro 2020, though he did at least double his tally when his side took on Sweden in Saint Petersburg.
After falling two goals behind, Lewandowski helped Poland back into it with a stunning goal from a difficult angle, leaving Robin Olsen with no chance.
Andriy Yarmolenko – Ukraine vs Holland, 13th June
In one of the games of the tournament, Ukraine fought back from 2-0 against Holland in Amsterdam, only to lose it 3-2 right at the death.
West Ham United star Yarmolenko helped inspire the initial comeback with a trademark finish, cutting in from the right and blasting the ball into the top corner on his left from 20 yards.
Knowing what’s coming is one thing. Stopping it can sometimes prove impossible.
Luka Modric – Croatia vs Scotland, 22nd June
There’s still life in the old dog yet.
While the Croatians looked like a shadow of the team who got to the World Cup final in 2018, Modric’s class simply cannot be put into question.
Has there ever been a player so good with the outside of his boot?
After a pull-back from the edge of the box, the Real Madrid legend spun a shot with his trademark technique that flew past Marshall in the Scottish goal. Poetry in motion.
Karim Benzema – France vs Switzerland, 20th June
Another footnote. But what a glorious one.
Much had been made about the controversial decision to bring Karim Benzema back into the French set-up ahead of the tournament though, despite his country’s collapse, the Real Madrid star proved his status as one of the world’s leading marksmen.
Trapping a ball played just a bit behind him with what was effectively a backheel to himself, Benzema’s touch was angellic. To then have the speed of thought to know exactly where to run onto before prodding home speaks to a man with the kind of ruthless intent that many may have doubted in his earlier career.
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