One of the most charming things about international tournament football is its propensity to unearth new stars.
Players that are normally only watched by a specific audience are suddenly placed in front of the eyes of millions of fans worldwide.
The platform is far grander than anything most footballers will perform on throughout their entire careers.
That increase in exposure gives players the opportunity to immortalise their names and performances in the memories of those watching in the stands and from afar.
We knew what the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kevin De Bruyne and Luka Modric were all about before the tournament, but who predicted Denmark’s Mikkel Damsgaard and Sweden’s Emil Forsberg to be so outstanding?
How Albert Sambi Lokonga Changes Arsenal | Tactical Breakdown
Damsgaard was deadly from distance, exceptionally capable of navigating his way out of tight spaces and comfortably Denmark’s most threatening attacker. That Premier League clubs are reportedly interested in signing him from Sampdoria on the back of Euro 2020 is absolutely no surprise.
Meanwhile, Forsberg provided indefatigable energy from midfield and a potent goal threat to boot, scoring four goas in as many games.
However, we couldn’t look beyond Italian full-back Leonardo Spinazzola in GIVEMESPORT’s Euro 2020 instalment of The Streets Will Never Forget.
The Streets Will Never Forget is a phrase that football fans often attribute to a player who isn’t typically regarded as world-class but, typically during a major tournament or over the course of one iconic season, performs at a top level that sticks in the memory.
Think Milan Baros at Euro 2004, or Robert Huth in Leicester City’s most unlikely Premier League title triumph in 2016.
These dark horses take us by surprise with the enormity of their impact and remain cult sensations for decades after their defining period in time.
From the moment Euro 2020 kicked off, it was clear that Spinazzola was going to be one of the stars of the tournament. That he was eventually selected in the Uefa Team of the Tournament vindicated that prominent feeling.
With the speed and trickery of Lorenzo Insigne creating space for the overlap down Italy’s left side, Spinazzola flaunted his broad repertoire of attacking qualities and gave Turkey full-back Zeki Celik a nightmare start to the tournament.
It was only Spinazzola’s 15th cap for the Azzurri, but you’d never have guessed it. His quick feet were hypnotising and his raw sprint speed, which was clocked at a tournament-high 33.8 km/h, menacing.
The Roma star’s seamless understanding with Insigne, who has been at Napoli for the entirety of his career, gave the impression that they were club teammates rather than fierce Serie A rivals.
On paper, a left sided partnership featuring two right-footed players is clunky and inadvisable.
Instinctively you’d imagine both players would end up occupying the same territory inside the channel, but Spinazzola and Insigne’s willingness to go either inside or outside caused chaos against Turkey, setting the tone for the tournament.
Italy’s second group game against Switzerland was a similar story as Spinazzola once again played a starring role in a second consecutive 3-0 win for Roberto Mancini’s side.
Having been rested for the final game against Wales, the 28-year-old returned to the starting XI for the last-16 clash against Austria and provided a delicately weighted assist for Federico Chiesa to expertly fire Italy into a 1-0 lead in extra time.
Spinazzola will largely be remembered for his menacing work in the final-third – dancing beyond defenders, providing teasing deliveries from the byline, utilising all the creative tools in his armoury – but he made one vital block to deprive Romelu Lukaku of a Belgian equaliser in the quarter-final that Italian fans may look back on as a defining moment in their tournament.
In a cruel turn of events, though, his excellent Euros was brought to an abrupt ending shortly after making that vital block when he was stretchered off and left visibly distraught after suffering a ruptured achilles.
Not only were Italy deprived of an incisive forward weapon for their remaining matches, neutral supporters were left to rue the absence of a genuine feast for the eyes.
The Italian players and backroom staff united in support of ‘Spina’ after their penalty shootout win over Spain by sporting a shirt in his honour and belting out his name in front of the TV cameras.
It was a touching tribute to a player of whom, with the exception of regular Serie A watchers, relatively little was known about prior to Euro 2020.
But that is where the real beauty of tournament football lies: the opportunity for players to make themselves heroes in their home nation and beyond, to plant memories into fans’ heads that last a lifetime.
The streets aren’t going to be forgetting about Spinazzola anytime soon.