Euro 2020 starter dishes provide just enough to whet the appetite

With all 24 nations in the tournament having played their opening game, the answer to the question "What have we learnt?" is "Not very much that we didn't already know".

Cristiano Ronaldo

Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during a Euro 2020 Group F match against Hungary in Budapest.   -  AP

Cristiano Ronaldo is a match-winner, France is better than Germany and Spain can pass the ball all day without scoring - there really haven't many surprises after the first round of matches in Euro 2020.

With all 24 nations in the tournament having played their opening game, the answer to the question "What have we learnt?" is "Not very much that we didn't already know".

It is perhaps inevitable that we aren't instantly surprised by much in international football these days. In the past, fans didn't know much about foreign teams and their players going into tournaments but with more football and most of it televised globally, we are much more familiar with the cast.

So going into the opening game in Rome, we knew that Italy was better than in recent years and it proved that with a comfortable 3-0 win over Turkey, which provided a minor surprise by being much more negative and less effective than expected.

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Belgium is one of the tournament favourites and confirmed that with a confident 3-0 win in St Petersburg against Russia - achieved without its key midfielder Kevin De Bruyne.

England was good in its opener, a 1-0 win against Croatia, but not as exciting or attacking as the pre-tournament hype had been suggesting.

The pundits told us that Spain was a very different team to the one we had seen in recent years but it looked rather 'on brand' as it out-passed and out-possessed Sweden but lacked the killer touch in front of goal in the 0-0 draw.

Hungary frustrated Portugal until an 84th minute deflection cruelly put it behind and that was cue for Ronaldo to score twice - the first from the penalty spot - and become the tournament's all-time top scorer.

The opening round of fixtures was completed with France content to beat Germany 1-0 - with Joachim Low's side, as expected, not as bad as at the World Cup in Russia in 2018 but still not a match for the world champion.

Compressed season

The football has been decent but not breathtaking. There are hints of the fatigue that many expected after a compressed season under COVID restrictions but don't expect that to be a major talking point until teams start making their excuses for exits.

The forgiving tournament format, with only eight of the 24 teams eliminated after the group stage and third place good enough in four of the six groups, means these early encounters lack major consequence and as a result tension.

The nerves will rise though in the second round of games and the tension will be there in the third set of matches before the drama of the knockout stages.

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Unlike in the World Cup, there are no true minnows, which means there is a chance of upsets in the coming days - after all, we were only an offside call away from unfancied Hungary being 1-0 up against Portugal with ten minutes left on the clock.

But the opening round of games are the starter dishes of this feast of football and as every Italian knows, the aim of that course is to increase the appetite without fully satisfying.

What has been served up so far, may have been fairly predictable soup but the smell from the kitchen suggests spicier fare will soon be served.

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