Dear Aspect, which player do you think will be the rising star of the Euro’s?
I think the standout youngster of the tournament so far has been Alexander Isak of Sweden. Although he only has 1 assist to his name so far this tournament, he has spearheaded a Sweden side that has finished as surprise winners of their group, 2 points ahead of Euro 2008 and 2012 winners, Spain. He is often the main outlet for Sweden up top, acting as a target man and holding on to the ball. This allows his team mates to push up the pitch and relieve opposition pressure.
This was no more evident than in the 0-0 group game against Spain in which Sweden only had 14% possession and 1 shot on target yet Isak created Sweden’s only goal scoring opportunity and was a willing runner all game. He scored 17 goals for Real Sociedad in Spain’s top division this season and helped them to a first major trophy in 34 years. I think he will attract a lot of attention from big European clubs this summer and his former employers Borussia Dortmund in the German Bundesliga have a buy back clause in his contract, if his fellow Scandinavian Haaland was to leave the German outfit this summer I think they will activate this buy back clause.
Hey Aspect, what is your winning prediction and why?
I would like to say that England have a very realistic chance of winning the Euro’s, with the only big teams in their side of the knockout round draw being the Netherlands and Germany, whom England face in the round of 16. However, if I was not being biased I think Italy are in with a shot of Euro glory given their recent form. The Azzurri are unbeaten in their last 30 fixtures, winning their last 11 in a row without conceding and scoring 32 goals. They seem to have combined their famed stubbornness at the back with a new, incisive attacking flair, as opposed to their old style of play which was passing teams to death without much attacking impetus, which I think equips them with the arsenal to beat any team.
Do you think crowd participation returning has made a difference?
It has been amazing to hear thousands of supporters cheering on their team again after over a years absence from football stadiums. It creates a great atmosphere that positively impacts the players, motivating them to perform at a higher tempo and give it their all. I think a noticeable aspect of football in empty stadiums was that the tempo would slow to lull at times, without fans urging on their team.
An interesting side effect of the absence of fans in stadiums however was the impact it had on decisions by officials. It was discovered that the away sides in the premier league were winning more free kicks, scored more goals, and received fewer yellow cards. Although the concept of home and away sides does not really exist during international tournaments except for the host nation, it is evident that the presence of spectators may well have led to some biased refereeing.
Who do you think is the dark horse of the competition?
Before the tournament started, I would have said Turkey were the dark horses. However, they have severely underperformed expectations and have lost all three of their group stage fixtures, resultantly finishing bottom of their group with a -7 goal difference. After watching their games, Wales could be the dark horse of the knockout stages as they have finished second in their group, behind Italy. The Dragons lost 1-0 in a competitive fixture against an Italy side that have been immaculate so far this competition, dispatched of the pre-tournament dark horses’ Turkey 2-0, and earned a respectable draw against the Swiss. Wales are in the favourable half of the knockout round draw, avoiding France, Spain, Belgium, Portugal, and Italy. I sense a real togetherness in the Wales squad, which is greater than the sum of its part with the exception of Bale and Ramsey. I am not predicting Wales to win the tournament, however, I think they will go further than many people expect.