So many talking points, so much good football, and already, after only the group stages, a lot to remember about Euro 2020.

Group F lived up to its billing: Cristiano Ronaldo equalled the all-time international goal-scoring record of 109; Luka Modric opened the box of cigars with his sublime finish against Scotland; England got through, albeit not emphatically; Spain finally found their scissors; Italy ignited an Azzurri flare; VAR popped in occasionally but didn't ruin the show; concussion is still an issue in football; UEFA blatantly missed the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in Munich whilst Christian Eriksen and his team-mates rewrote Shankly’s memoir about football being more than life or death.

And as we look ahead to the Round of 16 games, we already know that this tournament has a lot more twists and turns to come as it navigates towards Wembley on 11 July.

Despite a big scare against Hungary, Germany finished second in Group F and earned themselves a mouth-watering clash against England in Wembley.

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"Es kommt nach Hause [it’s coming home]," the officially Germany Twitter account tweeted as a gentle reminder that this game on Tuesday night will be a belter!

Much discussion remains over Southgate’s "Best XI" but England did what was needed to finish top of their group and secure a home last-16 clash.

With Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell isolated for their Chelsea chats with Billy Gilmour, Jack Grealish got to start and alongside Harry Maguire and Bukayo Saka, the trio only enhanced the discussion as what names should be on the teamsheet for the Germany encounter.

As if England v Germany wasn’t enough to look forward to, the draw has only gone and served up a Belgium v Portugal appetiser on Sunday as the number one team in the world takes on the reigning European Champions.

I honestly believe the team that wins this tournament will have truly earned it, because Euro 2020 is full of strong teams with incredible talent.

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Belgium v Portugal is all that, and then some. Lukaku v Dias and Pepe in addition to De Bruyne and Hazard against Fernandes/Carvahlo/Perreira with a bit of Ronaldo and Jota thrown in for good measure.

To think, two teams from England, Portugal, Belgium and Germany, will not be in the quarter-finals.

Of the other ties, Croatia v Spain stands out.

Whilst Croatia are not quite the team they were in 2018 when they finished runner-up in the Russia World Cup, Modric sent us all a timely reminder that his class is both timeless and permanent, with his sublime finish from the edge of the box, that drowned out Scotland’s faint hopes of progressing beyond the group stage.

They are still a team that can get big results but they face a Spain side that certainly found their cutting edge in their 5-0 demolition of Slovakia, after lacklustre encounters with Poland and Sweden.

Luis Enrique’s side have more to do in terms of answering the questions posed of them, but you get the feeling this Spain side are very much embryonic in their evolution.

Despite Morata not quite firing on all cylinders, Ferran Torres, Sarabia and Moreno have all looked lively and you definitely get the feeling there is more to come from this crop of players.

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Wales v Denmark will also be an interesting one.

I’ve been impressed with the Welsh side under Rob Page. They work extremely hard for each other and are utterly lethal on the counterattack.

Kieffer Moore is a brilliant target man for them. He holds up the ball and brings their brilliant, pacey attacking players into play. He does the dirty work that enables Bale, Ramsey and James cause havoc in the opposition’s final third.

But they face Denmark, the team that captured the hearts and minds of all that watched their opening fixture against tournament debutants, Finland.

The whole world was stunned and prayed for the safe recovery of their teammate, Christian Eriksen, as he fought a battle that hopefully, will never be seen on a football pitch again.

Eriksen is now recovering and his team-mates have shown incredible resilience and togetherness to progress from their group despite, inexplicably, being left with no real alternative, but to play out the remainder of their match with Finland within hours of the harrowing scenes that took place at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen.

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Somewhere deep inside those players, they have created the most attempts at goal of any team in Euro 2020 so far, and you would have to wonder is there the capacity for a 1992-type story unfolding? This game for me, is the hardest one to call.

The team that have impressed most so far are Italy.

Roberto Mancini’s side exude passion, flair, tenacity, work-rate, comradery. They are fun to watch and they ignite the neutral eye. I think they will have too much for Austria, who have quality in players like Arnautovic and Sabitzer, but not as much flair as the Azzurri.

World champions France have not yet set the tournament alight, although there have been glimpses of what they can produce.

This is the stage for the likes of Pogba and whilst we have seen some moments of pure incisiveness from him, I still have a feeling this team are still in warm-up mode and yet to get into their full stride.

I don’t see any other outcome from their clash with Switzerland than a France win, even though they were held to a 1-1 draw by Hungary. Mbappe, Greizmann, Benzema etc…have much more to give and I think they will.

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In the final two games, I expect the top scorers in the tournament so far, Netherlands, to overcome the Czech Republic.

With eight goals already chalked, three of them for Gini Wijnaldum, it’s hard to see past a Dutch victory despite the top performances (and wonder goal v Scotland) from Patrick Schick.

And finally, the quarter-final billing will be completed when Sweden and Ukraine go head-to-head. Having seen both teams in the group stages this could be a dour 0-0 affair that could well go all the way to penalties.

Neither team are prolific, instead focus a lot on negating the opposition. Sweden might shade it but I don’t foresee a goal-fest!

On the other side of it all, Scotland whimpered out, despite a robust performance against England and Poland, for me, were the most disappointing team.

With players like Robert Lewandowski, Kamil Glik, Karol Linnety, I genuinely expected more but they focused far too much on their own weaknesses (defending, according to recently appointed manager Paulo Sousa) and not on all the things they are really good at.

VAR has done okay, it’s been there but hasn’t imposed itself on the tournament, a little bit like UEFA’s stance on its values when it turned down Munich’s request to light up with pride, beautifully, in the colours of the rainbow.

If you want to change a culture, you need to uphold your values most at the time when they are challenged.

So here’s to the last 16, may they be brighter and even more colourful than the group stages.


Watch every game of Euro 2020 live and watch nightly highlights on RTÉ2 or RTÉ Player | 11 June to 11 July


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