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5 takeaways from Saturday's action at Euro 2020

One year later, Euro 2020 is finally underway. At the end of every matchday, we’ll be dissecting the biggest talking points from all the action. Below, we look back on Saturday’s games.

France gets wake-up call

Despite having one of the most talented collections of players at the Euros, France rarely had an answer against an inspired Hungary team Saturday and narrowly avoided an embarrassing defeat in front of a boisterous crowd at Puskas Arena.

Now, France is going to have to qualify for the Euro 2020 knockout round the hard way, as Hungary once again proved its no pushover in the Group of Death.

Perhaps France should have known what was in store given how well Hungary played in its opener against Portugal before the floodgates opened in the final minutes, leading to a flattering 3-0 win for the reigning European champion. Instead, France flirted with disaster, as one of the tournament’s most lethal attacking units struggled to find a breakthrough in the opening 45 minutes before Hungarian wing-back Attila Fiola scored moments before halftime.

FRANCK FIFE / AFP / Getty

The go-ahead goal sent the 60,000-plus in attendance into a frenzy and roused belief that Hungary might just pull off one of the biggest upsets in the competition’s history. The miracle, however, wasn’t meant to be, as Hungary conceded a sloppy equalizer to Antoine Griezmann from close range around the hour mark.

While the stalemate triggered wild celebrations throughout Puskas Arena, it was a bitter blow and missed opportunity for a France side that undoubtedly would have preferred to go into its group stage finale against Portugal with a place in the knockout round already secured.

Portugal in identity crisis at worst time

Portugal’s unconvincing win over Hungary offered lessons about the perils of playing risk-averse football with a group of players capable of so much more. But head coach Fernando Santos chose not to heed those warnings, rolling the same defensive-minded lineup against Germany on Saturday, and he ultimately paid the price.

This team has too much talent to fall back on the conservative principles that underpinned its success five years ago in France. That side was far greater than the sum of its parts. Its defensive roadmap made sense for the personnel it had. To play the same way with one of the country’s most gifted generations is counterproductive at best.

With Nelson Semedo susceptible at right-back, Raphael Guerreiro a risk-taker at left-back, and Pepe off the pace at 38 years of age, Portugal doesn’t have a strong enough backline to withstand the pressure that comes with a counter-attacking strategy. Germany had 51 touches in Portugal’s penalty area alone – two-and-a-half times greater than the tournament average.

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What’s the point of fielding a pair of defensive midfielders if they can’t offer the necessary protection? The game bypassed William Carvalho and Danilo, and Joao Moutinho did little to restore Portugal’s equilibrium off the bench. Never mind the play of the center-backs themselves and the two own goals Portugal conceded. The team couldn’t cope with Germany’s wide men, notably Robin Gosens, and with so much space surrendered, Santos’ game plan stood no chance.

It’s time for a change in tactics. Portugal faces France on Wednesday, and both teams need a win to top Group F. Santos can’t afford to sit back and allow France’s talented attacking trio to do as they please. So flip the script. Portugal has the players to dominate a game. It showed real attacking enterprise after going down 4-1 against Germany, crafting several chances as it mounted an unexpected comeback attempt. Renato Sanches, one of Portugal’s many game-breakers, was again electric off the bench, hitting the post with a fierce strike from distance. It’s time to put faith in him, and in Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, Diogo Jota, and Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s time to bet on talent.

Wing-backs key in Germany win

The Gosens fan club is probably swelling after what might go down as the match and individual performance of the tournament. The Atalanta wing-back put on a clinic against Portugal on Saturday, scoring a goal and providing an assist in Germany’s 4-2 win against the defending European champion.

But the scoring stats hardly reflect just how impressive and overwhelming the 26-year-old was against Portugal’s helpless defense, which rarely had an answer for Gosens or his wing-back partner on the other side of the pitch, Joshua Kimmich.

Both players ran riot, influencing Germany’s attack with just about every burst into the Portuguese end. Kimmich’s versatility was on full display once again, as the Bayern Munich star, who can also play in the middle of the park, excelled in a wide position where his vision and passing helped pile on the pressure.

But Gosens was the star of the show, tormenting Semedo throughout the contest with his brilliant movement off the ball and finding spaces that routinely resulted in scoring chances.

Gosens capped off his man-of-the-match performance with a goal before leaving the pitch to a rousing ovation from appreciative German supporters at the Allianz Arena.

Lack of adventure in Spain squad

Gerard Moreno logged the second-most successful dribbles of any Spaniard in La Liga last season (71), but the next member of Luis Enrique’s squad in that list is Diego Llorente, who with 39 completed take-ons ranked 18th for Spaniards and 35th overall.

Spain’s starters who play in different countries – such as RB Leipzig’s Dani Olmo and Juventus’ Alvaro Morata – aren’t renowned for their dribbling prowess, either, which leaves bench-warming winger Adama Traore as the only other player aside from Moreno with an impatient, impulsive streak to his game. Traore is coming off a frustrating campaign with Wolverhampton Wanderers but has led the Premier League for successful take-ons in back-to-back seasons.

Spain doesn’t like to gamble. It likes to knead the ball, take its time, and retain possession. And that’s exactly why the single-mindedness of Moreno and – if he ever appears on the pitch – Traore stands out on Enrique’s roster. They offer something a bit different to the monotonous parade of sideways passes, and right now, that tactic isn’t working particularly well.

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Moreno was unlucky to hit the post with his penalty during Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Poland, but he should take pride in the fact he dribbled inside Tymoteusz Puchacz before creating Morata’s goal, steered a free-kick narrowly wide, and won a spot-kick in his full tournament debut. His directness was refreshing. He was a threat.

Moreno and Traore should both be in contention to start in Spain’s crucial group decider against Slovakia on Wednesday.

Lewandowski ends drought

Robert Lewandowski, arguably the finest striker on the planet, was treading unfamiliar territory before this weekend’s showdown: he scored just twice in 12 outings for Poland at major tournaments.

But his towering header against Spain meant he now possesses a curious record of scoring only against Euro winners – Greece, Portugal, and now Spain – and, most importantly, gave his country an opportunity to progress to the European Championship’s knockout rounds for the second time in its history.

Quality Sport Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Lewandowski may not have the sublime service he enjoys at Bayern Munich – left-back Puchacz is a considerable downgrade from Alphonso Davies and no Polish player can begin to attempt an imitation of Thomas Muller’s knack of floating into space – but the sleeves-up industry of Paulo Sousa’s ensemble is impressive.

The three Polish center-backs combined for 22 clearances, 11 interceptions, and 10 tackles as they dealt with a Spain side that had over 76% possession in the group-stage affair, and Mateusz Klich is one of a few determined performers in midfield. If it can click from an attacking perspective (and there was evidence it was beginning to when Lewandowski nodded home after Karol Swiderski and Klich hit the woodwork earlier on), there’s no reason why Poland can’t upset some of the bigger teams in the tournament.

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Ligue 1

PSG clinch record-equaling 10th Ligue 1 title amid muted celebrations

Back in August, amid an explosion of fireworks and optimism at the Parc des Princes, Paris Saint-Germain’s in-stadium announcer hyped up the club’s five superstar signings, listing their many achievements before unveiling them to the starstruck crowd. Lionel Messi smiled and waved as the fans chanted his name. Gianluigi Donnarumma, fresh off winning Euro 2020 with Italy, towered over everyone. Achraf Hakimi, Sergio Ramos, and Georginio Wijnaldum joined them for a photo op. The place was rocking. It looked like the center of the football universe.

Eight months after the big party in Paris, PSG clinched the Ligue 1 title – their eighth in the last 10 years and a record-equaling 10th overall – with little of the fanfare that made this club the envy of Europe just a short time ago.

Saturday’s 1-1 draw with 10-man Lens was as anticlimactic as title-clinchers can be. Messi’s goal from distance lifted the atmosphere at the Parc des Princes – if only for a few minutes. Lens’ late leveler made for an awkward finale. When the final whistle sounded, the players gathered in the center circle, embraced each other, and shared a few words. No one really celebrated.

Few seemed to care that PSG had romped to the title with an unassailable 16-point lead over second-placed Marseille. At halftime, with the game still goalless, a large number of supporters whistled the team off the pitch. Head coach Mauricio Pochettino was booed. The ultras headed for the exits after 75 minutes, showing their back to the team. You could hear them holding their own party outside the stadium. They didn’t want to share this one with these players.

BERTRAND GUAY / AFP / Getty

The ultras have been protesting since the club’s humiliating exit from the Champions League in March. PSG were eliminated from the round of 16 for the fourth time in six seasons after blowing a 2-0 aggregate lead against Real Madrid. It was a damaging result that killed already waning confidence in Qatar Sports Investments, which has failed to deliver European success in the decade it’s controlled the club.

Days after the debacle, during a 3-0 win over Bordeaux, fans booed Messi and Neymar every time they touched the ball. Banners called for club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi and sporting director Leonardo to resign. Everyone but Kylian Mbappe felt their wrath.

That’s because Mbappe is the reason PSG ran away with this title. He starred for the capital club when Messi and Neymar were missing in action. With 22 goals and 14 assists, the Frenchman often decided games in the final few minutes, bailing out otherwise dour team performances.

PSG’s other stars made little contribution to this title. Keylor Navas started more often in goal than Donnarumma. Ramos logged just 529 minutes of playing time, and Messi’s made fewer league appearances than Danilo Pereira, scoring just four goals.

The season truly ended when PSG crumbled at the Santiago Bernabeu. The goal now is to convince Mbappe to stay. The 23-year-old can leave the club for free when his contract expires in June.

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Ligue 1

? Top 21 athletes of 2021: 11-7

Throughout a busy 2021 schedule, athletes treated fans to remarkable and awe-inspiring performances. With the year winding down, theScore looked back at an exciting 12 months and voted on its top 21 sportspeople.

21-17 I 16-12 I 11-7 I 6-2 (Dec. 30) I No. 1 (Dec. 31)

11. Tadej Pogacar, cycling

Tim de Waele / Velo / Getty

Cyclists aren’t supposed to dominate in their early 20s. It’s just not something that happens. But Pogacar clearly isn’t one for such conventions. In July, the Slovenian all-rounder became the youngest winner of successive Tour de France titles. Six days after the grueling 3,400-kilometre Euro trek, the 23-year-old captured bronze in the Olympic men’s road race. Add in victories at two of the sport’s most-prized one-day races – Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Giro di Lombardia – and Pogacar’s year is among the best in recent history.

10. Lionel Messi, Paris Saint-Germain

Aurelien Meunier – PSG / PSG / Getty

Messi won the Ballon d’Or a record seventh time in 2021. The 34-year-old was effectively forced to leave Barcelona in the summer due to the club’s huge debts, but he still departed with a Copa del Rey triumph and a remarkable haul of 28 goals in 29 appearances over the 2020-21 campaign. However, his greatest feat was in the Copa America, where he inspired Argentina with four goals and five assists. At long last, victory over Brazil in the final earned Messi his first senior international trophy.

9. Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing

Dan Istitene – Formula 1 / Formula 1 / Getty

For the first time since 2016, someone other than Lewis Hamilton won the Formula 1 drivers’ championship. Verstappen claimed the title on the final lap of the final race of the season. While his victory comes with some controversy, the Dutchman is a deserving champion. He won a season-best 10 races and stood on the podium 18 times, earning top-two finishes in the final eight races. Verstappen also became the fourth-youngest champion at 24 years and 73 days old.

8. Elaine Thompson-Herah, track

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Jamaica’s Thompson-Herah won gold at the women’s 4x100m relay in Tokyo, and she became the first woman to capture the sprint double at back-to-back Olympics. She joined Usain Bolt as the only two who’ve achieved that feat – decent company. Thompson-Herah is also the second-fastest woman ever at both distances – an outstanding accomplishment considering dual record holder Florence Griffith-Joyner’s implausible standards. And, at the Prefontaine Classic in August, the 29-year-old Thompson-Herah ran a personal-best 10.54 in the 100m, just 0.05 seconds back of FloJo’s mark. Blink and you’ll miss her.

7. Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich

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Lewandowski’s resume speaks for itself. After establishing himself as one of the world’s most prolific strikers in the last decade, the Bayern Munich star elevated his game to another level in 2021. He cemented his place as a Bundesliga legend last season with 41 league goals – breaking Gerd Muller’s 49-year single-season scoring record – on his way to winning the European Golden Boot. Although Lewandowski controversially didn’t get his hands on the elusive Ballon d’Or, 2021 will go down as the year he emerged from the shadows of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to be recognized as one of soccer’s brightest stars.

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Ligue 1

Emiliano Sala flight organizer convicted of endangering safety of aircraft

The man who organized the fatal flight of footballer Emiliano Sala was convicted Thursday.

Businessman David Henderson was found guilty of endangering the safety of an aircraft at a trial at Cardiff Crown Court, according to BBC News.

The 67-year-old will be sentenced Nov. 12. He previously pleaded guilty to a charge of trying to organize a flight without permission or authorization.

Sala and pilot David Ibbotson died when the single-engine Piper Malibu they were traveling in crashed into the English Channel in January 2019.

The Argentine forward was flying to Wales to link up with his new club, Cardiff City, and complete his £15-million transfer from French side Nantes – the city from which the flight departed.

LOIC VENANCE / AFP / Getty

The jury took seven-and-a-half hours to make its decision.

Henderson, who was on holiday in France at the time of the flight, asked Ibbotson to fly the plane. However, Ibbotson did not hold a commercial pilot’s license, which is required to fly at night, and the 59-year-old’s qualifications to fly the single-engine Piper Malibu had expired months before the trip. The Piper Malibu’s owner had also told Henderson not to let Ibbotson fly the plane again because the pilot had committed airspace infringements.

A carbon monoxide leak occurred during the flight, an August 2019 report from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch revealed. The plane crashed after Ibbotson’s attempt to pull it up caused the aircraft to break up in midair.

The jury was told that Henderson texted multiple people moments after the plane crashed, telling them to stay silent about the matter out of fear they would “open a can of worms.”

The prosecutor described Henderson as “reckless or negligent” for prioritizing his business interests over the safety of travelers.

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