The final week of the European Championships are upon us as the continent’s four best sides congregate in northwest London for the semifinals and final at Wembley Stadium. After the shocks of the last 16, the quarterfinals rather went to form, meaning that the side that has topped our power rankings since early in the competition remains at the head of the table.
1. Italy (5-0-0)
Previous rank: 1. The last team left with a 100 percent record, Italy have had to earn that the hard way in the knockout stages but if anything it suggests a broader repertoire after the dominance they exerted over opponents in the group games. There was no such authority over Belgium, whose expected goals (xG) tally of 1.7 was far higher than the combined quality of shots Roberto Mancini’s side faced from Turkey, Switzerland and Wales though of course when you have raced into a two-goal lead you do not need to chase that many shooting opportunities. Additionally subtract Romelu Lukaku’s spot kick from the equation and you have a non-penalty xG of 0.9, not bad at all against by far the best attack they have faced in the tournament so far.
Certainly on another day Lukaku might have scored at least one of the two other presentable chances that came his way but aside from the Inter Milan striker, Belgium’s shooting opportunities were relatively few and far between. Not for nothing did 2016 World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger describe Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci as “the best center-backs in the world.” Theirs is a partnership more than a decade in the making; in an international game where there is no time for teammates to build such understanding their Juventus bond shines through.
Meanwhile at the other end Italy’s offense still has the variety that means they can weather an off day from a star performer. Per FB-reference Marco Verratti leads Euro 2020 in terms of shot creating actions per 90 with a gaudy 8.65. In second place is another Italian, Lorenzo Insigne at 6.22. Leonardo Spinazzola also sits in the top 20 and whilst his loss to injury will be keenly felt Emerson Palmieri is an eminently reliable back up. The same is true across the side: Domenico Berardi, Manuel Locatelli and Franceso Acerbi have all had exceptional performances in this tournament. All of them were on the bench in Munich. Mancini has quality and numbers. His team have to be considered favorites.
2. England (4-1-0)
Previous rank: 3. Having said all that if there is any squad that can challenge Italy for variety it is England. After all, Gareth Southgate was just able to bring Jadon Sancho from the peripheries of the squad to rifle through an exhausted Ukraine side. For the Three Lions this has rather felt like a tournament where every player has had his moment from Kalvin Phillips in the early games to the Harrys and Henderson who scored in Rome. Among all that Raheem Sterling has been perhaps the best player at Euro 2020, his country’s leading scorer and (along with Luke Shaw) the English player with the most shot creating actions (10).
That that is only good for 50th place in the tournament is an indication of England’s tactical approach: one that has prioritized keeping it tight at one end and trusting that they can convert the opportunities that come their way at the other. Certainly the former is an undeniable success, their opponents have the third-lowest combined xG tally of the tournament. The two teams below them (the Netherlands and Scotland) have played at least one game fewer. Unsurprisingly their per 90 xG allowed mark of 0.62 is by some distance the best of the tournament.
Prior to the win over Ukraine, Southgate’s side were something of a shot shy outfit; even in Rome they only unleashed 10 shots on Heorhiy Bushchan’s goal though it will surely be a welcome sight for England that Harry Kane was back to something more approximating his volume shooting self. The question is to what extent this more swashbuckling performance was a one off against an exhausted, depleted opponent that would have struggled even at full strength. A meeting with Denmark will offer a clearer indication.
3. Spain (3-3-0)
Previous rank: 2. Demotion it may be but this should not reflect any lack of faith in Spain, rather the improvements made by those above them. Luis Enrique’s side was what they have been throughout this tournament in a penalty shootout victory over Switzerland: a dangerous creative force whose finishing can veer wildly off course from game to game. At Euro 2020 they have created shooting opportunities worth 14.4 xG (including three penalties) and have scored nine goals. No other nation has such a vast discrepancy though equally no one comes close to making such good opportunities. Over the course of a season at club level one might expect some degree of regression to the mean but it is equally possible that in the space of six or seven games the one constant could be wild oscillation.
Then there is the fact that Spain ran into another goalkeeper in outstanding form: Switzerland’s Yann Sommer putting in a display of goalkeeping excellence as significant as anyone in the European Championships. Even Gianluigi Donnarumma would do well to match that and were it not for the Borussia Monchengladbach veteran’s excellence, Spain would have been out of sight long before the penalty shootout.
Spanish shooting has not been excellent throughout the tournament either. Usually on this occasion one would bring up Alvaro Morata but it is instead Dani Olmo and Gerard Moreno who, of all players in the tournament, have underperformed their non penalty xG by the greatest margin. Again such trends ought not to last over the long run but Euro 2020 remains firmly in the region of a bad patch of form being potentially critical. The same might be true at the back, where Luis Enrique’s side have struggled when Aymeric Laporte and Eric Garcia have not played together. There is a simple answer to those problems — play them both — but it is yet another seed of a doubt that this team leaves you with.
4. Denmark (3-0-2)
Previous rank: 5. Someone has to be the least formidable semifinalist on paper but to place them fourth is not to take away from all that Denmark have achieved and might yet over the next week. In purely footballing terms their response to losing the creative hub of their team, Christian Eriksen, has been exceptional. Away from the pitch it has been yet more admirable. It has not gone and should not go unnoticed how this team has rallied to build a sense of the extraordinary out of its last three games; there is an intangible sense around Kasper Hjullmand’s side that makes you think Denmark’s role in Euro 2020 may not end in midweek.
The question is to what extent they have met an awkward match for them in England. This is a Danish side that loves to cross, exploiting the size of Yussuf Poulsen, Martin Brathwaite in open play and a host of giant midfielders and center backs from dead balls. Harry Maguire, John Stones and Declan Rice are rather more comfortable against those than they might be against balls in behind. Brathwaite and Kasper Dolberg can do damage in that regard, as can the excellent wing back Joakim Maehle, but English strength against wide balls certainly lessens the effectiveness of a team that has scored five of their six knockout goals from what might be considered crosses into the box.
And with that here’s a fond farewell to the remainder of the quarterfinalists. Credit must undoubtedly go to Switzerland, particularly Yann Sommer and Xherdan Shaqiri, for the way they grew into this tournament. But for a few better taken spot kicks it might be them taking to the field at Wembley in a few days.
5. Belgium (4-0-1): Previous rank: 4
6. Switzerland (1-3-1): Previous rank: 7
7. Czech Republic (3-0-2): Previous rank: 6
8. Ukraine (2-0-3): Previous rank: 8
9. France (1-2-1)
10. Croatia (1-1-2)
11. Portugal (1-1-2)
12. Germany (1-1-2)
13. Netherlands (3-0-1)
14. Sweden (2-1-1)
15. Austria (2-0-2)
16. Wales (1-1-2)
17. Hungary (0-2-1)
18. Finland (1-0-2)
19. Slovakia (1-0-2)
20. Poland (1-0-2)
21. Russia (1-0-2)
22. Scotland (0-1-2)
23. North Macedonia (0-0-3)
24. Turkey (0-0-3)