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Euro 2024: Five things we learned from Matchday Two

Following the second round of fixtures at Euro 2024 we’ve picked out five things we’ve learned from the latest action.

Electric Spain wingers leading stylistic shift

Spain have been the most impressive team in the tournament so far and have done so with an abandonment of past principles. The golden age of La Roja saw the Spanish suffocate teams with unrelenting possession en route to consecutive major tournament wins between 2008 and 2012, but this summer has been an exciting new rebrand.

After tearing Croatia apart in their opening fixture, Luis de la Fuente’s side tormented holders Italy in their second fixture. Tiki-taka has been forgotten in favour of terrifying transitions with the wing-pairing of Lamine Yamal and Nico Williams illuminating the finals.

Yamal was the headline act of the 3-0 win over Croatia as the 16-year-old lived up to his billing as one of world football’s most exciting prospects before Williams took centre stage against Italy.

The Athletic Bilbao winger was at his jet-heeled best to give Giovanni Di Lorenzo a torrid time, completing four dribbles, hitting the post, and providing the cross that led to the winner. There’s anticipation whenever Williams picks up possession in a Spain team that has been wonderfully watchable so far.

Player Analysis: Why Premier League clubs want Nico Williams

The best players do not always equate to the best team

The pieces of the puzzle are not adding up for Gareth Southgate and England so far. After the 1-0 win over Serbia saw opinions split between ‘solid start’ and ‘underwhelming’ the see-saw tipped in favour of the latter in round two. Another strong start was followed with a performance full of tepidity and void of ideas.

The lack of a left-footer at left-back is painfully apparent, and Phil Foden’s desire to come inside for involvement denies England further width on one side of the pitch. Elsewhere, the Trent Alexander-Arnold experiment has not worked out as hoped, with a forward line that favours coming short negating the expansive passing range the 25-year-old has been included centrally to use.

So far, Southgate has chosen his best players in a (failed) bid to make a great team. Now, after two performances that have made a mockery of suggestions England are favourites for his tournament, he must find the most suitable players to make his best team.

Fortunately, he has options. Adam Wharton or Kobbie Mainoo could offer greater balance in midfield, while Anthony Gordon would provide touchline-hugging width. Meanwhile, Cole Palmer – who has failed to play a single minute so far – could inject some much-needed composure and creativity.

Horses for courses.

Austria living up to dark horse tag

Each tournament has teams labelled with the dark horse tag, a side with the capabilities to shock and surprise.

Austria were heavily fancied to do just that and have justified pre-tournament predictions so far. After pushing France close in their opener, Ralf Rangnick’s side turned on the style to thrash Poland 3-1 and get up and running.

Rangnick earned plenty of flak during an underwhelming spell as interim boss at Manchester United but the veteran coach is shining this summer. The ‘Godfather of gegenpressing’ has Austria in tune, their running relentless and pressure suffocating.

International teams do not often operate with such intensity, given the lack of time to build cohesion in comparison to club football, but Austria are finding a way.

Their all-action football has been a pleasure to watch so far and leaves them in a strong position to qualify from a tough group. The Netherlands have been warned ahead of Tuesday’s crunch clash.

Giorgi Mamardashvili stocks are rising

Georgia have been another breath of fresh air at Euro 2024 with the tournament debutants involved in two epic contests so far. The vulnerability of Georgia has made their games must-watch and have seen Giorgi Mamardashvili called into consistent action.

Fortunately for Georgia, Mamardashvili is having a tournament to remember. No goalkeeper has made more saves than the 23-year-old at Euro 2024 so far and his man-of-the-match performance against the Czech Republic earned Georgia their first tournament result.

The 23-year-old made a staggering 11 saves, the most a goalkeeper has made in a European Championship game since 2004, and racked up a goals-prevented figure of 3.19.

Newcastle continued to be linked with Mamardashvili whose stock is on the rise this summer. Valencia can expect the phone to ring regularly in the transfer window, with enquiries for one of the best up-and-coming goalkeepers in the game.

Pepe a timeless titan for Portugal

Age is just a number.

Pepe is certainly proving that point during his fifth European Championship for Portugal with the centre-back – now the oldest player in the tournament’s history – proving to be timeless.

Even in a squad as stacked as Portugal’s, the 41-year-old is leading by example. The exciting talents of Antonio Silva and Goncalo Inacio are being forced to wait their turn as Pepe commands at centre-back for Roberto Martinez’s side.

Against Turkey, he received an ovation from both sets of fans after a defensive masterclass. He made seven clearances and four recoveries, completed 97% of his passes, and earned rapturous applause for a thudding challenge on Orkun Kökçü.

Footballers might be playing longer than ever before but Pepe is a phenomenon to be performing at this level in his 41st year.

For context, Pepe’s international debut came just a month after Spain winger Lamine Yamal was born, while he’s almost a full five years older than Germany manager Julian Nagelsmann.

Read – Euro 2024 – Best XI from the second round of group games

See more – Tweets of the Week: Safety first Southgate, Shearer shreds Lineker, Sutton’s broken nose

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