Let’s be honest, the last year has been crap. Sure, we haven’t had to endure a world war that devastated a world, a civil war that could potentially destroy a country or even a dictatorship like one the world has never seen before. But this is the modern world and thus we’ve had a modern issue.
A global pandemic. A world in disarray. People stuffed into their houses for an absurd amount of time without any human contact apart from their family. For a group of mammals labelled as the “social generation” to do that was tough and beyond what anyone imagined. It’s only then so many realised that social media goes only so far, it’s only then people realised just how much human contact they crave, it’s only then people realised how fragile life truly is.
And yet, in the midst of it all, many didn’t even have their greatest distraction. Some did, in the form of binge-watching various shows and movies, while the others re-watched old glory day games on big screens which as close as it would come to a live game. But then the Euro 2020 got pushed by a year, the Tokyo Olympics got pushed by a year, the Copa America got pushed by a year and basically, everything got pushed by a year.
But still, the moment the Bundesliga paved the way for everyone, it gave a lot of fans hope. Then the Premier League, Serie A and La Liga all followed suit although everything was played behind closed doors. However, at the start of the 2020/21 season, things changed as the world starting fighting back the pandemic and slowly doors started opening. There was a shimmer of light, a silver lining so to speak as the Bundesliga and the Ligue 1 became rebels as they welcomed back supporters.
England did the same for less than a month before they were forced to take a dramatic U-turn with Germany and France following their route for once. And suddenly while we all had football to watch and enjoy, it wasn’t the same. Fake fans hurt the game and while hearing the absurd amount of how much players talk/communicate on the field was fun, it just wasn’t the same. This is why when the Euro 2020 groups were announced, the world never reacted even though nothing has changed since then.
Because while we’ve known that Germany, France and Portugal were all placed in the same group since November 2019, few even cared even if it had been, once again, termed as the Group of Death, because it really didn’t matter. Because this was before a global pandemic struck and made everyone rethink their lives. This was before football changed as a whole through the Super League, the playing behind closed doors bit and everything else.
And yet, the hype was never really there because as we’ve historically seen, Group of Deaths have never ever lived up to their potential. It all started when a Mexican journalist dubbed a 1970 World Cup group containing reigning champs England, eventual winners Brazil, 1962 finalists Czechoslovakia and Romania, as a group of death. It disappointed with Romania and Czechoslovakia finishing third and fourth with 2 and 0 points respectively.
That disappointment took 12 years to get over when defending champs Argentina, Brazil and eventual winners Italy were piled together for the second round of the Group stages. Italy progressed with a 3-2 win over Brazil and a 2-1 win over Argentina with the reigning champs ending up with a grand total of 0 points. 1986 was the next time it appeared and for once, we weren’t completely disappointed with Uruguay, West Germany, Denmark and Scotland the four teams.
Denmark annihilated their opposition, West Germany won the one game and Uruguay finished third with Scotland the only side not to progress. But the point remains, even with the Danish playing marvellous football and shocking Uruguay with a 6-1 defeat, the world still didn’t remain completely satisfied. And who can blame them? Because since then any group with hopes of a genuine giant-killing possibility has been labelled “Grupo de la Muerte” and nothing has ever lived up to the hype.
Partly because an expansion to the World Cup from 24 to 32 teams has rarely seen a legitimate challenger thrown into the mix. Things didn’t change in either the 2010 World Cup or the 2014 World Cup even if many expected reigning champions, Spain to get knocked out. While nobody expected it to be quite so dramatic with losses to Chile and the Netherlands, Australia still disappointed and thus let the entire group down.
But the Euros have been different because for twelve years, between 1980 and 1992, there were only eight teams which means every group was a Grupo de la Muerte. It became so bad that a journalist brought in the ‘group of life’ phrase where a group was so weak, or rather had no giants, and thus every team had a chance of qualifying. Things changed when UEFA introduced the "the four best third-place team" after they increased it to 24 teams to make it even more fun.
But then turned up Euro 2020 and Group F with Germany, Hungary, France and Portugal.
A group destined to do bad things even if they had the reigning world champs, the reigning European Championship champs and the former World champs alongside Hungary placed in one group. Fortune, history and just basic common sense told us that this would disappoint again, that either France or Portugal would let us down and get humiliated but still and we had hope. Because after the year the world had just had, they needed one thing to go its way.
1. France: 5 points— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 23, 2021
2. Germany: 4 points
3. Portugal: 4 points
Group F was a ride 😅🎢 pic.twitter.com/xDtpWHit95
Even if that one thing was something as meaningless as an exciting Group of Death for once in tournament history. And not exciting where the little side, in this case, Hungary, puts up a fight but gets thrashed either way. But something where the excitement, the enthralling nature of it all and the fact that a massive massive massive team could get eliminated transformed the game of football for everyone and adds something more to the Euro 2020. But common sense told us otherwise.
And then Portugal only beat Hungary after an eight-minute spell towards the end of the game that resulted in three goals. France beat Germany, then drew to Hungary while Germany beat Portugal 4-2 despite conceding first. It was all set up for the perfect ending and boy, did it live up to everything. That is despite common sense screaming at us otherwise, despite historical results telling us otherwise and despite everything telling us otherwise.
Hungary took the lead first, which would mean Germany would be eliminated as it stood, then Portugal took the lead, and France dropped to second. Then France equalised to push them back up to the top of the group with Portugal in second and then scored again to push Portugal into third place based on H2H. Then Portugal scored to push them back up to second, Germany scored to push them into contention but Hungary took the lead….right from kick-off. But in the end, it simply wasn’t to be.
Germany equalised, Portugal finished third with France and Germany finishing first and second respectively. Hungary finished fourth but the Grupo de la Muerte had finally lived up to its title. Entertaining and exciting with off the seat action combined with a scary notion that one of Germany or Portugal wouldn’t make it. And the kicker was, it happened in front of more than 70,000 combined fans in Budapest and in Munich.
A statement that few would have expected to say at the start of the 2020/21 season but the mere notion of football - let alone exciting, modern and attractive football - was being played in front of so many fans transformed the world. It has given us hope to believe in the future but more importantly, this meant more. Had this taken, as planned, pre-pandemic then there’s a good chance that none of that actually happened or if it does, few people take notice of it. Because this meant more.