THURSDAY'S BIG STORIES

Group Of Life

Well, that was a rollercoaster. Over the course of 90 very confusing, highly exciting minutes, Group F twisted and contorted itself into every possible configuration. One minute France were top, then it was Portugal; one minute Germany were going out, the next Hungary.
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For a couple of minutes there, Scotland were going through as group winners, although that turned out to be an administrative error.
In the end… well, France, Germany and Portugal all went through while Hungary went out, which is kind of what we all thought might happen anyway. But exciting paths to predictable results is what group stages are all about, so it would be churlish to complain. And at least Hungary's early exit means UEFA's administrators can stop doing embarrassing things to the word "political".
For the neutral, this is perhaps the best possible outcome. Each qualified team had a moment or two of looking extremely impressive; each qualified team had a moment of looking extremely vulnerable. Any thoughts that France might clean-sheet their way through the tournament have been dispelled, first by Hungary and then by Portugal, with the help of the referee. There is a soft centre to the world champions.
Although for completion's sake, we should probably acknowledge the hard edge too. A few seconds into the second half, Paul Pogba, quarterbacking with the confidence and comfort that only a man playing next N'Golo Kante can know, curled a perfect through ball into the path of Karim Benzema. Some passes beg to be finished. This one was carrying a gold-edged invitation, embossed with whatever the French is for RSVP. That moment, that combination, is the reason Benzema is back in the international fold. And it seems to be working.
As for the European champions, this was a far more convincing performance than the first two games. It turns out the key to unlocking Portugal is picking Renato Sanches, who may be football's first European Championship specialist. Or perhaps it's dropping Bruno Fernandes, the most tired man in the universe. Either way, it worked, and Portugal suddenly have a midfield again.
And then Germany. It's fairly obvious now that nobody involved in Germany's tournament, from Jogi Löw downwards, has any real idea what's going to happen next, and that the most consistently consistent nation in the history of international football is just making things up as they go along. This is, obviously, tremendous news for everybody…

Coming Home Status: Unclear

… not least, Gareth Southgate. A theory: getting Germany in the round of 16 is the best thing that could have happened to England. Not perhaps for their chances of winning the whole tournament, but certainly for anybody that hasn't yet seen that clip of Gazza — stretching, lunging, missing — a few hundred times.
Such a big game will necessarily focus the mind. The ongoing conversation over Southgate's style, and whether being dull is a good thing (control! professionalism! look at France!) or a bad thing (boring! unambitious! extremely vulnerable to getting undone by one moment of bad luck!) will all recede, just a little, as the necessity of getting a result takes hold.
It has been something of a pattern over the last few generations: England, however good or bad they might seem to be, last exactly as long in a tournament as it takes to run into properly decent opponents. Snapping that streak — even if they don't have a single shot on target in the process, even if they play seven at the back — will therefore be the most interesting thing any England team has done in years.
Or to put it another way: there is the England football team, and then there is the ongoing national argument about the England team. Most of the time, the former is far less intense and exciting than the latter. But not with 90 minutes against Germany coming up. And maybe extra time. And maybe even penalties. Hey, remember that time Gazza nearly scored?

'More to come from us' - Southgate praises England and 'fabulous' Saka

Oh No

For 20 minutes or so, it was the same Spain game. The same as last week, the same as last tournament. We even got another missed penalty, another chance for the universe to point at Álvaro Morata's chest, then flick its finger up into his face and laugh.
But then! Goals! Lots of goals! Spain, according to Luis Enrique, were like a bottle of cava just waiting to be uncorked. The nation therefore extends its gratitude to Slovakia goalkeeper Martin Dúbravka, who wandered into the kitchen, took the fizz from the fridge, gave it a vigorous shake, and then spilled it all over his trousers.
You can kind of see all the little errors that add up to the massive one. The slightly mistimed jump. The misjudgement of the angle, meaning he has to twist down behind the left hand as it's braced against the crossbar. The decision to go for the control of the open hand rather than the power of the closed fist. But even so, it remains baffling and beautiful. You can analyse art as much as you like, but you will still never know quite why it makes your soul sing.
It's been a good tournament for own goals, but this one will be remembered for years to come. Whenever goalkeepers gather, they will raise their glasses and give thanks: that wasn't me. Unless Dúbravka's there, of course, in which case you'd imagine lots of slightly-too-loud conversation mixed with awkward silences. How's things, Martin? How have you been? Good, good. Oh, is that the time?

IN OTHER NEWS

Careful, careful, careful… oh no! Look out! Martin Dúbravka's coming to lend a hand.

RETRO CORNER

Match of the Day's goal of the season shortlist for 1992/93. Rest in peace, Dalian Atkinson.

HAT TIP

Renato Sanches was excellent against France last night. Renato Sanches was total bobbins for Swansea just a few short seasons ago. Here's Stuart James for the Athletic, looking at his rise, and fall, and rise.
It is easy to forget that Bayern signed Sanches a month before those Euros, rather than on the back of his performances in them. At the time it looked like a masterstroke, especially as Manchester United and a number of other top clubs had been chasing the player. The public statement that Bayern made at the time even mentioned that they would make an additional payment if Sanches won the Ballon d’Or while with them or was named in the FIFA team of the year.

COMING UP

A rest day! A flipping rest day! Luckily the Copa América is still here to see us through. Bolivia take on Uruguay, and then Chile play Paraguay in the wee small hours.
Tom Adams will be here to carry you carefully through tomorrow's Warm-Up.
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