The first tournament to be staged across an entire continent has certainly had a bit of everything with the usual on-field drama complemented by a fair share of controversy and incident.
With the curtain set to fall on a unique Euros at Wembley this weekend, we recap 10 of the memorable tournament moments and talking points.
We were barely 24 hours into the tournament when there was the very real prospect the whole thing could come to a standstill.
The world watched on in horror as Denmark’s Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest during their opening game with Finland and collapsed to the turf.
The television coverage was a little too intrusive as we watched the stricken midfielder receive CPR as the stadium in Copenhagen was stunned into silence.
The Euros started in an horrendous fashion when Denmark’s Christian Eriksen collapsed (pictured – his team-mates surround their star player as he received CPR)
Thankfully there was a good outcome. Denmark’s medical team managed to revive Eriksen and he was soon stabilised in hospital.
Their heroic actions undoubtedly saved his life, while Denmark captain Simon Kjaer was praised for responding quickly to clear Eriksen’s airways, arranging his team-mates to block the view of the TV cameras and comforting Eriksen’s distraught wife Sabrina.
We still don’t know whether Eriksen’s career will resume after he completes his recovery but the incident created a strong sense of unity at the tournament, with each nation sending ‘get well’ messages.
More surprising was that the match continued that night after the Denmark players had spoken to Eriksen in his hospital bed. They went on to lose 1-0 but ultimately rode a wave of emotion to the semi-finals.
Hero captain Simon Kjaer comforted Eriksen’s distraught wife Sabrina as he was treated
Eriksen is thankfully on the mend but we still don’t know if his playing career will continue
Ronaldo doesn’t Enjoy Coke
One of the more bizarre moments came when Cristiano Ronaldo, attending a press conference after Portugal’s opening game against Hungary, removed Coca-Cola bottles from the table and told everyone to ‘drink water’ instead.
Coca-Cola has long been one of the tournament’s most prominent sponsors and one of football’s biggest and most influential global stars essentially telling everyone not to drink it didn’t go down too well.
Reports suggested it wiped billions off Coke’s market value but this turned out to be untrue.
Cristiano Ronaldo removes bottles of Coke placed in front of him at a press conference – before telling everyone to drink water instead
It started a theme, however. Italy’s Manuel Locatelli copied Ronaldo while Paul Pogba, a practising Muslim, removed bottles of non-alcoholic Heineken beer before he sat down to speak.
It led to a general rebuke by UEFA, who reminded the players that such sponsors do pour a lot of money into the game in general and threatened punishments for any other dissenters.
It did lead to some amusing moments. Scotland’s John McGinn asked ‘nae Coke’ when he sat down to chat to the press.
Austria coach Franco Foda swigged happily from a Coke bottle after their qualification for the last-16 was confirmed while Russia boss Stanislav Cherchesov showed some nifty bottle opening skills. Take that Ronnie!
Paul Pogba removed a bottle of Heineken beer from his eyeline ahead of a press conference
The glorious return of crowds
Already delayed a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, there remained a real worry the Euros would be a moribund affair played out in the shadow of the virus.
UEFA insisted on a minimum of 25 per cent capacity from its host venues, meaning Dublin had to give up their four games while Spain’s share switched from Bilbao to Seville.
It led to some inconsistency. Some games, especially those in Budapest, were played out in front of capacity crowds and in raucous atmospheres.
Others were sorry-looking occasions in front of banks of empty seats with next to no noise. The Wales vs Switzerland game in Baku was one such flat occasion given the long and complicated journey fans needed to undertake to get there.
The colourful return of fans, such as these Dutch supporters in Budapest, enlivened the Euros
Belgian fans show their support as they take on Italy in the Euro quarter-finals in Munich
But overall the return of crowds across Europe has lifted the gloom of the last year and suggested the continent is moving on from the virus.
The scenes at Wembley as England beat Germany and Denmark en route to the final were very special while even limited crowds have generated great occasions in Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Rome and elsewhere.
Thankfully, the tournament has been largely unaffected by positive Covid tests among players with each of the teams cocooned in a bio-secure bubble.
Other games, such as Wales vs Switzerland in Baku, were less well attended at the Euros
England fans celebrate their last-16 victory over Germany at a raucous Wembley Stadium
Scotland’s Billy Gilmour tested positive after their group game with England and missed their decisive game against Croatia.
Though his positive result didn’t force any Scottish players into isolation, it did lead to England’s Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell isolating as a precaution after they chatted to Chelsea club-mate Gilmour in the Wembley tunnel.
Croatia’s Ivan Perisic and Slovakia’s Denis Vavro were among the handful of other positive Covid cases but thankfully the tournament hasn’t been derailed.
VAR as it should be
Are you watching, Premier League? The much-maligned Video Assistant Referee has worked like a dream at the Euros. In fact, the standard of refereeing across the board has been largely excellent.
The team of referees picked had plenty of experience to call upon and have not allowed any game to boil over with just six red cards shown in 50 matches.
The use of VAR has been limited to just the incidents where it is really justified and this has succeeded in allowing the games to flow and certainly reduces tension for the fans.
The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) seems to have worked smoothly during the tournament
It’s in contrast to the Premier League, where VAR seems to want to find reason to disallow every goal and award a penalty for every minor infraction with its coloured lines and slow-motion replays.
UEFA’s VAR process seems far smoother. A study after the group stage games by UEFA recorded just 12 VAR interventions, of which eight were about handball or offside. Some were resolved in as little as 30 seconds.
It feels that even after a couple of years, the VAR set-up in the English game still needs refinement and plenty of lessons in good practice can be learned from these past few weeks.
The standard of refereeing during the tournament has been generally praised
England enjoy home advantage
With five of their six matches at Wembley and another to come on Sunday, there have been plenty of sour remarks about England enjoying an unfair home advantage in a pan-European tournament.
They had to travel to Rome for the quarter-final against Ukraine but compared to many of the other nations, they’ve had it easy in that regard.
With Covid restrictions limiting the number of visiting fans allowed into the country, the Wembley crowds have been overwhelmingly pro-English as well.
England have enjoyed home advantage at Wembley for five games so far with another to come
It has been pointed out that Denmark had to travel all the way to Baku and back before heading to Wembley to meet England in the semi-finals, yet for any additional fatigue they still took their opponents to extra time.
Ever since Brussels pulled out of hosting tournament games in 2017, it was known that Wembley would stage the semi-finals and final. It is to England’s credit they’ve been good enough to get this far.
It could also have been a far more arduous route had they not topped their group and other nations such as Italy, Spain, Denmark and Holland also enjoyed home advantage for the first part of their campaigns.
And given the enormous pressure England’s team always find themselves under, there was no guarantee playing at Wembley would actually be beneficial.
Over 65,000 were in attendance to watch England’s semi-final win over Denmark this week
Teams racking up the air miles
Continuing on from that, however, there have certainly been big discrepancies in how far teams have had to travel in what is far from the most eco-friendly Euros.
England didn’t go anywhere until the last eight but Switzerland had already been to Baku twice, Rome, Bucharest and then Saint Petersburg, an odyssey of almost 12,000 miles.
Wales surpassed 5,000 miles of air travel with their draw seeing them dispatched to the further reaches of Europe in Azerbaijan.
This particular Euros is continent-wide to mark the 60th anniversary of the tournament but you wouldn’t rule out a repeat in the future. Thankfully the 2024 edition will be staged in just the one country – Germany.
Switzerland’s 12,000-mile Euro odyssey came to an end against Spain in Saint Petersburg
UEFA tying themselves in knots
UEFA really didn’t cover themselves in glory over their handling of Pride Month and the desire of many players and teams to mark it with rainbow colours.
Germany captain Manuel Neuer ultimately escaped punishment when he decided to wear a rainbow armband rather than the official UEFA one. Good call.
But when Munich City Council applied to UEFA to light up the facade of Allianz Arena in rainbow colours ahead of Germany’s game with Hungary there, UEFA rejected it.
They perceived this seemingly innocuous act as a ‘political protest’ after Hungary’s parliament passed a law restricting the rights of young people to understand homosexuality and gender changes.
Germany captain Manuel Neuer wore a rainbow armband throughout the tournament
UEFA refused a request to light up Munich’s Allianz Arena in rainbow colours – so other German stadiums, including the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, did so instead
UEFA hid behind a pretence of ‘political neutrality’ but then suffered a backlash as large corporations around the world – and potential sponsors – changed their logos to rainbow versions.
There was further controversy when stewards in Baku confiscated a rainbow flag from two fans at the game between Denmark and the Czech Republic.
UEFA insisted they ‘never instructed’ stewards in Baku or anywhere else to confiscate the flag, insisting the symbol ’embodies UEFA core values, promoting everything that we believe in.’
Except when it’s on the side of a stadium.
There was outrage when stewards removed a rainbow flag from Danish fans in Baku
France and the big guns falling by the wayside
On the pitch, the tournament has certainly delivered its fair share of shocks.
Favourites France being dumped out on penalties by Switzerland in the last-16, having led 3-1 with just nine minutes of normal time left, has to be the most seismic.
Kylian Mbappe failed to convert the decisive kick and, in classic French fashion, it didn’t take long for the infighting within the squad to explode into the open.
Mbappe was accused of being arrogant by all and sundry, the striker also couldn’t stand Antoine Griezmann. Pogba, Raphael Varane and Benjamin Pavard bickered on the pitch over the Man United midfielder’s apparent lack of effort.
Then there was the case of Adrien Rabiot’s mum, Veronique, arguing with Mbappe’s father and Pogba’s family as they watched from the stands.
There was penalty misery for Kylian Mbappe as favourites France were stunned by Switzerland
A row involving Paul Pogba (left), Raphael Varane (centre) and Benjamin Pavard had broken out
Kylian Mbappe (centre) and Antoine Griezmann (right) are said to have been ‘far from friendly’
High quality football and classic contests
When the first few games of the tournament failed to scale the heights of entertainment, especially before half-time, the omens for a vintage Euros didn’t look good.
There were plenty of comments along the lines of the Covid-compressed season has led to player burn-out and they’re all too knackered to perform.
But despite this, or maybe because of it, the tournament has actually seen record numbers of goals and some classic matches for the ages.
Croatia celebrate with their fans after scoring against Spain – one of the matches of the Euros
Spain ultimately prevailed in a ding-dong contest at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen
We’ve had 140 goals in the 50 games played so far, a ratio of 2.80 per match which is the highest ever. Euro 2000 is next with 2.74.
Compare to the last Euros in 2016, the only other with 24 teams, when there were only 108 goals at 2.12 per game.
June 28 saw the peak of the entertainment when Spain’s 5-3 win over Croatia was followed by a 3-3 draw between France and Switzerland.
Other games that will stick in the memory from this tournament include Germany 4-2 Portugal, Germany 2-2 Hungary, Portugal 2-2 France, Holland 3-2 Ukraine and the semi-final between Italy and Spain.
And while the 24-team format has its critics – not least because only eight go home after the group stage, removing most of the jeopardy – there were some exciting final nights in Group B, E and F where the narrative constantly shifted.
The group game between Germany and Portugal was another classic in a vintage Euros
Football could yet come home
Best until last, for England fans at least. Football could yet come home with the 55 years of hurt finally ended if the team beats Italy on Sunday.
Win or lose, it’s been an uplifting month for English football with a diverse, young and exciting team uniting the nation behind them.
Gareth Southgate has got everything spot on so far and is a shrewd tactician during games as well as being a fine ambassador for the country off it.
In beating Germany, winning in extra time and getting through a semi-final, the hoodoos of previous tournament failures have been consigned to history by a team that isn’t at all burdened by history.
There’s just one more hurdle to overcome…
Joy unconfined at Wembley as Harry Kane celebrates his goal against Germany in the last-16