The Round of 16 stage of UEFA Euro 2020 was the best we've seen in the tournament so far. For the promotion of the sport, the 28th of June 2021 will always be remembered as one of the greatest days of football. We're still trying to establish that we can try to reason out everything that happens, but the game is absolutely bonkers, as we've seen clearly in the past 48 hours or so.
Goals were scored and mistakes were made in crucial moments, which is only natural considering the number of goals we had at this stage of Euro 2020. It's been a remarkable few days of football and I live in the hope that it will continue in the games ahead, as eight teams look to battle it out to win the competition.
In terms of the players who have surprised me with their performances so far at Euro 2020, it wasn't easy to just name five, as quite a few of them have announced themselves on the grandest stage. The likes of Pedri, Paul Pogba and Granit Xhaka came under consideration, but they are already known to the wider audience, so I've gone for a few players who wouldn't necessarily draw attention when you watch them play.
#5 Patrik Schick | Czech Republic, Bayer Leverkusen
I remember watching Patrik Schick play in 2018 in a UEFA Champions League semifinal against Liverpool, he was with Roma at the time. He played as a wide attacker and had some nice touches, decent skill for a tall guy and a good left foot. That said, I didn't think he was particularly effective in that position - he didn't look at home at all as a left-winger. His record in Rome was five goals from 46 games, which is not a good return and more importantly, it tells us that the player isn't getting what he wants.
Schick needed to play centrally, and that's exactly what's happening with the Czech Republic at Euro 2020. He's 25 now, but he laid the foundation for what's to come in the first half of his 20s. As a center forward, he looks more at home and is comfortable with what's going on, so he's matured really quickly in a role that suits his strengths. Earlier in his career, he was a little lightweight and maybe that's why he was playing out wide. He hadn't developed physically, so it would've been tough for Schick to come up against big central defenders.
I would consider the Czech Republic to be one of the most aggressive sides at Euro 2020. They are a strong physical unit and Schick is certainly playing his part as the focal point of the attack. Since arriving in the Bundesliga, his numbers have been a lot better with RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen. For the national team, he has scored an impressive 15 goals in 30 appearances — including four at Euro 2020 — which is a creditable record considering it's pretty much a goal every other game.
Looking back on the quality of his goals at Euro 2020, the first one against Scotland isn't spoken of enough. He got right in the thick of the action and towered above the Scottish backline to break the deadlock at Hampden Park. As for his second goal, it was absolutely fabulous and world-class what he did to David Marshal, who looked like a fish in a net after the ball landed in the back of the net from the halfway line!
The goal he scored against Croatia was also a big one. It was a penalty, but he slotted it home rather comfortably after winning the spot-kick himself. The one against the Netherlands might look like a tap-in, but if you're in the right place at the right time, you'll have plenty of those.
Overall, Schick has performed wonderfully at Euro 2020 and you can't argue with that. The Czech Republic take on Denmark in the quarterfinals, he might look at that game and think of it as another opportunity to add to his tally, as the Danes continue to sweat over the fitness of Simon Kjaer. It's another day for a goal or two, you wouldn't bet against him and it'll certainly be interesting to see what influence he can have.
Schick has matured as a player and is embracing the responsibility for his side, I see all that happening now. He's very comfortable with anything that comes his way and can deal with situations better now. He's there in the team to finish and score goals, but he's also a key part of the Czechs' build-up play and is progressing hugely at Euro 2020.
Bayer Leverkusen will be delighted, they are adding £10 million to his valuation with every goal he scores. Well done, Patrik Schick!
#4 Emil Forsberg | Sweden, RB Leipzig
Emil Forsberg is someone who grabbed my attention when I was covering the Bundesliga for BT Sport a few seasons ago. I was learning about the league when I was drawn to him - he caught my eye in terms of his cheekiness. When you talk about Sweden at Euro 2020, their left-back Ludwig Augustinsson bombed forward frequently, but Forsberg seemed to know that he'd make the run behind him. It's lovely when players have that kind of instinctive freedom in attack and Forsberg provides just that.
There's a purposeful devilment to his gameplay - he's all about the guile and the craft. He's very polished when it comes to his technical ability and sees himself as a #10, so he can pick out runners and work with what's around him. In the Euro 2020 encounter against Poland, he scored one goal with his right foot and the next one with his left, indicating that he's got the ability to go either way. When you have that in your locker, it gets really hard to defend against.
His penalty against Slovakia was also a big moment in Sweden's Euro 2020 campaign. He nonchalantly tucked it away to give his side an important victory late in the game, cementing his status as the goal-getter and the talisman of the team.
He enhanced Sweden's attack at Euro 2020. Alexander Isak also enjoyed a fantastic tournament, but he failed to get off the mark. Forsberg, on the other hand, was the reason Sweden made it through to the knockout stages, as they were beaten by Ukraine in devastating circumstances. To score three goals like that and spearhead his team to a place in the knockout stages shows that he's bearing all the responsibility and delivering when the stakes are high.
Sweden have been rigid with their formation over the years, but the likes of Forsberg and Isak added flair and flamboyance to the team at Euro 2020. There was a freedom about them in attack and Forsberg really opened all of that up. Goals aren't his priority, but he got himself into good positions.
I've always liked Emil Forsberg, but it's come to a point where it's hard to ignore what he did for Sweden at Euro 2020. His goals have been decisively taken and he has emerged as a real leader for his side, I wish him all the very best for what lies ahead!