Euro 2020 brought us countless unforgettable moments, both good and bad. This is the second in a series of articles that will tell the many stories of this summer’s competition.
Euro 2020 Chronicles
Marko Arnautovic’s Insult Blemishes Austrian Euro Success
Austrian coach Franco Foda branded his team as the best in the country’s history, and in the opening match against North Macedonia, it was easy to understand why. Three well-worked goals brought them an exciting win. Austrian Marko Arnautovic, who has Serbian roots, became a little too excited after scoring his goal, resulting in him lashing out at Egzjan Alioski and his family, who are of Albanian descent.
Arnautovic eventually did the right thing, though: “Arnautovic and I talked after the match and clarified, as he apologised to me and came to our room and shook my hand, being very fair,” Alioski told The Guardian.
UEFA gave him a one-match ban for the insult, meaning he missed the 2-0 defeat against the Netherlands. He probably didn’t mind sitting that one out too much. Regardless, Austria’s convincing win against Ukraine, which miraculously only ended 1-0, gave them high confidence heading into the last 16.
Goran Pandev Gives North Macedonia Reason to Smile, Despite Their Disappointing Euro Campaign
Austria may have beaten North Macedonia, but it was arguably the Balkan nation that stood for the biggest exclamation point (game-wise) of the match when the 37-year-old living legend Goran Pandev scored his country’s first-ever goal in a championship; a noteworthy highlight in an otherwise disappointing Euro campaign for the debutants.
They succumbed 2-1 to Ukraine in the following match. It could’ve just as easily been 2-0, since Alioski was agonizingly close to not convert his penalty, and he wouldn’t have been the first. The penalty conversion rate at Euro 2020 was the worst in the history of the competition. Fourteen penalty kicks never found the back of the net.
The Netherlands played their first major tournament since the 2014 World Cup, where they finished third, and after missing two consecutive championships, this was the most vindication-seeking Dutch side in years. However, their coach, Frank de Boer, was deeply criticized and a disappointing tournament would almost certainly end his stint.
Fortunately for De Boer, he got just the right start against Ukraine. A routine win – or so it seemed at first. After a goalless first half, Georginio Wijnaldum and Wout Weghorst made it 1-0 and 2-0 respectively in rapid succession. Then Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk made it 2-1 and 2-2 with an even shorter interval, the former being one of the goals of the tournament. In the end, it was the Netherlands who got the last laugh through Denzel Dumfries’ late header.
Another striking thing about this Dutch team was the goalkeeper, Maarten Stekelenburg. The 38-year-old hadn’t played for the national team in almost five years until a friendly against Georgia ahead of Euro 2020. The stars aligned perfectly for him. Barcelona’s Jasper Cillessen withdrawing from the Dutch squad due to contracting COVID-19 combined with Stekelenburg rejuvenating his career with a great season at Ajax was enough to see him appear between the sticks for the national team again.
Stekelenburg wasn’t alone in being an unexpected goalkeeper this summer. Austria’s Daniel Bachmann also belongs in that category. Bachmann frequently struggled to get playing time, even at club level, but got into shape with Watford just in time for the Euros to start, winning his second international cap only a couple of months prior.
Raheem Sterling Grants England Revenge On Croatia
England had not won a major tournament in 55 years and they had high hopes ahead of the Euros. Dreams of it finally ‘coming home’. Not least because they had home advantage in all group matches and three out of four knockout ties, should they have reached the final. The Three Lions defeated Croatia 1-0 in their first match after a goal from Raheem Sterling (it would not be the last we saw of him), exorcising England’s demons from the 2018 World Cup semi-final.
Czech Star Patrick Schick Ruins Scotland’s Return
Later that day, Scotland played in front of their home fans in Glasgow, their first match at a championship in 23 years. It was a special match, albeit one unworthy of such a long-awaited return. The Czech Republic made up the opposition, but they might be known as the Schick Republic henceforth. Patrick Schick opened the scoring with a superb header, but as good of a goal it was, his second made it pale in comparison. Scottish goalkeeper David Marshall was off his line and Shick punished him in the most emphatic way imaginable.
Entertaining Match Ends Prematurely
The match between Croatia and the Czech Republic was an even affair. Ivan Perisic gave the World Cup runners-up the lead after a great individual performance. But Dejan Lovren failed to keep his elbows in check and the bleeding Shick converted the penalty with ease. Despite the low goal tally, it was an entertaining match, which makes it even stranger that the Spanish referee blew the final whistle 20 seconds before the scheduled added time was completed.
England’s final group match against the Czech Republic was another close encounter, but Sterling once again made sure they were victorious. It was quite an uninspired Czech side. Perhaps because the winner of the group would face Germany, France or Portugal. Despite winning the group, England were not exempt from criticism. Nor was their talisman Harry Kane. The fans wanted more.
It was do-or-die for both Scotland and Croatia. Both needed a win to advance. Anything less would see them eliminated. This proved to be Croatia’s night. Perisic’s and Luka Modric’s masterclass made sure of that. But Scotland would get their own reason to celebrate. Callum McGregor scored the Tartan Army’s first major tournament goal since the 1998 World Cup.
To read Part One of this series, click here.