Euro 2020 brought us countless unforgettable moments, both good and bad, especially during the knockout phase. This is the fourth in a series of articles that will tell the many stories of this summer’s competition.
Euro 2020 Chronicles
The Netherlands’ Shock Exit
Italy had emerged as the Euro 2020 front-runner, but one would be forgiven for forgetting that in their match against Austria. Despite the Azzurri’s early domination, Das Team got more into the match as it progressed. It even looked like Marko Arnautovic achieved an astounding upset. He was narrowly offside, though, like so many before him this summer. Extra time loomed, where Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina stepped up. Sasa Kalajdzic’s late diving header merely served as a consolation.
The Netherlands were close to flawless thus far and were widely expected to manage a routine win against the Czech Republic, despite the latter’s adequate group stage performance. The match was even, at least for the first 54 minutes. Then it took a distinctly Czech turn following Matthijs de Ligt’s red card. Tomas Holes made it 1-0 and the eventual joint-top goalscorer Patrick Schick added a second.
Belgium and Portugal could’ve just as easily faced off in the final. Instead of fighting for the trophy, they’d have to settle with competing over a place in the quarter-finals. After a hesitant first half, Thorgan Hazard’s opening goal gave the match a healthy injection. Portugal eventually took over, but Belgium defended their lead excellently. The reigning champions were already eliminated. So far, the knockout stage had been quite solid in terms of entertainment and drama. Then what became known as ‘magic Monday’ came around and made everything up until this point pale in comparison.
‘Magic Monday’ started with the tournament’s best young player, Pedri, scoring one of the most remarkable own goals in the history of the competition (even though goalkeeper Unai Simon is more to blame). Believe it or not, this was ultimately overshadowed by everything else that unfolded. Pablo Sarabia equalized and the veteran Cesar Azpilucueta restored order when he gave Spain the lead. Then Ferran Torres made it 3-1 and La Roja’s quarter-final ticket appeared to be sealed. But Mislav Orsic’s 85th-minute goal bestowed Croatia hope. That hope turned into delirium when Mario Pasalic made it 3-3. Temporary delirium, though, because Spain reigned supreme during extra time. Morata exorcised his demons and Mikel Oyarzabal squashed any hope of another Croatian comeback.
Reigning world champions France were waiting for the opening goal against Switzerland, and it came in the 15th minute. Haris Seferovic put French football in jeopardy. Early in the second half, Ricardo Rodriguez had the chance to double this lead, but Hugo Lloris kept France in the game and Le Bleus began taking over, culminating in Karim Benzema scoring one of the fastest braces in the history of the Euros. From almost being 2-0 down to leading 2-1, just like that. Paul Pogba granted France a 3-1 lead with his stunning long shot. It wasn’t nearly as long as his goal celebrations, though.
You might wonder what was going on inside the head of Seferovic when being two goals down, but he made it 3-2 with his frontal bone. Earlier in the tournament, Mario Gavranovic had a late goal disallowed for offside. This time he was on the right side. Three all and extra time for the second time that day. The additional 30 minutes failed to produce any goals. In the end, Yann Sommer’s heroics granted Switzerland a staggering win.
England’s Revenge on Germany
Longtime rivals England and Germany faced off at Wembley in one of the round of 16’s most anticipated battles. Tensions were extra high since the Football Association threatened to ban English fans that chanted ‘Ten German Bombers’. Originally sung by British schoolchildren during World War II, it was later adopted by English football fans at matches against Germany. UEFA and the FA consider the chant to be discriminatory.
The match itself was also characterized by tension game-wise, but this changed when Raheem Sterling scored his and England’s third goal of the tournament. On top of this, Harry Kane finally ended his goal drought and sent the nation into a mania.
Sweden were slight favourites ahead of their match, but it was still Ukraine that obtained the lead thanks to Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko. Sweden’s gem, Emil Forsberg, brought Blågult back into the match right on the stroke of half-time. During the second half, Forsberg tested the solidity of Ukraine’s goal frame by hitting the post and bar, but it wasn’t meant to be. Ukraine also played well and had noteworthy chances. Extra time was on the horizon, though. Although evenly matched first, the game slipped out of Sweden’s hand when Marcus Danielson was sent off. Ukraine made full use of the additional man and won in the dying seconds of the match thanks to Artem Dovbyk.
England Keep on Impressing at Euro 2020
Sweden’s loss was perhaps a blessing in disguise because England completely decimated Ukraine 4-0 in the quarter-finals. Kane’s brace proved the doubters wrong and gave him immense confidence heading into the semi-finals and hypothetical final. Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson also got on the scoresheet in their biggest win of the championship. Especially impressive, since it was the Three Lions’ first Euro match away from home.
Italy Reign Supreme Against Belgium’s Golden Generation
The victors of ‘Magic Monday’, Spain and Switzerland, met in Saint Petersburg. Depending on who you ask, either Jordi Alba or Denis Zakaria gave Spain the lead in the eighth minute. It officially went down as an own goal, though. Spain were uncharacteristically underwhelming and opted more for safe alibi football rather than expanding their lead. This was punished by Xherdan Shaqiri who equalized. However, Spain was given a great opportunity to clinch victory eleven minutes later, when Remo Freuler got a harsh straight red by the English referee. But they couldn’t, and it remained 1-1 for the rest of the match, including extra time. Yann Sommer had a great match, but Spain was still a little more clinical during the penalty shootout.
Belgium once again played in a match that could’ve just as well been the final. This time the opposition was Italy. The match was entertaining and energetic, and it didn’t take long for goals to be attained. Nicolo Barella scored the first and Lorenzo Insigne doubled the Azzurri’s lead in the 44th minute with a goal of pure class. One would think such a late goal prevented Belgium from scoring in the first half, but Romelu Lukaku’s penalty found the back of the net in the dying seconds. That’s the only goal the Red Devils scored, though. The second half didn’t churn out any more goals and Italy won 2-1.