The European Championships 2020 have proceeded exceedingly well, with only eight teams remaining at the quarterfinal stage. The competition has seen a lot of thrills and unheralded teams have stamped themselves on the big stage. Teams that were erstwhile unheard of in doing well at this level of the game have disrupted well-made plans of the bigger nations and in turn, made a name for themselves among their fans, well-wishers and supporters. The competition, which has now proceeded to the quarterfinal stage, has only eight teams remaining, out of which only one will be crowned champion.
To be sure, this edition of the competition will see a new winner as the defending champions Portugal were knocked out by a belligerent Belgian side in the round of sixteen stage. In a game that remained inspid for most of the time at the aesthetically pleasing Estadio Olímpico de Sevilla in Seville, it was little-known Thorgan Hazard’s chance to shine at the big stage. A stunning goal in the 44th minute thanks to a lovely ball by Thomas Meunier ensured that the Red Devils edged in front of the Portuguese at half time. A lot was expected from the latter in the second half of the game, but unfortunately, that was not to be.
Cristiano Ronaldo was restrained comfortably by the an aeging Belgian backline consisting of Toby Alderweireld, Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertonghen. Fernando Santos, who manages Portugal, made the error of keeping Manchester United star Bruno Fernandes in the shed for too long and this meant that there was a genuine lack of creativity in his side’s attacking midfield during the game. There were other chances that arose for the Portuguese later in the game, but sadly, they could not convert any of them. This, in turn, meant that they were knocked out of the competition.
Italy were expected to coast over Austria in their round of sixteen engagement with them, but it took them until extra time to breach the latter’s defence. The floodgates were set rolling by young Federico Chiesa, son of former Italy striker Enrico, by a masterful three-touch ball to put the Azzuri ahead. Moments later, Matteo Pessina rolled in a second goal for Roberto Mancini’s side through an impossible angle. Although the Italians finally conceded after a long time in the second half of extra time, they could not be dented any further and were through to the quarterfinals.
Roberto Mancini’s men in blue will play Belgium in what is expected to be a very hotly-contested game. Italy’s defence and midfield has been a class above their opponents in this competition and they will be tested to the full by the world’s number one ranked team Belgium on Friday. Italy’s forwards Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti failed to get going against Austria but they will have to set themselves up to score against the Belgians in Munich. If they do not manage to do so, then the bulk of the scoring will fall on the young shoulders of Chiesa, Stefano Sensi and Nicolo Barella.
Denmark thrashed Wales by a massive 4–0 scoreline thanks to goals from Joakim Maehle, Martin Braithwaite and a brace from Kasper Dolberg. Missing their star creative midfielder Christian Eriksen, the Danes put up a spirited performance against a Welsh team that lacked inspiration. The individual efforts of Gareth Bale, Joe Rodon and Daniel James was not enough to take their country to the quarterfinal stage and in the end, it became akin to a walk in the park for Denmark, whose supporters have not left their side after the infamous incident with Eriksen in their first game of the competition.
One of the biggest results of the tournament was when England defeated Germany at Wembley to avenge their historic defeat suffered years ago. This was only the third time that Germany failed to make the semi finals of the European Championships and that a young English side was able to coast over them is a testament to their strength and agility. A goalless first half ensured that the fans and supporters did not leave their seats for the second. It was proving to be another dull and boring encounter until the dying stages of the game when Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane bagged goals for the home team in quick succession to see them through to the quarterfinals.
There is no doubt that Thomas Muller’s inexplicable miss to equalise for Germany after Sterling had put England ahead will be talked for years to come, but it would be foolish to put all the blame on the veteran for his team’s defeat. Germany were cagey throughout the competition and their senior players rarely turned up to perform. The showing put up by senior central defender Mats Hummels was especially disappointing and a horrendous start to the competition thanks to an own goal against France ensured that he could not depart with his head held high. Manager Joachim Low too is stepping down after this competition and it will be sad to see the winner of the 2014 FIFA World Cup depart without another piece of silverware in his big attic.
Toni Kroos was the lone star for Germany at Wembley and it needs to be said that England put up a highly inspired performance. Central defender Harry Maguire, who was battling with injuries prior to the commencement of this competition, was rock solid at the back, along with his teammate from Manchester United Luke Shaw. John Stones, who plies his trade for United’s cross-town rivals Manchester City, was equally on point for the Three Lions. What will please manager Gareth Southgate is that his striker and captain Harry Kane finally found the back of the net after a lengthy drought.
Another big shocker in the round of sixteen stage took place when the Czech Republic blew apart the Netherlands at the Puskas Arena in Budapest. The men in orange looked uncomfortable playing from the start and the fact that they failed to get going even after the game had reached its half time meant that their opponents were in with a shout. To rub salt into their wounds, central defender and starlet Matthis de Ligt was sent off after an attempted handball and this ensured an easy passage for the Czech frontline, which was led by the unassuming yet effervescent Patrick Schick. Schick, who was in the news for scoring a stunning long-range goal against Scotland in the group stages of the competition, capped off the win for his country after Tomas Holes had put them in front. This was as big a shock as any this tournament had seen, and resulted in Dutch manager Frank de Boer taking full responsibility and quitting afterwards.
There were no shortages of upsets in the round of sixteen stage of this competition as France were sent packing by Switzerland soon afterwards. A closely contested game, which went down to the wire, was wrapped up by the Swiss eventually after their goalkeeper Yann Sommer made a miraculous save to keep out Kylian Mbappe’s shot in the penalty shootout decider. It took a lot for the Swiss to take the game to extra time at first, after a Karim Benzema brace and Paul Pogba worldie had negated Haris Seforovic’s early strike. However, Seferovic struck again and Mario Gavranovic found the back of the net in the dying embers of regular time to ensure that the game had to be taken into extra time.
Extra time yielded no result and hence the game was taken to the penalty shootout. After all of Switzerland’s players converted their chances dutifully, it was up to the Frenchmen to show their wares. Pogba, Olivier Giroud, Marcus Thuram and Presnel Kimpembe scored from the chance with relative ease but it was not to be for the young Mbappe. I am sure that the Paris Saint Germain striker will find it very difficult to let go of this feeling but he will become a better player in the future because of it.
In another match, winners of the 2008 and 2012 editions of the European Championships, Spain, knocked out the finalists of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Croatia by a 5–3 scoreline. This was another game which started on a bizarre note after a Pedri back pass was let in innocuously by goalkeeper Unai Simon soon after the match had begun. However, the Armada did not allow that to deter them from going forward and soon dismantled an unorganised Croatian backline.
Ukraine too found themselves having qualified for the quarterfinal of this competition after prevailing over their bitter rivals Sweden in a closely-contested game. Managed by former Arsenal star Andrei Shevchenko, Ukraine have a lot of good players in their mix, and these players can wreak havoc in the opposition ranks on any given day if they wish to do so.
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