Sparks fly as Euro2020 goes into elimination rounds
The round of 16 of the Euro2020 has wrapped up, with an uneventful group stage giving way to fireworks in the first elimination round.
This year’s tournament has surprised at every turn, with the favourites France unceremoniously dumped out by minnows Switzerland.
Elsewhere, an English team playing lacklustre football throughout the group stages put in a polished performance to beat historic rivals Germany.
Part-month long festival, part-geopolitical circus, the Euros are held every four years with 24 European nations vying to be champions of Europe.
While usually hosted in one country, this edition is being held in 11 cities across Europe – including Glasgow, Amsterdam, Munich and Rome – with both semifinals and the final being held at London’s Wembley Stadium.
It may not have the universal appeal of the World Cup, but the global audience of 600 million that tuned in for the 2016 final shows the competition widespread allure. So, if you have decided to check out all the spectacle, now is as good as time as any with the quarter finals around the corner.
The story so far
The round of 16 have produced a handful of exciting games, masking a group stage that lacked free-flowing football.
England took on Germany in a round of 16 clash on Wednesday morning with the pre-tournament promises of England giving way to a stout, defensive performance.
Against Germany, they showed the blueprint to how they plan to win, with the stifling defence supporting their creative attack simply by outworking their opponents.
Gareth Southgate’s side showcased their creative spark in the first goal, with Sterling capping off a succinct passing sequence. The questions surrounding their starting line-up have started to seem less existential after every performance, with Gareth Southgate’s side steering into the favourite status.
World Cups champions France looked to be cruising to a quarter final berth having scored three goals to one against Switzerland, with less than 10 minutes to go in the game. But two late goals and an extra time full of chances gave way to the most arbitrary way to end a game; the penalty shootout. With nine straight penalties converted, wonderkid Kylian Mbappe stepped up and had his penalty saved, ending the French campaign prematurely.
The other game of the round was an eight-goal thriller between Croatia and Spain, with Spain coming out on top. It was a back-and-forth game which saw Spain in control with 10 minutes to go.
In a remarkable parallel to the France-Switzerland game, Croatia found the net twice after the 80th minute to force the game into extra time. However, that’s where the coincidence ended, with a fresher Spain scoring two goals in quick succession to book a quarter final berth against Switzerland on Saturday (2am AEST).
Italy needed extra time to progress against Austria, scoring two goals after the 90 minutes to progress to the quarterfinals. Undefeated in 30 games, Roberto Mancini’s side has been bolstered by the return from injury of their talisman Marco Verratti.
Mancini has set up his side to play fluid passing football, which is dangerous when combined with the characteristically stingy Italian defence. This team may not be star-studded, but they are as serious a contender as any.
Covid-19 an issue for the tournament
The current pandemic has managed to weave itself the almost impenetrable bubble that is the EURO2020.
Scottish midfielder Billy Gilmour tested positive for the virus, sending unease throughout the Scottish side. This news came while the World Health Organisation expressed concerns at the easing of restrictions in many of the host countries, with Budapest allowing full attendance at their Puskas stadium.
With the Olympics less than a month away, the Euro2020 can be seen as a bellwether of how a major international sporting tournament will handle the pandemic.
Denmark: from despair to joy
In scenes that were shared around the world, Danish player Christian Eriksen collapsed in their first half game against Finland. After several tense minutes, Eriksen was wheeled off to hospital on a stretcher, struggling but visibly conscious.
The shellshocked Danish side went on to lose the game 1-0 without their talismanic captain, with the competition organisers forcing the side to finish the game only a few hours after the incident. They did not fare any better in their second match against Belgium, losing 2-1, with the team looking off the pace.
But a resounding 4-1 win in their last group match against Russia, as well as helpful results elsewhere, meant Denmark sneaked into the knockout stage.
Buoyed by the news of Eriksen’s release from hospital, Denmark made a statement in their round of 16 match by beating Wales 4-1 and progressing to the quarterfinals. Winning the tournament will be a steep task, but after what this team has persevered through, another miracle is not off the table.