Analie Dutta Choudhury, Rohan Agarwal and Kartikay Dutta; UG23
The Quarterfinals and Semifinals of Euro 2020 brought with them plenty of broken hearts, tears, stunners and fairy tales, as, over the course of six action-packed games in a week, we experienced an entertaining contest.
The Euro, which spanned over 11 European cities, is now set to wrap up in London at Wembley Stadium in less than three days. With each match being unpredictable and entertaining, we have no bets on who will finally take this trophy home. Is it Coming Home or is it going to Rome?
Analie: Here at the Edict, we bring to you the major moments from last weekend’s thrilling Quarterfinal round that are worthy of a mention.
Spain vs Switzerland
In a riveting encounter on Friday, Switzerland and Spain battled for the chance to reach the semifinals. It was ultimately the Spaniards who overcame their string of bad luck with penalties to beat the Swiss, 3-1, in a nerve-wracking penalty shootout.
Switzerland, who recently defeated World Champions France, were riding off that high and their confidence certainly shone through the match as they made it a tough fight for Spain. Known for being dangerous on the counter-attack, they had the first attempt of the match by captain Xherdan Shaqiri, the Liverpool man sometimes referred to as the “Alpine Messi.”
However, it was Spain who took a surprise lead. Jordi Alba, one of the few players left over from the old golden generation, emphatically scored the first goal of the match. Unfortunately, though, it was credited as an own goal to Swiss midfielder Dennis Zakaria. This made it the tenth own goal of the Euro tournament (11 now), creating an all-new record. The game went on and the Swiss kept getting better. An avoidable error in the Spain defense led to Shaqiri slotting in the equalizer, making him Switzerland’s highest-scoring player with a significant 21 goals under his belt.
However, things only went downhill for the Swiss from there. With Remo Freuler sent off, they were reduced to ten men just before extra time. Subsequently, their best three midfielders were all missing in action. Granit Xhaka, who was facing a suspension and Shaqiri, who then hobbled off shortly after. Notwithstanding their bad fortune, they managed to keep possession dominant Spain at bay with a wonderful defensive showing and took the game to penalties.
Switzerland followed the same penalty lineup as they had done against France in which all of their players had found the back of the net. Spanish veteran Sergio Busquets missed the first penalty, giving Switzerland the upper hand which did not amount to much as they went on to miss the next three consecutive. Spain seemed luckier as they converted three of their penalties with Mikel Oyarzabal who was subbed on at extra time landing the decisive blow, catapulting Spain into the semifinals.
While Unai Simon was awarded the man of the match for making two very important saves denying Switzerland in the penalty shootout, the real shining star was his opposite number, Yann Sommer. The 32-year-old Swiss international almost single-handedly warded off the multiple Spanish strikes throughout the course of the match. He denied Alba, Ozyarbazal and Moreno, making vital yet seemingly impossible saves.
Belgium vs Italy
In a show of will between Belgium and Italy, Roberto Mancini’s Italians edged FIFA’s number one ranked team out of the tournament with a superb 2-1 win. Belgium, boasting one of the most talented squad with names like Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard (out injured for this one), were unable to get past the Azzurri in a thrilling encounter.
Italy, a well-oiled machine, continued its streak of 32 unbeaten games. Mancini’s men kept a quick tempo, playing with a sense of urgency. Captain Giorgio Chiellini was a force to be reckoned with, booting away every Belgium attempt, especially in the latter half of the game.
Nicolo Barella gave Italy the lead in the first 31 minutes. However Italy didn’t stop there, as a minute before halftime, captain Lorenzo Insigne fired home a beauty, that curled into the goal and sailed past Courtois’ outstretched arm giving Italy a comfortable lead. However, a foul on Doku in stoppage time, led to Romelo Lukaku converting a penalty that brought Belgium back into the game. 2-1, game on.
Belgium sorely missed captain Eden Hazard, forced to sit out with a hamstring injury. Kevin De Bruyne, who has had an injury-riddled run this Euro, was fit enough to start this game as well as make several key passes and an excellent attempt on goal. However, it was the 19-year-old youngster, Jeremy Doku who had all eyes on him as he darted amongst Italian players all night and even threatened to score an equalizer towards the end of the game. The only misfortune for Italy was the loss of star man Leonardo Spinazzola, whose crucial goal-line clearance had denied Belgium an equalizer. The left-back, who was carried off in tears on a stretcher, has suffered a lower leg injury which marks the end of his euros dream.
Czech Republic vs Denmark
These Euros have been nothing short of surprises and a quarterfinal between Czech Republic and Denmark is a testament to that. Two underdog sides that reached this stage purely on merit and nothing else. It was a repeat of the Euro 2004 quarter-final. However, the result was quite the opposite this time around. Although the 2-1 scoreline suggests a narrow affair, Denmark’s route to revenge was quite comfortable.
The Danes found the back of the net in the early stages of the game when Thomas Delaney cashed in on a free header. Denmark looked in control for the remaining half and doubled their lead through Kasper Dolberg, his third of the campaign. It was a fine finish from close range from an incredible assist. One of the best passes we have witnessed in this tournament, Joakim Maehle found Dolberg with a perfect cross from the outside of his weak foot. Simply spectacular.
Czech Republic made substitutions at the halfway mark and began the second half with a different energy. In fact, it took them just four minutes to score and get back into the game through yet another Patrik Schick goal. Czech Republic’s number 10 is now the joint top scorer of the tournament with Cristiano Ronaldo at 5 goals. Ultimately, a valiant Czech effort went in vain as the Danes advanced to the Euro semi-final.
Ukraine vs England
Throughout the Euros, Gareth Southgate and his England side have been at the end of a lot of criticism regarding their approach to a football game. With the amount of attacking talent at their disposal, their defensive mindset made little to no sense. However, there is very little room for complaints about style when results come in a manner, such as the 2-0 win against Germany.
The game against Ukraine was quite different. Southgate’s line-up suggested an exciting 4-2-3-1 and Jadon Sancho got his first start of the tournament. It was not much of a surprise when England found the back of the net within the first five minutes when Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane combined. It was only Kane’s second goal of the tournament and he looked keen to get his name on the scoresheet.
Ukraine were very much in the game and attacking in instances. However, England began the second half as strong as they did the first and landed the sucker punch that ultimately took the game away from Ukraine. Harry Maguire headed in his fellow Manchester United teammate, Luke Shaw’s set-piece from point-blank range. It was only moments later when Shaw yet again delivered another peach of a cross, this time for Harry Kane to nod in. It was a man of the match performance from Luke Shaw who is playing his best football in years.
Jordan Henderson scored the fourth goal from yet another set-piece and Southgate made a host of substitutions in order to see the game out. All in all, it was a complete performance from the English. A kind of performance that their fans have been itching to see. In less than a week, Southgate has proven that he can have his team play like the best of both worlds, and that makes England a lot more threatening.
Kartikay: Wembley Stadium, close to capacity for the first time in 17 months, played host to the two UEFA Euro semifinals, close to a month on from the beginning of the tournament. The days since the quarterfinals had been brimming with anticipation, underlined by the sounds and refrains of Baddiel, Skinner, and the Lightning Seeds’ Three Lions (It’s Coming Home), a tune now synonymous with hosts England at international tournaments, and more accurately, their fans. In fact, so much so that when the Englishmen in the Wembley crowd attempted to begin the chant during the Spain vs Italy match, they were booed into silence.
Moving on to that very match, a tactical battle between what have looked like the tournament’s two best-coached teams. Luis Enrique’s Spain have played the passing football the teams of 2008, 2010, and 2012 championed, led by their cast of quality ball-playing midfielders. Across from them, playing in the blue from which they derive their Azzurri nickname, was Roberto Mancini’s Italy, who have held themselves with the stylishness so often associated with their coach. For much of the match, it was a matter of pressing and counter-pressing, ensuring that neither team’s midfield would get the time and space where they could really cause damage.
However, it was often Italy, with their more settled and dangerous frontline, who caused the early scares, getting in beyond the Spanish backline. It was on the transition that they were doing their best, and it is no surprise that this is where the opening goal stemmed from, with Federico Chiesa latching on to a loose ball in front of a stretched defense and scoring a well-taken curler in the 60th minute. Spain, however, would respond well, substitute Alvaro Morata linking well with Dani Olmo and playing a cool 1-2 to get in on the goal and calmly slotting home to equalize in the 80th minute.
With scores held equal for the rest of the game including extra time, it was down to a penalty shootout, the third of this tournament, the second one involving Spain. Despite Spanish goalkeeper Unai Simon saving the first penalty, however, Italy would do better to hold their nerve. Morata would undo all his good work to miss a tame penalty, and Jorginho would, with ice in his veins, slot past Simon, his composure belying the intense pressure of the moment. Italy, rightly so on the balance of their performances as one of the best teams in the tournament, were through to the final.
24 hours later, it was on to hosts England, taking on Denmark, a team which have very much provided the heart and the emotion of the Euros so far, with their response in the face of adversity following the collapse of talisman Christian Eriksen in their very first game. And it would be they who drew first blood after a cagey first half-hour, a fantastic free-kick by Mikkel Damsgaard powering into the net to silence the partisan Wembley crowd, a majestic exclamation mark against their journey since that fateful day in Copenhagen.
It was only nine minutes later, however, that all this was scratched off, with 19-year-old Bukayo Saka making a run in behind the Danish defense which had held strong so far, his pass across goal inadvertently turned in by Danish captain Simon Kjaer, under pressure by Raheem Sterling. Wembley erupted: England were equal, and once again favorites to go through.
It would, however, take until extra time for England to find purchase again in the match, again inspired by Raheem Sterling, their man of this tournament so far. He would slalom between two Danish defenders, and by now slightly wary, a combination of Joakim Maehle and Mathias Jensen would foul him in the box. In the 102nd minute, amongst disgruntled whispers of a hint of simulation, captain Harry Kane would step up to take a penalty. It would be saved by Kasper Schmeichel, only for Kane to turn it in on the rebound and send Wembley, once again, into raptures.
England were through, for only their second-ever major international final, with a chance to relive the glory of 1966 in the old Wembley Stadium. Standing in their way are Italy, historically Europe’s best and brightest on the world stage. With the talent on show, legacies to create, and it all to play for, the UEFA Euro final promises to be a mouth-watering contest at Wembley Stadium on Sunday night.