The Euro 2020 Round of 16 was nothing short of exhilarating. The eight games were filled with end to end action and lots of last-minute drama, leading to some of the biggest international upsets in years.
The first match took place at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam where Wales took on Denmark. Wales started brightly as Dan James released Bale, who had a free run at the Danish defence and his fiercely struck shot went just inches wide of Kasper Schmeichel’s goal. But it was Denmark who struck first through Kasper Dolberg, when the former Ajax man curled in an exquisite finish from outside the box. Dolberg doubled his tally early in the second half after a horrendous clearance from Williams fell into his path, and he made no mistake with his finish. At this point, Wales were deflated. It showed in their game as Denmark just never seemed to take their foot off the gas. Then in the 88th minute, Denmark put the result beyond doubt as Joakim Maehle scored the third goal. The full-back collected a cross-field pass on the right-wing and cut inside to score with his left boot. To add insult to injury, Harry Wilson was shown a red card for a lazy challenge on the goalscorer just seconds later. Denmark took advantage and put the icing on the cake when Barcelona striker Martin Braithwaite latched onto a pass from Andreas Cornelius, capping off a wonderful day for the Danes.
Wembley played host to Italy and Austria next and this game was far from straightforward as Austria matched Italy at every step. Nicolo Barella went close, but his shot was saved by Bachmann’s outstretched leg. Sabitzer then found Marko Arnautovic with a lofted ball over the Italian defence. The striker let it bounce before taking a shot and as a result, fired the ball over the crossbar. Italy were unlucky not to go ahead when Ciro Immobile’s fiercely struck shot cannoned off the outside of the post. The first half ended goalless with Austria taking a lot of encouragement from their performance. The second half started just like the first. New Real Madrid player David Alaba went close with a free-kick, but his effort lacked dip and went over the bar. Arnautovic had the ball in the back of the net after heading past Gianluigi Donnarumma. But unfortunately the Austrian celebrations were short-lived as after a VAR check, the goal did not stand. The match ended 0-0 after regulation time and went into extra time where two Italian substitutes finally broke the deadlock. Juve winger Federico Chiesa was the first to score in the 95th minute, when he expertly brought down Spinazzola’s cross and fired in a low shot past Bachmann to give Italy the lead. Matteo Pessina then doubled Italy’s lead, after a scramble in the box and a neat and tidy finish. Austria were given a glimmer of hope when Sasa Kalajdzic pulled one back for Austria, but Italy held onto the result and sent their fellow contenders home.
The Netherlands took on the Czech Republic next at the Ferenc Puskas Stadium in Hungary. The Dutch started well when Denzel Dumfries made a terrific diagonal run to get in behind the Czech Republic defence but his effort was thwarted by Tomas Kalas. But the best chance of the first half fell to Antonin Barak, who seemingly only had Stekelenburg to beat until the shot was excellently blocked by De Ligt. De Ligt didn’t have his best night on a football pitch though, as his yellow card for a handball was upgraded to red after a VAR review where he was adjudged to have denied Patrik Schick a clear goal-scoring opportunity. With the Dutch down to ten, the Czech’s went up a gear and were rewarded in the 68th minute when Tomas Holes scored from a corner. Tomas Holes was involved again when he nicked the ball of the feet of Wijnaldum deep inside the Dutch half, before squaring it to Schick who got ahead of his marker to fire the ball past Stekelenburg for his fourth goal of the tournament, sending the Czech Republic through to the quarters.
Belgium hosted Portugal next in Seville in the first high profile game of the Round of 16. Portugal threatened early when Renato Sanches released Jota on the left, who dragged his shot wide of Courtois’ goal. Ronaldo then went close from a long-range free-kick that was well saved by the Real Madrid goalkeeper. The crucial goal came next when Thomas Meunier found Thorgan Hazard, who unleashed a bullet into the top right corner to give Belgium the lead. De Bruyne was replaced by Dries Mertens early in the second half after the Manchester City man was unable to continue from a knock to the ankle. Fernando Santos also responded to the scoreline by bringing on Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix, as Portugal went in search of an equalizer. Felix made an instant impact as he saw his header saved by Courtois. Courtois was called upon once again when Raphael Guerreiro latched onto a loose ball, volleying a shot against the upright. Substitute Andre Silva was then played onside late on by Toby Alderweireld but Courtois came forward to smother the ball and keep the score at 1-0, knocking the defending champions Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo out of the Euros.
The game of the round took place in Denmark where World Cup runners-up Croatia played host to Spain. Croatia took a shock lead in the 20th minute when Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon miscontrolled a pass from Pedri and saw the ball roll into his empty net. Spain, to their credit, didn’t let that mishap affect them as Pablo Sarabia equalized in the 38th minute. Jose Gaya took the initial shot from the left side of the box which was well saved by the Croatian keeper, but his parry fell straight into the path of Sarabia. The PSG winger made no mistake in firing the ball into the back of the net and it wasn’t too long before Cesar Azpilicueta headed the ball home from close range to give Spain the lead. Manchester City’s Ferran Torres added a third after a good pick out from substitute Pau Torres, which made the game seem to be all but over. But the game wasn’t done there. Moments before the ninety had completed, Kramaric poked the ball towards goal but it was cleared off the line by Azpilicueta. Unfortunately for Spain, the ball fell to Miroslav Orsic who made it 3-2 to Croatia. Orsic then turned provider this time, as his cross found Mario Pasalic, who managed to head the ball past Unai Simon and send the game into extra time. In extra time, Alvaro Morata put Spain back in front after thundering a shot past Livakovic before Mikel Oyarzabal put the result beyond doubt with a fifth, thereby booking Spain’s place in the quarter-finals.
World Champions France played Switzerland next at the National Arena in Bucharest. Haris Seferovic gave Switzerland a shock lead when he headed a cross from Steven Zuber past Lloris. Switzerland went into the break with a 1-0 lead, a scoreline many did not expect to see and one that certainly would have rattled France. Switzerland were then awarded a penalty early in the second half after Pavard fouled Zuber in the box. Ricardo Rodriguez stepped up to take the penalty but his tame effort was saved by Hugo Lloris. The Swiss were then left to rue that miss as Karim Benzema equalized for France after good work from Kylian Mbappe. The Real Madrid man scored a second after good link-up play with Antoine Griezmann to send the French fans into raptures. Paul Pogba looked to have sealed the deal for France as he curled in France’s third into the top right corner of Yann Sommer’s goal. Switzerland gave it their all in the remaining minutes by making attacking changes. Seferovic gave the Swiss a lifeline when he headed a powerful close-range header from Kevin Mbabu’s cross. Mario Gavranovic then equalized out of nowhere after latching onto a great pass from Switzerland captain Granit Xkaha to make it 3-3 and send the game into extra time. Extra time saw both teams tire and play for penalties. Switzerland went first and scored with Mario Gavranovic. Pogba made it 1-1. Schar and Giroud made it 2-2. Akanji and Marcus Thuram made it 3-3. Ruben Vargas and Kimpembe made it 4-4. Admir Mehmedi scored the 5th and then it all came crashing down when Kylian Mbappe’s effort was saved by Sommer and Euro 2020 witnessed its first giant-killing, with the Swiss knocking out world champions France.
On the final day of the Round of 16, England played host to Germany at Wembley Stadium, in a hotly contested affair. Gareth Southgate matched Germany’s tactics by playing a back-three formation, and a seemingly defensive team. Leon Goretzka tested Jordan Pickford in the early parts of the game but the Everton shot stopper was up for the task. Maguire then headed the ball straight into the hands of Manuel Neuer from an outswinging Trippier corner. Werner had his shot saved by Pickford in what was arguably the best opportunity of the game up until that point, ensuring a 0-0 scoreline at halftime. In the second half, Pickford produced the save of the match when he tipped over Havertz’s sweetly struck volley over the crossbar. With the game at 0-0 and needing inspiration, Southgate threw on Jack Grealish in an effort to score a goal. And it worked. Harry Kane gave the ball to Grealish at the edge of the box, who instead of taking a shot released Luke Shaw. The Man United man’s first time cross was then pounced on by Raheem Sterling to give England the lead. But it all started with a bit of brilliance from the Aston Villa captain. Muller then had a golden opportunity to equalize after being sent through on goal, but could only drag his effort wide. Minutes later Luke Shaw robbed the ball off a German player and fed it to Grealish, whose pinpoint cross was headed home by Harry Kane for his first goal of the tournament, sending the England fans into a frenzy. The game ended 2-0, with England booking their place in the quarters and Germany going home in what turned out to be Joachim Loew’s final game in charge of Die Mannschaft.
The final game of the round saw Sweden take on Ukraine at Hampden Park. Ukraine drew first blood after Oleksandr Zinchenko scored a belter past Robin Olsen, and a bit of solid work from West Ham’s Andriy Yarmolenko, who crossed the ball with the outside of his left boot. It wasn’t long before Emil Forsberg equalized for Sweden, with a sweetly struck shot that took a big deflection off Zabarnyi and flew over the helpless Bushchan. In the second half, Sydorchuk had his effort clip the outside of the post, while Sweden also hit the post moments later through Forsberg. Isak was then sent clean through on goal by Ekdal but the Real Sociedad man dragged his shot wide. Sweden continued to have the better chances and it was Forsberg who desperately hit the post again, after cutting in from the left and letting rip. The game ended 1-1 after regular time, ensuring extra time would be on the cards for the two very tired teams. That tiredness might have been to explain what happened next, as Marcus Danielson was shown a red card for his dangerous challenge on Besedin. Then in the 120th minute, Artem Dovbyk got onto the end of a wonderful cross from Zinchenko, and powered a header past the hapless Robin Olsen, in what was the most dramatic ending to the game. Swedish hearts were broken, and Andriy Shevchenko’s men were through to the quarterfinals of the tournament.
We now await the Quarter Finals tomorrow to see what kind of drama will happen next!
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