Wednesday, June 23, 2021

European Championships

The final four games of Euro group play take place on Wednesday. Group F, the tournament’s “Group of Death,” currently sees France on top of the group with four points as the World Cup champions face defending Euro champion Portugal in their final group match. Last in Group F is Hungary which held France scoreless in a goalless second match draw for their single point to date. Hungary, a first match loser to Portugal, needs an upset win over Germany today and a Portugal loss to France for a dubious chance to advance. Germany produced a statement win in defeating Portugal 4-2 in their last outing. The Germans pressed in attack and were rewarded by two own goals conceded by Portugal’s under pressure defense while Chelsea’s Kai Havertz became the first German to score against the opposition this tournament. Countryman Mats Hummel had an own goal versus France before Germany received the two own goals from Portugal before Havertz’s strike.

England will face the second-place team from Group F in the Round of 16 after topping their group despite scoring only two goals in group play, both by Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling. England followed up their opening victory over Croatia with a hard-fought goalless draw with UK rival Scotland before defeating Czech Republic 1-0 Tuesday. Bukayo Saka received a start against Czech Republic and the Arsenal youngster added some life to a still sluggish English attack. Fortunately, the Three Lions have posted three clean sheets in group play. Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho, rumored for a move to Manchester United, was a late substitution Tuesday for England and perhaps can be another attacking option. Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane, starved for service, continues scoreless for a second straight Euro competition.

Czech Republic will be one of four third place teams qualifying for the next round despite the loss to England. Scotland is one of four teams already eliminated from the competition after the Scots fell 3-1 to Croatia in their final group match. Croatia advances to the next round and looked dangerous with Luka Modric in a more attacking role versus a Scotland team playing without Chelsea’s Billy Gilmour who tested positive for COVID following the England match. Scotland joins Turkey, Russia, and North Macedonia as teams eliminated from the competition as of Tuesday’s results.

The third UK team in the tournament, Wales, has qualified for the next round despite a 1-0 loss to Italy in their final group game. The Italians, who have yet to concede a goal in the competition, are one of three teams with perfect records after completing group play, along with the Netherlands and Belgium. The Netherlands so far leads the tournament in scoring after Georgio Wijnaldum, who leaves Liverpool for PSG next season, scored a brace in a 3-0 win over North Macedonia. Belgium defeated Finland 2-0 as Romelu Lukaku scored his third goal of the tournament. Eden Hazard saw increased minutes for Belgium versus Finland as the former Chelsea star, and current Real Madrid disappointment, attempts to regain fitness after struggles with his ankle.

The remaining group to be resolved Wednesday is Group E which features a disappointing Spain squad which needs a result versus Slovakia to avert an embarrassing elimination. Spain drew their second match of group play 1-1 with Poland as a goal by much maligned Spain striker Alvaro Morata was negated by a tying goal from Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski. A second consecutive draw leaves Spain vulnerable with coach Luis Enrique under fire for a poor Spanish offensive performance to date. Group leading Sweden, already qualified for the next round, faces Poland in the other Group E match Wednesday as Manchester United center back Victor Lindelof will be tested by Lewandowski. Sweden has yet to concede a goal in the tournament. Denmark exploded for four goals to defeat Russia 4-1 Monday in Copenhagen to advance in the tournament despite the loss of their first two matches and the emotional distress of Christian Eriksen’s medical emergency in their opening game. Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen was one of the goal scorers Monday for the Danes. Switzerland has also qualified for the final 16 after Liverpool’s Xherdan Shaqiri scored a brace in a 3-1 victory over Turkey. Turkey has been one of the more disappointing teams in the tournament, losing all three of their matches while scoring just once against eight goals conceded. Surprising Austria also qualified for the next round after defeating Ukraine 1-0 for their second win of the tournament. Following today’s conclusion of group play, the Euro Round of 16 begins Saturday.


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