Friday, June 25, 2021

European Championships

The final matches of the Euro group stage are completed and the Round of 16 set. The four teams in Group F put an exclamation point on an exciting group stage with both back and forth contests ending in 2-2 draws. Former Real Madrid teammates Christiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema traded goals as Portugal drew with group winner France. Ronaldo’s two penalty conversions, sandwiching Benzema’s tallies for France, gave him five goals as the leading scorer in this year’s group stage. Ronaldo earlier became the Euros’ all-time leading goal scorer, and, with Wednesday’s scores, he is now tied with Iran’s Ali Daei as the top international goal scorer of all time. Benzema, making a return to international football this tournament, scored his first two goals of the group stage to secure the point and the top spot in the group for France.

Portugal was in danger of elimination as Hungary twice took the lead before an 84th minute goal by Germany’s Leon Goretzka ended the Hungarians’ tournament journey. Chelsea’s Kai Havertz scored in a second consecutive match for Germany in the 2-2 draw. Spain, with one goal from their two previous matches, coasted to a 5-1 demolition of Slovakia. Manchester City’s Ferran Torres scored for the Spaniards while Newcastle goalie Martin Dubravka was guilty of a howler in committing an own goal as Slovakia exited the tournament. Knockout play in the Round of 16 takes place Saturday through Tuesday. Sweden finished on top of Group E, defeating Poland 3-2 and overcoming two goals by Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski. Gareth Bales leads Wales against Denmark in Saturday’s opening final 16 match while Italy carries its perfect tournament record to date into a match with Austria later that day. Sunday will see Netherlands, also perfect in the group stage, take on Czech Republic before a clash of titans between Belgium and Portugal. Spain will hope to continue its newfound scoring prowess when it faces a dangerous Croatia side Monday while tournament favorite France will be heavily favored later in the day against Switzerland. Tuesday offers a marquee match between England and Germany before Sweden faces Ukraine. On paper the brackets for knockout play appear unbalanced. World Cup Champion France, current top ranked national side Belgium, defending Euro champion Portugal, group stage star Italy, World Cup runner-up Croatia and traditional power Spain are all on one side of the bracket. The winner of England and Germany will have only Netherlands among pre-tournament favorites in their path to the final.  

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