Wednesday, June 30, 2021

European Championships

The Euro round of 16 featured hotly contested matches and the elimination of the tournament favorite. The opening match of the round, however, was uninspiring as Denmark rolled over Wales, 4-0. Wales played poorly albeit some questionable refereed calls involving Wales striker Kieffer Moore were not helpful. Kasper Dolberg had two goals for the great Danes.

Italy faced its first nervous moments of the tournament and were forced to extra time before scoring their two goals and hanging on for a 2-1 defeat of a surprisingly game Austria squad. Fromer West Ham player Marko Arnautovic continued his dynamic play in the Euros but was unable to convert on three different opportunities for Austria.

The first surprise result of the round was Netherlands falling to the Czech Republic. A Matthijs de Ligt red card put the Orange down to 10 men at the 55-minute mark and the devastated Dutch were unable to recover against a Czech side which saw Patrick Schick clinch the 2-0 victory with his fourth goal of the tournament.

The Dutch failed to put a shot on target for the first time in a major European competition. Netherlands coach Frank de Boer, a target of Dutch fans’ criticism leading up to and through the tournament, announced his departure as manager this week.

Belgium displayed grittiness versus their usual flair in grinding out a 1-0 victory over Portugal on a first half goal by Thorgan Hazard. Portugal dominated play but was unable to break through a low block defense employed by the Belgians. Liverpool’s Diogo Jota, Wolverhampton’s Jao Felix and Manchester United’s Bruno Fernades and Manchester City’s Ruben Dias all missed chances for a Portugal side which had 24 shots, 5 on goal versus , 6 shots and 1 on target for the Belgians. Belgium may have paid a heavy price for its victory as Eden Hazard and Keven De Bruyne both exited the match with injuries.

Monday marked the most exciting day of tournament action to date. After conceding a deplorable opening own goal resulting from an egregious goalkeeper error, Spain scored three consecutive goals, including scores from Manchester City’s Ferran Torres and Chelsea’s Caesar Azpilicueta, for a seemingly safe advantage at the 77-minute mark. Croatia, however, was not done and tied maters with two late goals coming after 84 minutes had been played. The seesaw contest tipped to Spain in extra time as Alvaro Morata temporarily silenced his critics with a goal for Spain. Matters were then settled with a second Spanish goal in extra time. Croatia has yet to win a Euro knockout game in its history despite the success it has seen on the world cup stage. The own goal committed by Spain was the ninth of this year’s tournament which equals the total amount of own goals scored in the entire prior history of the Euros.

The upset of the tournament occurred Monday when tournament favorite and defending World Cup champion France fell to lightly regarded Switzerland. Down 1-0, France responded to a penalty kick save made by Tottenham Hotspur’s Hugo Lloris to become more energized and exert its considerable talents. A Paul Pogba goal was to give the French a 3-1 advantage after 75 minutes. Switzerland cut the lead in half before Pogba reminded Manchester United fans why the enigmatic star can be so frustrating. Having earlier delivered an athletic wonder goal, Pogba lost possession in a vulnerable area to gift the tying goal to Switzerland in the 90th minute. France’s young superstar Kylian Mbappe missed the only one of ten penalty kicks taken to send France home. Mbappe had also missed on an opportunity in extra time. French manager Didier Deschamps received criticism for employing a three-man backline, seldom used by the French, which may have made the World Cup champions vulnerable to the collapse.

With France gone, England hopes have never been higher after a 2-0 win over Germany which saw Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling score his third goal of the competition and Harry Kane finally break into the scoring column after a drought which had extended to the 2016 Euros.

Kane’s clinching goal beautifully unfolded on a connection from Manchester United’s Luke Shaw to Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish to the head of Spurs’ Harry Kane. England posted a fourth consecutive clean sheet which has included outstanding play from Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. Chelsea’s Timo Werner and Kai Havertz were both victimized by Pickford saves. Fan Criticism of England coach Gareth Southgate’s conservative approach is so far being outweighed by results. Germany coach Joachim Low, meanwhile,  coached his final match for Germany in the loss. Thomas Mueller perhaps played his last match for the Germans in a game which saw him miss a chance for a second half equalizer.

Sweden suffered a red card in extra time and were seemingly about to push the game to penalty kicks before Ukraine snatched a 2-1 victory with a goal in injury time of extra time. Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko scored the opener for Ukraine and then assisted on the exceptionally late winner. Euro quarterfinal action begins Friday.

Top betting favorites of the remaining teams include Belgium and Italy, who will face each other in the next round, England, and Spain. England’s side of the bracket includes none of the other favorites in its route to the final.

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