SATURDAY, 3 JULY 2021
The first semi-final is decided: top scoring teams Italy and Spain will meet each other next Tuesday at Wembley in a Clash of the Mediterranean. Spain needed penalties to defeat the stubborn 10-man Swiss, while Italy sent Belgium’s Golden Generation home in 90 minutes with a 2-1 win. Tonight will determine who will join them. Will the Vikings sail to London for a battle with England, or will there be a Czech or Ukrainian surprise?
CZECH vs DENMARK
For tonight’s first match, the teams have to travel a substantial distance to Baku in Azerbaijan.
The Czechs arrived in the quarter-finals with a clean 2-0 victory over the disappointing, not for the first time, Dutch. They completely deregulated Netherlands with a solid game plan and better physical fitness. Dutch star players Wijnaldum, Depay, and Frenkie de Jong were invisible during the match. Czech Republic are only the world’s number 40 and finished as the number three in the group behind England and Croatia, but if they can stay this organised, they will fancy their chances as they also have in-form striker Patrik Schick, who has scored four goals so far. Will he strike again tonight and match Ronaldo’s total?
The Danes have gained tremendous confidence in their last two matches after that traumatic start of the tournament when they lost Eriksen and their first two matches. After Eriksen seemed to recover, they found their motivation and scored eight goals, against the Russians and the Welsh in the quarter-finals. Ex-Ajax striker Kasper Dolberg clearly felt at home in Amsterdam and showed the way with the first two goals of the match. The Vikings are already sailing high on the waves of team confidence and spirit but if Dolberg can keep this up, they are not only the favourite in the match tonight, but also a dangerous outsider for the title.
UKRAINE vs ENGLAND
The Ukrainians came into the quarter-finals after sending Sweden home with a goal in injury time of the extra time to make it the second latest goal in European Championship history. They may not have been the biggest names in football, but it was an attractive, open match. Ukraine was lucky that Swedish new star striker Forsberg only scored once because he hit the woodwork twice. Ukrainian Besedin almost broke a leg after a mistimed tackle, and will be out for the rest of the tournament. Can coach Shevchenko and his assistant, former Milan player Tassotti, create another great game plan to defeat the English in Rome tonight?
Hopes are rising again in England after that long overdue win over Germany. Both England strikers Sterling and Kane tanked confidence with a goal each in the last 15 minutes of the game. Germany never looked like they could stage a comeback although Muller got a big chance for an equaliser. The win was seen by some as a redemption for coach Gareth Southgate for that missed penalty in the 1996 semi-final, at Wembley, against…Germany. Having taken the Germany hurdle, the road to the final lies open. England is expected to win tonight, but how will they deal with that pressure and expectation in their first and only game away from home?
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FRIDAY, 2 JULY 2021
EURO 2020 is on track to become the most productive tournament in its history with an average of almost 3 goals per match. But where there are goals, there is drama. Especially in the Round of 16. None of the countries in the Group of Death have survived the onslaught. Three group numbers 3 did however, including the low ranking Czechs (number 40 in the FIFA ranking), who sent the Dutch packing and their coach looking for a new job. It seems that the French players were fighting on the pitch and their parents in the stands. In Germany, the Joachim Low era has ended; some say at least three years too late. The Swedes are heartbroken but also almost broke the leg of a Ukrainian. A disappointed Ronaldo threw his armband on the ground after their loss against Belgium.
But most emotions were reserved for England. They had not beaten Germany in a major tournament since the 1966 World Cup final. Until this week; 29 June 2021. The win sent the fans into a state of ecstasy. And according to the British press, who are not known for being understated, the jinx is over and the curse has been lifted. The country is another step closer to bringing football home, although as we have seen so far in this tournament… anything can happen.
SWITZERLAND vs SPAIN
St. Petersburg sets the stage for the first quarter-final of the tournament. Can the Swiss Guard tame the Spanish Matadors tonight and provide EURO 2020 with yet another upset?
It is perhaps not that unsurprising to see the Swiss in the quarter-finals since they are the 9th European country in the FIFA World Ranking, but they barely survived the group stage as its number 3. Only against the French showed the Swiss some strength and resilience when they staged a late comeback and scored two goals in the last nine minutes of regular time. The dramatic turn of events showed once again how closely pain and joy live together in football; as immortalised by the two photos of a Swiss fan that are doing the rounds on social media. In the end the Swiss kept their heads cool in the penalty shoot-out with France but can they do the same against three-time EURO champion Spain?
World number 6 Spain is coming into the quarter-finals as the most attacking force of the tournament. That did not always seem the case. They had a very slow start of their campaign with two disappointing draws (0-0, 1-1). But a change in tactic made their style, uncharacteristically, more opportunistic. It produced 5 goals for them in their match against Croatia, but they also conceded three, two of which in the last seven minutes of regular time. As a result, they have now scored the most goals (11), 10 of which in the last two matches orchestrated the most attacks and have the highest possession by far. Will Luis Enrique’s team continue this spectacular style of play against the Swiss?
BELGIUM vs ITALY
This round’s smackdown is played in Munich between world number 1 Belgium and four-time World Cup winner Italy.
Belgium beat Portugal with 1-0 with a shot from outside the box by Thorgan Hazard; the lesser known, younger brother of Real Madrid forward Eden Hazard. Belgium were lucky though that Portugal did not convert one of their 24 attempts on goal! The Red Devils did not come unscathed from the clash with injuries for star players Kevin De Bruyne and captain Eden Hazard. For Belgium’s Golden Generation, this tournament might be their last chance to be crowned European champions.
After cruising through the group stage with nine points and three clean sheets, Italy’s first test only came against the well-organised and defending Austria. It took extra time for Italy to break down the resistance with two goals. A late ‘anschlusstreffer’ brought back the tension, but the Italians held their ground. The Azzurri extended their unbeaten record to 31 under coach Mancini, who cleverly placed Belgium as the favourite in tonight’s exciting clash in Munich. A deceptive move as Italy is still seen as the team to win tonight. But will they?
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