Sunday, June 27, 2021

Euro 2020: Czech-mate for Holland Red Devils Beat the Holders

Czech Republic 2:0 Netherlands Budapest

A full Puskas stadium again with seas of orange and the red, white and blue of the Czech Republic.

Three wins out of three and eight goals had made the Dutch clear favourites, but in the end they were soundly beaten in the first upset of the knockout stages. A shock and the Netherlands' worst tournament defeat since being dumped out of Euro 2008 by Russia.

The afternoon hinged on a crazy 52nd minute when Donyell Malen fluffed a one-on-one with the Czech goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik and Matthijs de Ligt was sent off for denying a goalscoring opportunity to Patrick Schik.

The Netherlands threatened to steamroll the Czechs at the start with their possession play but as the half went on the white shirts made more incursions from the right and had a couple of chances. This was not going to be a cakewalk for Holland.

The closest moment to a goal came in the 38th minute when Lukas Masopust, he of the historic footballing name, teed up Antonin Barak but De Ligt threw himself in front of the shot.

The Dutch geometric football had failed to forge a shot on goal in the first 45 and for all their sharp passing and positional play they entered the dressing rooms frustrated for the first time in the tournament. 

De Ligt will get the blame for the red card and the subsequent Dutch collapse. The Juventus centre-back had misjudged the flight of a long ball and stumbled, ineptly pushing the ball away with his arm to stop Schik going in on goal.

The noise from the stands was now all Czech-made and the on-field roles had been reversed. The front foot Dutch were now camped in their own half and their opponents who had looked so good on the break before had to take the initiative.

On 64 minutes Pavel Kaderabek should have scored but Denzel Dumfries made a last-ditch block, but the direction of the match was clear

Their pressure paid off in their best period. With the bodies piled into the box a Czech corner sailed over to the far post, Tomas Kalas rose to head it back to the near post and Tomas Holes nodded in. The Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg was in no man's land at the wrong side of the goal.

Spaces opened up and the white shirts grew in confidence. Soucek and Masopust had efforts on target. The Dutch failed to string passes together and seemed to have no clue how to react.


Schik made it 2-0 finishing off a midfield surge from Holes in the 80th. The Oranje fans looked distraught, the Czech bench ecstatic. Holes had ridden less than committed tackles en route to goal.

There was no Virgil Van Dijk to lead, while Frank De Boer's man-management was in tatters. The Dutch could not cope physically with their opponents or psychologically with De Ligt's expulsion. They had no plan B. De Boer made four changes but the team just played worse, losing more possession. Vaclik's gloves were barely dirtied all day.

Three stylish victories and the biggest goal haul from the first round proved no preparation for what to do when you lose a man and concede a goal.

While the Dutch gave us a lesson in how to mentally lose a match, the Czechs taught us the opposite. They managed the phases better, withstood the early storm, exploited the sending off with an offensive switch and attacked their opponents' weaknesses.

The Budapest match was a battlefield but only Jaroslav Silhavy had read The Art of War.

The Dutch go back to the drawing board, their renaissance stopped in flight. The Czechs advance to the last eight against Denmark.

Belgium 1:0 Portugal Seville

A warm evening in the cavernous Olympic Stadium in Seville. The pick of the round of 16 and a D-Day for the holders and Belgium's golden generation.

In the end the holders, an unlikely winner at Euro 2016 lest we forget relinquished their crown but went down fighting until the end. The match was an even encounter, not a classic, decided by one moment of sublime footwork.

The only effort on target in the first half hour was a Ronaldo free kick, a vicious dipper which Thibaut Courtois dived to parry. Portugal had enjoyed more of the ball but their slow build up allowed Belgium to perfectly regroup.

Belgium seemed slightly muted, not in danger but biding their time to strike. They lit the flame in the 42nd minute when for once they attacked in numbers and Thorgan Hazard found himself in space outside the box before letting rip with a swerving spectacular. Rui Patricio was wrongfooted and missed the ball by centimetres.

Belgium v Portugal

Portugal got a lift when Kevin De Bruyne hobbled off three minutes after the restart but there was no obvious dividend so Fernando Santos rang the changes - Joao Felix for Joao Moutinho and Bruno Fernandes for Bernardo Silva.

By the hour mark the game had opened up into a hot European football night. The pace was slow, slow, quick, quick, slow but the quality was missing. This had not been the goal fest or technical tussle we had hoped for. Portugal were firing long range and off target. Belgium were holding their lead, hoping to release Lukaku on the rampage.

Around the 75 minute mark it felt like it might degenerate into a card fest as every tackle was met by boos and players running to protest.

Fernandes fired crosses in. Diogo Jota fired over from inside the box. In the 82nd minute Ruben Dias powered a header goalward but straight at Courtois.

Raphael Guerrero came closer a minute later but struck the post with a low shot, Courtois beaten. Portugal had their shots but lacked accuracy.

With Belgium sitting back, Portugal funnelled men into attack in the closing minutes. Felix's finish to a flowing move in the 95th flew wide of the post and was their final effort.

Belgium were a little sloppy and never dominated but did enough to ease over the line and resist a noble fightback from the holders. Veterans Pepe and Ronaldo probably played their last game in the European Championship finals.

A win is a win is a win, by any means necessary. Italy await in Munich.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile


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