Saturday, June 26, 2021

Euro 2020: Danish Dynamite & Italian Stallions

Denmark 4:0 Wales, Amsterdam

A great day to be Danish, a sad one to be Welsh.

A devastating display catapulted the team who had lost their first two games at the Euros into the last eight, while Wales head home humbled.

This is the second match in a row Denmark have scored four and whoever plays them next will be aware they are facing a team high on confidence and possessed of a second wind, a divine one. I was surprised before the tournament to note they were ranked in FIFA's top ten but I am not now.

The collective prayer and invocation of life engendered by Christian Eriksen's near-death experience seems to have imbued the team with a grit and self-belief they did not have before and they are riding the crest of a wave now. A giant shirt with his name and number on it was unfurled on the field at the start, a reminder Wales were up against more than 11 men.

They came to Amsterdam having already flown to play in Baku and Rome and the air miles might have cost them some energy in the second half. Denmark by contrast had played three games at home before making the short trip to Holland.

The Johann Cruyff Arena had sizeable sections of Roligans but barely a Welshman - victims of the UK's negligence in letting the Indian variant of Covid run amok, which forced the continent to close its doors to British travellers.

The crowd must have made a difference, as Gareth Bale suggested afterwards, questioning the referee's mental equilibrium when failing to blow up for a Simon Kjaer foul on Keiffer Moore in the build-up to the Danes' crucial second goal.

But Wales deserved to lose and the second goal was as much a result of Neco Williams' suicidal clearance to Kaspar Dolberg. The Nice marksman was back on the turf where he played for Ajax for five formative years and had already curled a beautiful opener past Danny Ward.

Connor Roberts had hobbled off in the 14th minute and been replaced by Williams, whose error handed Dolberg a gilt-edged chance to make it 2-0. Lady luck was not on Wales' side today.

But Denmark's shape and organisation were superior and despite an early ten minute period when Wales were on top and Bale rifled a couple of shots wide, it was clear there was only doing to be one winner.

As the second half dragged on, the dragons looked beaten. Frustration showed and they ended up with four yellows and a red card, for substitute Harry Wilson. Captain Bale himself was cautioned for sarcastic applause of the referee.

Wales' lack of depth showed. Chris Mepham and Joe Morell were two who struggled. Daniel James, so vibrant on the wing against Turkey, was anonymous and substituted.

Andreas Cornelius was an excellent substitution for Denmark with twenty minutes left, a battering ram centre forward who threatened to cause havoc with the jaded Welsh backline.

Danish Dynamite

Denmark twisted the knife in the closing minutes and there were goals for the impressive Joakim Maehle and finally Martin Braithwaite, after an embarrassingly long wait for VAR.

Rumours abounded afterwards that Bale had played his last match in a Welsh jersey and would announce his retirement in the next few days. If that is true it was a sad, sad exit. Four years ago Wales had reached the semi-final, memorably dumping out Belgium 3-1 in the quarter final.

This time they fell a stage earlier, but should still be proud of making the knockout stages two Euros in a row. Today the Danish tsunami was far too much for them.

Denmark motor on to Baku on the 3rd of July to face either the Netherlands or the Czech Republic.

Italy 2:1 Austria, London

Italy maintained their 30+ unbeaten run with two extra-time strikes to beat an unexpectedly determined and spirited Austria in London.

Italy celebrate

Spectator-limited Wembley was a far cry from the noisy Amsterdam Arena of earlier this afternoon. It was a dry and cloudy evening in London and the 18,910 in attendance made little noise until late on. At times it felt like watching a pre-season friendly but the tie sparked into life in the supplementary period.

In the first half as expected, Italy dominated the approach play, Lorenzo Insigne had a shot saved and Ciro Immobile almost netted a wonder goal with a looping shot onto the woodwork, but Austria still lurked on the break.

A Marko Arnautovic goal was chalked off for offside after the break and when they pulled off their bad boy/talisman in extra-time, you felt it was not going to be Austria's night.

The second half belonged to the Austrians however, who muffled the Italian attack with a concrete defence and attacked optimistically too. When the whistle went for full time the honours were certainly even. The Austrian huddle before the restart looked the more motivated

But cometh the subs, cometh the goals. The deadlock was broken in extra-time and all three goalscorers were substitutes.

Roberto Mancini had brought on Federico Chiesa and Andrea Belotti with six minutes remaining to replace strikers Domenico Berardi and Immobile.

Chiesa's head, right-foot, left-foot combo in the 95th to give Italy the lead was Bergkamp-esque in its execution, a rapier strike which came at a crucial moment.

Matteo Pessina's goal was also down to quick and skilful feet in the box as Italy's class finally paid off. But Austria refused to lie down and came back impressively, bringing on a total of six pairs of fresh legs after the 90 to pin the Azzurri back.

Italy v Austria
Italy v Austria: Photo by Ross Clegg

Seconds after Pessina's strike, Austrian sub Louis Schaub let rip from outside the box and only a diving Gianluigi Donnarumma saved Italy.

Eight minutes later, Sasa Kalaladjzic's deft near post header fooled the previously impregnable Italian defence and was the least Austria deserved. Route one was now order of the day but time ran out before they could equalise.

In the end, Italy's strength in depth proved the difference. Chiesa's sharpness from the bench turned the game. But (Tyrolean) hats off to Austria for running the Azzurri mighty close and giving such a good account of themselves.

For so many years a continental also-ran, they now have something to build on having advanced to the knock out stages for the first time and given one of the favourites an almighty fright. Both leave London with pride.

Italy v Austria
Italy v Austria: Photo by Ross Clegg

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

No comments: