Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Euro 2020 Day 11: D-Day for Denmark

Netherlands 3:0 North Macedonia Amsterdam

A meaningless match as both sides knew their fates already but a Dutch win in cruise control confirmed they are one of the top guns at the Euros having rejuvenated after missing out on Russia 2018.

Memphis Depay's opener came from a textbook counter attack, executed so smoothly it could only have come from a nation famous for its soccer schooling. Had that been England you feel they would have made a hash of it.

Georginio Wijnaldum's brace in the second half looked comfortable, facilitated like the first goal by some really bad marking by North Macedonia, their downfall at the Euros. 

The debutant Lynxes showed their attacking fervour once more, hitting the Dutch woodwork, dirtying Maarten Stekelenburg's gloves and scoring a goal narrowly ruled out for offside in an exciting opening.

Add some defensive steel and experience and they could be a force to be reckoned with. Without that backbone, all their offensive flair alas goes to waste. Still, we salute them for their entertainment and self-belief and hope to see them at Euro 2024.

Goran Pandev, 37, retired from his national team at the end of the match with 38 goals and 122 appearances, both national records. The Genoa marksman is also the first North Macedonian to score in a finals, having notched one against Austria in their opener.

The Netherlands leave Amsterdam to take on a third placed side in Budapest on Sunday. They look a racing cert for the last eight at least.

Austria 1:0 Ukraine Bucharest

Well done Austria for making the second round of the Euros for the first time. The joy on the face of manager Franco Foda was unmitigated at the final whistle. One of Europe's also-rans had made it through. 

Donning their home colours of crimson and white for the first time this tournament, Christoph Baumgartner met David Alaba's cross to score the game's only goal, but Austria deserved more and were worthy winners for dominating the game.

Andriy Yarmolenko might have scored a similar goal from Mykola Shaparenko's cross but missed by inches but Marko Arnautovic sidefooted an easier chance wide for Austria. 

Ukraine failed to put Austria under pressure and allowed them to leapfrog into second place. If Ukraine do not qualify as a third place side it was a disappointing exit, especially after their win over North Macedonia and unexpected two goals against the Netherlands. 

Euro 2020

It was a historic result because football history has not been kind to the land to the south-east of Germany. In the 1930s Austria was probably the best in the world and in Mathias Sindelar had one of the great European footballers, but poor weather and poorer officiating meant they were knocked out of the 1934 World Cup at the semi-final stage and lost the '36 Olympic final.

Der Wunderteam nevertheless influenced Total Football and Barcelona decades later with its position-changing The Whirl system. Until now the only match Austrian fans can sing songs about was their 3-2 win over West Germany at the 1978 World Cup - the miracle of Cordoba.

Four years later the two collaborated in Gijon to let the Germans win and  eliminate Algeria, a scandalous day which went unpunished and led to final group games kicking off simultaneously ever since.

So here we are with Austria finally in the knockout stages of the Euros. The prize for their hard work - a daunting clash with Italy at Wembley on Saturday.

Belgium 2:0 Finland St Petersburg

Eight changes for the world's No.1 ranked team who were already in the next stage, but another comfortable win to justify their status as one of the favourites.

Finland looked set to win a point after an hour of resolute defending and organisation, but they can have no complaints at being outplayed by Roberto Martinez's men.

Euro 2020

It took until the 66th minute but Belgian class told at last. Kevin de Bruyne picked out Romelu Lukaku with a threadneedle pass and the Inter man fired home, only to see it ruled out for a most marginal offside.

Replays seemed to suggest the VAR officials had got in wrong. Whilst the technology has made a beneficial impact in general at the Euros, the same gripes we have about it in the Premier League apply here. Even if Lukaku was offside, it seems puritanical to chalk his goal off for the slimmest of margins. 

When nobody on the field or in the dugouts protests a decision, it is probably because it was correct.

With just under a quarter of an hour to go Belgium properly scored. Thomas Vermaelen's leap and header down was textbook, the ricochet off Lukas Hradecky into the net a bonus. It was harsh on the Finnish goalkeeper who had made fine saves to keep out Jeremy Doku and Eden Hazard earlier.

Six minutes later a Lukaku swivel and shot into the corner let the Red Devils join Italy and the Netherlands in the 100 club with three wins out of three. Finland must await others' results to know their fate.

Belgium play a third-placed side in Seville on Sunday, no-one will relish playing them

Denmark 4:1 Russia Copenhagen

There was no doubting the match of the night. This was a truly great match of football, a rollercoaster of emotions, cathartic bliss and wonderful goals.

Russia had a better first 45 but ended up on the wrong end of a rout, buried under a tidal wave of Danish emotion building since Christian Eriksen's collapse. For a farewell to Copenhagen in Euro 2020, Denmark had a match to remember.

With only Belgium qualified, there was all to play for. All neutrals probably wished for a Danish victory after the terrible misfortune of Christian Eriksen and again they had the help of a full Parken stadium.

The Danes did not start with intensity, preferring to try and out-think Russia. The problem was they lacked quality of invention in the final third with the exception of Martin Braithwaite's right wing incursions. 

At the back too the Danes looked suspect, allowing Aleksandr Golovin to scythe through on the break and fire at Kaspar Schmeichel. Danish manager Kasper Hjulmund was bent double like Basil Fawlty with his head in his hands before long.

The game seemed to be in the Russian court, the red shirts waiting to pick off the Scandinavians on the counter as they dawdled over set pieces to waste time. Despite less than a third of possession, the best chances came from Russia in the first half.

Euro 2020

Then in the 38th minute Mikkel Damsgaard bucked the trend with a classy shot from outside the D which dipped Ronaldo-esque over a statuesque Matvei Safonov in the Russian goal.

A gift from the gods just short of the hour mark as Daler Kuzyaev made a suicidal back pass from the wing which was gleefully seized upon by the lurking Yussuf Poulsen who finished first time.

Russia looked in a mess after the goal and should have been 0-3 down in the 64th minute, but newly arrived Kasper Dolberg took a touch and lost it instead of shooting.

The 68th minute was a crazy one. Danish fans in ecstasy as Romelu Lukaku found the net in St Petersburg but a minute later the goal had been ruled out and Russia had a penalty thanks to Aleksandr Sobolev going to ground. When Artem Dzyuba's kick, straight and high, hit the net, the Parken bubble popped.

Belgium's goal in the 76th brought joy back to Copenhagen, which became bliss three minutes later as Anders Christensen's piledriver shot through a crowded box to almost burst the net. 

From his nearby hospital bed, Eriksen must have felt his heart skip a beat or two. Another three minutes and Joakim Maehle had finished off a break with a well-placed strike as the retreating Russian defenders turned their backs.

With an ebullient home crowd cheering every pass and their team eager to score more, each additional attack almost seemed cruel on the Russians, who looked decidedly beaten. Europe's largest nation remains an underachiever at Europe's biggest sport. 

Euro champions in 1964, thrice runners-up and once semi-finalists in 2008, Russia has a strong footballing heritage but cannot seem to convert that into tournament success. 

The stadium sang a mournful song about unity earlier as the match hung in the balance. The collective incantation seemed to summon up something powerful to help the home team.

It was a second half that was red, that was white, that was Danish dynamite.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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