Saturday, June 19, 2021

Euro 2020 Day Nine: Back From The Dead

Hungary 1:1 France, Budapest

Another full house in the mighty Puskas Arena and the Budapest sun made for another surreal atmosphere in a tournament of limited attendances elsewhere. 

This was the first outing for Hungary's famous red shirts but had a happier ending than their late dismantling by the Portuguese.

France looked a racing cert before the Group F match but entered the changing rooms 1-0 down after a spot of dozy defending in first-half injury time.

With the clock ticking down to the whistle, Benjamin Pavard and Raphael Varane let Attila Fiola race down the left, cut in and beat Hugo Lloris at his near post.

That was Hungary's second shot of the half while Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappé had fired good chances wide of the post. Mbappé had been showing off his superpowers again; the only Kyptonite the Hungarians could muster was mass defending. 

Ngolo Kanté had been motoring around the field and Antoine Griezmann had been creative, but the half belonged to the Magyars.

Euro 2020 Day Nine

For the first 15 minutes after the restart, the crowd's roar in the heat gave the impression that Hungary could hold on for a famous win, but by the 65th minute the French were level when a route one launch found Mbappé, whose cross was deflected by Willi Orban into the path of an onrushing Griezmann who picked his spot.

Hungary did not have the energy to reach for a second and as far as their noisy fans were concerned, were delighted to have denied the world champions another win.

After Griezmann's leveller, an Mbappé blast against the keeper's gloves was the closest France got to taking all three points. Both sides left content, but Hungary were the happier.

Germany 4:2 Portugal, Munich

The German renaissance began in Munich today. Behind to an early Cristiano Ronaldo strike, der Mannschaft looked headed out of Euro 2020 until they staged a remarkable comeback.

Jogi Low's men started well and had a goal chalked off before the holders struck on their first foray, increasing German fears of another early exit.

Euro 2020 Day Nine

A textbook counter attack saw Bernardo Silva's lance find Diogo Jota who laid it off for the evergreen water advocate Ronaldo who scored his third of the tournament after what looked like an 80 yard charge. A game based around long balls won't win you tournaments but can give you the odd goal.

Low looked lower, staring his national team coaching career and his team's demise in the face. 

Then, a bit of lady luck for the beleaguered hosts. Robin Gosens took a crossfield pass from Joshua Kimmich and volleyed it into the box where Kai Havertz touched it past Rui Patricio, although the goal was credited to defender Ruben Dias.

Three minutes later, it was 2-1 to Germany as another whipped in cross upset Portugal, Raphael Guerrero deflecting it past his keeper. Three Portuguese goals, two in their own net.

Their third after the break was a carbon copy as Gosens whipped it in for Havertz. The Atalanta wing back, an unheralded star of the Euros, nodded the fourth on the hour mark before being substituted, a man of the match performance in 60 minutes.

Portugal's levels of desire and energy were nowhere near enough as they chased the game. Their counter-attack plan had worked only once and in defending switched play and whipped-in crosses, they had two Achilles' heels Germany soon sussed. 

Portugal used the same tactic to pull one back in the 67th, Jota crashing in Ronaldo's cross. Renato Sanches almost scored the goal of the tournament with a missile in the 78th which left Manuel Neuer a statue, but the post said no.

The Germans came back from the dead while the holders' grasp on their cup looks slippery.

Spain 1:1 Poland, Seville

Poland were another Lazarus, staring elimination in the face and beating it out of sight with a spirited response. Spain stuttered, but maintained their course for the next round, just about.

Coming in off the back of a defeat, Poland started like the clappers, closing down the red shirts in numbers. 

More than any game thus far, this was a clash of styles, the Poles' strong running and channel balls versus Spain's possession game and steady building from the back. The tussle between the tall and elegant Robert Lewandowski and the little speedster Jordi Alba was a fascinating one.

The Poles never seem to have the required strength in depth but you have to give them credit for always being battlers. In short spells Paulo Sousa's side were dominant but Spain's ball retention (69% this time against 75% v Sweden, according to UEFA) meant they could not maintain it. 

Alvaro Morata tapped in Gerard Moreno's cross cum shot after 25 minutes to give Spain the lead, another goal not cheered at the time but restored by VAR.

Poland replied with a Robert Lewandowski shot saved by Unai Simon and a Karol Swiderski rocket that flew inches wide. 

In the 54th minute their talisman unsheathed his broadsword. Kamil Jozwiak centred the ball and Lewandowski brushed off Aymeric Laporte to rise majestically to head home. The goal lit the contest up and both sides then went for it.

Euro 2020 Day Nine

Then VAR came to Spain's aid again and they won a penalty no-one had appealed for, much like the Czechs did yesterday. Justice was perhaps done when Gerard Moreno hit the post and Morata volleyed the rebound wide.

Luis Enrique's new Spain drew their second match at home in a row, inviting unfavourable comparisons with their recently retired golden generation. 

La Roja does not have the big personalities of that era, but that may come with time. They lack the defensive grit of the two Sergios - Busquets and Ramos, or the nippy ball wizards Andres Iniesta and Xavi to take the game to the opposition.

Tiki-taka is history, but what has replaced it is pass-enaccio, with too much predictability and lateral movement. If Spain cannot mix up their play because they know no different, they will not win Euro 2020.

As with the game in Budapest earlier, it was the big name nation who left the field shrugging and the unfancied East Europeans who skipped joyfully towards their fans as if they had won. Group E remains wide open.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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