Thursday, June 17, 2021

Euro 2020: Day Seven the first out

It's the second round of games and now the cheers and tears really begin as teams book their tickets for the next phase or their planes home. Two wins and you are surfing a wave of euphoria, two defeats and the team previews and Panini stickers have lost their sheen...

Ukraine 2:1 North Macedonia, Bucharest

Ukraine got their first points on the board, deservedly so after pulling two goals back against the Dutch but leaving Amsterdam empty handed in their first match.

Euro 2020

North Macedonia had been a breath of fresh air in their earlier outing, attacking so hell for leather you could forgive them for losing 3-1 to Austria. 

In their second match, they tried the same tactic but lost again. Holland's later win over Austria meant they are the first side to pack their bags.

Shipping five goals in two games to modest opposition reveals the sad fact the first-time finalists were out of their depth, but only thanks to a sometimes sleepy defence. Their enthusiastic attack merited more.

They had brief moments of hope when Ezgjan Alioski converted his penalty kick on the rebound in the 55th minute and when goalkeeper Stole Dimirievski saved a penalty from Ruslan Malinovskiy in the 84th.

Ukraine's second goal, by Roman Yaremchuk, was so casually converted after splitting the Macedonian backline that neither the players nor fans celebrated much. 

Their first, from Andriy Yarmolenko, was a poacher's goal worthy of his storied manager Andriy Shevchenko.

Denmark 1:2 Belgium, Copenhagen

Christian Eriksen was wearing his team shirt in his hospital bed but must have been on the pitch in spirit too as Denmark raced into a second minute lead and played a storming first 45. 

When Yussuf Poulsen's opportunistic strike hit the net all Denmark exploded in catharsis. Talk about coming out fighting.

The whole ground stopped in the tenth minute to salute their stricken colleague. A lovely touch and it surely boosted the home team's already sky-high confidence. While clapping for Eriksen, the Belgians must have wondered if they were in a no-win situation.

Eriksen

Backed by a full Parken Stadion, it was easy to forget the under the cosh visitors were FIFA's No.1 ranked nation. But it is also little known that Denmark are in the top ten of the world rankings too.

Belgium were lucky to be only one down at the break after 45 minutes of Danish emotion. Inevitably perhaps, the home side could not sustain that intensity and in the 55th minute the Belgians' class resurfaced.

Romelu Lukaku barged past defenders and slipped it to Kevin De Bruyne, whose deft feet slipped it to Thorgan Hazard to slot home.

The heavy artillery was now being brought to bear on their upstart rivals. De Bruyne's perfect near post drilled effort was straight out of his Man City playbook, leaving Kaspar Schmeichel grasping at air.

The Red Devils had found their fire. Despite a heroic effort, the Danes lost again and must hope to beat Russia and sneak through as a third-placed side. 

It was truly a game of two halves.

Netherlands 2:0 Austria, Amsterdam

A one-sided match and a duly flat atmosphere in the Johan Cruyff Arena left me feeling short-changed but that should not take away from how well the Dutch are playing and how disorganised Austria were.

The Dutch should have scored more than two and will have to wait until the knockout stages for a real test.

Netherlands

Austria got it all wrong with a high line easily sprung by the Dutch forwards. The Dutch passing, mass pressing and use of space was a class apart and Austria seemed bereft of ideas. 

They were holed in the harbour by Marko Arnautovic's one match ban and the choice of a three man defence which reduced David Alaba's effectiveness. The Bayern Munich man's night got worse as he conceded the penalty Memphis Depay scored from and fired wide of the post later on.

Denzel Dumfries added the second after a right wing raid. After a strong 90 minutes and two goals in two games, the PSV defender will doubtless have some big clubs sniffing around him.

Oranje looked so much in cruise control I almost felt like doing a crossword. Austria came to life somewhat in the last ten minutes but it was too little too late. They can still make the next phase but nobody will fear playing them.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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