Monday, June 14, 2021

Euro 2020: Days Two & Three

Wales 1:1 Switzerland, Denmark 0:1 Finland, Russia 0:3 Belgium, 

England 1:0 Croatia, Austria 3:1 North Macedonia, Netherlands 3:2 Ukraine

Euro 2020
Euro 2020

What a weekend of European football. 

With three games a day in the summer heat, the 24-team finals feels like the World Cup, except for the shrunken crowds in each venue.

On Saturday after Wales had fought back bravely to grab a point from a more polished Switzerland, for whom Breel Embolo staked a claim to be one of the stars of the tournament, a twist of cruel fate left us all dazed and traumatised.

Christian Eriksen's near-death experience was played out on television and threatened to cast a shroud over the whole competition, but the textbook response of the Danish physios and proximity of the Rigshospitalet, four minutes' drive from the Parken stadium, helped save his life; that and the collective prayer power and willpower of the players, fans and watching world.

At times of tragedy, we remember what counts and what binds us together. While football can hold its head high, the same cannot be said of UEFA, whose protocols insensitively ushered the Danes and Finns into playing the remaining 49 minutes on the same day one of them almost died. 

The alternative was 12 noon on Sunday, which was no better. Even though the bed-bound Eriksen had given his blessing to play on on Saturday, it was surely not the wisest course of action.

The Danes' heads must have been messed up as they lost their first half superiority and their regular penalty taker was not there when they got a spot kick, duly missed.

Denmark manager Kasper Hjulmand did a 180, explaining "Honestly it was best to get it over with" on Saturday before saying "No, we should not have played" on Sunday after realising his players were not in the right frame of mind.

Christian Eriksen
Christian Eriksen

I have been learning a lot about cardiology today and gleaned the fact that no echocardiogram or electrocardiogram, the usual heart tests applied to footballers, are foolproof. Defects can slip through the net with fatal consequences.

Inter's club doctor was as perplexed as everyone that their player had suddenly collapsed because nothing had shown up on his examinations, a sentiment echoed by the Danish team doctor today.

"The examinations we have done so far look fine," Morten Boesen told the media. "We don't have an explanation to why it happened."

There are a range of reasons hearts may suddenly stop. The key to surviving a cardiac arrest like Eriksen's is the speed of the CPR and defibrillator response. In Britain only one in ten who suffer one outside of a hospital pull through. 

Thank God football and modern stadia have the requirement for trained paramedics on hand. 

With the miraculous news Eriksen was awake and in good spirits, we could all relax a little last night and admire Romelu Lukaku astride the St Petersburg turf like a colossus. Unfortunately it felt like the second mismatch after Italy v Turkey, sowing more doubt about Michel Platini's parting gift to football.

With 16 out of 24 finalists making it to the second stage, there is not much jeopardy in the first round.

Russia looked to have regressed since 2018 when they reached the last eight of their tournament, but that probably proved the advantage of being the World Cup hosts. 

England beat Croatia 1-0 today, where it was not the paucity of fans which was remarkable but their homogeneity. For all the fuss over taking the knee and the news of honours for Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling, as far as the BBC cameras showed, the England fans at Wembley looked anything but diverse.

The afternoon heatwave had an effect on both sides' energy levels and while England deserved to win for finding the net and a polished performance, both sides showed enough quality to go far in the competition.

Gareth Southgate's new boys - Tyrone Mings, Kalvin Phillips, Phil Foden, Declan Rice and Mason Mount all slotted in smoothly to their new roles. The Croats looked solid and well organised but will need to create more goalscoring chances against the Scots and Czechs.

This afternoon, AustriaNorth Macedonia didn't sound like the biggest show in town but was a most enjoyable clash. The Austrians merited their 3-1 win with a top-drawer assist from Real Madrid-bound David Alaba and a typically braggadoccio cameo from Marko Arnautovic, who celebrated his goal with his familiar anger.

If he so hates being a substitute then maybe he should stop scoring as one..?

The Austrians were rapt in joy at the end having never won a Euros match before, but the ebullient debutants from North Macedonia (pop. 2 million) won the neutrals' hearts, not just because 37 year old veteran Goran Pandev lasted the 90 up front and scored.

The team played like schoolboys, fearless and energetic, attempting tricks in all the wrong places but attacking with real drive. In midfielder Enis Bardhi and wing back Ezgjan Alioski they had two lively attackers. 

Overly optimistic their channel balls, snapshots and impromptu long passes might have been, but they won full marks for entertainment. Their verve and spirit reminded me of Peru at the last World Cup. Let us hope they thrill us again in this tournament. 

The evening match from Amsterdam was a huge contrast initially. The top two seeds in the group played controlled and disciplined football, keeping the ball and keeping their shapes. The Netherlands looked smooth as they passed upfield but seemed to lack a cutting edge.

I had them down as one of my tips for the trophy after seeing them reach the 2019 Nations League final. Like Italy, the Dutch seemed reborn after missing out on Russia 2018.

In the second half they caught fire when Georginio Wijnaldum exploited a torn Ukrainian backline to snap up a goalkeeping flail and guide the ball into the net in the 52nd minute. Wout Weghorst's opportunist finish made it 2-0 and it seemed game over.

But then, mirabile dictu, Ukraine pulled two goals back out of nowhere. Andriy Yarmolenko's 25 yard swerver must be up there for goal of the tournament already while Roman Yaremchuk's glancing header soon afterwards was also impressive.

But with five minutes to play Ukraine goalkeeper Georgi Bushchan made a weak clearance and Nathan Ake's cross was headed home by Denzel Dumfries. 

A narrow win for the Dutch, a five-goal thriller and the best day of the Euros yet.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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