Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Euro 2020: A Tale of Two Goal Fests

Croatia 3:5 Spain Copenhagen

A crazy scoreline after an avalanche of goals, near misses and excitement, just what you want from a knockout match.

Croatia 3:5 Spain Copenhagen

Croatia began handicapped with Ivan Perisic's Covid-induced ban. Their best player after Luka Modric could well have changed the result had he been on the pitch. Perhaps to compensate, the gods gifted them after 20 minutes, a comical own goal scored by Pedri 45 metres out.

The Barcelona youngster and the rest of the full-looking stadium in Denmark felt their jaws drop as Unai Simon miscontrolled the ball and let it roll into the goal. The back pass itself was overhit and rather bizarre coming from close to halfway.

Spain had begun better with Koke and Alvaro Morata getting shots on target before their comedy moment. But they maintained their assault and Pablo Sarabia netted a deserved equaliser in the 38th minute. In the 57th they were ahead as Cesar Azpilicueta rose to meet Ferran Torres' cross, his first goal for La Roja.

Torres himself made it 3-1 twenty minutes later when he stole the ball from a sleeping Josko Gvardiol to slot past Dominik Livakovic. Croatia looked out, buried under a sea of Spanish passing and sharp finishing. 

But like the Austrians and Czechs, another Central European nation refused to throw in the towel against storied opponents. They fought back and Simon's one-handed save in the 67th from Gvardiol was key to keeping the Spanish a nose ahead.

In the 85th a lifeline. Modric invaded the six-yard box and drew it back for Mislav Orsic to shoot: A pinball scramble and a goal for Croatia. Hope springs eternal.

Two minutes into injury time, the Croats grabbed a third with a powerful header from Mario Pasalic, flying into space between the Spanish centre backs for an irrepressible equaliser. The momentum was now with the World Cup finalists.

Orsic fired over and then Simon saved Spain again with a reflex save from Andrej Kramaric to stop Croatia taking the lead. The Spanish goalkeeper had more than atoned for his earlier slip. Time for extra time.

Spain won the extra half hour. In the 100th minute Alvaro Morata, who had been all effort but played below par hitherto, controlled the ball with his chest and brought it down coolly before firing into the roof of the net. A top-drawer finish.

Three minutes later Mikel Oyarzabal slotted in a fifth for La Roja. Croatia had run out of gas by the second extra period, two goals too much to catch up a second time. There was still time for Dani Olmo to hit the post, but 6-3 would have been cruel on the brave Croats.

This was a real tussle which could have gone either way. Spain's possession game (67% of the ball) triumphed in the end, but the Croats' physical effort, garlanded by the creativity of Modric, gave them a real run for their money.

To use a cliche, football was the winner in Copenhagen.

France 3:3 Switzerland Bucharest

Switzerland win 5-4 on penalties

After another ride on the rollercoaster, it is safe to say this was the best day of the Euros. 14 goals in two games and a changing of the guard as both 2018 World Cup finalists were knocked out.

France 3:3 Switzerland


France's 1998 World Cup win was followed up by winning Euro 2000, Spain did the same in 2010 and 2012 but Didier Deschamps has failed to build a dynasty on the back of his Russian triumph. His side were the best coming into Euro 2020, but fluffed their second-round lines.

The tournament favourites shared six goals with a determined Switzerland. For all France's prestige and  flowing football, the Swiss had come to fight, not lie down. The game swung back and forth, conducted by two quarterbacks, Paul Pogba for France and Granit Xhaka for Switzerland.

A sloppy first 45 from the French saw them enter the dressing rooms a goal down to Haris Seferovic's powerful header and the Swiss were good money for their lead. 

Les Bleus were failing, encore une fois, to fire on all cylinders and the Swiss took advantage of the lack of French connection. France's three man defence looked particularly ropey and like the Dutch yesterday, the side's collective effort wobbled when they went a goal down.

Unfamiliar psychological territory for the world champions at the break. An unsettled Didier Deschamps brought on the attack-minded Kingsley Coman for the ineffective Clement Lenglet and switched to a back four, but the first action after the break was advantage Switzerland.

In the 53rd minute Benjamin Pavard sent Steven Zuber flying to halt his surging run down the left as he bore down on goal. Although the chalk of the box's line kicked up Wimbledon style, the referee signalled a penalty. The French campaign looked headed for the exit.

Big moments decide big matches. Ricardo Rodriguez hit his spot kick at less than full blast and Hugo Lloris dived low to his left and got a glove on it. Les Bleus had escaped.

France roared back, Mbappe flashed a shot wide and then in the 57th set up Karim Benzema who tapped the ball past Jan Sommer to level. One minute 42 seconds later it was 2-1 to France as Benzema nodded Griezmann's pass into an empty net. Rodriguez, defending lost the leap and looked crestfallen. 

The game had swung back to France in the blink of an eye. Benzema, for so long the exile, was now the hero.

With 15 minutes left, a sabre flourish from Dartagnan -  Pogba, who curled and dipped a great shot into the top corner to make it 3-1 to the French. A world class strike. Dancing at times, majestic while threading defence-splitting passes, Pogba had class in waiting.

Game over it appeared. France were in full flow and looking like scoring in every attack. A second half renaissance for the favourites.

Attention aux Suisses! Nine minutes to go and Seferovic headed his second, losing Raphael Varane with ease to power the ball past Lloris. Switzerland refused to give up.

With five minutes left, Mario Gavranovic netted but was flagged offside. With the clock showing 90 minutes,  Xhaka unleashed Mario Gavranovic who kept the ball glued to his feet, sent Presnel Kimpembe to the wrong address and rifled wide of Lloris into the net. 3-3.

94th another diagonal lance from Xhaka and Admir Mehmedi almost had a one-on-one with Lloris. At the other end Coman hit the bar for France. What a 90.

Extra-time was less eventful. Kylian Mbappe was still on low power - shackled, tackled and shooting wide.

And so to the twelve yards test. Four French and five Swiss kicks hit the net and then Mbappe, having hobbled through extra time after missing a chance, whipped his kick too close to the middle and Sommer palmed it away.

The world champions were out, defeated by the thinnest of margins by a team that bit more determined on the night. Mbappe the world's most valuable player, was not to be the king of the Euros.

Another Goliath felled by David. The Swiss roll on.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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