Saturday, July 3, 2021

EURO 2020: North Sea Day

Czech Rep 1:2 Denmark, Baku

Czech Rep 1:2 Denmark

The Danish dream goes on as they advanced to the last four for the first time since their unexpected win in Euro '92.

A steamy night in Baku, its last of Euro 2020, saw Danish power play edge out the Czechs' physical game which had done for the Netherlands.

They scored at the right times. Thomas Delaney headed their opener in the fifth minute and Kasper Dolberg volleyed in their second from a delightful outside of the foot cross from Joakim Maehle three minutes before the break.

The Czechs were always playing catch-up, allowing the Danes to stay compact and organised and threaten on the counter. While they sat back in the second half the tactic worked in the end and Danish defence was only breached once.

Two nil down, Jaroslav Silhavy brought on an extra striker in Michael Krmencik but it was marksman Patrik Schik who pulled one back four minutes into the second half, his fifth of the tournament, with a clever sidefoot. The author of that long-range strike against Scotland is out of the Euros now, but leaves joint top of the scoring charts with Cristiano Ronaldo, his transfer value inflated.

They had the better of the second half, upping the tempo but failing to get another goal. As the clock ticked away, legs got tired in the heat of Azerbaijan.

The Czechs pressed in the closing minutes but did not have the quality to forge great chances once they reached the box. They outpassed and outshot the Scandinavians but it is goals which win games. Denmark were stubborn and got over a gruelling line, having gambled on safety first after the break. 

Scoring early gave them an edge they never relinquished.

The Czech players were out of fuel by the end, collapsed on the turf at the final whistle. Had they got a second they might have gone on to win it, but fine margins decide football fates.

At least they left all proud of having given it a good lash. Their win over Holland was a great result and although they failed to return to the Euro final at Wembley like they did in 1996, they can now dream of recapturing the recent golden days of Pavel Nedved and Tomas Rosicky. 

Having entered the tournament with a world ranking of 40 and odds of 150/1, reaching the last eight was an overachievement.

The Danes are still in dreamland but they arguably have been all tournament, even when losing two matches. That early nightmare has given way to a fantasy made flesh. Now the team sans Erikson are only 90 minutes from the final.

Ukraine 0:4 England, Rome

Ukraine 0:4 England

Another cavernous Olympic stadium sparsely populated, but unlike the earlier contest, this was a mismatch.

England won so comfortably in their first overseas trip of the Euros I wondered if Wembley were actually a hindrance rather than a help to the Three Lions.

It was a bizarre opening as Ukraine sat back in their own half from the kick-off and did not press. 

If that was their plan it was a disaster. England seemed embarrassed to have so much possession and duly scored almost nonchalantly after three minutes. Raheem Sterling ran at the defence, threaded a superb ball between the yellow shirts and Harry Kane toe-poked home.

The Sterling-Kane combo worked a treat again tonight and might even go on to be one of England's historic striking partnerships like Shearer and Sheringham or Lineker and Beardsley.

Ukraine woke up and attacked for the first time, making a match of it.

Their first shot arrived in the 17th minute as Roman Yaremchuk seized on an under-hit pass by Kyle Walker, toyed with John Stones and hit a near post effort Jordan Pickford could only push away.

England seemed to have the game under control by the half hour, able to alter the tempo and feed Sterling and Jadon Sancho, their speed on the wings. Declan Rice fired a cannon-shot in the 33rd which Georgiy Bushchan pushed away and Sancho drew a save soon afterwards as England advanced.

Sancho and Sterling switched wings to vary the attack but Ukraine finished the half better, profiting from their switch to a 4-3-3 after Serhiy Kryvtsov went off injured. Some quick passing combinations in England's last third gave Gareth Southgate food for thought.

What a response. Less than two minutes after the restart it was 2-0 to England via a Man Utd link-up. Luke Shaw floated in a free kick and Harry McGuire soared to power a header into the far corner. Beautiful simplicity.

Five minutes later it was 3-0. Shaw again was the provider from the end line, Kane the executor in the air from the six yard box.

Ukraine visibly wilted and England stroked the ball around with ease. Kane almost scored a spectacular hat-trick with a volley in the 62nd but Bishchan got his fingertips to it. A minute later and Jordan Henderson nodded in a fourth unmarked from a corner.

Ukraine were a distant second, a Yevhen Makarenko drive in the 75th a rare chance, parried away.

England kept a fifth consecutive clean sheet at the Euros and Southgate's already heavenly star rose even higher. 

Perhaps the levelling up of European football we had suspected was just a mirage. The gap between these two teams was enormous.

It was an utterly professional performance which saw England grab the game early and not let go but perhaps the new territory of Rome and a small crowd let them play with more freedom and less anxiety than hitherto.

In any case, north-west London beckons again for the semi final against Denmark on Wednesday.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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