FOOTBALL’S COMING TO ROME – ITALY WIN EURO 2020

The final of Euro 2020 did not disappoint. When we all sat down on the evening of July 11, 2021 to watch Italy and England do battle for the European Championship, we knew we were in for a treat.

The game could not have started any better for England, when Luke Shaw scored his first ever international goal to put England 1-0 up. The fans, players, management and staff were all in dreamland. There was now real belief England would finally land their first major international title in 55 years.

England held on until half time, but we all know the Italians aren’t known for panicking. Just over 20 minutes into the second half, Italy found that crucial equaliser after piling the pressure on England for the majority of the second half. There was no real urgency from England to get forward and find a winner, with the three lions looking like they were playing for extra time.

Extra time is exactly what they got and both sides still couldn’t be separated. It was a penalty shootout to determine the winner of this gripping final. Domenico Berardi and Harry Kane both converted from the spot to keep the shootout level, and England fans were daring to dream once again when Andrea Belotti’s spot kick was saved by Jordan Pickford. Harry Maguire was up next and it was 2-1 to England in the shootout.

Leonardo Bonucci levelled up the scores but Marcus Rashford was unable to restore England’s lead. Federico Bernardeschi put the Italians 3-2 up as Jadon Sancho could only look on as Gianluigi Donnarumma saved his penalty. Now, Italy were in the driving seat and up next was Jorginho. The man who takes penalties for Chelsea and is usually ruthless from 12 yards was now presented with the chance to win the title for Italy.

Pickford pulled off yet another save and England’s hopes were still alive. Taking England’s 5th penalty to send it to sudden death was Arsenal youngster Bukayo Saka. It looked like a very risky decision to throw Saka in the deep end. The teenager, who was only receiving his 9th England cap, was understandably unable to cope with the pressure and Gianluigi Donnarumma saved his penalty to crown Italy European Champions for the second time in their history.

The Italians first won the European Championship in 1968, just two years after England won the World Cup, and after their battering in the Euro 2012 final against Spain this is a huge step forward. Roberto Mancini’s side have played some fantastic football and are the well deserved champions of Europe.

RESULT

Italy* 1-1 England (AET)

* – Italy win 3-2 on penalties.

Euro 2020 Champions – ITALY

EURO 2020 FINAL – IS IT COMING HOME OR COMING TO ROME?

The final of Euro 2020 is upon us and this evening we will watch a dangerous Italy team take on an England side who haven’t reached a major final since 1966. Italy’s last major final was in 2012 when they reached the final of the European Championship but lost 4-0 to Spain.

Italy have come through the more difficult side of the draw to reach the final. Three wins in the group against Turkey, Switzerland and Wales gave them a last 16 tie against Austria, a quarter final against Belgium and a semi final against Spain. The Italians needed extra time to beat Austria and penalties to beat Spain, and their win against Belgium was a 2-1 win in 90 minutes.

England have come through the other side of the draw with relative ease. Two wins and a draw in their group saw them take on Germany in the last 16, Ukraine in the quarter finals and Denmark in the semi finals. The English won their first two knockout games without conceding and had to recover from 1-0 down to beat Denmark in extra time in the semi finals.

This game is either going to be very close or very one sided. There is no in between. Italy weren’t really talked about as potential winners before the start of the tournament, but they have been absolutely unplayable in some games. Turkey, Wales and Switzerland were no match for them, Austria put up a decent fight, they swept aside a disappointing Belgium side and held their nerve against the Spanish.

England haven’t been anything special despite the fact they blew both Germany and Ukraine away in the last 16 and last 8 respectively. Their semi final against Denmark proved they become quite wasteful with chances when under pressure and had to rely on Denmark sitting back and holding out for extra time and penalties to carve out a chance, and even that was a penalty that never should have been.

Unfortunately, the norm with English media is to praise simulation when English players do it and call them “streetwise”. However, when a foreign player does it, they’re criticised and blasted for cheating to win. Jamie Carragher has been caught out for praising Kane and Sterling for it but he seems to think it’s wrong when any footballer that isn’t English trips over their own feet.

As much as I would like to see England win the tournament, I cannot see it happening. Even at Wembley, I see Italy dictating the pace of the game and putting England under pressure early on. If the Italians create an opportunity they aren’t going to waste it and a 2-0 lead at half time for Italy will end with a 3-1 win after 90 minutes. Goals from Lorenzo Insigne and Nicolo Barrella will send Italy into the break leading, a Harry Maguire header will reduce the deficit to one goal but Federico Chiesa will pop up late on to secure the win for Italy, meaning England’s wait for another international trophy will extend to the 2022 World Cup.

PREDICTION

Italy 3-1 England

ITALY REACH EURO 2020 FINAL AFTER DRAMATIC PENALTY SHOOTOUT

Italy became the first team to book their place in the final of Euro 2020 after their penalty shootout victory over Spain.

Despite the majority of pundits, writers and analysts believing Italy would dominate the game from start to finish, Spain controlled the possession early on and looked the most likely out of the two to find the opening goal.

After a scoreless first half, Federico Chiesa opened the scoring on the hour mark to put Italy 1-0 up. It looked like Italy were on their way to the final until Alvaro Morata popped up in the Italian penalty area to put the ball into Gianluigi Donnarumma’s net. For a third consecutive game, Spain required extra time and for Italy this was their second game to require the extra 30 minutes after their last 16 tie with Austria.

Spain looked the most likely team to find a winner in extra time, but it wasn’t to be and a penalty shootout was now upon us once again.

Up first for Italy was Manuel Locatelli, but he saw his effort saved by Unai Simon. The advantage was handed to Spain but Daniel Olmo sent his penalty soaring into orbit and the advantage was with Italy once again.

Spain converted two spot kicks thanks to Gerard Moreno and Thiago Alcantara, but penalties from Andrea Belotti, Leonardo Bonucci, Federico Bernardeschi meant that Alvaro Morata could not afford to miss. Unfortunately for the former Chelsea man he did miss and a current Chelsea player, Jorginho, calmly converted from the spot for Italy and Roberto Mancini’s Italian army booked their place in Sunday’s final.

A very disappointing end to the tournament for Spain but the squad is littered with talent, experience, youth and strength in depth so I have no doubt in my mind that it won’t be long until Spain are lifting major trophies once again.

The night belongs to Italy, and they have taken one step closer to what would be a very well deserved European Championship title. Standing in their way is a final against either Denmark or England.

FINAL SCORE

Italy* 1-1 Spain (AET)

*Italy win 4-2 on penalties.

WHO WILL BE MAKING THE EURO 2020 FINAL?

Twenty four teams qualified for Euro 2020 and now just four remain. Denmark’s narrow win over the Czech Republic and England’s 4-0 thumping of a below par Ukraine ensured they join Italy and Spain in the semi finals.

Goals from Thomas Delaney and Kasper Dolberg were enough to see Denmark through. A consolation strike from Patrik Schick made for a nervy ending but the Danes held on to continue their remarkable run in this tournament.

England took on Ukraine and despite a close first half where Harry Kane sent England into the break with a one goal lead, Ukraine rolled over in the second half, and Harry Maguire headed England into a two goal lead. Kane found the back of the net for a second time before Jordan Henderson’s first goal for England secured a 4-0 win.

With four teams remaining, here are my predictions for the semi finals and who I think will be contesting the UEFA Euro 2020 final on July 11, 2021.

ITALY vs SPAIN

Italy have come through the toughest section of the draw and now find themselves in the semi finals against the odds. Austria took them to extra time but they showed their strength and then eliminated a below par Belgium in the quarter finals.

Spain needed extra time to see off Croatia in the last 16 and they needed penalties to knock out Switzerland in the quarter finals. Despite the long and tense games, Spain have looked decent and will provide a challenge in the semi finals.

This is going to be a very tight game but Italy are going to show once again why they are undoubtedly one of the favourites for the tournament. After half an hour with both sides creating chances, Lorenzo Insigne will break the deadlock going into half time. Insigne will once again get on the scoresheet and send the Italians into dreamland. Alvaro Morata will force Italy to grind out the remaining 10 minutes with a goal of his own but Italy will hang on and become the first team to reach the Euro 2020 final.

ENGLAND vs DENMARK

The Denmark dream continues and they are going to show no fear against England. Both sides have had similar results since the knockout stage. Both have scored 6 but England have conceded 0 to Denmark’s 1.

Most are going to assume that England will brush Denmark aside like they are nothing and the Danes will barely put up a fight, but it’s important to remember Denmark have been playing with a very important purpose since game one against Finland. Emotions and momentum can carry a team a long way and all the momentum is with Denmark.

England are most likely going to take the lead through either Harry Kane or Raheem Sterling and that’s when England will sit back. In the second half there will be an equaliser through Kasper Dolberg and the game will be sent to extra time. Both sides are going to have tired legs but Denmark will create a single moment of magic late in the second half of extra time through Dolberg once again and England fans will have a similar ending to their 2018 World Cup semi final exit.

The dream will be over for England and it will be Denmark who join Italy in the final, where the Italians will be aiming to win their first European Championship since 1968 and Denmark will be looking for their first title since their memorable triumph in 1992.

PREDICTIONS

Italy 2-1 Spain

England 1-2 Denmark (AET)

FIRST SEMI FINAL CONFIRMED AS ITALY AND SPAIN MARCH ON

The European Championship is slowly drawing to a close as the first semi final was confirmed after Italy edged past Belgium and Spain took advantage of poor penalty taking from Switzerland.

Belgium’s run has not been easy since the last 16. Their two knockout ties have seen them take on 2016 European Champions Portugal and 2006 World Champions Italy, with the latter ending the current world number one’s dreams of European glory.

Italy looked like they got off to a dream start against Belgium when Leonardo Bonucci scored, but the Italian celebrations were cut short when VAR chalked the goal off due to an earlier offside, but Italy would eventually find the back of the net and this time it was Nicolo Barella who got his name on the scoresheet. With a minute to go until half time, Lorenzo Insigne doubled Italy’s lead and Belgium were in serious danger.

Belgium were awarded a penalty in added time which was converted by Romelu Lukaku, which sent Belgium into the break trailing by one instead of two. We were expecting many more goals in this tight and nervy encounter, but Italy’s resistance would not be broken and Belgium once again end an international tournament in disappointment despite the immense talent packed into the squad.

I said from the very first group match that Italy could be potential dark horses, and they’ve now booked their semi final place under the radar. All the talk has been about France, Portugal and England. Two of those three are gone and the other isn’t exactly anything special, so it’s anyone’s guess how much damage Italy could potentially do.

SWITZERLAND vs SPAIN

This was always going to be a close game and neither side disappointed. Switzerland were on a high after their heroics against France and Spain had a point to prove after nearly throwing away their last 16 game against Croatia.

It was a disastrous start for Switzerland when Jordi Alba’s shot deflected off Denis Zakaria into the Swiss net, meaning just under 10 minutes into the game and Switzerland were already chasing. Despite taking the lead early, both sides went into the break with the score still at 1-0 so Switzerland were still in this game.

Switzerland finally found that crucial equaliser with just over 20 minutes remaining thanks to Xherdan Shaqiri, but the celebrations were cut short 11 minutes later when Remo Freuler was shown a straight red card for a reckless challenge on Gerard Moreno, but Switzerland held on and both sides were facing extra time for a second successive game.

There were no further goals in extra time, so it was penalties once again for Switzerland and the first shootout of the tournament for Spain. It looked like Switzerland were on course to record a second consecutive penalty shootout victory after Sergio Busquets rattled the post with his spot kick and Mario Gavranovic found the back of the net.

Unfortunately for Switzerland, that would be the only penalty they would score as Fabian Schar, Manuel Akanji and Ruben Vargas all missed their spot kicks and Spain took full advantage to win the penalty shootout 3-1. A miss by Rodri proved meaningless as Daniel Olmo, Gerard Moreno and Mikel Oyarzabal all converted from 12 yards to ensure Spain’s progression to the semi finals.

Italy and Spain meet in the first semi final, in a repeat of the Euro 2012 final. It promises to be a cracking game and I’m sure both teams will not leave us disappointed.

RESULTS

Switzerland 1-1 Spain*(AET)

Belgium 1-2 Italy

*Spain win 3-1 on penalties.

CALM DOWN EVERTON FANS – YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW LUCKY YOU ARE

Currently, a minority of Everton fans are losing their minds at the thought of Rafael Benitez managing their team. For no other reason than Rafa used to manage their local rivals Liverpool and guided them to that famous Champions League in 2005, an FA Cup in 2006 and if not for a complete meltdown in the latter stages of the 2008/09 season he’d have guided the reds to a first league title in 19 years.

Rafa also managed Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Newcastle in that time, and a brief stint in China with Dalian Professional. The Chelsea fans couldn’t wait to see the back of him despite the fact he won the club the Europa League in his only season as interim boss. Something for the Everton fans to remember – you are not Chelsea, Liverpool or Inter Milan, you are Everton. A club that has spent big in recent years and still can’t break into the top 4, even with a former Premier League and Champions League winner in Carlo Ancelotti at the helm.

Everton fans do not have the right to be disappointed with this appointment. You are not a club that is renowned for world class players or managers, and the fans really should count themselves lucky that they haven’t ended up in relegation scraps with managers like Steve Bruce or Alan Pardew patrolling the dugout.

Rafa is a class manager with a glittering CV. At Valencia he won two La Liga titles, one of which came in a double winning season where he won the league and UEFA Cup in 2003/04. At Liverpool he guided the club to two Champions League finals, winning one and narrowly losing the other. He also won the Super Cup in 2005 and an FA Cup in 2006. In his short time at Inter Milan he won the Club World Cup and Supercoppa Italiana, which would be his last managerial position until 2012.

In that year he took over as interim boss of Chelsea. Despite a hostile reception, he guided the club to the 2012/13 Europa League crown before moving to Napoli where he won the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa Italiana in 2014. He earned himself a move to Real Madrid which was short lived, but he then moved to Newcastle United towards the end of the 2015/16 season, and unfortunately couldn’t keep them up.

Despite the relegation, Rafa stayed and the Newcastle fans were overjoyed. Especially when he guided the club back to the Premier League at the first attempt by winning the Championship title in 2017. In his first full season with Newcastle United in the Premier League, he dragged the club into the top 10 and the fans began dreaming of the good times coming back. The following season was a 13th place finish but still not a disaster. Mike Ashley’s inability to back the manager in the transfer market saw Rafa depart for Dalian Professional in China in June 2019, but he is now back for his 4th stint in the Premier League, this time with the blue side of Merseyside.

If Rafa had turned his nose up at Everton, who would have taken the job that would have been a better choice than Rafa Benitez? No way would Everton have tempted any other big name managers to Goodison Park, so Everton fans should be grateful Rafa has taken the job. Not only is Rafa a quality manager, he’s also a legend to the city of Liverpool.

Rafa’s family have settled in Liverpool, he’s always spoken highly of the people of the city, and when he took over as boss of Inter Milan in 2010, he donated £96,000 to the Hillsborough Family Support Group. When he came to Anfield as the opposition during his time at Chelsea and Newcastle, he was greeted by a warm reception from the Liverpool fans and they still hold Rafa in very high regard to this day. Everton have no idea how lucky they are.

Other than a minority of idiots, Liverpool supporters didn’t turn against him when he guided Chelsea to the Europa League title and they haven’t turned against him despite his decision to manage their local rivals.

I want Everton fans to understand a few things. You are not a big club and have never been considered a big club. You haven’t been in the top 4 since 2005, you haven’t won a trophy since 1995 and your last league title was in 1987. You do not have the right to be disappointed with the appointment of Rafa. He is a proven winner and knows how to win games in the top flight, and he is passionate about the city of Liverpool. He will bend over backwards for your club and will do everything in his power to have Everton challenging for top 4 and trophies.

Carlo Ancelotti couldn’t take Everton into the top 10, and I’ve got some Everton fans telling me they still won’t be satisfied even if Rafa takes them into the top 4. The Everton fans need to get over themselves and realise they have been very lucky with the last two managers they have appointed. It would have been much easier to get Big Sam Allardyce, Eddie Howe or Scott Parker, but the owners pursued Rafa and they’ve now got their man.

No other top name would want the Everton job and if there’s any man that can make Everton a serious top 4 contender, it’s Rafa Benitez. The man deserves time to prove himself and I am 100% convinced that the fans who claim to be “deflated” by the appointment of Rafa will crawl right back under their rocks if he has a more successful first season than Carlo Ancelotti.

EURO 2020 QUARTER FINAL PREDICTIONS

The 2020 European Championship is slowly drawing to a close, with the July 11, 2021 final less than two weeks away. Starting on Friday is the quarter final stage, with the best 8 teams of Euro 2020 going head to head for a place in the last 4. France were sent home by Switzerland, reigning champions Portugal were knocked out by Belgium and Germany suffered a crushing defeat to England. Here are my predictions and who I think will be progressing to the Euro 2020 semi finals.

SWITZERLAND vs SPAIN

Both sides secured progression to the last 8 in dramatic fashion, but Switzerland stole the show by taking the French to penalties and eliminating the favourites for the tournament. Spain, by contrast, should have had their last 16 tie against Croatia wrapped up in 90 minutes but two late Croatia goals sent the game to extra time and Spain ran out 5-3 winners in the end.

I have heard many disregarding the Swiss after their last 16 heroics, with some stating that they will be burnt out after a long and gruelling contest where they had to recover from 3-1 down to send the game to extra time and penalties. That could happen but in this case I don’t think the extra 30 minutes and penalties will have any impact.

This is going to be a very tight game with both sides creating plenty of chances early on. Both goalkeepers will be called into action, pulling off stunning saves and the first half will remain deadlocked. In the second half, Xherdan Shaqiri will fire Switzerland into the lead but cancelled out by a late Alvaro Morata equaliser to send both sides into extra time for a second consecutive game.

Both teams are going to have tired legs in extra time, but Switzerland will find a shock late winner through Haris Seferovic to book their place in the semi final and end Spain’s chances of a 3rd European title since 2008.

BELGIUM vs ITALY

Belgium’s reward for sending the reigning champions home is another tough game, this time against the former world champions and Euro 2012 runners up. This Belgium team is littered with quality and they’ve looked like one of the best teams in the whole tournament. This is most likely their best chance of winning major silverware and they’re going to be 100% prepared.

Italy looked flawless in the group stage, and reminded everyone of why they should be considered as one of the favourites for the title. They were fortunate to come through their last 16 clash with Austria in extra time but this is a whole new game and Roberto Mancini’s side won’t go down without a fight.

For me, this game is going to belong to Belgium. The way they held onto their narrow lead over the Portuguese and battled back from a goal down against Denmark have to be admired and those games prove how mentally strong the Belgians are. Belgium will grab a first half lead through Romelu Lukaku before a Lorenzo Insigne equaliser sets up a very nervy ending, but then Thorgan Hazard will pop up late in the day to snatch the win and book Belgium’s place in the semis against Switzerland.

CZECH REPUBLIC vs DENMARK

This has the potential to be the closest game of all the quarter final ties. Denmark have been a team inspired after Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest in Denmark’s opener against Finland. After two games, Denmark were down and out but 8 goals across two games have booked them a place in the last 8. The Czech Republic were being tipped by some to finish rock bottom of their group, but they were a win or draw against England away from finishing top of their group. They brushed aside 10 man Netherlands in the last 16 and definitely should not be underestimated.

Both sides finished as group runners up and the Czechs showed absolutely no fear while Denmark’s 4-2 battering of Russia booked their place in the last 16 against the odds.

Both teams are going to be nervous going into this game. There is a place in the semi finals on the line and potentially a place in the final. The first goal of this game is going to be absolutely crucial because it’s going to be a stomach settling deadlock breaker. Denmark have been ruthless in front of goal in their last two games and I see the Danes taking an early lead through Kasper Dolberg, and doubling their lead in the second half through Joakim Maehle and that will be the end of the Czech Republic’s Euro 2020 journey.

UKRAINE vs ENGLAND

The English media have to be the most frustrating media ever. There are still 8 teams remaining and a difficult quarter final against Ukraine, yet the tabloids are still talking about premonitions of 1966 and who their potential final opponents will be. I hold no grudges against England but their blatant disrespect towards their opponents is sickening.

Ukraine were the narrow outsiders against Sweden and Andriy Shevchenko has done a fantastic job to get Ukraine this far, considering this is their 3rd Eurooean Championship and the previous two attempts saw them fall at the group stage.

I always maintain the power of momentum should never be underestimated. The momentum is with Ukraine and there is absolutely no pressure on their shoulders. This is their first quarter final and they’re up against the new “favourites” for the tournament. All the pressure is on England and if the English get off to a bad start, Gareth Southgate is going to be in serious trouble.

This is where all the hype and media attention finally takes its toll on England. All the disrespect towards their competition will bite them in this game, where the three lions once again bottle the chance to win major silverware. More than that, this is a better chance than their world cup chances before the semi final in 2018.

Ukraine won’t fear the English and Shevchenko’s team are going to hit the ground running, taking the lead inside the opening 20 minutes thanks to Andriy Yarmolenko, and they’ll hang onto that lead going into half time. Raheem Sterling will find an equaliser in the second half, but nerves are going to set in and Ukraine will take full advantage by finding the winner in the final 15 minutes to break the hearts of the England fans and to ensure football won’t be “coming home” in 2021.

This win would set up a semi final with Denmark and that would be a very tight game that could potentially go all the way. For England, it’s another year of bottling a chance to win major silverware for the first time since 1966.

PREDICTIONS

Switzerland 2-1 Spain (AET)

Belgium 2-1 Italy

Czech Republic 0-2 Denmark

Ukraine 2-1 England

QUARTER FINALISTS CONFIRMED – EURO 2020 LAST 16 REPORT 29/06/2021

The old rivalry between England and Germany resumed this evening as both sides battled for a place in the last 8 of Euro 2020.

The game started with both teams frustrating each other, and when one side created a chance it seemed like it would come back to bite them. That was the case with Harry Kane late in the first half when the England captain found himself in a glorious position but before he could wrap his right foot around the ball from close range, the German defence was back to get the ball clear and the sides remained deadlocked at half time.

For most of the second half it looked as if this was going to go right down to the wire and it would potentially be penalties that won the game. That was until the 75th minute when Raheem Sterling connected with a ball from Luke Shaw to fire England into a crucial 1-0 lead. Germany were clearly stunned and any hope of a comeback was killed 11 minutes later when Harry Kane popped up to score his first goal of the tournament to ensure England would be heading into the quarter finals.

SWEDEN vs UKRAINE

This looked like it would be a very tight and nervy game, and the 22 players on the pitch certainly didn’t disappoint. Ukraine, having come through their group in 3rd place, were looking to book their place against England in the quarter finals but Sweden had their sights set on revenge against the English after they dumped them out of the 2018 World Cup.

It took 27 minutes for the deadlock to be broken and it was Manchester City player Oleksandr Zinchenko who fired Ukraine into the lead, but Sweden didn’t back down and Emil Forsberg levelled the scores late in the first half.

The second half was littered with missed opportunities and both sides striking the woodwork, but there would be no further goals and yet another last 16 encounter was heading to extra time. After what we witnessed in yesterday’s game between France and Switzerland, most neutrals would have been praying for penalties. It looked to be heading that way only for Marcus Danielson’s yellow card being converted to red by VAR just 8 minutes into extra time, which made Sweden’s task much more difficult.

Ukraine piled the pressure on but Sweden kept answering every question asked of them. With penalties looming, the hearts of the Swedish were broken in the 120th minute when Artem Dovbyk found the back of Robin Olsen’s net and Ukraine had snatched it right at the very end. That was the end for the Swiss and Ukraine booked their spot in the quarter finals against England.

Coming up this Thursday will be my Euro 2020 Quarter Final predictions.

RESULTS

England 2-0 Germany

Sweden 1-2 Ukraine (AET)

FRANCE STUNNED BY SWITZERLAND IN NAIL BITING PENALTY SHOOTOUT – EURO 2020 LAST 16 REPORT 28/06/2021

If there was ever a day to sit in front of the television watching football, the 28th of June 2021 was most definitely that day. France vs Switzerland was undoubtedly the game of the day but I’ll talk about the first game between Croatia and Spain first. A game I predicted to go to extra time and Spain to win. All that happened but not in the way I had predicted.

Spain dominated the early exchanges but it was Croatia who took the lead through a Pedri own goal, and this was most definitely one the 18 year old will never want to see again. A back pass intended for goalkeeper Unai Simon bounced over the keeper’s foot and into the back of the net. In the most unexpected circumstances, Croatia were in front.

Thankfully for Pedri he wouldn’t be red faced for too long as Pablo Sarabia equalised shortly before the break and the sides ended the half level. The drama was far from over and 12 minutes into the second half, Spain took the lead through Cesar Azpilicueta and the Spaniards added a 3rd with little over 10 minutes remaining thanks to Ferran Torres. Despite a two goal cushion with time running out, Croatia hit back in the 85th minute through Mislav Orsic and Mario Pasalic scored a dramatic equaliser two minutes into added time. For the 3rd time in the last 16 a match was taken to extra time.

Croatia are no strangers to extra time, with the majority of their knockout matches in the 2018 World Cup requiring the additional 30 minutes. Spain wasted little time recovering from this setback and two quickfire goals from Alvaro Morata and Mikel Oyarzabal put the Spanish 5-3 up with two minutes of the first half of extra time remaining. Croatia couldn’t bounce back in the final 15 minutes and Spain held on to win a game they very nearly threw away despite a two goal lead late in the day.

FRANCE vs SWITZERLAND

I think I speak on behalf of the majority of football fans when I say this was a game you simply could not take your eyes off. The favourites for the tournament taking on Switzerland, a team not to be taken lightly. France knew the dangers the Swiss would pose but knew they had enough quality to come through this game. What unfolded was truly special.

Just 15 minutes into the first half and France were given something to think about when Haris Seferovic gave Switzerland a shock 1-0 lead. Didier Deschamps would not be one bit concerned because time was on France’s side. Although, Switzerland did take their 1-0 lead into the half time interval and there was a strong belief Switzerland could pull off arguably the biggest upset of the whole tournament.

Early in the second half, Switzerland were awarded a golden opportunity to put daylight between themselves and France when VAR awarded the Swiss a penalty after a Benjamin Pavard foul on Steven Zuber. It was Ricardo Rodriguez against Hugo Lloris and this was huge pressure. Rodriguez stepped up but Lloris was up to the challenge and saved the spot kick. The game remained 1-0 but Switzerland paid the price for Rodriguez’s miss because just 5 minutes after the missed penalty, a Karim Benzema double had fired France into the lead.

France kept piling pressure on Switzerland and with 15 minutes remaining, Paul Pogba popped up outside the Switzerland box with a contender for goal of the tournament to put France 3-1 up. We all thought it was game over but Switzerland had other ideas. With 9 minutes of normal time remaining, Haris Seferovic was once again on the scoresheet as he reduced the deficit to 3-2. It was a very tense situation for both teams but France still looked the most likely to book their quarter final spot. Then, in the 90th minute, there was another twist as Switzerland found that tournament saving equaliser through Mario Gavranovic. The full time whistle went and once again we were being treated to an additional 30 minutes.

France were presented with a golden opportunity to win the game very late in the day before the full time whistle but Kinglsey Coman’s effort struck the post. After an additional 30 minutes, the teams still couldn’t be separated and we were now going to be treated to our first penalty shootout of Euro 2020.

Both teams seemed to be flawless with their penalty taking, with the first 4 from either side being converted. Now we were into “cannot miss” territory. Up stepped Admir Mehmedi for Switzerland and he found the back of Hugo Lloris’s net. The pressure was all on France’s 5th penalty taker – Kylian Mbappe. This young man is no stranger to big occasions, but Mbappe could only watch on as his weak penalty was saved by Yann Sommer. It was finally over and Switzerland had pulled off the biggest shock of Euro 2020. Vladimir Petkovic and his Swiss army had eliminated the favourites and held their nerve in the biggest game of their lives.

Up next for Switzerland is a quarter final against Spain, but so far in this tournament we’ve seen the Netherlands, Portugal and France crash out so it’s shaping up to be a very tense finale to what has been an incredible tournament so far.

CZECH REPUBLIC STUN 10 MAN NETHERLANDS – EURO 2020 LAST 16 REPORT 27/06/2021

In 2004, the Czech Republic reached the semi finals of the European Championship and they had a fantastic team capable of potentially winning a major tournament. Since then it’s been a downward step for the Czechs, after an infamous sliver goal defeat to Greece in the Euro 2004 semi final. Today they defied the odds and rolled back the years as they beat 10 man Netherlands 2-0 to advance to the quarter final stage where they will meet Denmark, in a repeat of the Euro 2004 quarter final.

Despite the fact the Dutch were expected to absolutely obliterate the Czech Republic and cruise through to the next round, they weren’t exactly convincing in the first half and the sides went into half time deadlocked. The game was there to be won but you couldn’t rule out some Dutch magic.

Just 7 minutes into the second half, Frank de Boer was dealt a huge blow when Matthijs de Ligt was sent off. The referee initially produced a yellow card when de Ligt appeared to handle the ball, but VAR stepped in and overturned the yellow and de Ligt was shown a red card. He was judged to have clearly handled the ball to prevent a goalscoring opportunity so Holland were now under pressure and needed to produce something special or their tournament was over.

Another blow was dealt in the 68th minute when Tomas Holes headed the Czech Republic into a 1-0 lead. It wasn’t all over for the Netherlands but their task just became much more difficult. Tomas Holes popped up once again with 10 minutes remaining but this time he was the one who provided the assist for Patrik Schick to put the Czechs 2-0 up and that was now it for the Netherlands. After 6 painful minutes of added time the final whistle sounded and the Czech Republic were through to the quarter finals of Euro 2020. They got the better of Denmark in 2004 and while the Danes will be favourites to progress to the semi finals, the Czech Republic will have full belief they can go even further.

BELGIUM vs PORTUGAL

This has been one of the most anticipated ties of the last 16 and it was finally upon us. Portugal came into this game with their sights set on ending the Belgian dream but Roberto Martinez had other ideas.

Belgium were perfect in the group stage, beating Denmark, Finland and Russia but many fancied the Portuguese due to the quality of teams they faced in their group.

It looked as if the game was going to reach half time deadlocked but with 3 minutes of the first half remaining Thorgan Hazard popped just outside the box and fired Belgium into the lead. Portugal weren’t going to panic but the momentum was now with the Belgians and it looked like this game was far from over.

Portugal came out in the second half and piled the pressure on Belgium. Thibaut Courtois was called into action to make a save from a Joao Felix header from close range, but the best chance Portugal had to equalise fell to Raphael Guerrero late on but his effort found the post and came back into play. Belgium were hanging on for dear life but they held onto their 1-0 lead despite having their own chances to kill the game off. The final whistle was music to the ears of the Belgians and Portugal’s reign as European Champions had drawn to a close.

Belgium survived a very tough test and an even tougher game awaits them in the last 8 as they take on Italy, although Belgium will fancy their chances after Italy’s far from convincing win over Austria in the last 16.

RESULTS

The Netherlands 0-2 The Czech Republic

Belgium 1-0 Portugal