Boxscore: NAIROBI, Kenya – July 1, 2021 –
Denmark (4) – Wales (0) – This was the only match that was not competitive as this Danish team has made us remember their old 80’s style of attacking football. The 4-0 demolition of the Welsh proved that even without their key player Christian Eriksen, Denmark can be a very tough adversary. Perhaps they are indeed playing for him and appear to be the favorite against the Czech Republic, and why not as the Danes dream of their second cup to go with their 1992 fairy tale.
Italy (2) – Austria (1) – Italy controlled the pace and controlled the match and has been, thus far the best team in the competition. Despite that, in a single match that can lead to elimination, this young Italian squad nearly found their tournament hopes come to an end against a strong defensive team led by David Alaba. A strong Austrian counterattacked with Marcel Sabitzer and Marko Arnautovic caused panic among Italians after Arnautovic’s goal was overturned as offside by VAR. The game went to overtime, and the Austrian’s legs perished against the young blood of Italy youngsters in Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina. Despite that, Austria had a chance to score on a header from 2.02m giant Sasa Kaljdzic. In the end, Italy relied on the experience of the duo Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini to advance to the Quarterfinals.
The Netherlands (0) – Czech Republic (2) – It was a game full of surprises. The Netherlands came to the knockout as one of the best teams of the tournament as only one of three (Italy and Belgium) to win all their groups game. Despite their success, The Netherlands lacked the killer instinct against a Czech squad who knew how to control the match, especially with the turns from central midfield Tomas Holes. Even prior to Matthijs de Ligt’s expulsion by a handball, the Czechs had already established themselves as the better squad. Soon afterward a Holes header made it 1-0, and in a counter attack, the same Holes passed to Patrick Schick, to put the Czechs through to the quarterfinals for their fourth time (1996, 2004, 2012) as they hope to emulate the days of Pavel Nedved and Karel Poborsky. The elimination of the Dutch cost Frank de Boer his job.
Portugal (0) – Belgium (1) – In what appeared to be an even match, Portugal completely dominated the game. Diogo Jota had a chance at 6′ in another rampant from Renato Sanches who pickpocketed the entire Belgium midfield. Cristiano Ronaldo also had a free-kick well defended by Thibaut Courtois, but as the same luck that smiled to Portugal at Saint-Denis in the 2016 final, now seemingly was against them showing football can be a treacherous game. In only Belgium shot in target in the entire match, Thorgan Hazard made 1-0 before half-time. Portugal replied in the second half with a full attack putting Bruno Fernandes and João Félix in the game. The Portuguese almost tied with a Ruben Dias header and chances from Raphael Guerreiro, André Silva (which when entered allowed Ronaldo to flow around the field in a more forward attacking line) and João Felix with a shot from distance. 29 shots from the Portuguese to 1 from Belgium. Belgium wins 1-0. Well, that’s football.
Spain (5) – Croatia (3) – In an ode to football, Spain and Croatia played a fantastic free flow attacking match that ended in a fantastic 5-3 to the Spanish after overtime (Spain now has the best attack of the competition after marking 5 goals in the last two games). After a bizarre mistake from Unai Simon in an own goal from Pedri, Spain recovered and made it 3-1 to almost seal the match but a brave effort by the Croatians particularly after Miroslav Orsic’s entrance then tying the game 90+2′ (Mario Pasalic). Croatia was already too tired to overcome the result, and in two fantastic balls played by Dani Olmo (who started his career in Croatian, Dinamo Zagreb), put the ball to Alvaro Morata (to the demise of several Spanish fans who were against his place as a starter) and one from Mikel Oyarzabal to make 5-3 in one of the most fantastic recent games.
France (3) – Switzerland (3) [4-5] – The World Champions seemed to have had a good draw to take one of the worst third place, the tough Swiss team. But, it wasn’t the case. Switzerland made a very hard-working game focused on Granit Xhaka deploying the attacks and counter-attacks that nullified the French’s. Haris Seferovic made Switzerland 1-0 just before the break with a header. Switzerland could have made 2-0 but Hugo Lloris defended a penalty kick from Ricardo Rodriguez, and in 4 minutes, Karim Benzema made the tie and then 2-1 to France. The game seemed over when Paul Pogba made a fantastic shot from outside the box to make 3-1. Perhaps the overconfidence of the Franch made their dismal, also the internal battle of egos, especially among Pogba, Varane, Rabiot, Giroud, and Mbappe. France softened the marking, and Switzerland went to tie the game in the dying minutes from Haris Seferovic and another header and Mario Gavranovic. With total concentration from Switzerland, Yann Sommer defended the last penalty kick from France, from Kylian Mbappe, and classified Switzerland for the first quarterfinals ever, with their first victory in a knockout game since 1938…in France.
England (2) – Germany (0) – Oh the old rivals, it has been 55 years since England eliminated Germany in a knockout game, precisely the final of the 1966 World Cup in England. From there, England lost every single one of the matches, good old bad luck for the Englishman one more time? Not this time, in a game that Germany was controlled by this good and young English side, the match was decided almost at the end of the game to give a bittersweet taste to the Germans, and a fantastic taste for the Englishman. A goal from Raheem Sterling, a missed sitter from Thomas Muller to tie the game, that went outside of the goal and the first goal of goalscorer Harry Kane made England 2-0. Wembley went nuts. Gareth Southgate also got his revenge from the penalty kick missed in 1996 against this own Germans, in Wembley in UEFA Euro that dictated once again another English failure. No more. The path to deciding the tournament goes through Wembley for England. 55 is no more. Is football coming finally coming home?
Ukraine (2) – Sweden (1) – In a tough battle between Sweden and Ukraine, the methodical Swedish team managed to control the Ukrainians, but in a fantastic play with the left side of the foot Andriy Yarmolenko, confused the entire Swedish defense and a powerful blast from Oleksander Zinchenko opened the scoring. Sweden would tie later in the first half with a powerful shot from Emil Forsberg that deflected in the defense. After a heated start in the second half, the game went to overtime with each team hitting the bar (Sweden twice). In tense overtime marked by a red card in a rough foul from Marcus Danielson that took Artem Besedin from the competition, and for two months, in the last minute of the overtime. When everything seemed to go to penalty kicks, another fine display by Zinchenko led him to cross to a header for Artem Dovbyk qualifying the Ukrainians who will face England in Rome.