UEFA 2020 Euro Championship – Day 3
Group A: Wales (0) 1 – 1 (0) Switzerland
Goal-scorers: Wales – Moore (74’), Switzerland – Embolo (49’)
Olympic Stadium, Baku
I had this down as a draw, but until Wales levelled through Cardiff City’s Kieffer Moore with sixteen minutes remaining, it looked like the Swiss would take all three points. Although the game was level 0-0 at half-time, the Welsh had been outplayed and had ‘keeper Danny Ward to thank for keeping the game scoreless. The Swiss will have also felt hard done by as in the closing minutes of the opening forty-five minutes they had what looked like a good penalty shout turned down when Embolo was held back by his shirt.
Into the second-half and just like the opening game in Rome, a goal came quickly after the break. Ward was again at his best to deny Embolo’s strike, but from the resulting corner the tall Borussia Monchengladbach striker outmuscled his marker to head home. From that point the Welsh looked under the cosh and Embolo continued to look dangerous forcing Ward into another save from another corner later in the half. Then with Wales looking out on their feet in the Baku sunshine, up popped the bandaged Moore with a cracking header. Suddenly Wales looked brighter although ultimately they had to survive a rocky last few minutes.
Dinamo Zagreb forward Mario Gavranovic came on for the Swiss with six minutes remaining and proved to be a handful. With his first touch he hooked home from close range, only for VAR to come to Wales’ rescue. The Swiss though weren’t done and in those closing minutes of normal time and the five extra minutes they put the Welsh backline under pressure and looked the more likely winner. Wales though saw it through for a point that they were perhaps fortunate to take in the end.
Massive credit to the 500 Welsh fans who made the trips and themselves heard throughout the match. Wales stay in Baku for their game on Wednesday with Turkey, whilst the Swiss made the trip to Rome to face Italy.
Group B: Denmark (0) 0 – 1 (0) Finland
Goal-scorer: Pohjanpalo (59′)
Parken Stadium, Copenhagen
This is a game that will be remembered for the collapse of Danish and Inter Milan player Christian Eriksen shortly before the end of the first-half. Incredibly, the game resumed at the players request at 19:30 (UK time) and it was a strange watch knowing what had happened. Who knows what was going through the players minds as they played out the last five minutes of the first-half and the second forty-five. Were the Danish players affected more than their opponents? We will never know. But you could argue that the two major moments of the game could have been down to the individuals involved not being fully focused. First, just before the hour mark Finland scored through a Joel Pohjanpalo header, an effort than nine times out of ten Kasper Schmeichel would save, but which on this occasion he fumbled over the line. Then with sixteen minutes left, Demark were awarded a fortunate penalty, but Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s spot-kick lacked power and was easily saved. For Finland it was an historic first win at the Euros but will always be remembered for the traumatic events surrounding Christian Eriksen’s collapse.
Group B: Russia (0) 0 – 3 (2) Belgium
Goal-scorers: Lukaku (10′, 88′), Meunier (34′)
Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg
Having watched the end of the delayed Denmark/Finland game, I missed the start of this fixture and in the end didn’t watch it at all. Therefore caught up with just the BBC highlights. Basically, Belgium were too strong for Russia who contributed to the first two goals through poor defensive play. The opener after ten minutes saw a ball into the box be missed by Andrey Semenov allowing Romelu Lukaku time to turn and fire home. The game was effectively over on thirty-four minutes when Russian ‘keeper Anton Shunin failed to hold a cross-ball into the box and substitute Thomas Meunier slotted home. The icing on the cake came with two minutes left, when Lukaku out muscled his marker on a through ball and slotted home. Belgium in cruise control and looking dangerous.
The weekend ends with another three games, starting with England and their Group D opener with Croatia at Wembley and then two games from Group C, with Austria taking on North Macedonia at the Arena Na?ionala in Bucharest and Netherlands hosting Ukraine in Amsterdam at the Johan Cruyff Arena.
For whatever reason I just don’t have a good vibe for the Three Lions in this tournament, whether that be concerns over the defence and the associated injuries, or just that England won’t be able to back up the decent run in the last World Cup. Croatia who ended that dream back in 2018 lay in wait once again. These two have been regular opponents in recent years with England’s win in the Nations League in 2018 and World Cup Qualifiers in 2007 and 2008, balanced against the 2018 World Cup Semi-Final defeat and the two losses in the Euros Qualifiers in 2006 and 2007 (the later the infamous, ‘Wally with the brolly’ 3-2 defeat at Wembley). I’ll love to say I can see a comfortable win, but I’d take a point.
Austria and North Macedonia met in the qualifiers for Euro 2020 with the Austrians winning both games. The first in Skopje, saw North Macedonia team take the lead, but Austria struck back to win 4-1. In the return game in Vienna, Austria won 2-1 which saw them secure the runners-up spot and automatic qualification. North Macedonia finished third on head-to head results over Slovenia and had to come through the Play-Offs with wins over Kosovo and Georgia to secure their first ever appearance at the European Finals. Coming into this game, Austria lost 1-0 to England at Wembley and drew 0-0 with Slovakia. North Macedonia drew 1-1 with Slovenia and finished with a 4-0 win over Kazakhstan. The head says that Austria will prevail as North Macedonia adjust to the European stage at a higher level.
Today’s final offering will see the Dutch take on Ukraine. There have been a couple of friendlies between these teams in recent time, with a 1-1 draw in 2010 and a 2008 win for the Netherlands. The Dutch qualified comfortably behind neighbours Germany, whilst Ukraine topped their group, going unbeaten and beating current European holders Portugal 2-1 along the way. The Dutch warmed up for these Finals with a 2-2 draw with Scotland and a 3-0 win over Georgia, whist Ukraine had two victories over Northern Ireland (1-0) and Cyprus (4-0). This will be an intriguing game and could be settled by just a single goal either way.