UEFA 2020 Euro Championship – Day 8
Group C: Ukraine (2) 2 – 1 (0) North Macedonia
Goal-scorers: Ukraine – Yarmolenko (29′), Yaremchuk (34′). North Macedonia – Alioski (57′)
Arena Na?ionala, Bucharest
This game came as a pleasant surprise as I was unsure whether to tune in or not. As it turned out it was an end-to-end and highly entertaining ninety minutes. Ukraine looked dangerous from the start and Macedonia’s ‘keeper Stole Dimitrievski was called into action on a couple of occasions. He could though do nothing about the first goal on twenty-nine minutes. From a corner, a flick-on seemed to deceive the Macedonian defence and it allowed Yarmolenko to steal in at the back post to guide his effort home from an angle. Just five minutes later it looked game over as scorer Yarmolenko turned provider with a through ball to Yaremchuk who finished with aplomb. But as in their game against Austria, Macedonian fought back, and veteran striker Goran Pandev finished with a lovely dink over the ‘keeper only to see it ruled offside shortly before the break. Into the second-half and Dimitrievski kept his side in the match clawing away a free-kick from Malinovskiy. Macedonia made things interesting after fifty-seven minutes when they were awarded a penalty. It come after Arijan Ademi forced a fine save from Georgiy Bushchan with Oleksandr Karavaev fouling Pandev as he looked to knock in the rebound. Alioski took the spot-kick only for Bushchan to save it, however, the Leeds United player swept in the rebound to raise hopes of a comeback. Macedonia continued to press but it was Ukraine who had the chance to kill off the game with six minutes remaining, when they were awarded a penalty for handball after a VAR intervention. Malinovskiy couldn’t make it count as Dimitrievski guessed right and parried the spot-kick away to keep alive Macedonia’s search for an equaliser. Ukraine fight to live another day. A mention for referee Fernando Rapallini, who I thought had a good game and it was good to see him book Ukraine’s Shaparenko for simulation in the box.
Group B: Denmark (1) 1 – 2 (0) Belgium
Goal-scorers: Denmark – Poulsen (2’). Belgium – T Hazard (54′), De Bruyne (70′)
Parken Stadium, Copenhagen
This was always going to be an incredibly emotional occasion given the awful events at the Danish game on Saturday and the outpouring of love and support for Christian Eriksen powered the Danes to an impressive first-half performance. Denmark got the perfect start when after only two minutes Belgium gifted the Danes the ball at the back and Yussuf Poulsen fired in. Belgium simply couldn’t get going and the Danes had decent chances to increase their advantage, through Wass and Damsgaard. Kevin De Bruyne returning from his facial injury came on in the second-half and was instrumental in turning it around for the Red Devils. On fifty-four minutes Lukaku made a storming run down the right into the box and played in De Bruyne, his neat ball onto Thorgan Hazard was swept in for the equalizer. The Belgians were now going through the gears and with twenty minutes left some wonderful interplay released De Bruyne on the left and from just outside the box he crashed home. In a grandstand finish the Danes poured forward at every opportunity. Their best chance fell to Martin Braithwaite who was unfortunate to see his header skim the top of the bar. In time added on, the Danes ‘keeper Kasper Schmeichel came up for a corner and was grateful to see the Belgian effort on the break cleared by his defence as he scrambled back to his goal. Belgium through to the last sixteen, whilst the Danes sit bottom with no points.
Group C: Netherlands (0) 0 – 0 (0) Austria
Goal-scorers: Depay (11′ pen), Dumfries (67’)
Johan Cruyff Arena, Amsterdam
Statistics are useful, but never tell the whole story. Look at this game for instance. Austria had the greater percentage of possession in both halves of this game yet lost the match 2-0. It simply goes to show that you can have as much ball as you like, but if you don’t create anything with it, then its pointless. The Netherlands were functional rather than impressive. They pressed in phases as required but were at times wasteful in front of goal. The Dutch were ahead after eleven minutes from the penalty spot. Denzel Dumfries was clipped by David Alaba and Memphis Depay did the rest from the spot. He should have had a second after Weghorst choosing to pass rather than shoot himself laid it off to Depay who contrived to blast over from inside the six yard box. Thankfully it didn’t come back to bite the Dutch as on sixty-seven minutes Donyell Malen burst through the Austrian high line and unselfishly squared for Dumfries to seal the win. The Dutch through, whilst Austria have another bite of the cherry in the last round of group games.
Today’s offering sees Group E continue with Sweden taking on Slovakia in Saint Petersburg, and the Group D fixtures of Croatia v Czech Republic in Glasgow, with the Scots travelling to Wembley to face England in the last game of the day.
Slovakia caused the upset of the competition so far with their 2-1 victory over Poland and will face Sweden who took a point against Spain. These two sides have never met in a competitive fixture, and this meeting is a crunch game for both sides if they harbour chances of progression. I’ll take the Swedes to take this one although it will be close.
Interest then switches to Group D and Croatia and the Czech Republic. Croatia need something out of this game if they are to give themselves a shout of making the last sixteen. Were they poor against England, or did the Three Lions play that well? Maybe a bit of both. They are fighters and I can see Croatia storming back in this one with a two-goal win.
Which leaves us with the ‘Battle of Britain’. For this particular Englishman the nerves have already started some 10 hours before kick-off. It will no doubt be a dour old game familiar to anyone who goes to see their team in a ‘derby’ fixture. It’s a game neither side will want to lose, and England would probably be happy with a point having already banked three against Croatia. I’d love to see a free-flowing encounter with the Three Lions cruising to a 3-0 win but fear it will be more about attrition. Watching England for me is always a nervy experience and will be even more so against the ‘Auld Enemy’. Is it over yet?