UEFA 2020 Euro Championship – Day 23
Goalscorers: Switzerland – Shaqiri (68′). Spain – Zakaria (8’og)
Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg
Really not sure what to make of this Spanish team. They play at times lovely, quick, intricate and incisive football, but yet again in this encounter failed to turn that into goals. In simple terms, pundits seem to agree that they are just a decent striker away from being a very good side. Thankfully for La Roja, they weren’t punished in this game as they made it through to the semi-finals on penalties, but you have to wonder if Italy will be so forgiving in that clash at Wembley.
The Spaniards got off to the best possible start, when another OG was recorded after Alba’s shot was deflected past Sommer by Zakaria. Chances were few and far between in the opening half, with the best all coming from corners, as Spain had headers from Azpilicueta and Torres go wide, whilst Zakaria for the Swiss was unable to control his header when well placed. One-nil to Spain at the break.
As the Swiss showed in their game against France, they are not a team to bow to the ‘big’ teams and on sixty-eight minutes got their reward. With seemingly no danger as a Swiss attack broke down, Laporte and Torres contrived to give the ball away which fell kindly for Freuler who squared for Shaqiri, to sweep home. However, parity was short-lived and just nine minutes later and Switzerland were a man down. Now depending if you are a Spanish fan or a Swiss fan your view will be decidedly different. If you follow La Roja, you’d say this was a challenge that Freuler was not in control of and his contact with Moreno was dangerous. Flip to the Rossocrociati view and it will be that the player got the ball and that his momentum took him through into the Spanish player and was unavoidable. I’ve watched it a number of times since and can honestly see it both ways. I’m presuming Michael Oliver saw it as a reckless challenge in which the player wasn’t in control of the tackle and therefore had to be a red card. Who’d be a referee?
It meant it was an uphill battle for the Swiss from there on in. However, they made it to extra-time and eventually to penalties, thanks to ‘keeper Sommer who made a number of saves and the poor Spanish finishing, with Moreno particularly guilty. With Spain hitting the post with their first spot-kick you just wondered whether the Swiss were going to pull off another surprise. However, where their penalty takers had been perfect against France, they imploded here, although credit to Simón who saved two penalties, leaving Oyarzabal to seal the win 3-1.
A point of discussion from this game once again as the commentators praised the standard of referees especially with respect to letting games flow. I have to disagree on both counts. In far too many games I have seen the referee get in too close to the action, causing issues to the teams, some of the sending-off decisions have been questionable even with the aid of VAR, and if letting the game flow is when obvious fouls have been committed then count me out.
Belgium (1) 1 – 2 (2) Italy
Goalscorers: Belgium – Lukaku (45’+2’ pen). Italy – Barella (31′), Insigne (44′)
Allianz Arena, Munich
This was described in some quarters as a classic, with exhilarating football played by both sides. And to some extent I have to agree. However, what will stick in my mind over all the great football played, will be the playing-acting of Immobile in the build-up to Italy’s first goal. As the ball was played into the Belgian box, the forward went down in a heap, and stayed down (impeding the passage of play in my opinion) allowing Barella to fire in. With the ball in the net, up popped Immobile with a look at the referees assistant and jogged over (no limp) to celebrate with his teammates. There is no other word to apply to the player than CHEAT. The goal should have been struck off for simulation and or his prone body interfering with play. It left a bitter taste in my mouth to be sure.
Of the rest of the game, Insigne’s strike just before the break was one of the goals of the competition and Lukaku’ s penalty was supremely executed to get Belgium back in the game in time added-on at the end of the first-half. After the antics of Immobile in the first period I was willing the Belgians to level, but despite the best efforts of Lukaku, De Bruyne and Doku, they couldn’t find an equaliser and yet again FIFA’s No1 ranked side leave a Finals tournament without a trophy.
You have to think Italy will win the competition overall, they look the most complete side left, but for me the image of Immobile and his actions will be hard to shake-off if the Azzuri go on to lift the European crown.
Czech Republic v Denmark (Olympic Stadium, Baku)
This is a repeat of the 2004 Quarter-Final when the Euros were held in Portugal. The game took place at the Estadio do Dragão in Porto and was in the end a conformable 3-0 win for the Czech Republic with goals from Koller (49′) and Baros (63’, 65’).
The Danes are a side riding on the crest of emotion and their fans will hope it is a repeat of their 1992 Euro win against all odds. The Czechs looked very ordinary in the group stages, but then produced one of the performances of the tournament in knocking out the Netherlands 2-0 in their own backyard.
Not an easy one to call, but I’m going for the Danes to continue their incredible run.
Ukraine v England (Stadio Olimpico, Rome)
And so to the last of the Quarter-Finals and the no doubt gut-wrenching experience that is watching England.
These two have met in the Euro Finals before, back in 2012 at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk with the Three Lions winning 1-0. It was the final match of the group stage, with Wayne Rooney scoring three minutes after the break, with a header from a yard out, after Steven Gerrard’s cross was somehow reached Rooney through three Ukrainian defenders and ‘keeper. It was a classically nervy performance from England, and in truth they were lucky to win, as John Terry’s theatrical over-head clearance was shown in replays to have crossed the line but was missed by the officials. VAR would have awarded the goal.
Whilst Ukraine only just made it out of the groups stage as one of the best third placed finishers, they did see off a more than useful Sweden team in the Round of 16. England should not take the Blue and Yellow lightly and will have to do it without home advantage that they have been afforded so far as they play over in Rome. It could be another old stressful evening.