Group B: Finland (0) 0 – 1 (1) Russia
Goal-scorer: Miranchuk (45’+2’)
Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg
I had this down as a 1-0 for Finland and although I got the score right it was Russia who got the only goal to give themselves a shot at qualification for the knock-out phase. The Finns were quickest out of the blocks, and they thought they had a lead in the opening minutes when Joel Pohjanpalo’s diving header was ruled out by an incredibly tight VAR decision for offside. The deciding goal came in time added on in the first-half and was one of quality. Aleksei Miranchuk played a one-two in a crowded penalty area then curled home over the despairing dive of Hradecky. In the second-half the Finns never got going and they were relieved that Russia were wasteful with the good chances they had to seal the game, with Aleksandr Golovin and Rifat Zhemaletdinov both narrowly off target and Daler Kuzyayev producing an excellent save from Hradecky. Three points for Russia and an interesting last round of games to come, with Russia taking on Denmark and Finland taking on Belgium.
Group A: Turkey (0) 0 – 2 (0) Wales
Goal-scorers: Ramsey (42′), Roberts (90’+5’)
Olympic Stadium, Baku
As Ronaldo showed for Portugal against Hungary, big games require big names to show up and produce the goods. Whilst Gareth Bale subsequently missed a penalty after the hour mark, his influence and that of Aaron Ramsey was inspirational on the night. They combined as early as the sixth minute with Ramsey latching onto a Bale through ball only to see Ugurcan Cakir save. Where in the game against the Swiss, Wales were lethargic, here they were lively and again the Ramsey/Bale combo created another first-half chance which the ex-Arsenal star blazed high over the bar. Then just three minutes before the break it was a case of third time lucky, and Bale’s ball was beautifully controlled on his chest by Ramsey and coolly slotted home. Turkey fired on by a large following came out stronger second-half and pressed Wales back. However, the Welsh had a chance to kill the game when they awarded a penalty on sixty-one minutes. Bale was hero turned villain though as he contrived to fire his spot-kick high into the Baku night sky. Cue a more nervous second period with Ward saving well from Demiral’s header with just three minutes left. Then deep into stoppage time Wales had a corner, and rather than just keep it tight, Bale produced a dazzling burst along the goal-line pulling the ball back for Conor Roberts to put the Welsh on the verge of progression to the last sixteen. For the Red Dragons it’s starting to feel like 2016 again!
Group A: Italy (0) 0 – 3 (0) Switzerland
Goal-scorers: Locatelli (26′, 52′), Immobile (89′)
Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Italy ominously chalked up another 3-0 win to put themselves through to the last sixteen. Whilst many will claim that the Swiss are amongst Europe’s top nations, the Azzuri did what was required and could have had more than the three goals they scored. Manuel Locatelli got the ball rolling scoring from inside the six-yard box after Domenico Berardi’s surging run and cross on twenty-six minutes and he doubled the lead ironically twenty-six minutes later with a shot from outside the box that Swiss ‘keeper Sommer didn’t move for – perhaps unsighted. However, he was at fault with a minute to go when another long range effort from Immobile skipped off his hands into the net. Nobody will want to face Italy in this form, and Wales will have the dubious pleasure of going to Rome in the final round of group games.
Group C opens the day with Ukraine playing North Macedonia in Bucharest, followed by the Group B game in Copenhagen as Denmark host Belgium. Thursday’s games conclude with the Netherlands welcoming Austria to Amsterdam.
Ukraine and North Macedonia both lost their opening game, so realistically a win is needed for either side if they are to progress from the groups. In terms of FIFA rankings, Ukraine sit in 24th spot with North Macedonia down at number 62. Additionally, Ukraine have beaten North Macedonia in both competitive encounters prior to this match, 1-0 at home and 2-0 away, in the qualifiers for Euro 2016, so the stats suggest a Ukraine win. The Ukrainians were unlucky not to get anything out of the five-goal game against the Dutch and they are my tip to take the win here, either 2-0 or 3-1.
Action then switched to Copenhagen where the Danes host Belgium. How will Denmark react after the tragic circumstances surrounding their last game and Christian Eriksen’s awful collapse? These things can often inspire and equally be an immense distraction. It will be very much a feature of the game, as Belgium have stated they intend to kick the ball out of play in the tenth minute to take part in a minute’s applause for Christian Eriksen. Difficult to call, but for me Belgium are one of the favourites for the title so expect them to take the three points and seal their progress.
Last up is a visit to Amsterdam where the Netherland lock horns with Austria. Both have three points on the board. In the FIFA ranking, the two sides aren’t that far apart with the Netherlands in sixteenth spot and Austria down in twenty-third. The Dutch have won the last six games between the sides and expect them to make it seven tonight.