Group B: Russia (0) 1 – 4 (1) Denmark
Goal-scorers: Russia – Dzyuba (70’minutes pen). Denmark – Damsgaard (38′), Poulsen (59′), Christensen (79′), Maehle (82′)
Parken Stadium, Copenhagen
Well I didn’t see that result coming. My prediction for Russia to take a point and qualify was truly blown out of the water. Hans Christian Andersen couldn’t have written a better story. The Danes with just a point going into this fixture and having to deal with the emotional trauma of the Finland game, lived up to their nickname of the Danish Dynamite by simply blowing the Russians away. Denmark knew if they won with a significant swing in goal-difference and Belgium beat Finland, they would be through. And that is exactly what came to pass. The Danes could have been ahead before Mikkel Damsgaard fired them in front seven minutes before the break with a stunning effort. Leading 1-0 at the interval, Denmark were simply irresistible in the second-half with ‘keeper Matvey Safonov making a number of saves to keep Russia in the hunt. However, his own defence handed the Danes a second when Zobnin’s horrendous back-pass gifted Poulsen a second Danish goal on fifty-nine minutes. Russia briefly threatened a comeback when they got a penalty (which looked decidedly soft) on seventy minutes, with Dzyuba smashing it down the middle past Schmeichel. The Danes though didn’t panic and simply put the game to bed with goals from Christensen and Maehle. Christensen’s was an absolute beauty on seventy-nine minutes, as his long-range effort whistled past Safonov. Three minutes later it was game over as Russia desperately looked for a goal to get back into the game, were caught on the break, with Maehle leading the charge before slotting home. Russia out – bottom of the group. The Danes through in second-place and earning a date with Wales in Amsterdam in the last sixteen.
Group B: Finland (0) 0 – 2 (0) Belgium
Goal-scorers: Hrádecky (74′ og), Lukaku (81’)
Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg
As expected Belgium saw off Finland to maintain their 100% record in the group, with a third win. Finland kept the Belgians at bay with ‘keeper Lukas Hradecky making a number of decent saves. However, his luck changed on seventy-four minutes. Thomas Vermaelen inside the Finns box headed powerfully goal-ward with his downward header hitting the crossbar and as Hradecky tried to react, he palmed the ball over the line. Another OG to add to the litany so far in this competition. All that remained was for Lukaku to get Belgium’s second with a smart turn in the box, firing in with Hradecky rooted to the spot. Finland left in third place after Denmark’s win and waiting to see if three points is enough to take them into the knockout phase. Belgium cruising and awaiting their opponents for a game in Seville.
Group C: North Macedonia (0) 0 – 3 (1) Netherlands
Goal-scorers: Depay (24′), Wijnaldum (51′, 58′)
Johan Cruyff Arena, Amsterdam
The score-line says 3-0 to the Dutch, but things could have been so much different if decisions had gone North Macedonia’s way. Within the opening ten minutes Ivan Trichkovski finished neatly, but was given offside by a very marginal VAR decision and later in the half with the scores at 0-0, Trajkovski smashed one against the post, which on another day would have deflected in. Then to rub salt in the wound, the Dutch broke on twenty-four minutes, from their own penalty area, with them fortunate to play-on after it appeared they gained possession from a foul on a Macedonian player. In a flash the ball was down the other end and the swift counter attack ended with Depay tapping home. A goal to the good at the break, the Netherlands dominated the second-half, with Wijnaldum killing off the game before the hour mark with two goals. The first six minutes into the second period a tap in after a cutback from Memphis Depay and then on fifty-eight minutes, Depay’s shot was saved by Dimitrievski, with the rebound falling nicely for Wijnaldum to slot home. The Oranje through with three wins from three and a last sixteen tie in Budapest, whilst North Macedonia finished bottom without a point, but certainly not disgraced in their first European Championship Finals. A by-line from the game was for Macedonian captain Goran Pandev, who was making his 122nd and final appearance for his country. He left the field on sixty-nine minutes as North Macedonia’s record appearance holder, and record goalscorer, with 38 goals, his parting shot being a goal against Austria in a previous group game at the tournament. Not a bad way to end a fantastic career.
Group C: Ukraine (0) 0 – 1 (1) Austria
Goal-scorer: Baumgartner (21′)
Arena Na?ionala, Bucharest
Me and my poor predictions. Pre-match I thought this was in the bag for the Ukrainian’s. It turned out to be a game of two-halves. Austria were the better side in the opening forty-five minutes with Baumgartner stabbing home from a corner on twenty-one minutes, with other decent chances in the half for Laimer and the returning Arnautovic. With Ukraine knowing they needed at a point as a minimum to progress, they were better in the second period. The OG tally for the competition was nearly added to as Lainer deflected a free-kick towards his own-goal only for ‘keeper Bachmann to save his blushes with a good save. He was again called into action to stop and effort from Shaparenko, whilst Yaremchuk saw his effort from an acute angle flash just wide of the Austrian goal. The Austrians through in second spot and a decidedly tricky encounter at Wembley Stadium to come against the Italians. For Ukraine its third place and a case of wait and see.
Later today Group D concludes with England taking on the Czech Republic at Wembley, whilst Scotland host Croatia at Hampden Park. With the results from yesterday and the way qualification works, England and the Czechs were guaranteed progression to the last sixteen without kicking a ball. The concern now is who lies in wait depending on the outcome of tonight and the remaining group games. So the result still matters tonight, and it will be interesting to see how both sides play it. For Scotland and Croatia the permutations are as follows:
- A win for Scotland over Croatia would guarantee one of those third-place spots for them and second is possible if England lose to the Czechs at Wembley and Scotland make up a current goal difference of three.
- If win Scotland win and England win, the Scots cannot overtake the Czechs since head-to-head is used before goal difference.
- A Croatia win would guarantee one of those third-place spots for them and second is possible if England lose to the Czechs at Wembley and Croatia make up a current goal difference of three.
Scotland have never progressed beyond the group stage at a major finals which includes, eight World Cups and two European Championships. I’m not even going to try and predict the outcome of this one. All I’ll say is that Scotland haven’t scored a goal yet…