Euro 2020 Round of 16 review: High quality football made knockout matches memorable

The Euro 2020 Round of 16 matches at the provided the thrills not often seen at the international tournaments. It's not only about the goals but the overall quality was top-notch.

Anish Anand June 30, 2021 13:16:07 IST
Euro 2020 Round of 16 review: High quality football made knockout matches memorable

Spain's Mikel Oyarzabal celebrates after scoring against Croatia. AP

The group of death teams, which included the likes of France, Germany and Portugal have perished. Switzerland, Czech Republic and Ukraine have deservingly qualified for the quarter-finals. Belgium, Spain and England had it tough but not tough enough to get knocked out. Italy lived up to their pre-tournament reputation and Denmark were simply outstanding.

The Euro 2020 Round of 16 matches provided the thrills not often seen at international tournaments. It's not only about the goals but the overall quality was top-notch. It's difficult to put into words but here's a brief review of the round:

A night to remember

By now, a lot has been written about those two extraordinary Round of 16 matches. Of course, extraordinary things have happened on football fields. We are talking about the world's most popular game with a history of more than 200 years, but what happened on 28 June 2021 was indeed special because of the simple reason that two matches produced great football, something which usually goes missing or doesn't happen often in prestigious multi-nation tournaments. Tournament football, especially in the bigger ones like the World Cup or the Euros, tends to be conservative in nature. Or to put it more bluntly – boring.

And it’s understandable. Club football is more regular, players spend years playing together, with enough time to acclimatise to their team’s philosophy, thereby ensuring better football. In many cases, fans demand a certain type of football because they say it’s in the DNA of the club. But international tournaments happen once in four years and national team managers do not have enough time with the players to implement a well-rounded style. The idea is not about creating an identity but winning the trophy by the best means possible. The games do not make great viewing but there are hardly any complaints. As always, there are notable exceptions, like the Dutch side of the total football fame or Brazilian teams over the years.

Croatia vs Spain and France vs Switzerland had all the drama which made them instant blockbusters. Incredible goals, silly mistakes, penalty shootout, penalty save, underdog beating a world champion, but most of all, four teams entertained millions with a great display of football. They made ‘international football’ beautiful.

Denmark can repeat history

Denmark have won two matches in the Euro 2020 and suffered two defeats. They will play the Czech Republic in the quarter-final. The Netherlands won three matches in the Euro 2020 and lost just once. They have flown back home with broken hearts. Knockout rounds can prove to be magical but equally brutal.

Kasper Hjulmand’s Denmark were the deserving winners against Wales. Kasper Dolberg netted twice while Joakim Maehle and Martin Braithwaite also added their names to the scoresheet. It has been a remarkable turnaround for the Danes, who had witnessed their teammate and friend collapse on the field and then went on to lose their games against Finland and Belgium. They scored four against Russia to book a spot in the Round of 16 and scored four again to qualify for the quarter-finals.

Euro 2020 Round of 16 review High quality football made knockout matches memorable

Denmark's Kasper Dolberg celebrates after scoring his side's second goal against Wales. AP

When Denmark became European champions in 1992, it was dubbed a fairytale. If Denmark go on to lift the trophy in 2021, it will be much more than a simple fairytale. The players showed tremendous strength while forming a huddle around Christian Eriksen and they are showing tremendous collective strength while kicking the ball during the games. Above all, the head coach Hjulmand has been able to extract the best out of his squad. He didn’t change his positive approach after what happened in the first two games and now his team are hitting the form at the right time.

Italy show power of quality and depth

Pre-tournament favourites Italy knew exactly what to expect against Austria in their Round of 16 fixture. David Alaba and Co will sit back, soak in the pressure and will counter-attack in numbers. It worked for Austria for more than 90 minutes. In fact, the team improved as the game progressed and Marko Arnautovic even scored a goal but it was disallowed due to offside.

Roberto Mancini though had the power of a quality bench strength. Andrea Belotti, Matteo Pessina, Fedrico Chiesa and Manuel Locatelli came on and made significant contributions. Chiesa scored the first goal in the 95th minute and Pessina found the net in the 105th minute. Later, Italy conceded a goal, their first since October 2020, but they did enough to win the contest. While in the group stage, Italy blew away their opponents, their first fixture in the knockout round proved to be a tougher challenge. They had to dig deep and eventually came through. It's good news for Mancini that Italy can do both.

Sterling and Forsberg the best so far

Raheem Sterling has been the best player for England in Euro 2020. Three goals in four matches, two of them turned out to be match-winners and the third one came against Germany at a crucial juncture in their Round of 16 clash. He opened the scoring in the 75th minute and Harry Kane sealed the win against the Germans with a strike in the 86th minute.

At his best, Sterling can be hugely influential but at his worst, he can be the most frustrating man on the pitch. But let’s not focus on the negative things because Sterling’s influence on England in this tournament has only been positive. Sterling is world class and he has done enough with Manchester City over the years to earn the tag. This English side can get stuck during the matches and it was seen in this tournament as well but Sterling is making them work. He’s always finding the right spaces with his movements and being clinical in front of the goal. Gareth Southgate and his team might still have issues but they will be glad that they have somebody like Sterling in their ranks who can actually change the game.

Euro 2020 Round of 16 review High quality football made knockout matches memorable

Sweden's Emil Forsberg has been revelation. AP

England made it to the next round but Sweden didn’t. Janne Andersson’s team made significant improvements since their first match of Euro 2020 against Spain but were knocked out of the tournament after Artem Dovbyk’s strike deep into extra time. The 2-1 result wasn’t necessarily cruel on the Swedish side because Ukraine did play well to win the game but it was certainly cruel on Emil Forsberg. The RB Leipzig playmaker has scored four goals in the tournament and could’ve added two more if not for his two shots hitting the post against Ukraine. The sublime skills, the way he used to create space for himself in tight spaces, executing the passes and the ability to hit the ball cleanly, were very evident. Especially against Ukraine, it was a masterful performance. Nobody came close to his level but such is the nature of the game that the result didn’t go his way.

For those who do not see RB Leipzig matches on a regular basis, Forsberg has been a revelation and despite Sweden faltering in the last 16, he could still be named the player of the tournament.

Belgium rattled in win

Belgium beat defending champions Portugal thanks to Thorgan Hazard’s wonder strike but there was little to celebrate. Portugal’s second-half performance almost took the win away and two of their best players – Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard had to be taken off due to injury concerns. Although nothing serious, Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said there is a 50-50 chance they will feature in the quarter-final against Italy. It could be a great knockout match between two quality teams and it deserves players like De Bruyne and Hazard to be a part of it. It will be a pity if both miss out.

Meanwhile, the Czech Republic can afford to smile after humbling the flamboyant but ultimately flawed Netherlands. For all their all-attacking pedigree, the Dutch collapsed against the better-organised opponents. They registered zero shots on target while the Czechs had five on goal and scored two. It feels great to know that either Denmark or Czech Republic can reach the semi-final of Euro 2020.

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