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UEFA Euro 2020: The fall of Goliaths give a new twist to footballing rollercoaster

Right from the start, the UEFA Euro 2020 has impressed one and all — be it with Italy's renaissance or with England's quest to keep their dream alive or with the downfall of the giants.

Written by Debkalpa Banerjee |
Updated: July 2, 2021 2:44:17 pm
Switzerland players celebrate their last-16 victory over France with fans. (Twitter/Euro 2020)

When the ongoing UEFA Euro 2020 had announced its postponed arrival amidst a show of music and balloons at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, little did anyone know what it had in store. Brushing aside the off-the-pitch noise of beverage snubs in the viral press conferences and the fans’ furore about taking a knee before the kick-offs, the tournament has been nothing short of enthralling on the pitch.

Right from the start, the 16th edition of the European Championship has impressed one and all — be it with Italy’s new-age renaissance under Roberto Mancini or with England’s quest to keep their dream alive or with the downfall of the giants.

GOLIATHS SHOWN THE DOOR EARLY ON

Upholding the drama of the sport, the Euro 2020 served multiple shocking moments as soon as the knockouts began. Where Austria stumbled, both Czech Republic and Switzerland succeeded as they respectively knocked out heavyweights Netherlands and reigning FIFA World Cup champions France. While Frank de Boer’s team failed to turn up on the night and shot themselves in the foot with a Matthijs de Ligt sending off, Didier Deschamps’ Les Bleus were stunned by the hands of Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer and the sheer doggedness of their opposition.

Netherlands reached a new low in their 2-0 defeat to the Czechs on Sunday after failing to register even a single shot on target for the first time in the combined history of the UEFA European Championship and the FIFA World Cup. On the very next day, France were knocked out on penalties after being held 3-3 at the end of the extra time. Switzerland received all the plaudits on Monday as they overturned a 3-1 deficit in the final ten minutes of the normal time and went on to reach their first quarter-final at a major tournament in 67 years. On the other hand, holders Portugal were also shown the door in the last-16 by Belgium after a timid 1-0 loss.

AZZURRI AIM TO BRING BACK GLORY DAYS

Since finishing as runners-up in the UEFA Euro 2012, Italy have achingly underperformed at the major tournaments — a group stage exit in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, a quarter-final finish in the UEFA Euro 2016, and a failure to even qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. But after Mancini’s appointment as the head coach in 2018, the Azzurri setup was refreshed with new blood and brave ideas.

Considered as a dark horse, Italy romped through Group A, maintaining a 100% record by scoring seven goals and conceding none in the process. With the use of a dynamic midfield consisting of the likes of Marco Verratti and Jorginho, they have asserted control in each of their four matches in the tournament so far. Although they were pushed into extra time by Austria in the last-16 tie, Mancini’s side succeeded in setting a new unbeaten streak record — 31 matches — in their history through goals by substitutes Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina on Saturday. With an all-round, versatile squad at their disposal and a particular ruthlessness in the final third, Italy have surely become the team to beat this time around.

SOUTHGATE’S THREE LIONS ROAR LOUDEST

Often criticised for his cautious and measured approach in a tournament, Gareth Southgate proved his doubters wrong on Tuesday as England managed to beat Germany 2-0 in their last-16 tie. The Three Lions overturned the narrative with a vindictive victory and provided their fans more reason to celebrate to the tune of the once self-mocking but now aspirational song, “Football’s Coming Home”.

But the head coach, who has developed a penchant for choosing the right words at the right time, resorted to talking about his team keeping their “feet on the ground”. “It is a dangerous moment for us. We will have that warmth of success and the feeling around the country that we only have to turn up to win the thing, but we know it is going to be an immense challenge from here on in,” Southgate said.

After soaking up pressure in a defensive 3-4-3 formation, England scored two goals through captain Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling in the final quarter of the contest, sealing their first knockout win over their old foes since the 1966 FIFA World Cup final. The result also meant they are yet to concede a goal in the competition.

DENMARK KEEP THEIR FAIRY-TALE ALIVE

Considering how their tournament had begun — talisman Christian Eriksen suffering cardiac arrest on the field in their opener and then losing the first two group matches — Denmark are currently in dreamland. After turning despair into exhilaration by qualifying for the knockouts for the first time since 2004 on the final group matchday by beating Russia 4-1, Kasper Hjulmand’s team bettered their fate with a statement 4-0 victory against a lacklustre Wales in the first last-16 tie.

Even without their lynchpin, the Red and Whites outclassed the Gareth Bale-led side all over the pitch, dominating every aspect of the game. Set up in a 3-4-3 formation, Denmark’s marauding wingbacks and flexible forwards proved to be vital in their win with striker Kasper Dolberg and wingback Joakim Maehle hugging the spotlight. With the team now fully recovered from the shock of Eriksen’s collapse, it’d not be a surprise if Czech Republic get swept aside in the quarter-final.

The UEFA Euro 2020 is set to finish on July 11 with the final taking place in London.

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