Just when you think you have it all figured out, everything changes.
After the Czech Republic beat the Netherlands (which you can read about here), everyone assumed that would be the biggest upset of the Round of 16. The impressive Dutch side that won Group C lost handily to the Czechs, and that was that – except Switzerland had different plans, shocking France on penalties.
When it looked like both Croatia and Switzerland had lost their respective games in regular time, both managed to score two late goals to carry the game to extra time. Switzerland won, Croatia almost.
Four more teams have been eliminated, and four more advance to the Quarterfinals. But who are they?
Spain 5-3 Croatia
A game that started with a catastrophic own goal by the Spaniards ended with Spain scoring five goals for the second game in a row, albeit in added time. The match saw eight different players (Pedri’s own goal included) score as Croatia was able to take the game to extra time.
Spain continue to make it hard for themselves. First, they were down 0-1 because goalkeeper Unai Simon let Pedri’s back-pass roll past him into the net. Then, after going up 3-1, Spain conceded two goals in seven minutes, with the last coming in the 92nd minute, taking the game to extra time. Then, the Spaniards took a two-goal lead once more, and this time didn’t let it slip away. Spain might go far if they learn to be more clinical and find a consistent goalscorer. Spain has three players with two goals each this tournament, but none with more than that. They could struggle against Switzerland without one.
Croatia gave Spain a run for their money. They headed into extra time with high hopes after pulling two late goals out of nowhere, but they were always second best and the Spanish were ruthless in extra time: only the post denied Spain a sixth. This might be 35-year old Luka Modric’s final international tournament as Croatia’s qualification for the 2022 World Cup is far from guaranteed. Regardless, Croatia will be fine as they have several up-and-coming stars on the team: goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic had a good game despite conceding five.
Switzerland (P) 3-3 France
Clearly, this is the shock of the tournament. Defending world champions France had a two-goal lead with under ten minutes remaining, and some of Switzerland’s top players (Shaqiri, Zuber, and Embolo) had already been subbed off. But Switzerland didn’t get the memo, scoring twice (including in the 90th minute) before winning on penalties.
My take? Switzerland deserved to win. The Swiss looked the better side for the majority of the game, taking a one-goal lead which they held until the 57th minute. They also earned a penalty kick that could have doubled their lead, but sent defender Ricardo Rodriguez up to take the kick. Rodriguez missed, and less than two minutes later, Karim Benzema scored. Less than two minutes after that, Benzema scored again. France’s last goal was sheer brilliance from Paul Pogba that couldn’t be stopped, but aside from that, it was almost all Switzerland. The failed penalty was combined with open misses in front of the net in a game that Switzerland should have won in regular time.
It didn’t look pretty, but the Swiss were good enough and fought for a scrappy win, the first time they have advanced past the Round of 16 in an international tournament since 1954. They’ll have to be more clinical against Spain, however.
France will forever remember this tournament as a tremendous disappointment. With high hopes after winning the 2018 World Cup, those hopes only got higher with Benzema returning. France understandably struggled in a very tricky group. However, the French surely expected more than a draw against both Hungary and Portugal. The majority of the French team struggled to replicate 2018’s magic, with only Pogba and Benzema really impressing. They’ll look to bounce back at the World Cup next year.
England 2-0 Germany
England finally managed to find their shooting boots, with both Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling finding the net in what will be Joachim Löw’s final game in charge of Germany.
My biggest question about this England team was the offense. Only two goals were scored in the group stages for England, both by Sterling. There were questions about whether transfer rumors were affecting Kane, and the English had to rely on solid defense. Against Germany, Kane scored for the first time all tournament, and Sterling found the net once more. The English defense also looked strong, and a path to the final is possible. First, though, they’ll have to get through Ukraine.
Löw’s last hurrah was fitting, as it summed up his last few years in charge of Germany: immensely disappointing. After 2018’s failures, Germany looked to a new, younger team with Kai Havertz and Jamal Musiala leading the way. Thomas Müller and Mats Hummels returned from their exodus, and, despite a rough group stage, things looked good. A loss to France wasn’t completely unexpected, but the victory over Portugal was impressive.
Any other German team would have built on the Portugal win, but this one did not. An ugly draw against Hungary got the Germans through, but they were poor against England. Löw’s substitutes also left a lot to be desired: Serge Gnabry did not affect the game at all, attackers Leroy Sane and Musiala came into the game far too late, and the decision to put a defensive player in Emre Can on whilst trailing 2-0 and under five minutes remaining made no sense.
This loss was a new Löw.
Ukraine 2-1 Sweden
Ukraine left it as late as they could, scoring in the 121st minute to win the game. Artem Dovbyk found the net with his winner thanks to an assist from Oleksandr Zinchenko, who scored in regular time. Emil Forsberg scored for Sweden, but the Swedish came up blank in extra time.
That was quite the turnaround from Ukraine. There were doubts about whether or not the Ukrainians would even qualify for the Round of 16 at all, having finished third place in Group C. With only three points and a negative goal differential, Ukraine had to wait. The losses for both Finland and Russia meant that there was hope for Ukraine, before Spain demolished Slovakia and Sweden beat Poland at the last minute. Ukraine thanked Sweden by beating them 2-1, winning in the knockouts for the first time ever in their history. A tricky test is up next in England, but Ukraine will feel a boost having defeated a defensive Sweden side.
Sweden hung in the game admirably, but were ultimately punished for being too defensive. A red card for defender Marcus Danielson forced Sweden to use a final substitute to improve the defense, meaning that none of Sweden’s fatigued or injured players got substitutes at the end of the match. A shame, because Sweden almost held on, but they played too defensively for too long and paid the price.
The Round of 16 saw some big names exit the tournament, with most coming on the third and fourth days. Sweden, Germany, France, Portugal, the Netherlands, Croatia, Austria, and Wales are all eliminated: Seven of those eight teams are ranked in the top 20 worldwide. Ukraine and the Czech Republic managed to advance despite being ranked 24th and 40th respectively.
Who will be the next big giant to fall? Will underdogs continue to advance? Only time will tell.
Image Courtesy of Кирилл Венедиктов, CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons.
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