The final four teams of the Euros have been decided.
The big teams continued to drop, as Switzerland, Belgium, Czech Republic, and Ukraine were all eliminated. Belgium had been ranked as the top team in the world according to FIFA, and Switzerland was ranked thirteenth. But who eliminated these teams, and who could still win the tournament?
Spain (P)1-1 Switzerland
It looked like the stars were aligning for the Swiss again when ten-man Switzerland took Spain to penalties. A goal from Xherdan Shaqiri was enough for Switzerland, canceling out an early own goal from Denis Zakaria. Unfortunately for Switzerland, three consecutive players missed on penalties and Spain didn’t make the same mistake.
Despite advancing, Spain again didn’t impress until extra time. After grabbing an early goal, the Spanish sat back and simply tried to out possess the Swiss. The same mistake that cost them against Croatia made the Spaniards pay again, as Switzerland scored to take the game to extra time. In extra time, Spain looked by far the better team, ending the match with 28 shots. Only Yann Sommer was able to keep Spain out, but Spain triumphed on penalties.
This was a tough pill to swallow for Switzerland. Two tough matches in a row meant that Switzerland played 240 minutes in five days, with both matches going to penalties. Fatigue played an obvious role, with star attacker Breel Embolo leaving the match inside half an hour with an injury. Granit Xhaka also missed the game due to suspension, and Remo Freuler was sent off with ten minutes left. It wasn’t an unexpected or completely undeserved result, but the Swiss could have gone farther.
Italy 2-1 Belgium
This was probably the most anticipated Quarterfinal match. Italy scored twice early on before a Romelu Lukaku penalty made the match competitive. Still, Italy held on for the win.
This was arguably Italy’s first real test. Of Italy’s opponents in the group stage, only Switzerland was ranked in the top 15 teams worldwide. In the Round of 16, the Italians struggled against Austria, who finished second in Group B, but ultimately won in the end. Then Italy played Belgium, who had won every match they played and are ranked as the best team in the world (according to FIFA). The Italians out-possessed, out-shot, and out-passed a Belgian side that had done that to every opponent. They continue to impress.
Let’s be clear: the World Cup is next year. It’s a shame that Belgium are out this early with the team they have, but it is way too early to start talking about the death of the “golden generation”. Most of these players will be one, maybe two years older for the 2022 World Cup. They can still win a trophy. Furthermore, young stars like Jeremy Doku, who earned the penalty against Italy, will be around for a while. There’s no need to panic.
Denmark 2-1 Czech Republic
Denmark march on. With a third consecutive victory after losing their first two, Denmark advance to the semifinals of a major tournament for the first time since they won the Euros in 1992. After a questionable corner gave Denmark the lead, they made it two before a Patrik Schick goal made things interesting and Denmark held on for the win.
Early opportunities have been what Denmark thrive on. Denmark have scored two goals in the first five minutes of a Euro match, and have scored first in four of five matches. Only in a 1-0 loss to Finland did they allow the opponent to score first. Scoring early will be key when they face England.
The Czech Republic are also bitter about this result. Many Czech fans pointed to the fact that the referee, Bjorn Kuipers, was Dutch and claimed that he wanted revenge after the Czech Republic knocked out the Netherlands. But the real answer is more simple: the Czechs were too dependent on Patrik Schick. The Czech side recorded 16 shots, yet only scored once: through Schick. Schick impressed this tournament, scoring five times, but the Czech Republic as a team only scored six times. This team can compete in the near future, but have to find a way to spread out the goalscoring.
England 4-0 Ukraine
England unsurprisingly steamrolled a poor Ukraine side, with Harry Kane finally scoring (twice) and Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson getting on the scoresheet.
Personally, my biggest question about this England team was whether or not they could score. In the group stages, they scored just twice in three games. In the Round of 16, England scored as many goals against Germany (two) as they had previously scored in the tournament. In the Quarterfinals, they scored as many against Ukraine (four) as they had scored previously in the group stage and Round of 16 combined. If this continues, will we see eight against Denmark? Sixteen if they make the final? Probably not, but if England can keep scoring, “it” might be coming home.
After scraping through the group stages by the skin of their teeth and beating Sweden in the 121st minute, most people believed that Ukraine had only pride to play for. Unfortunately for Ukraine, they lost in humiliating fashion, and it appeared that most players weren’t really trying all that hard once a loss became certain, allowing England to pad the scoreline. For a Ukraine team that had moments of magic, it was a less than impressive result.
The finals of the Euros are so close, and yet so far away. At the time of writing, Italy have just triumphed over Spain in penalty shootout, booking a place in the final. In the final, Italy will face either Denmark or England for a chance to bring home Europe’s greatest prize.
Will Denmark or England meet Italy? Let me know in the comments!
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