It’s safe to say that Euro 2020 has been well and truly worth the wait.
Less than three weeks have elapsed since the tournament kicked off in the eternal city of Rome, but it has already provided a lifetime worth of stories and drama.
Best fairytale story
North Macedonia qualified for a major tournament for the first time in their history, Ukraine has somehow reached the quarterfinals, but this category belongs to Denmark.
The entire global football community breathed a collective sigh of relief when Christian Eriksen’s literal brush with death ultimately produced a happy ending after distressing scenes at Parken Stadium in Copenhagen. Now, Denmark finds itself on the brink of the semifinals. If they can get past the Czech Republic they’ll make the final four, and if they do that, memories of 1992 will start flooding back.
Danish author Hans Christian Andersen wrote globally renowned fairy tales and a Danish win at Euro 2020 would be a fanciful story that even he might have struggled to conjure up.
Where do we even begin with France vs Switzerland? Haris Seferović’s towering header from a peach of a Steven Zuber cross set the tone for what was to be a remarkable evening in the Romanian capital of Bucharest. Ten minutes into the second half, Ricardo Rodríguez had a glorious opportunity to put Switzerland 2-0 up but his tame penalty was easily saved. Two minutes later, Karim Benzema’s gorgeous touch and poked finish had France level and Rodríguez could barely look.
Not even two minutes after that, Real Madrid legend Benzema, making his French comeback after a five-year exile, nodded his side into the lead and Switzerland heads started to drop. When Paul Pogba curled in a sublime screamer from long-range with 15 minutes to play, this looked like a mountain taller than the Swiss Alps for Granit Xhaka’s team to ascend.
But ascend it they did. First, Seferović’s close-range glancing header from a pinpoint Kevin Mbabu cross gave the Red Crosses hope with nine minutes to play. Mario Gavranović had the ball in the net for the Swiss on 85 minutes when Rodríguez’s scuffed shot somehow found its way to his feet, but he was adjudged to be offside by the slimmest of margins.
Then, with 20 seconds of regulation time left to play, Pogba was robbed in midfield and Swiss skipper Xhaka fed Gavranović with an inch-perfect through-ball. The Dinamo Zagreb man turned Presnel Kimpembe inside out and coolly slotted home a goal that many observers believe to be the most important in the nation’s history.
Unbelievably, there was even time for France to fashion one more chance when Kingsley Coman rattled his effort off the crossbar with four seconds of injury time to play.
Coman dazzled in the 30 minutes of extra time, creating a great chance for Benjamin Pavard whose header was tipped over by Yann Sommer (one of four Borussia Mönchengladbach players in the Swiss ranks) and we were still nowhere closer to knowing which way the scales would tip.
Pogba fed Kylian Mbappé in the 110th minute with a perfectly weighted pass, but the PSG man skewed his shot wide. For a player of his calibre, that was a glorious chance. Olivier Giroud forced a save in the 120th minute. Switzerland had miraculously dragged themselves from the brink of elimination to a penalty shootout and still, the watching world didn’t have a clue where this dramatic contest would turn next.
Unlikely hero Gavranović, who was released from his Dinamo contract in July last year only to rejoin the club three weeks later owing to an injury crisis, coolly hit his penalty into the roof of the net to set the tone. Pogba was also unnerving with his spot-kick, sending it emphatically into the top corner.
Fabian Schär, Olivier Giroud, Manuel Akanji (only just), Marcus Thuram, Ruben Vargas, Presnel Kimpembe and Admir Mehmedi were all successful with theirs too. The unfortunate Kylian Mbappé was not.
There were arguably more sizable momentum shifts within the gripping 120-minute framework of this epic as there were goals. A frantic, unforgettable football match that goes down as one of the greatest the tournament has ever seen.
Best player so far
The World Champions looked well below their best throughout the tournament, but Manchester United midfield maestro Paul Pogba was absolutely immense in an individual capacity for France. He exhibited the full range of his considerable talents against Switzerland with a glorious goal from range, sumptuous sprayed passes of varying distances and an ice-cool penalty in an ultimately unsuccessful shootout.
If there’s one player who didn’t deserve to be on the losing side in one of the most memorable matches in European Championships history, it was Paul Labile Pogba.
No explanation needed.
Euro 2020 threw up a collection of beautiful jerseys, but none more so than the Dutch away strip. The Oranje is famous for its bright orange kits, and this predominantly black jersey paid respectful homage to that fact with a slick design and button-up detail. Have you seen a bolder football top this year?
It’s been a long time coming for England fans, but they’ve finally got another win against Germany at a major tournament. The collective outpouring of emotion at Wembley when Harry Kane’s goal sealed the deal was a sight to behold and it was tangible. Raheem Sterling, often and unfairly the target of criticism, has scored three of England’s four goals at Euro 2020. Big game player.
The Three Lions’ 2-0 success over Germany was England’s first knockout victory at a European Championship in 25 years, and their first knockout victory over the four-time world champions since lifting the World Cup on home soil in 1966. Just look at these England fans.
What on earth will happen next? It’s anyone’s guess, but we recommend that you don’t miss another minute of what has been an absorbing tournament of high-quality international football.