“Expect the Unexpected” was actually the mark of the 2020/21 Premier League season, and this year’s Euro similarly throws unpredictable reversals.
A summary of the last 16 games on Monday. The first was the epic between Croatia and Spain, when Luka Modric’s men rose from the floor to take their last breath, before finally succumbing in overtime.
Where Croatia got closer, Switzerland won by beating France in one of the most exciting tournament matches of recent times.
We briefly saw Euro favorites at their best – but the Swiss refused to lie down and in the end it was superstar Kylian Mbappe, of all people, who slipped off the white spot. Great upset.
The Czech Republic celebrated its own unlikely triumph over the previously impressive Dutch side 24 hours earlier, while Austria, in its first knockout match at the Euros, took Italy into overtime and became the surprise of Azzurri’s clean net break.
Even the group stage format, which was expected to be a rude thing, provided real drama in several final matches.
Maybe it’s the structure of the tournament, with teams traveling across the continent, or the result of a tough, tight season that paid tribute to the players. Maybe there’s more power in the depths at these competitions or maybe the rubbing of the greenery just went uphill.
Regardless of the factors behind the drama, she has created an amazing tournament, and each team still stands in the belief that it can win the final prize.
“Expected unexpected.” Maybe it’s a positive phrase nervous, pessimistic England fans can repeat before the last 16 games at Wembley start on Tuesday …
Deschamps’ tactics proved costly for France
It was the night when the favorites in the tournaments, France, had to live and show everyone why many experts thought they were the team to win Euro 2020.
However, we only saw real France for 30 minutes against Switzerland, and in the end that was not enough as Didier Deschamps ’team failed to reach the quarter-finals of the grand tournament for the first time since the 2010 World Cup.
Kylian Mbappe may have missed a decisive penalty kick in the penalty shootout, but Deschamps has to put a lot of blame for France’s bad night in Bucharest.
“I thought Switzerland would be the perfect opponents for the springboard for the French attack in the tournament. But they shocked us all. I’m amazed at what I saw in the last 120 minutes,” Gary Neville of Sky Sports told ITV. “It was a mess for France from the first minute. They were complacent and the system in the first half was all wrong – the players had no idea what they were doing.”
Roy Keane was equally damned. “The French have shown themselves with the wrong attitude,” he said. “I’m glad they were punished for it. You can have all the quality of the world, but if you don’t set yourself with the right attitude, it’s hard to include it again.”
France looked at everything in the sea in the first 45 minutes. Playing three backs – a system that didn’t seem so comfortable playing against Sweden and Croatia in the UEFA League of Nations last September – they just couldn’t get into the game.
We did what it took to get 3-1 up and then we showed weakness, something unusual for us. Losing a penalty is always cruel for the team.
Poor performance forced Deschamps to break down tactics, returning to the final four, and we saw the insight into France we all expected, as well as the penalty defense of Hugo Lloris, Karim Benzema’s double and the stunning Paul Pogba that put them on the road to the quarterfinals.
But France, which was so determined on its way to winning the World Cup back in 2018, showed the weaknesses that Switzerland capitalized on.
In the end, Mbappe missed in the decisive moment, but Deschamps will regret it because his dreams of a World Cup duo and a European Championship fell to both the player and the manager.
Where are the leaders at Arsenal? It’s a question that’s been asked continuously for years at Emirates Stadium, but maybe they’ve been looking them straight in the face at Granit Xhaki all this time.
The Swiss captain was a colossus for his team as they knocked out tournament favorites France to reach the quarter-finals of the grand tournament for the first time in 67 years.
He was exceptional, all his choices were good. He was the one who gathered the troops before the penalty.
He went heel to toe with Paul Pogba and N’Gol Kante and won. He was great in defense, equally good in the forward, choosing an excellent ball for the dramatic late equalizer of Mario Gavranović and showed all the leadership qualities you would want from your captain.
The only stain on his booklet was a yellow card, which means that he will be suspended due to the quarterfinal match between Switzerland and Spain on Friday, and in this form, what a failure it will be for Vladimir Petković.
Could his absence leave a big hole in Arsenal next season? Earlier this month, Sky Sports reported that Roma are in advanced talks with Arsenal on a midfielder transfer. The Serie A club was thought to be close to Arsenal’s estimate – believed to be around £ 21.5m (£ 25m) – but have yet to agree on a fee.
In his performance against France, new Roma boss Jose Mourinho will ask his club to pay as much as Arsenal want to reach an agreement, but should the Gunners consider it?
Xhaka is a maritime figure among Arsenal fans. We all know about the quarrel with the supporters that led to him being deprived of the captaincy in 2019, but with a lack of leaders at Arsenal, Mikel Arteta could go even worse than convincing Xhaku that he still has a future in north London.
After all, what he has shown against France is what Arsenal has been crying out for, all these years.
Euro 2020 was not easy for Alvaro Morata. The striker, who was booed by his own fans during the Spanish warm-up match against Portugal, missed a number of chances in his group’s matches against Sweden and Poland, and then defended with a tame penalty in the 5-0 victory over Slovakia.
He described how he faced a torrent of cyberbullying after the game, also revealing that his wife and children had been targeted by angry Spanish supporters in Seville, and that he had suffered “sleepless nights” in recent days.
But the last Spanish meeting with Croatia proved cathartic.
The former Chelsea striker, who was strongly supported by Luis Enrique before the match, who described the abuse whose family was exposed as a “serious crime”, this time made a winning contribution because Spain won an extraordinary result 5-3 time after an extraordinary match.
It seemed that he might not succeed when he threw a free kick into the net of home defender Domagoj Vida in the first half, but his goal in overtime, brilliantly taken from Dani Olmo’s throw, changed the course of the equalizer when Spain swung.
Just three minutes later, he let Olmo go to Spain’s right flank, allowing midfielder RB Leipzig to cross for Mikel Oyarzabal, who finally put the game out of Croatia’s reach.
The celebrations that welcomed Morata’s goal showed how much his teammates from Spain and the coaching staff loved him and how much they appreciated him. His ending may be irregular, but there are reasons why he started every game in this tournament.
First, he works score goals. His two in this tournament means he is now up to five at the European Championships, making him Spain’s joint scorer in the competition, along with Fernando Torres.
However, just as important is the rest of the work that goes on in the field. Morata gives everything from the ball, and that work ethic manifested itself at Parken Stadium.
The 28-year-old has been relentlessly chasing defenders and willingly leading the Spanish press, and Aymeric Laporte is the only player on the field to have won possession on several occasions.
His critics will surely come to power again if things don’t go his way in the quarterfinals from Friday, of course. But what is certain is that Morata will be there. His performance at Parken Stadium reminded him why.
Will Luka Modrić’s 142nd cap prove to be the last in the big tournament?
The midfielder signed a one-year contract extension at Real Madrid last month after another brilliant campaign with the Spanish giant, but at 35 and 36 in September, this may have been his last chance to win silver with his country.
Modric, three years ago, came temptingly closer, of course, helping Croatia to improve its chances and reach the finals of the World Cup in Russia, and even if it turns out that this tournament is over, there is no shame in how he bowed.
In fact, just the opposite.
Modrić was an outstanding performer in the 3: 1 victory over Scotland, which ensured Croatia’s placement in the knockout phase, and he once again shone in the unfortunate last match of the last 16 at Parken Stadium.
There were periods in the game in which he and his teammates from Croatia could not pull the ball to their Spanish counterparts, but he drove them forward to 3-1, when the others lost hope.
There were brilliant passes, such as the one that sent Nikola Vlasic to the goal shortly after Pedri’s bizarre own goal in the first half, and moments that changed the game, such as running and cutting to set Mislav Orsic for Croatia’s second goal. .
He left the field defeated, his future uncertain, but Modric’s legacy in Croatia is already extraordinary.