LONDON: After one of the most memorable knockout rounds a European Championship has ever seen, the quarter-finals promise another heavyweight clash in Belgium against Italy on Friday while the fairytale run of at least one of the less fancied teams will continue.
Either Denmark or Czech Republic will make the semi-finals with their last eight clash in Baku on Saturday pitting the neutrals’ favourite following the Christian Eriksen drama against the conquerors of the Netherlands.
The Swiss performed the biggest miracle of the last 16, coming back from 3-1 down late on to draw with world champions France and then dispatch them on penalties.
Their reward is Friday’s clash with Spain in coronavirus crisis city St Petersburg, with the Spanish coming off the back of scoring five in a second straight game after beating Croatia 5-3 in another magical last 16 encounter.
The last quarter-final in Rome on Saturday sees England and Ukraine do battle fresh from their hard-fought victories over Germany and Sweden respectively on Tuesday.
The winner plays the victor of the Czech Republic against Denmark game and with the semis and final being held at Wembley, Gareth Southgate’s England can suddenly see a winnable path to glory.
And Southgate urged his players to seize their chance to win England’s first major international title since the 1966 World Cup following Tuesday’s 2-0 victory over Germany.
Eliminated in the 1970, 1990 and 2010 World Cups by Germany, England beat their old nemesis with second-half goals from Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane in Wembley.
“It didn’t really need me to say it, but when we got in the dressing room, we were talking about Saturday already,” Southgate said.
“It was an immense performance but at a cost, emotionally and physically, and we’ve got to make sure that we recover well and that mentally we’re in the right space.
“It’s a dangerous moment for us. We’ll have that warmth of success and the feeling around the country that we’ve only got to turn up to win the thing.
“We know it’s going to be an immense challenge from here on. I think the players know that.”
For Germany, who have won the European Championship three times in their illustrious history, defeat signalled a bitter end to Joachim Loew’s 15-year reign as Germany coach.
Germany won the 2014 World Cup but crashed out at the group stage four years later in Russia and have now made their earliest exit at a European Championship since 2004.
“The players are gutted. It’s very quiet in the dressing room,” said the 61-year-old. “In games like this, it is crucial to convert all goal chances, which we didn’t do, neither through Timo Werner nor Thomas Mueller.”
Ukraine punched their last-eight ticket with a 2-1 extra-time defeat of Sweden in Glasgow thanks to a 121st-minute winner from Artem Dovbyk.
Oleksandr Zinchenko put Ukraine ahead at Hampden but Emil Forsberg equalised for Sweden before the break with his fourth goal in three games.
Serhiy Sydorchuk hit the post for Ukraine in the second half while Forsberg twice struck the woodwork, but the dismissal of Marcus Danielson gave Ukraine the initiative late on.
The Sweden centre-back was sent off on 98 minutes when his studs caught Artem Besedin’s knee with his follow-through, a yellow card changed to red after a VAR review.
As penalties loomed, Dovbyk stooped to head in a Zinchenko cross and snatch victory for Ukraine.
Ukraine, the weakest side to get through the group phase, have one of the greatest strikers of his generation as coach and Andriy Shevchenko will make sure England have that immense challenge in Rome.
England fans wishing to be at the game have to quarantine for five days beforehand in Italy because of the coronavirus pandemic, meaning the noise generated at Wembley against the Germans won’t be there to roar the Three Lions on.
Belgium and Italy fans have an easier task of getting into Germany for their game in Munich but the Belgians have slight injury doubts over creative fulcrums Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard. The two sides are the only ones left in the competition with 100 per cent records, if extra-time is included given Italy needed the 30 minutes more to dispatch Austria 2-1 in the last 16.
Belgium knocked out holders Portugal 1-0, meaning all three teams who got through from the tough Group ‘F’ are out. The stress of a group involving France, Germany, Portugal and a combative Hungary took its toll in the last 16.
The quarter-final line-up is very different to how many would have predicted. A roller-coaster Euros is ready for more twists and turns.
Published in Dawn, July 1st, 2021