EURO 2020 was full of action and drama and Stephen Kasiewicz picks the six most relevant stories of the tournament.
Christian Eriksen and Danish unity
A chilling moment that stunned the football world, thankfully, had a positive outcome. When Christian Eriksen fell to the ground after suffering a cardiac arrest close to half-time in Denmark’s group stage match against Finland in Copenhagen, things initially looked bleak. For those inside the Parken Stadium and millions watching on TV around the globe, it was a harrowing time of uncertainty. Danish captain Simon Kjaer rushed to help and Eriksen regained consciousness after being resuscitated by medics. It left many lasting images: the Danish players led by Milan‘s Kjaer forming a protective barrier to shield Eriksen as he received treatment, the Inter midfielder sitting up as he left the stadium on a stretcher and both sets of supporters chanting his name in unison. After a lengthy delay, it was mutually agreed that the rest of the game would be completed. The result was irrelevant; Erisken’s health and well-being were the only things that mattered and, perhaps, the positive outcome gave the Scandinavians an extra push to reach the semis.
Fans return to stadiums
Stripped of supporters for months, games at all levels had resembled soulless exhibitions and stadiums looked like abandoned ghost towns. The pulsating cacophony of noise at a full capacity Puskas Arena in Budapest, with more than 60,000 spectators in attendance, created a carnival-like atmosphere. Unfortunately, some of the behaviour from the home supporters in the stands was not suitable for any kind of party, football or otherwise, and UEFA imposed a two-game home ban on Hungary as a result. Most venues operated with limited numbers, a sensible decision during an interminable pandemic, but those inside the stadiums provided much-needed energy, colour, and vocal backing despite the rows of empty seats. In Copenhagen, the Parken Stadium was a prime example, a bouncing cauldron of red and white as Denmark progressed to the latter stages of the competition. Wembley welcomed thousands more for the semi-finals and Final. While the wisdom of allowing supporters to mix in close proximity without any restrictions as Delta variant COVID-19 cases increased in England can be rightly questioned, it did bring a sense of normality back to the beautiful game.
Switzerland upset France
It was not supposed to end this way for the World Cup holders. Boasting a fantasy football team of midfielders and forwards, France were 3-1 ahead in the Round of 16 and coasting after 76 minutes; Karim Benzema struck twice and Paul Pogba’s inch-perfect shot from distance reminiscent of similar aesthetically pleasing goals from his time at Juventus. Yet Switzerland refused to capitulate and Les Blues collapsed, Haris Seferovic claiming his second with just nine minutes remaining and Mario Gavranovic firing in a memorable equaliser with seconds left. The Swiss endured an onslaught in extra-time and goalkeeper Yann Sommer saved the concluding penalty from Kylian Mbappe in the shoot-out to seal an outrageous upset. Mbappe was expected to dominate the competition but could only gaze on in bemusement and disbelief as the Swiss celebrated wildly. A fascinating, spectacularly entertaining conclusion to a stunning game that defied prediction.
Catastrophic own goals
No other major tournament has been pockmarked by the ignominy of so many stupendously bad own goals—a total of 11 self-inflicted wounds registered in bizarre and calamitous circumstances. Slovakia goalkeeper Martin Dubrvaka has the dubious honour of the worst howler. He somehow managed to palm into his own net after hopelessly misjudging the flight of the ball in the air after Spain’s Pablo Sarabia struck the bar. Whether his view was obscured by the sun or not, it was an extremely unfortunate way to concede in the five-goal group stage hammering. Barcelona teenager Pedri probably visualised himself scoring from long range before the tournament – but not at the wrong end. Spanish goalkeeper Unai Simon inexplicably let a lengthy back pass from the 18-year-old midfielder roll into the net after failing to control the ball properly. Luckily it was not decisive as Spain claimed a dramatic 5-3 win over Croatia to advance to the quarter-finals.
Audacious, opportunistic and executed with perfect timing and precision, Czech Republic striker Patrick Schick scored the goal of the tournament. The former Sampdoria and Roma forward instinctively lofted a wonderful curling effort over the head of the stranded Scotland goalkeeper David Marshall from just beyond the halfway line at Hampden Park. Few would even have attempted such a strike, but the 25-year-old needed no prompting when he spied Marshall well out of position and chipped in from nearly 50 yards like a major winning golfer holing in from off the green. Schick struck twice in the opening group game to defeat the Scots and claimed five goals in total as the Czechs made it to the quarter-finals.
There were plenty of other great strikes: Sampdoria’s Danish midfielder Martin Damsgaard scored with a technically brilliant free-kick in the semi-final against England, Lorenzo Insigne’s trademark inside cut and curler for Italy stunned Belgium, Federico Chiesa’s three touch masterpiece for the Azzurri against Austria and Paul Pogba flighting in a beautiful shot into the top corner for France in their upset defeat to Switzerland. Yet Schick’s extraordinary goal tops them all.
It’s coming Rome
Italy were crowned European champions after a dramatic victory against England on penalties at Wembley. The Azzurri finished EURO 2020 as deserved winners, Gianluigi Donnarumma saving spot-kicks from Jaden Sancho and Bukayo Saka in a tense shoot-out to seal a memorable win in front of a hostile home crowd.
Italy recovered after conceding a shock early goal inside two minutes, Luke Shaw converting at the back post, but thereafter Roberto Mancini’s team dominated. The competition’s best team forced England into catenaccio like defending with 11 men behind the ball for long stretches of game, Leonardo Bonucci equalising on 67 minutes. Domenico Berardi, Bonucci and Federico Bernardeschi converted from the spot as Italy prevailed to claim the title.
Mancini cried tears of joy and held a long embrace with former Sampdoria team-mate Gianluca Vialli, the head of the Italy delegation, to celebrate the triumph. It was a Wembley redemption as the ‘Gemelli del gol sustained’ a crushing defeat against Barcelona in the European Cup final nearly 30 years ago at the same London venue.
It was also fitting that veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini and his Juventus defensive partner Bonucci claimed a first international trophy after losing against Spain in the EURO 2012 final.