Category Archives: Football

EURO 2020 Final: Italy’s 53-year wait ends as Second European Title comes to Rome!

Imagine a marathon runner having performed more than ably to conquer every lap only to squander his winning run metres away from the finish line. Well, when one thinks about this marathon runner, a certain home team surely springs to mind who through the tournament were so focused to win their maiden European title and a major trophy after a long wait of 55 years.

England vehemently conquered every opposition to reach the final, winning games enroute only to surrender in an all or nothing battle courtesy another penalty shootout debacle. The result, the banner which motivated every English fan in It’s coming home made a 180 shift albeit still rhyming in It’s coming Rome.

Wembley witnessed the Azzurri cheer as England were conquered 3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 outcome in regular time to give Italy their second Euro Title after a gap of 53 years dating back to their 1968 conquest against Yugoslavia, the longest gap for any European team beating Spain’s 44 year wait from 1964 to 2008.

With this trophy, the Azzurri mounted their silverware to six major titles (4 World Cups and 2 Euros) a close second to the once mighty powerhouse of Europe in Germany who sit on seven.

So, as The Three Lions suffered another heart break in a major tournament at a point where they were so close yet so far, lets dissect this final which saw the Axis forces reign supreme over the Great Alliance possibly bringing a smile on the face of the late Benito Mussolini:

The Azzurri were Shawbertoed early

Gareth Southgate made one change in the starting XI from the Danish semi-final hurrah, with a defensive option Kieran Trippier coming in for a more attack minded Bukayo Saka in a 3-4-2-1 formation. The task was simple score early and defend with all your might and the elusive Euro title comes home.

Well, the strategy worked wonders as only in the 2nd minute England were 1-0 up thanks to a superb strike from winger Luke Shaw after he made no mistake in converting from a single touch to beat keeper Donnarumma from a Trippier cross.

Credit – Reuters

England were up and running early, I was ecstatic and the Manchester United man had his maiden goal in a move which reminded me like many others of a Brazilian legend Roberto Carlos, with the way this winger scored for the Seleção.

As time moved on, Italy, the team who played the first game of this competition and now were playing the final, slowly started finding their feet as they steadily built attacks on the English goal. Their best chance would come in the 35th minute through arguably their most attacking threat, Chiesa who hit the ball inches wide of the post.

Credit – Reuters

The Three Lions knew they were in a contest and the going would be anything but easy!

The Azzurri had another shot on target in stoppage time of the first 45 as Immobile’s strike was blocked by John Stones and Verrati’s rebound effort was comfortably pouched by keeper, Jordan Pickford.

With no further twists, England were lucky to maintain their lead as the players walked into the tunnel at the stroke of half-time.

Leonardo Bonucci brings his team back into the contest

England started the second half brightly as Sterling made a fine run into the Italian D to be brought down by captain Chiellini and Bonucci which showed a clear penalty albeit the referee decided otherwise.

The Three Lions were a tad unlucky with the decision as the Azzurri continued to mount their offensive onslaught with Chiesa creating another opportunity that was ably stopped by Pickford.

Italy with their relentless attacking threats, would finally get the equaliser through their legendary defender Bonucci who slotted the ball in after Pickford did well to keep Verratti’s header out from an Immobile corner.

Credit – Reuters

The game had come to life if you were an Italian supporter and the majority in attendance at Wembley were certainly deflated with this occurrence.

England much like their supporters were on the back-foot as time was called on the 90 and extra time of 15 minutes each beckoned.

The contest would fail to produce a result in the 30 minutes that followed as Italy continued to attack albeit the goal was not to be found.

Next up a word that would particularly still not sit well with England was to see the light of day. Penalties!

England squander yet another major penalty shootout

As the shootout began, my hopes started to soar as Jordan Pickford stopped Italy’s second strike and England had converted from their first two.

Little did I know then that our next three would go so horribly south as Rashford, Sancho and Saka all missed despite Pickford still managing to keep England in the hunt by keeping a Jorginho effort out.

The result, Italy had won another major tournament as England were yet again beaten 3-2 on penalties.

Credit – Reuters

The Three Lions had squandered another penalty shootout taking their tally to all of 22 percent success rate with only two hurrahs from nine attempts. Yes, some would have hoped The Three Lions could have conquered the Azzurri in this shootout as their last successive penalty triumphs had come as recently as the 2018 World Cup pre-quarter win over Columbia and The Nations League third place win over Switzerland albeit not to be.

As the contest finally ended and the Italian captain Chiellini hoisted the trophy, to say I was heartbroken was as true as England’s insatiable need to defend after going 1-0 up early in this contest.

Having said this, one cannot take anything away from The Three Lions as their valiant roar was worth every praise to reach their maiden European final.

Maybe this failure was a sign that they are destined to shine even brighter come next year on the grandest stage of world football at Qatar 2022. In exactly a year and a half would I be writing a piece on England winning the ultimate prize in football? Only time will tell.

Until then I still continue to believe that impossible is not a word in the English footballing dictionary!

The Harrys’ maul Ukraine with much vigour as England cruise to the last 4!

While England in the group stages of the Euro Championship had done well to not concede a single goal, I was honestly a little disturbed with their attacking potential as The Three Lions had barely managed to mount only two goals in three games courtesy Raheem Sterling.

Not the attacking intent one would associate with a forward line boasting the likes of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho.

Having said this, as the tournament moved to the business end, so did England’s confidence with Germany being hammered 2-0 in the pre-quarters thanks to a strike from Sterling and Kane.

Well, as they say when a team is brimming with confidence, the world is at their feet!

Ask Ukraine and they will most definitely agree as they witnessed an English team run riot last night with a 4-0 mauling in the quarters at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

This courtesy a brace from captain Harry Kane along with a solitary strike from Harry Maguire and a bonus from Jordan Henderson.

What made me even happier is how keeper Jordan Pickford managed to keep a clean sheet on the fifth successive occasion equalling a record that was previously held by the Italian side in the 1990 World Cup.

So as The Three Lions marched to the last 4 with much confidence, lets dissect how Ukraine’s determination was all but shattered courtesy a stunning display by the World Cup semi-finalists:

Kane strikes early

Even before this contest began one would have anticipated a comfortable English victory as such is the gap between the two teams in question, with the world no. 4 in England playing a team loitering at 24 in Ukraine.

Well, the contest began exactly to this tune as only in the 4th minute Raheem Sterling orchestrated a fine run through the Ukraine defence sending a mouth-watering pass to Harry Kane who made no mistake in putting England in front.

Credit – Reuters

With this goal, Kane scored his second in the tournament and one could see glimpses of the old Harry, the talismanic match winner for England.

Ukraine, a goal down looked desperate to equalise to keep their dream run relevant in this competition with a 17th minute strike from Yaremchuk as the ball was paired away by an alert Jordan Pickford.

As the game continued, The Three Lions mounted two more opportunities through midfielder Declan Rice and Jadon Sancho albeit the Ukraine keeper stood firm to not concede a second.

England were only 1-0 up despite chances galore as the referee called time on the first 45.

Courtesy the Harry-Henderson show, England mount three in the second 45

As the second half began the 1-0 score line in a matter of moments became 2-0.

Harry Maguire was the destroyer with a fantastic header from a Luke Shaw cross in just the first minute of the second half. Ukraine were rocked early and any ambitions of mounting a comeback looked all but uncertain.

Credit – Reuters

Their comeback in a matter of three further minutes suffered another massive dent as the other Harry, the captain of England scored his brace courtesy a header from another fine cross by Luke Shaw as the English winger indulged in some brilliant interplay with Raheem Sterling to put the Ukraine defence in sixes and sevens.

Credit – Reuters

The East European nation was all but deflated with the third strike of sorrow as their hope of reaching the semi-final was fast fading.

Harry Kane almost made it four for England enroute to a hat-trick, when in the 61st minute he fired a fearsome left-footed strike that was just kept out by the Ukraine keeper, Bushchan.

In a matter of moments, England did get their fourth, through Jordan Henderson who did well with a close-range header from a Mason Mount corner as the Liverpool captain registered his maiden strike on the England goal scoring list.

Credit – Reuters

Ukraine by now were only thinking of the best flight options to fly out of Rome straight to Kyiv as the Wembley dream was all but sealed for England.

As the full 90 ended, the final score read Ukraine 0 – 4 England.

The Danish date awaits England at Wembley

As the tournament now moves to Wembley for the semi-finals and the all-important final hurrah, The Three Lions have had quite a journey this far winning 4 out of the 5 games and not conceding a single goal.

Next up they face a purposeful side in Denmark who are desperate to conquer Europe for their inspirational midfielder, Christian Eriksen.

This contest will surely be one of epic proportions as a determined England with the mantra of ‘lets bring it back’ will lock horns with the most purposeful team of the competition in the Dynamic Danes.

Lots to look forward to as remember my Dear England you’re just two wins way from bringing the cup home. Surely, you can’t falter now!

SOUTHGATE’S Ecstatic England avenge ’96 with Commanding Win over Germany

A little over 25 years to this day on June 26th, 1996 an English team having got the better of Spain in the quarter-finals locked horns with a confident German side in the semi-finals of Euro’96 at the home of football, Wembley.

I was all of 12 then, finding my feet in life and more so football. Not knowing much about the sport, I sat on the couch with my Dad who as the match went on baptised me into this beautiful game. England and Germany amid plenty of English cheers played out a 1-1 draw with Alan Shearer and Stefan Kuntz registering their names on the score sheet.

The match went into penalties and my eyes popped-out looking at the sheer excitement of this contest. The penalties stood at 6-5 in Germany’s favour as a young Englishmen in Gareth Southgate took the 6th shot which was saved by the German keeper.

The Three Lions had lost amid dejection galore at Wembley and somehow, I also felt very devastated breaking into tears. Little did I know then that this contest would ignite my passion for English football to mould me into a staunch Three Lions supporter.

An ambitious Germany had once again knocked England out of a major tournament which tormented many English fans including me for over quarter of a century. Having said this, our disappointment wouldn’t even come close to what Southgate must have left being the perpetrator of this cardinal sin.

Well, everyone deserves a second chance to mend their misery and Southgate as England’s Manager did precisely that with a devastating 2-0 annihilation of Germany last evening.

The debacle of 1996 couldn’t have been avenged on a more befitting occasion. The same tournament, The Euro Championship in a knock-out game at the same venue amid a 45,000 strong English support after seven previous attempts resulting in tears of torment at Wembley.

So, as my heart fills with joy much like every other English fan, lets dissect this rather eventful game that sent Germany packing akin to Hitler’s forces retreating courtesy a brave Winston Churchill:

Spoils were shared in the first 45 though England look marginally better

I was a tad disappointed to see England play a 3-4-3 formation with seven defensive options including three defenders and four defensive midfielders. It seemed to me then, that Southgate wanted to focus on defence to tire out Germany’s attacking threats and eventually score with more attack minded substitutes closer to the final 90.

In truth, I wanted England to be more attacking from the word go.

As was expected, Germany began the game on a high, mounting forward to put England’s defence under pressure with Goretzka angling a long right footed strike towards the bottom left corner of the English net that was rather comfortably grabbed by Jordan Pickford.

Minutes later much to my surprise, England would show signs of their own attacking flair as John Stones and Declan Rice built up a nice move, aiding the ball to Raheem Sterling whose powerful strike was barely squeezed out by Manuel Neuer.

The resultant corner would see the German keeper pouch Harry Maguire’s header.

What also impressed me was how Kieran Trippier and Luke Shaw, the two English wingers were constantly building a head of steam on the flanks as Germany was slowly being put under pressure amid creating opportunities albeit no goals.

Credit – Reuters

On the opposite end though, Die Mannschaft almost went ahead in the 33rd minute, with arguably the best opportunity created so far in the game as Kai Havertz drifted into a pocket of space to offer a fine pass to his Chelsea team-mate Timo Werner whose left-footed strike was fantastically saved by Pickford as he spread his legs to smother the ball away.

The game was slowly coming alive with both teams showing attacking intent contrary to what I believed England would do.

In stoppage time, The Three Lions had their best opportunity.

Raheem Sterling powered inward as he was blocked by Ginter whose intervention gave the ball to Harry Kane. The English captain till then was donning a spectator’s role having done nothing of much consequence as he turned around keeper Neuer, ready to put the ball in before the experienced German defender Matt Hummels made a crucial intervention deflecting the ball away.

As time was called on the first 45, a contest which could so easily have been 1 apiece was yet to see a goal!

Wembley witnesses the Kane and Sterling show much to England’s delight

Germany much like the first half started the second 45 with a positive outlook as a long spell of possession between Muller and Gosens finally paved the way for a rampaging strike by Havertz that was just barely tipped over by Pickford.

England were lucky not be a goal down.

As the game progressed, Germany continued to mount more attempts albeit no goals as England finally broke the deadlock in the 75th minute.

Raheem Sterling stormed in feeding the ball to Kane who crucially offloaded it to Grealish as The Aston Villa captain released it to Luke Shaw who sent it back to Sterling with the Manchester City forward slotting the ball in to give him his third goal of the competition.

Credit – Mirror

More importantly The Three Lions had got their opener in a crucial knock-out game as Wembley erupted with boisterous passion.

Germany continued to fight as Muller came close to equalising albeit hitting the ball wide.

This further fuelled the fire to ignite the English desire as in a matter of moments, The Three Lions would go two to the good, this time courtesy captain courageous, Harry Kane who finally found his mojo with a crucial header from a Jack Grealish cross.

Credit – Reuters

The final nail in the German coffin was hammered by this Kane strike as a relieved Southgate was overjoyed with emotion much like every English supporter at Wembley and millions more watching at home including me.

England had won their first competitive game against Germany in well over 50 years dating back to the 1966 World Cup final.

My heart went out to a dejected Joachim Löw, who looked all but lost as England celebrated. The legendary German Manager had failed Die Mannschaft in his last game albeit his 15-year long career is worthy of every praise with a World Cup win being one of his many accolades.

The elusive Euro Title is now just 3 wins way, starting with Ukraine

With this rather commanding win over Germany, a confident England will now lock horns with Ukraine in the quarters.

Truth be told, with the performance we have seen last evening, I would pin my favourites England as the favourites to triumph in this contest.

So, go on my Three Lions beat Ukraine, and then the countdown to create history will be at two to conquer Europe without much ado!

EURO 2020: La Roja Spared Blushes By Impressive Comeback in Eight Goal Thriller

Despite both Spain and Croatia being lacklustre in their respective groups, both sides advanced to the knockouts of Euro 2020. Spain in particular will have been buoyed by their 5-0 thumping of Slovakia in their final match, while Croatia showed their class to beat Scotland 3-1 in Glasgow.

However, the Blazers won’t have been helped by Ivan Perisic’s recent positive test for COVID-19. The Inter Milan forward is one of Croatia’s most experienced and talented players. With this match taking place at Denmark’s Parken Stadium, this was a truly neutral venue.

What followed was one of the best games in European championship history. But who would book their place to face either France or Switzerland in the quarterfinals? Here are all the highlights!

Spain score at both ends

The opening exchanges were largely cagey, but Spain were the side that had the lion’s share of possession. As has so often been the case for La Roja though, fashioning clear-cut chances was proving difficult.

In the thirteenth minute, Pablo Sarabia had Spain’s first shot in anger. The PSG midfielder’s effort though, only troubled the side netting and not Dominik Livakovic.

Sarabia was causing Croatia a lot of problems down the left. Image: Sport360

The first key chance was a few minutes later, and it came down the left again. A perfectly weighted through ball from Pedri found Koke in the centre of the penalty area, but the Atletico Madrid midfielder couldn’t best Livakovic with his shot.

An even better chance came in the nineteenth minute. Ferran Torres found the time and space on the right to float a perfect cross to Alvaro Morata’s head. However, the Juventus striker failed to get proper contact on the ball and headed it firmly into the ground before Livakovic caught with ease.

READ MORE EURO 2020: THORGAN’S STRIKE CREATES ‘HAZARD’ FOR PORTUGAL AS BELGIUM MARCH ON

If that was bad, what followed next was unbelievable. Spain were producing all of the chances, but found themselves behind in the most bizarre circumstances. Pedri had no pressure on him and passed back to his goalkeeper Unai Simon. The Barcelona midfielder overdid it though, and Simon failed to control the ball, he could only watch it fly into the back of his net. Croatia led 1-0 and had hardly ventured out of their own half.

Croatia were spurred on by their unexpected lead, Nikola Vlasic powering through on the right wing, but couldn’t find the net with his effort. Mateo Kovacic too, had a good effort just go over the net in the 26th minute.

READ MORE EURO 2020: PURPOSEFUL DENMARK CONQUER WALES TO REACH EURO 2020 QUARTER-FINALS

Spain were growing back into the game, and with eight minutes to go before half-time, they deservedly equalised. Another fine move down the left resulted in a scramble in the box. Jose Gaya got a shot off, and despite Livakovic parrying the powerful effort, Sarabia followed up to level the game 1-1.

Both sides would’ve been happy to head into the break level, but for different reasons. The final chance of note was a long shot by Koke, which flew a yard or two wide of Livakovic’s left-hand post.

Croatia capitalise on Spain sitting back

The first substitution of the game was carried out by Croatia at half-time. Bruno Petkovic, who was anonymous in the first 45, was replaced by Andrej Kramaric.

Spain were again the side on top, but were again largely failing to create clear chances. That changed in the 27th minute though, as an overload on the left side of the pitch resulted in Torres crossing to Cesar Azpilicueta, of all people to powerfully head into the goal.

Azpilicueta rose highest to put his side into the lead for the first time this evening. Image: Sportsbet.io

Livakovic was powerless to stop the full-back’s purposeful header as the Spaniard rose above the defender to see Spain lead 2-1.

Simon preserved this lead in the 67th minute thanks to a superb strong save low to his right. Vlasic cut the ball back for Josko Gvardiol and the latter shot at goal from a few yards out, but Simon redeemed himself for the OG earlier on. Kramaric would go through on goal a couple of minutes later, but the offside flag was raised, although Simon didn’t know that and produced another good save.

READ MORE EURO 2020: GERMAN SUB SINKS HUNGARY, BOOKS ENGLAND SHOWDOWN

In the 72nd minute, the ball was in the back of the Croatia net again. A free-kick resulted in chaos in the Croatian box and Torres once more perfectly found Morata. Morata tapped in from little more than a yard out, but it was always going to be called back for offside.

Straight after this, Croatia went down the other end and were calling for a penalty. The referee said no, despite Azpilicueta kicking the ball into Koke’s hands and waved away the protests with a yellow card for Marcelo Brozovic.

After a brief stoppage for an injury, Spain doubled their lead. Ferran Torres latched onto a brilliant pass from the restart from Pau Torres. F. Torres cut inside onto his left foot and slotted calmly into the net, 3-1, a fine goal. Croatia were kicking themselves though, that was schoolboy stuff to switch off like that.

READ MORE EURO 2020: SUPER STERLING POWERS ENGLAND INTO THE ROUND OF 16

Spain consolidated their position with substitutions, while Croatia were making changes to attempt to inject energy and zest into their eleven. In the 84th minute, it was almost deja vu for Croatia as they again switched off from a free-kick. Dani Olmo attempted to float the ball into the net, but Livakovic was there to save.

Croatia then got themselves back into the game in the 85th minute. No sooner had Spain almost gone 4-1 up, they found themselves only 3-2 ahead. Luka Mordric’s skill finally came in use, as Captain Croatia cut back the ball for Ante Budimir to strike at goal. The shot was saved, but another scramble in the box ensued before Mislav Orsic slammed the ball past the line.

Goal-line technology confirmed the goal and despite a VAR check for a potential handball, the goal stood and Croatia were only 2-3 down with five minutes remaining. A nervy five minutes followed, which only got worse for Spain when six minutes of added time was confirmed.

Croatia were rolling the dice and they came up with sixes. Croatia moved down the left with Orsic firing a perfect and dangerous cross into the middle. Mario Pasalic met it perfectly and the ball was in the net, 3-3 and we were heading for extra-time. This surely must be one of the games of the tournament!

Extra-time

The thirty minutes of extra time got underway as the sun began to set in the Danish capital.

The momentum and mentality of the sides had completely flipped. Croatia were now in the ascendancy and Spain were terrified of the counterattack. Not without reason after, as in the sixth minute of ET, Croatia should’ve been ahead again.

Orsic down the left once more and crossed to Kramaric, who let fly from six yards out. Simon again bailed his team out, a combination of hand and knee prevented Croatia from taking the lead. Spain would have a chance of their own straight after, Dani Olmo only being stopped by Duje Caleta-Car.

Spain would go ahead as the clock struck 100 minutes. Olmo was in acres of space on the right and he floated a perfect ball into Morata, who fired an unstoppable shot into the top-right of the goal, Spain lead 4-3!

Alvaro Morata silenced his critics with his second Euro 2020 goal today

Kramaric had a half-chance at the other end, but Spain finally, surely, put the tie to bed in the 104th minute. Another defence-splitting ball from Olmo saw Mikel Oyarzabal free and the Real Sociedad slotted in via a deflection from Livakovic to make it 5-3.

Morata would have another chance before half-time, but Spain looked like they had an insurmountable lead at last.

ET: Second half

Croatia didn’t get the memo again though, as Ante Budimir was inches wide following a move from the kick-off.

Spain then slowed the game down as Croatia began to really physically struggle. Modric departed the pitch with seven minutes remaining in what will likely be his last appearance in a Euro game.

Morata almost doubled his tally for the day with five minutes remaining. The Juve striker was through on goal, but a good save from Livakovic prevented Croatia from being hit for six. Olmo also almost made it 6-3, but the post denied him.

The Croats had given their all, but the 2018 World Cup runners-up fell at the first knockout hurdle again, 5-3 the final score.

Croatia’s dismal run of never winning a Euros knockout game continues, while Spain will face either Switzerland or France in the quarterfinals.

Thorgan’s strike creates ‘Hazard’ for Portugal as Belgium march on

For many last night’s fixture between Belgium and Portugal, the two powerhouses of World Football let alone Europe was the match to look out for in the pre-quarters.

Some would debate this, with the Germany-England showdown yet to come albeit when the number one team in the world battles another team in the top 5, eyeballs in abundance definitely merits the occasion.

And eyeballs are what we got as The Red Devils Fans and The Maroon Brigade stormed the Estadio La Cartuja in Sevilla, Spain amid millions more glued to their television sets as we witnessed Belgium get the better of Portugal albeit only by a solitary goal.

The solitary goal which put Portugal in complete ‘hazard’ as their Euro campaign came to an unexpected end courtesy the younger Hazard, Thorgan.

The 1-0 win also gave Belgium their first hurrah over Portugal since September 1989 when they beat the Southern European Nation 3-0. More than three decades of misery finally ending for The Red Devils amid five matches contested with three losses and two draws.

So, as the tournament for the megastar of Portugal and World Football in CR7, came to a rather disconsolate conclusion last night, lets dissect this small but decisive win for Belgium:

Thorgan Hazard the difference maker in the first 45

Portugal started this contest with much intent as only in the 6th minute, their Liverpool forward Diogo Jotta had a chance albeit dragging it wide as he was fed with a sumptuous offload from Sanches.

About 20 minutes later, Cristiano Ronaldo created their second opportunity through a free kicking drilling the ball into the bottom left corner as keeper Courtois made a crucial intervention to keep the megastar at bay.

Credit – Reuters

Belgium slowly started gaining confidence as Munier had a strike albeit off-target in the 37th minute only for Thorgan Hazard minutes later to capitalize on this confidence with a devastating right foot strike giving keeper Rui Patricio absolutely no chance as the ball swirled in the bottom right corner of the net.

Credit – Reuters

As the Red Devils went 1-0 up, at that point I believed Portugal with their might would definitely mount a comeback and this surely wasn’t the only goal we would see in the full 90.

Well, I was so wrong!

Portugal desperately try for the equaliser albeit no luck

The European Champions began the second half creating opportunities galore as Jotta again fired a shot off-target.

In the 61st minute, Portugal would find their range with a João Félix header from a Sanches corner which was comfortably grasped by Courtois.

As time went on, so did the desperation for the Champions of Europe. An equaliser surely had to come from somewhere.

Credit – Reuters

Well, an opportunity presented itself in the 82nd minute as Rúben Dias swung in a header from a Fernandes cross which was again averted by Courtois as he hit the ball away.

Portugal were denied yet again as The Belgian keeper was doing all he could to keep their lead intact.

A minute later Portugal mounted yet another attack as Guerreiro hit the post. It seemed, luck had befriended Belgium!

Minutes later Courtois again showed his class as he smothered the ball just outside his goal to deny the looming André Silva.

As the referee called time, Belgium amid some luck and much of Courtois’ brilliance had done fantastically well to keep Portugal at bay.

In truth seeing Ronaldo after the match with disappointment all over his face made me shed a tear as the fan in me was rather more animated with one of his favourite footballers coming up second best.

The Azzurri challenge will be as tough as they come

Up next Belgium would be pitted against a confident and rather devastating Italian side who are yet to lose a single contest in this tournament.

They have scored goals aplenty and their attacking threat in Immobile, Insigne and others is surely second to none. In truth haven’t seen an Azzurri side with so much flair in a long time.

This contest will again be one for the ages much like Belgium’s last excursion against Portugal albeit The Red Devils would have to be more decisive and lethal with their performance to get the better of the Azzurris’ enroute to sealing a semi-final berth.

After all, only luck can’t win you all battles, dear numero uno team!

purposeful Denmark Conquer Wales to reach Euro 2020 Quarter-finals in Eriksen’s Honour

From the time Denmark’s stalwart Christian Eriksen had to, unfortunately, cut his Euro excursion short, owing to the ill-fated cardiac arrest he suffered on the field in game one, his team mates as a tribute to this great player have shown in abundance the one word which has essentially dictated their style of play.

This word is purpose.

Purpose to overcome adversity in their remaining fixtures to qualify for the round of 16 and now march to the last 8. And when purpose meets determination, the performances one gets are what dreams are made of.

Ask Christian Eriksen, and his smile would shine bright as he recuperates with the intent of taking the field once again. Well, I certainly hope so!

In truth, Denmark as a salute to this Inter Milan midfielder have not only beaten but annihilated two teams in Russia and Wales with a thumping 4-1 win over the former and a 4-0 rout of the latter. With each of these wins, they have marched to the next round of the competition with much purpose.

What makes me even happier despite having a soft corner for the Welsh is the venue where the Red Dragons were conquered by the Danes last evening.

Yes, the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam, the place where Christian Eriksen became a name in European football playing for Ajax. Surely, a befitting honour to this Danish talisman with the perfect concoction of happiness and emotion!

So, as the Danes became the first team to score four goals in two consecutive matches in the Euros and qualify for the last 8, let’s dissect this rout of a contest albeit more so if you’re a Wales supporter:

Dolberg shines bright in the first 45

Wales started the contest with much intent looking to continue their dream run into the next round when in just the 10th minute, captain Gareth Bale ran into space to beat the Danish defence and curled a shot on target which went just inches wide.

Moments later the Real Madrid star would fire another shot this time going wide on the other side of the post.

Well, the roar of The Red Dragons would unfortunately fizzle out after the first 15, as the Danes slowly but surely settled in the game, building attacks of their own.

The attacking mindset would soon pay dividends as Kasper Dolberg fired Denmark ahead in the 27th minute with a brilliant shot beating keeper Ward in the bottom-right corner of the Welsh net.

Credit – Reuters

Wales were rocked as Denmark started bringing the word that has defined their style of play in this tournament to the fore. Purpose!

Minutes later Dolberg almost had his second as the ball bounced off keeper Ward.

Denmark’s attacking intent continued for much of this half when in injury time they almost got another goal. This after the man of the moment, Dolberg flicked a pass to Mahele who’s right foot strike was palmed wide by Ward.

Wales were surely lucky to not be two down as the referee called half-time.

Danish Dynamite inflict further misery in the second 45

To say life is beautiful for Dolberg would be an understatement as three minutes into the second half, the Danish scored a brace courtesy a blunder by Welsh defender, Neco Williams. The young Welshman made a schoolboy error as he planted his clearance straight to Dolberg who made no mistake slotting in his second.

Credit – Reuters

Wales on their own accord with a boyish blunder were now 2-0 down.

The Danish Dynamite bombed more attacks on a deflated Welsh defence as the third came minutes before the full 90 when Mahele blasted a left-footed strike from close range. It was all over for the Red Dragons with this one as the Danes had had all-but cemented their place in the quarter-finals.

Credit – Reuters

The misery unfortunately wouldn’t end for the Welsh just then as Denmark would have their fourth in injury time when Martin Braithwaite buried one on target. The goal was allowed after a VAR check as the referee had raised his flag for a possible off-side on the Dane.

Credit – Reuters

Truth be told, Wales were routed with much purpose by Denmark as referee blew the whistle on the final 90 albeit for me The Red Dragons had more than exceeded expectations.

Yes, make no mistake as few expected Wales to proceed to the round of 16 after being in a tough group with the likes of Italy and Switzerland both ranked higher than this small but dynamic nation.

Kudos Red Dragons, you did well in the tournament!

A date with either the Dutch or Czech awaits the Danes

With a resounding 4-0 win, The Danes enter the last eight amid confidence galore as their purpose will now meet either the might of The Dutch or the determination of The Czechs.

In either case it will be a match to look out for albeit as a neutral I would love to see a Denmark-Netherlands showdown in the quarters with possibly purpose getting the better of might.

The smile of Christian surely would become laughter if the Danes progress to the semi-finals and as they say laughter is the best medicine.

Well, even the almighty would agree Eriksen needs that in loads!

CR7 keeps Portugal In Euro 2020 as Benzema powers France in a riveting contest!

A challenge pitting the might of France against the class of Portugal surely deserved the final outcome of a 2-2 draw amid plenty of drama and a pulsating heartbeat.

Yes, a packed Puskas Arena in Budapest welcomed the European Champions and the World Champions as the fans in attendance expected nothing less than a riveting contest.

Afterall, one surely can’t find games of this magnitude coming along every day as a sea of Les Bleus fans mixed with the maroon brigade of Portugal was a sight to behold.

Boy, did this challenge of epic proportions live up to the hype with two ex-teammates at Real Madrid lighting up the fixture as few would.  A Cristiano Ronaldo first nullified by a Kareem Benzema equaliser and then a Kareem Benzema second nullified by a Cristiano Ronaldo equaliser.

Wow, talk about role reversals here!

So, as both these powerhouses sealed their place in the last 16, lets dissect this game of stardom, performance, drama and skill:

Ronaldo and Benzema share the spoils in the first 45

Despite beating France in their own backyard to win the European Championship in 2016, Portugal entered this contest as slight underdogs’ having only won this bout in their last 13 matches against the Les Bleus with 11 losses and one draw.

Well, for me the underdog status wasn’t much of a concern as CR7 looked ready for this showdown having already scored a brace against Hungary in their first outing.

Credit – Reuters

And ready he was, as only in the 6th minute, the 36-year-old footballing institution created Portugal’s first opportunity on goal with a header that was comfortably gobbled by the experienced Tottenham and French Captain, Hugo Lloris.

The attack minded French side created a brilliant opportunity of their own in the 16th minute as they opened up the Portuguese defence with a mouth-watering through ball by Paul Pogba to Mbappe who extracted a rather brilliant save from Rui Patricio.

With a chance created at either end in no time, surely this contest looked to have goals aplenty.

The goal would come for Portugal in the 30th minute courtesy a penalty after Lloris had rammed into Danilo trying to clear the ball away from a long cross. Not the ones to be given a penalty on albeit the referee thought otherwise along with soaring the French captain misery’s courtesy showing him a yellow.

Thanks to this lucky break, CR7 bent in his 108th strike for Portugal.

Credit – Reuters

One would agree, football is a funny game as what goes around comes around.

Portugal this time were at the receiving end of a penalty, seconds before the end of the first 45 as Mbappe on this occasion collided with Portuguese defender Semedo and fell on the ground trying to receive a long ball in the Portuguese D. Again, it didn’t seem like a penalty but was still given as Kareem Benzema slotted it in to draw France level at the stroke of halftime.

Credit – Reuters

As time was called on the first half, surely it seemed there was more drama instore.

The drama of the ex-Madrid teammates continued in the second 45

To say this game was dramatic was an understatement.

Yes, as soon as the second half unfolded, it was France’s turn to go a goal up, courtesy Kareem Benzema again. The Real Madrid star made no mistake in slotting the ball in after he was fed with a crucial long ball by who other than Paul Pogba. The French midfielder was at his skilful best in controlling the midfield and aided the forwards with sumptuous long balls. The decision did go to VAR to check Benzema being off-side, albeit the goal was given.

Credit – Reuters

In a sheer turn of fortunes, the French now led 2-1 courtesy Benzema’s brace.

Portugal and CR7 had all to do to as their very place in the tournament was at stake.

Well, creating opportunity in the face of adversity is Ronaldo’s forte as the Portuguese talisman earned yet another penalty for his side. The ball hit the hand of the French defender, Kounde in the D, as the third spot-kick of the game was given, the highest for a European Championship fixture.

The result, Portugal drew level as expected. CR7 struck his 109th to go level with Iran striker Ali Daei as the joint highest scorer in the history of international football. Wow, what a feat by remarkable Ronaldo!

Credit – Reuters

France almost got their third in the 68th minute as Pogba fired a shot from the edge of the Portuguese penalty area with Rui Patricio again doing superbly well to keep the ball out and then saved the rebound effort from Griezmann. Truly fantastic!

The game was completely on a knife edge with my heart-rate fluctuating every moment.

Well, when I thought things couldn’t get more dramatic, I was up for a huge surprise, as France almost managed yet another penalty in injury time of the full 90 as Coman was brought down by Bruno Fernandes in the penalty area.

VAR luckily for Portugal saw it otherwise as the game finally ended amid drama aplenty at two apiece. The most befitting result to be honest as both teams were assured of their round of 16 berths.

Portugal have a tougher task ahead than France

So, as the two teams march into the pre-quarters, France as the leaders of Group F have a fixture that’s relatively easier against Switzerland vis-à-vis, the likes Portugal would face against another European superpower in Belgium.

Yes, having finished third in this group behind France and Germany, Portugal would surely need to bring their A game when they lock horns with the Red Devils. A contest which would be as exciting as their French excursion.

Lots to look forward to as the Championship enters its business end.

And before I forget, My Dear England be ready for the German challenge, a team that has found their lost mojo and how!

German Sub Sinks Hungary, Books England Showdown

Euro 202: Leon Goretzka & Joachim Low

German sub Leon Goretzka has come off the bench to salvage a 2-2 draw with Hungary in Munich, condemning the plucky Hungarians, who deserved better, to elimination at the group stage, while booking a huge England v Germany showdown in the Round of 16. 

After a dramatic evening that saw France draw 2-2 with Portugal, the 2016 World Cup champions finished second in Group F.

On 11 minutes, Hungary opened the scoring with a diving header from captain Adam Szalai, who finished off Roland Sallai’s whipped cross behind the German defense.

Kai Havertz gave Germany a lifeline on 66 minutes when he netted his second goal of the tournament. Following Hungary’s Peter Gulacsi’s goalkeeping error, Chelsea’s midfielder headed the ball into an empty net.

Minutes later, the Hungarians responded when midfielder Andras Schafer nodded the ball past an onrushing Manuel Neuer to re-take the lead.

Leon Goretzka levelled the match once more on 85 minutes to put Germany into the round of 16.

“We made mistakes but we fought, showed character, it was not for the faint-hearted. At the end, to come through this group was good and that was the aim.

“All the ‘small’ teams invest so much work and defend well. Hungary played with ten men in their own half and they had nothing to lose. It’s great that we got through in this tough group. Now we can look forward to a match against England.

“What matters is that we are through. Now we play with England and we can look forward to that match. It is an absolute highlight to play at Wembley against England. We will be a different team than tonight, I can promise you that,” said Germany coach Joachim Low. 

Man of the match Joshua Kimmich is looking forward to the showdown with England, and perhaps being afforded more room to move as England will likely be more adventurous going forward than Hungary. 

“Hungary were so compact and did very well. We were not great at finding a solution to the problem, but we showed great morale. In the end it is only important to go through. That will also be the case for the next match and I think we have a good chance to accomplish this,” added Kimmich. 

Super Sterling powers England into the Round of 16 with crucial win over Czech Republic

In my previous article, I had emphasised a conspiracy theory to justify England’s sub-par performance in the 0-0 outing against The Scots.

The theory was simple, England didn’t plan to top their group to avoid locking horns with the powerhouses of European football in the next round in either of France, Germany or Portugal. Having said this, the fan in me surely hoped for a marked improvement in their next fixture against The Czechs to only keep this as a theory.

Boy, did the fan defeat the theorist with a determined 1-0 showing by The Three Lions to not only beat The Czechs but also top Group D.

With this win, England also reached a small landmark of mounting ten goals and conceding only two in four games contested against The Czechs at their fortress, Wembley.

In truth, I was more than delighted to be rightfully proven wrong on my conspiracy theory!

So, without further ado lets dissect this much-needed shot of confidence, The Three Lions earned heading into the business end of the competition.

Raheem Sterling lights up the first 45

England started this fixture with two key players not in the squad in Mason Mount who was isolating and Phil Foden who was excluded as he sat on a yellow to allow him to be available for the round of 16.

Well, one man’s loss is another man’s gain, and in England’s case it was two, as Arsenal’s young midfielder Bukayo Saka was brought into the playing XI along with Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish in place of Mount and Foden.

And boy, did they make an immediate impact, as only in the 12th minute, Saka hit an overhead cross into the Czech D which was kept alive by Jack Grealish on the left corner as he fed Sterling with a great chip, and the Manchester City forward made no mistake in nodding it in.

Credit – Reuters

The Three Lions were a goal up in no time, a remarkable improvement from their previous fixture where the full 90 couldn’t get them on the score sheet.

As time marched on, England would mount their second effort, this time through captain and talismanic forward Harry Kane with Czech keeper, Vaclik deflecting the ball away.

Credit – Reuters

Moments later, the Czechs had their first attempt on target as Jordan Pickford dived to his left to push the strike away.

Kane would fire his second attempt on target minutes before half time as the shot was again kept out by the resilient keeper, Vaclik.

With no further uncertainties, the first half ended as England led 1-0.

The second 45 fails to excite

One could be excused for taking a break from watching the second half as this contest all but lacked excitement up until the 86th minute when England substitute and Liverpool captain, Jordan Henderson drilled one in, only to be adjudged off-side.

England and Henderson were convinced that the goal should have been allowed as the ball was played back to the Liverpool man through a Czech player albeit VAR was firm on its decision to rule it otherwise. Had the goal stood, the Liverpool skipper would have scored his first for the national team in 60 appearances.

Credit – Reuters

As a Liverpool and English fan, with a heavy heart had to accept the no goal.

With this being the only action of any significance in the second 45, England deservedly were the victors with a steady display as time was called on the game.

A tough outing awaits England in the pre-quarters

As a die-hard English faithful, I would have to say England’s performance so far in the group stage has been anything but exciting.

With the solitary two strikes from Sterling leading to two victories, The Three Lions have failed to light up the tournament with goals galore contrary to what was expected with a strong forward line boasting the likes of Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and one of the best centre forwards in world football, Harry Kane.

Speaking about Harry Kane, our captain has looked all but lost in the opposition D this far. I am not sure where the problem is but his finishing has lacked the skill we usually associate with this English talisman.

Yes, our defence has looked solid with no goals conceded and has received a further boost with a fully fit Harry Maguire who played the full 90 yesterday albeit what worries me is the lack of goals scored upfront.

With either of France, Germany or Portugal up next on the 29th, The Three Lions need to be far more decisive and complete to mount the goals we have come to expect of them.

Remember my Dear England, you are now just four games away from lifting the elusive Euro Championship.

Surely this is motivation enough to witness the mighty roar of The Three Lions contrary to the tame meow we have had to bear this far!

Germany Bounce Back To Thrash Defending Champions Portugal

After losing their opening fixture to France, Germany were on a knife-edge going into their game against defending champions Portugal, where a loss could have sent them crashing out at the group stage for the second tournament in succession. 

However, despite going a goal down early, the Germans roared back into life, scoring four unanswered goals to run out comfortable 4-2 winners in Munich. 

“Overall it was an outstanding performance from the team, great attitude, great spirit, we had many chances, outstanding.

“We have spoken about a few things over the past few days. We were still looking for balance after the France match and knew that we had to add a gear to create more chances. We fought brilliantly and showed great spirit. We had a lot of good attacks against really strong opponents.

“We wanted better movement up front. From the start there was tempo, good combinations, from the wings with [Joshua] Kimmich and Gosens… That was our plan and it worked,” said Germany coach Joachim Low after the game.

In Munich, Germany attacked from the beginning, thriving on the dynamism of their wing-backs. 

Despite finding the net early with a well-taken finish, Robin Gosens was ruled offside after a VAR check. 

The Portuguese repelled wave after wave until Cristiano Ronaldo kicked off and finished a thrilling counterattack, giving the reigning champions an unlikely lead. 

Once Die Mannschaft recovered from their shock, they resumed their barrage. 

Late in the first half, two own goals in five minutes proved disastrous with Ruben Dias and Raphael Guerreiro inadvertently beating Rui Patricio. 

Portugal was stunned, unable to respond; and things got much worse before they got better.

By the hour mark it was 4-1 and the holders were floundering as Kai Havertz tapped in before the brilliant Gosens headed in a cross from Joshua Kimmich. 

With one eye on Wednesday, Joachim Löw made the changes, and Portugal improved, getting a goal back from Diogo Jota. A stunning strike from Renato Sanches rattled the post as well, but it was too little too late for Portugal. 

After staring down the barrel of an early exit, a victory in the final game could see Germany top Group F should France and Portugal draw in their match. 

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