Given that the madness all kicked off thanks to a goalkeeper, it was fitting that it was a goalkeeper who called the curtains down at the end of the day. By the time Yann Sommer saved Kylian Mbappe’s penalty in Bucharest, Unai Simon’s gaffe nearly 220 minutes of football earlier felt like another lifetime.
Switzerland's shoot-out hero! 🧤
— UEFA Nations League (@EURO2024) June 28, 2021
In between those two incidents, Croatia and Switzerland came back from 3-1 down to bring things to parity at 3-3 each against much more fancied opposition in Spain and France respectively. The former though was blown away by La Roja’s electric forward line in extra time while the latter managed to survive Paul Pogba and co. to eke out a penalty shootout win against the World Champions.
EIGHT GOAL DELIGHT
The Round of 16 tie between Croatia and Spain became the first Euro match to have eight different goalscorers. 31-year-old Cesar Azpilicueta popped up in the opposition’s half to score a classic number nine header for his first ever goal for Spain. Alvaro Morata scored a goal dripping in narrative and redemption and perseverance and all the other things good stories are made of.
Silencing his critics 🤫 pic.twitter.com/Evyo33DXek
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 28, 2021
For Croatia, it was a passing of the torch of sorts. Luka Modric was outstanding as always but Mateo Kovacic perhaps showed that the future is indeed now. Backed by goalscorers Miraslav Orsic and Mario Pasalic, Croatia looked a severe threat after they were given a kick up the bum by Simon. However, keeping in line with the overarching trend of redemption, the Spanish goalkeeper made two outstanding saves to keep things level before Morata took over.
An end-to-end match decided in the end simply by who had more legs and depth to keep going. Perhaps last year, Croatia would’ve won this one without the preceding drudgerous congested season of football. In the end, Spain’s youth came through – Dani Olmo and Mikel Oyarzabal making the difference off the bench. Question marks still remain over whether this side can go all the way in this tournament but one thing is certain – they are entertainment guaranteed.
POGBA PARTY POOPED
“He is some player when he struts, and boy is he strutting tonight.” This piece of commentary on Pogba after his volley goal vs Swansea in his first season back in England comes back to mind every time he pulls off a long diagonal to set Mbappe on his way or when he curls a shot into the top-bin.
It is a shame that France went out the way they did – it may have been Paul Pogba’s summer of vindication had they gone through. He was the best player on the pitch by a country mile, and more tellingly the best French player on the pitch by two country miles.
Paul Pogba’s game by numbers vs. Switzerland:
101 total touches
92% pass accuracy
6 attempted take-ons
5 successful take-ons
4 chances created
3 fouls suffered
2 attempted tackles
2 successful tackles
Some of his passes today… 🤯🤯🤯 pic.twitter.com/Ov5GPPw4UM
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) June 28, 2021
The 2018 World Cup champions did not look imperious in their group stages and they looked explicitly docile against Switzerland. Mbappe clearly did not have his shooting boots on but the confusing lineup with Lenglet and Rabiot being used as square pegs in round holes was more decisive.
Despite Didier Deschamps’ best efforts to make France a boring mechanical machine, they were entertaining. After Switzerland exposed their weak low-block, it was Pogba and Kingsley Coman’s maverick-y performances that were their best shot at grabbing the win.
Hugo Lloris made a great penalty save to keep France in the game in the second half making sure he wasn’t the only goalkeeper on the day to not produce headline-making suff. Luck was (deservedly) not on France’s side and Switzerland did what they needed to to take advantage of that.
THE BEST DAY EVER?
With 14 goals, discounting the penalty shootout, across 240 minutes of football, fans were like kids on a sugar rush after an unsupervised candy store visit. 28 June 2021 could perhaps go down as the greatest day of international (or any) football.
— UEFA Nations League (@EURO2024) June 28, 2021
The two matches were filled with mistakes and moments of pure genius. Football was played, intentionally or otherwise, with complete abandon. The lack of time to incorporate tactical nous makes international football that much more entertaining to even the casual viewer and there can be no better advertisement for the sport than yesterday’s events.
England-Germany clash later tonight. The winners of yesterday’s matches play each other in the quarter on the same day as two favourites Belgium and Italy take each other on. It is safe to say that Euro 2020 took some time getting warmed up but the party is well and truly raging now. One can only hope that this day of football glory was a kickstarter and not an outlier.