Euro 2020 is living up to the promise of the beautiful game

An extraordinary day's football in Euro 2020 sees John Roycroft fall in love with the beautiful game again.
Euro 2020 is living up to the promise of the beautiful game

Switzerland's Mario Gavranovic, second left, celebrates after scoring his side's third goal and equaliser against France during the Euro 2020 round of 16 match, at the National Arena stadium, in Bucharest, Romania,  Picture: Marko Djurica/Pool Photo via AP

THE sun shined, the football delighted, and for a little while, all was well with the world.

Monday evening's Euro 2020 fare was a sheer delight for anyone who loves football. Four teams went in and out came a truly wonderful evening of entertainment. Two games with end-to-end attacks, open (some may say reckless) defending, top-class tackling, a bizarre own goal, penalties, penalties saved, oh and the little matter of 14 goals.

Spain and Croatia provided us with a 5-3 goalfest in the evening game and the first drama as Spain managed to come back from a goal down, go 3-1 up with five minutes to go, yet still somehow contrived a way of drawing 3-3 by the full-time whistle.

Great credit to Croatia's battling spirit, and the wonder that is Luka Modric pulling the strings in midfield, for getting back into this. And while Spain did manage to go 5-3 up in extra time, even witnessing the now rare Álavaro Morata goal. Croatia never gave up and but for some unlucky finishing, it could easily have been them in the quarter-final spot.

Spain players celebrate at the end of their 5-3, round of 16, victory over Croatia at the Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Denmark. Picture: AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool
Spain players celebrate at the end of their 5-3, round of 16, victory over Croatia at the Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Denmark. Picture: AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool

Sated by the extraordinary events of the evening, we went into the night-time game between France and Switzerland, probably expecting an interesting but predictable win for the world champions.

Favourites France obviously did not watch or at least take heed of the warning of the Spain v Croatia game, and like their Iberian neighbours, promptly went a goal behind to their Swiss opponents. Like Spain, they came back to take a 3-1 lead thanks to a splendid Karim Benzema brace and a stunning 35-yard strike from Paul (I show my best for France) Pogba. Like the Croats though, the Swiss never gave up. But surely it couldn't go the same way as the Spanish game?

Well, nine mad minutes before full time, saw the Swiss back to 3-3 and insanely we were back into extra time for the second time that day. Despite the setback for the French, we all assumed that, like the Spanish, they would push on for the win in the added 30 minutes. 

Both sides came close to breaking the deadlock as they continued their determination to attack at every chance. That it ended in a shootout was probably the fitting end to such an exciting talent-filled evening.

And of course, the somehow unexpected shootout managed to end in the very foreseeable miss from Kyllian Mbappe. As the world's most wanted and desired striker fluffed his lines from six yards. You could see it coming a mile off.

Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer saves the penalty shot from France's Kylian Mbappe during the Euro 2020 round of 16 match at the National Arena stadium in Bucharest, Romania, Picture: AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, Pool
Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer saves the penalty shot from France's Kylian Mbappe during the Euro 2020 round of 16 match at the National Arena stadium in Bucharest, Romania, Picture: AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, Pool

Big names falling

The skill exhibited in both matches, the quality of the goals, the sweeping team moves, culminating in the tension-ridden shootout was tremendous and I felt a glee for the game I have probably not felt since I was a kid. It made me want to put up a tournament wallchart like I was 12 again.

Like music or a movie, my appreciation of this is all subjective, but I really feel that this Euro 2020 is as pleasurable to watch as the 1982 World Cup which has always been my favourite football tournament of all time. The commitment to attacking football and skilful use of possession has been so refreshing and familiar with the great days in Spain 39 years ago.

Fair play to the Swiss for their heroic and accomplished performance for victory but it is unfortunate that it came at the cost of a France departure, a side who have provided some of the best football in the tournament. 

Also, a Spain v France quarter-final would have been such a mouthwatering affair.

So that's it. A quality groups stage has been surpassed by the excitement of the first knockout round, could we dare hope for more in the quarter-and semi-final rounds, starting tonight.

Unfortunately, and maybe most telling for the next round, is the number of top sides already knocked out. Amazingly, every side in the "Group of Death" has been knocked out before the quarter-finals, taking with them the world and European champions and most punters' wagers.

Sadly too, we will see the exit of either Italy or Belgium after tonight's game and with them, another top talent side will depart the scene.

England fans celebrate during the UEFA Euro 2020 round of 16 match against Germany at Wembley Stadium, London.
England fans celebrate during the UEFA Euro 2020 round of 16 match against Germany at Wembley Stadium, London.

No way did I see the likes of the Czechs, Ukraine, Switzerland, and Denmark, making the last eight and it throws open the prospect of another Euro shock winner in the shape of Greece and Denmark (Mark I).

And in the shadows, beyond most of our expectations, one of the most unheralded English sides of all time is within striking distance of doing a 1966 on it.

Yes, an extraordinary generous draw, conservative but effective tactics, and facing a German side that flattered to deceive, now sees the Three Lions just two games away from the final. One of which is against an eminently beatable Ukraine side.

Wait, what's that? is that the gentle echo of Football's Coming Home, reverberating on the wind?

Euro shock indeed.

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