And now they are 8. 32 nations came into the European Championship vying to win the title and after group stage qualification and a tense round-of-16 filled with footballing and non-footballing drama, there are 8 teams left that are fighting to be crowned winners of Euro 2020. We take a shot at ranking the remaining teams at the tournament
Led by one of their greatest players and all-time top scorer Andriy Shevchenko, they are in the final 8 for the first time in their history. This Ukraine side is well-drilled in their compact 4-3-3. 18-year-old Chelsea target Illya Zabarnyi is at the heart of their defense alongside Serhiy Kryvtsov. Mykola Matviyenko, Oleksandr Karavayev, and Heorhiy Bushchan make up their backline. No matter how horrid his club form may be, they can always rely on their captain Andriy Yarmolenko to deliver for them. Roman Yaremchuk leads their line with Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko in his more natural attacking midfield position. And then there is the dangerous Ruslan Malinovskiy.
They scraped through the group stage with a measly 3 points. They lost to the Netherlands and Austria. Their only win was a scrappy 2-1 win against North Macedonia. In the round-of-16, they dragged Sweden into extra time and after a red card to Sweden’s Marcus Danielson, Artem Dovbyk scored the winner in the final seconds of the game. They will play England next and tests do not come bigger than the three lions right now. Can they cause the mother of all upsets? We shall see.
The Czech Republic (7th)
The Czech Republic had only won one of their previous seven games at major tournaments. They finished second in their group. Their Euro tournament started with a win over Scotland. Led by talisman Patrik Schick they won the Tartan Army by two goals to nil. Schick scored what might be the goal of the tournament. Schick scored from around 60 yards with David Marshall off his line. They drew against Croatia. Schick scored the penalty and lone goal for the Czech Republic. Jaroslav Šilhavý then led his side to a loss against England.
They faced the Netherlands in the round-of-16 and limited Oranje to no shots on target. The Czech Republic gave a spirited performance as Tomas Holes and Patrik Schick sent the dutch team packing. They are not pretty, they are tough and they run a lot. The Czech Republic team plays a 4-2-3-1 formation with a disciplined pivot in front of a flat and compact back four Their loss to England was a great fight as they made the three lions uncomfortable even with their wealth of talent. They are deadly in transitions and have some very good players in their ranks.
Vladimír Coufal of West Ham at right-back comes to mind. He is the complete package for a full-back. Defensively astute when defending and he is also a handful in attack as he has a wicked delivery on him. He is one of those players who give steady performance after steady performance and so he can go under the radar a bit. His West Ham teammate and captain Tomáš Souček has been subdued but he is still a threat arriving late into the box and on set-pieces.
Patrik Schick has come into his own at this tournament. The dainty striker has not had it great since his breakout season at Sampdoria. Spells at Roma, Bayer Leverkusen, and RB Leipzig have not exactly worked well but at Euro 2020, Schick is leading his team’s Euro charge from the front. He is on four goals and his team will be looking to him if they want to scale past Denmark.
The Danes started their campaign on a sour note. They witnessed their teammate Christian Eriksen collapse unaccosted. Thank whatever you believe in for defibrillators, and medical experts, and heroic teammates. Despite this ghastly scene, they still had to return to the pitch an hour later to see out their game against Finland. They lost by 1 goal but that was in the backseat as the health condition of the Inter Milan midfielder was paramount. Then they lost to Belgium despite showing great signs of the kind of team they are.
Against Russia, their spirits soared as they produced some of the most memorable moments football will ever know. They rose from despair and raced to a 2-0 lead over Russia through youngster Mikkel Daamsgard and veteran Yussuf Poulsen. Artem Dzyuba pulled one back for Russia while Matvei Safonov made save after save to keep them in the game. However, on 79, after two good stops from the Krasnodar stopper, the ball came out to Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen who belted a shot into the roof of the net. The stadium rippled in ecstasy and delight. Atalanta wing-back Joakim Mæhle has been one of the players of the tournament and added a fourth for good measure.
In the round-of-16 they faced Wales led by the Mercurial and revived Gareth Bale. Denmark outplayed and outclassed the dragons from start to finish. Kasper Dolberg scored the first two, Joakim Mæhle added another, and Martin Braithwaite the last. Coach Kasper Hjulmand will be hoping that they can push themselves past the Czech Republic and into the quarter-final. Their leader Simon Kjaer is fit again after a knock against Wales. Will the feel-good factor be enough to propel them?
They may not be blessed with an XI of world-class footballers, but this Swiss side performs as a team. Their players seem to lift their levels when performing for their nation. Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri, Breel Embolo, Manuel Akanji, Kevin Mbabu, even the maligned Haris Seferovic. Their campaign started with a tepid draw against Wales before they took a pounding against Italy. They swatted the very disappointing Turkey to qualify for the next rebound. Then they caused the greatest upset at the tournament so far.
Switzerland held France to a 3-3 draw, took them to penalties, and won the tie against Les Bleus. It was a resounding performance against the world champions. They took the lead when Haris Seferovic towered over Clement Lenglet to head in. France could not respond until the second half but when they did, they did it in style. Kylian Mbappe played a pass just behind Karim Benzema but the striker blessed it with a divine touch before poking it with his left leg beyond Yann Sommer. He got his second two minutes later after Mbappe combined with Antoine Griezmann. Sommer saved Griezmann’s effort but Benzema headed the leftover in. Paul Pogba curled in a magnificent effort to cap an outstanding Euro tournament.
Vladimir Petkovic’s side plays a mean 3-4-3 and would not go down without a fight. On 81, Mbabu sent in a wicked cross and Seferovic beat Raphael Varane to score.
La Roja has seen a major decline in the talent levels within their squad. Gone are the days of Xavi Hernandes, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Juan Mata, David Silva, David Villa, Fernando Torres, Pedro, Santi Cazorla, etc. The only one left from that golden generation is Sergio Busquets. Luis Enrique has the tough task of harnessing this new generation into something worthwhile.
Lucho has always been known for puzzling selections/decisions and he has taken that trend with him to the Euros. They opened their Euro 2020 campaign with a disappointing draw against Sweden. Then they drew against Poland too before pounding Slovakia 5-0. In their round-of-16 game against Croatia, they played one of the most thrilling games the football world had ever seen. A childish back pass from Pedri led to a howler from Unai Simon. Spain got back into the game through Pablo Sarabia, Cesar Azpilicueta, and Ferran Torres added another to make it 3-1 by the 80th minute. Croatia scored two goals before 90 to take the game into extra time. There, Spain pulled clear. The much-maligned Alvaro Morata rifled a left-footed shot into the top corner before Mikel Oyarzabal closed the game.
The Spanish team is not the highly-rated force they once were but they are pushing forward. Youngster Pedri has been sensational at this tournament just as he has been for Barcelona. Lucho seems to trust Morata and if they will make it far into this tournament then he will have to keep his scoring boots on.
England is the team that everyone loves to hate. The three lions are yet to concede at Euro 2020 and have made it into the last 8 on a relatively smooth ride. They beat Croatia by 1 goal in their opening game, drew Scotland in a blank game, and then beat the Czech Republic to secure the top spot.
Their game against Germany was billed as the redemption game for Gareth Southgate and his boys delivered. England cruised to a 2-0 victory over Germany at Wembley. Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling scored the goals against Die Mannschaft, but once again, Jack Grealish was in the spotlight. He replaced Bukayo Saka and Wembley erupted in a roar for the Aston Villa captain. He assisted England’s second and Kane’s first goal of the tournament. Raheem Sterling has been the main man for England, scoring three goals in four games. The defense has been outstanding with John Stones performing to his lofty Manchester City standards. The returning Harry Maguire has also been excellent and picked up a man-of-the-match award for his dominant showing against Germany.
England will face Ukraine and they will be excited about their chances of progressing past this stage. They have the world-class players to do it but they will need to show cohesion and understanding to break down this Ukraine team.
The current number 1 team in the world according to FIFA rankings showed their class in the group stage as they swept aside all their opponents to qualify for the knockout phase. Only Denmark was able to get past Thibaut Courtois and they scored twice to reply. Finland and Russia didn’t stand a chance. Belgium scored 7 goals as they cleared the group stage. In the next round, they faced Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, the current European champions.
A real “clash of the titans” tie, the game was destined to be eye-catching and it did not disappoint. Diogo Jota’s wastefulness in front of the goal was a major highlight. But the early missed chances set the tone for a fiery clash. Cristiano Ronaldo who was one goal away from surpassing Ali Daei’s international goal record saw a powerful free-kick saved by former Real Madrid teammate Thibaut Courtois. Three minutes to half time and up stepped Thorgan Hazard. Out of his brother’s shadows, he produced a worldie as his shot fizzled out of Rui Patricio’s reach and into the net to give Belgium the lead. Portugal created good chances but still couldn’t go past Courtois. Belgium survived to set up yet another thrilling clash with Italy. Whoever wins the match would be sure-fire favorites to go all the way.
Romelu Lukaku is at the forefront of the Belgian charge. With Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard struggling for fitness, Lukaku has brought his club form to the Euros. He has scored three goals but his intelligence and linkup play has been more vital. Lukaku’s holdup play was essential in Thorgan Hazard’s goal and the two goals that Belgium scored against Denmark. Roberto Martinez says Hazard and KDB are fit but it is Lukaku who will be their main man against a formidable Italian side that knows him very well.
Italy Made light work of their group. They won every team that stood in their path to the knockout stages. The Azzurri showed Europe that they are a force to be reckoned with, scoring 7 goals and conceding none throughout the group stage. They beat Turkey 3-0 and followed that up with another 3-0 over Switzerland and then rounded off by defeating Wales 1-0.
Their strong start extended their incredible run as they had now won their last ten games without conceding a goal. But then came Austria. Having shown strong resilience to keep the Azzurri at bay for 90 minutes. David Alaba’s Austria would finally give in to relentless pressure. Federico Chiesa with a controlled left-footed strike opened the scoring before Matteo Pessina netted his second goal in the competition which looked to have secured safe progression into the last eight. Austria however would not back down from a fight and Italy would not go scot-free. In the 114th minute, Sasa Kalajdzic headed home a Louis Schaub corner. Finally, Italy had conceded after almost 1200 minutes. A glimmer of hope for the Austrians but with 6 minutes to go, it was not to be.
Many people now believe that Italy could go all the way and win the competition. But they would have to get past Belgium in what could prove to be a frantic tie. They do not have any particular star player but Leandro Spinazzola can make a case for MVP of the tournament so far. Italy plays with outstanding cohesion and understanding you cannot help but praise the work Roberto Mancini has done. Their frontline may not be firing on all cylinders but in Pessina and Manuel Locatelli, they have goals from midfield. They are protected by an experienced rearguard. Even 22-year-old Gianluigi Donnarumma in goal has a ton of experience.