When life gives you lemons, it’s never easy trying to turn them into lemonade. That’s why when it happens, it calls for a celebration.
That’s what one team and its nation of fans are thinking after Group B and C wrapped up their schedule at UEFA Euro 2020. For some teams, the day was merely a formality as their place in the next round was all but sealed. For others, the disappointment of their run coming to an end was a sudden punch to the gut.
With four matches in total and two apiece going on simultaneously throughout the day, here’s how the final stage of these groups played out:
Belgium 2, Finland 0
Belgium made sweeping changes to their lineup for this match, but it still featured the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, and Romelu Lukaku in attack. Despite controlling possession, Belgium’s first chance didn’t come until the 37th minute when Lukaku headed the ball straight at goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky from close range. Winger Jérémy Doku came even closer to scoring in the 42nd minute when he cut in on his right and fired a low, curling shot that Hradecky had to stretch to palm away.
Glen Kamara had Finland’s only shot on goal of the match in the 60th minute, but it was right at goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. Belgium meticulously moved down the field and the result was a snapshot by Hazard that Hradecky reacted quickly to in order to make the save. It looked like Lukaku had scored the opener a few moments later after receiving a ball from De Bruyne just inside the box and firing home, but VAR found that he was marginally offside.
A fortunate bounce is what led to the breakthrough in the 74th minute when Belgium center-back Thomas Vermaelen’s header from a corner hit the inside of where the right post and crossbar meet, ricocheting off of a flailing Hradecky and over the line. Lukaku got on the board for real a few minutes later, holding off a defender in the box as he received a pass from De Bruyne then firing a low drive into the net on the turn.
The result meant Belgium clinched the top spot in Group B, having won all three of their matches. Finland will have to hope that results go their way in order for them to advance as a third-place team.
Denmark 4, Russia 1
The strategies of both teams were made abundantly clear in the opening stages, with Denmark needing a win in order to stay alive. Russia came close in the 18th minute through Aleksandr Golovin, who dribbled past two defenders on a counterattack before seeing his shot saved by the outstretched legs of goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. Denmark’s first shot on goal in the 38th minute proved to be decisive as 20-year-old Mikkel Damsgaard, the replacement for the recovering Christian Eriksen, produced a wonderful effort from outside of the box that perfectly dipped into the right corner.
The second half began as disjointed as much of the first was, but Denmark were given a gift that they converted for their second goal. Russia’s Roman Zobnin elected to play a curling long ball back to his keeper but didn’t look up to see Denmark’s Yussuf Poulsen waiting near the box, who had little work to do before knocking it into an open net.
Russia pulled one back in the 70th minute when Aleksandr Sobolev was brought down in the box and striker Artem Dzyuba was able to convert the ensuing penalty shot right down the middle. However, Denmark were relentless going forward and restored their two-goal lead in the 79th minute when, after a flurry of attempts had been saved by Russia goalkeeper Matvei Safonov, the ball came to Andreas Christensen outside the box and he was able to keep his rocket of a shot low enough for it to hit the back of the net. They got their fourth of the day a few minutes later on a counterattack that was finished off by Joakim Mæhle squirting his shot along the pitch and through bodies into the net.
Thanks to Belgium’s victory over Finland, Denmark clinched second place in the group on goal differential and will face Wales in the Round of 16, while Russia were eliminated with the loss.
Netherlands 3, North Macedonia 0
Having already been eliminated, North Macedonia were determined to go out of their first-ever major tournament on a high. They almost opened the scoring in the 9th minute when striker Aleksandar Trajkovski had the ball in the net on a great through ball from Goran Pandev, but he was maybe a foot offside. Trajkovski came brutally close again in the 22nd minute when his effort from outside of the box rang the right post and went out of play.
Moments later, the Netherlands would score on their first shot on target when Memphis Depay finished off a blistering counterattack by coolly sliding the ball into the far corner after it was squared to him in the box by Georginio Wijnaldum. Denzel Dumfries almost made it two soon after when he got the ball wide open at the back post, but goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski closed down the shot quickly.
In the second half, after North Macedonia cleared a header off the line, the Dutch extended their lead in the 51st minute when Depay and Wijnaldum would switch roles, with the latter tapping in from point-blank range. Wijnaldum would get his second of the day shortly after, as he was at the right place at the right time to slot home a Depay shot that had been stopped by Dimitrievski initially.
After substitute Wout Weghorst hit the crossbar for the Netherlands, a nice moment occurred in the 69th minute when the 37-year-old Pandev was given a guard of honor by his North Macedonian teammates as he left the field for the final time for his country. North Macedonia were once again unlucky in the 72nd minute to have a goal ruled off for offside, this time by Darko Churlinov. They continued to push for a goal in the closing stages, but the Netherlands held on for their second consecutive clean sheet.
The Netherlands take the top spot in Group C having won all three of their matches while North Macedonia were at least able to score a couple of goals in their first appearance at the Euros.
Austria 1, Ukraine 0
A draw might have benefited both teams in their bid to advance to the next round and that’s what it looked like we were headed towards in the opening stages. However, the first shot on target of the match in the 21st minute found its mark when Austria’s Christoph Baumgartner was able to get a boot to David Alaba’s corner and steer it past goalkeeper Georgiy Bushchan.
Ukraine’s first chance came in the 29th minute when Mykola Shaparenko cut in on his right in the box and fired a low drive that goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann had to get down to his left to push away. Austria had a couple more chances before the half, but the score remained 1-0.
The second half lacked a real edge to it for how important the match was. Neither side showed any quality in front of net as only one shot managed to hit the target. The win saw Austria clinch second place in the group, setting up a date with Italy in the Round of 16. For Ukraine, they still have a slim chance of qualifying for the next round as one of the third-place teams.