UEFA Euro 2020: Matchday 16

Yeah, that really just happened.  It wasn’t a dream or an Oscar-worthy movie script.  It really did happen.

UEFA Euro 2020 had been steadily building in its uncertainty, drama, and chaos.  If the tournament as a whole was a roller coaster, match-day 16 was the double upside-down corkscrew that makes you almost pass out.

Both matches on the day required extra time.  Both matches featured two goal comebacks.  But above all else, both matches will forever be etched in Euro history. The end result was one continental powerhouse possibly rediscovering its form while another showed an embarrassing lack of urgency before crashing out.  As far as how it all played out, strap yourselves in for the ride:

 

Spain 5, Croatia 3 (AET)

The match started innocuous enough with Spain controlling possession and the chances.  They came closest in the 16th minute when Koke was played into the box by Pedri, but goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic was able to stick a leg out to stop the shot.  Then, the match took an unexpected turn.

What seemed like an innocent back pass from midfield by Pedri to goalkeeper Unai Simón would skip all the way into the back of the net after the goalkeeper whiffed on the reception.  It would go down as the longest own goal in Euro history and the first from outside the box.

Spain would wipe away their teammate’s mistake in the 38th minute when, after mounting pressure in the box, José Gayà put a shot on goal that Livakovic would save, but the rebound fell straight to Pablo Sarabia who got enough on his shot to score.

Spain jumped out in front a little short of 15 minutes into the second half when a cross from the left flank by Ferran Torres found the head of César Azpilicueta in the box, who scored from close range.  It looked like they booked their place in the next round in the 77th minute when Torres collected a long ball from Pau Torres in the box and scored between the legs of Livakovic.

Croatia had other ideas and started their comeback in the 85th minute when they forced a goal mouth scramble that led to Mislav Oršic scoring from close range after his goal was confirmed by goal-line technology.  They completed their comeback in the 2nd minute of stoppage time through Mario Pašalic, who scored on a free header at the near post from a cross on the left side by Oršic.

Croatia had their chance to take the lead in the first period of added time when Andrej Kramaric had a look inside the six-yard box, but Simón came up with a huge save.  From that point, Spain put their foot down.

The much-maligned Álvaro Morata broke the tie in the 100th minute with a fierce strike from the left side of the box from a cross by Dani Olmo.  Substitute Mikel Oyarzabal made it five goals a few minutes later after he patiently waited to hit his shot into the bottom left corner on another cross from Olmo.  Croatia were not able to put a shot on target in the second period of added time.

The win was Spain’s first in the knockout round of a major tournament since winning Euro 2012.  As for their opponents in the quarterfinals:

 

Switzerland 3 (5), France 3 (4) (FT-Pens)

No one could have predicted what this match would end up turning into from the opening 10 minutes.  However, Switzerland kicked off the madness in the 15th minute when striker Haris Seferovic out-jumped center-back Clément Lenglet in the box to head the ball into the bottom left corner of the net for the opening goal.

Despite going down a goal, France didn’t seem too concerned and never really got going in the first half.  Kylian Mbappé had three attempts but none of them were on target.

Switzerland had a golden opportunity to extend their lead early in the second half when VAR judged that Benjamin Pavard brought down Steven Zuber as he entered the box, but the ensuing penalty attempt from left-back Ricardo Rodríguez was saved by Hugo Lloris diving to his right.

France would use that momentum to spring to life on the offensive end, coming up with an equalizer in the 57th minute when striker Karim Benzema was able to control a pass behind him into the box before lifting his shot past goalkeeper Yann Sommer.  They would take the lead barely a minute later when Sommer’s save on Antoine Griezmann’s close shot would travel in the air towards the back post where Benzema was waiting to head home.

France looked like they had the match wrapped up in the 75th minute after Paul Pogba’s shot from 25 yards out curled beautifully into the top right corner of the net to extend their lead to two.  However, viewers around the world would experience a severe case of déjà vu over the next 15 minutes.

Switzerland would pull a goal back in the 81st minute much like they did the first time with Seferovic heading home from inside the six-yard box from a cross.  They then sent the crowd into a frenzy in the 90th minute when Granit Xhaka split the French defense up the middle with a pass to Mario Gavranovic, who rounded a defender before hitting his shot past a diving Lloris into the bottom left corner for the equalizing goal.

France almost won the match at the death when substitute Kingsley Coman struck a ball on the half volley in the box, but his effort clanged off the crossbar and out.

The French had the best look at goal in the first period of extra time through Pavard, who arrived late into the box to hit a bouncing ball that Sommer had to save with an outstretched palm.

In the second period of extra time, Pogba played Mbappé in on the left side of the box, but the winger’s effort only hit the side netting.  Substitute Olivier Giroud saw his header in the 119th minute saved by a leaping Sommer to his right.  Despite not threatening in attack, Switzerland managed to get the game to a penalty shootout.

Both teams put on a clinic to start the shootout by making their first four attempts each.  Switzerland’s Admir Mehmedi coolly slotted his team’s final attempt into the bottom right corner, putting all the pressure on Mbappé.

Possibly still dealing with the effects of an injury he picked up earlier, as well as definitely feeling the pressure of the moment, Mbappé sent his effort middle left, but Sommer guessed correctly and palmed it away.

The win was Switzerland’s first ever in a tournament shootout and their first knockout stage victory since 1938.  They will next face Spain in the quarterfinals.

 

For more of my soccer coverage, check out “Atletico TV” on Facebook and the “Gateway to Soccer Show” on YouTube, as well my previous recaps here.

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