Some things are more important than soccer.
That’s the sobering takeaway from the first couple of days at UEFA Euro 2020. After an exhilarating opener that featured a nearly full stadium of fans eager to get back to a sense of normality, that excitement was wiped away quickly by the medical emergency that took place during the Denmark vs. Finland match.
It’s difficult as I write this to think about anything else than Denmark’s Christian Eriksen and his family. Here’s hoping that he has a full recovery and that he can move on from this incident to live a full and happy life.
Alas, there are results to discuss and action to dissect from the first couple of days at the Euros that featured a couple of tournament favorites as well as some potential dark horse candidates in Group A and Group B.
Italy 3, Turkey 0
The Italians came into this game on a 27-match unbeaten run and were looking to make a statement in front of their home crowd in Rome. They started out on the front foot but struggled to come up with concrete chances vs. what has been a sturdy Turkey defense. Turkish goalkeeper Uguracan Cakir was forced into a spectacular save, tipping a Giorgio Chiellini header from a corner just over the bar in the 22nd minute. Italy would finish the half with 14 shot attempts while Turkey had none.
The Azzurri came out even more aggressive in the second half and were rewarded in the 53rd minute when Domenico Berardi received the ball on the right flank and fired a cross into the six-yard box. Turkey center-back Merih Demiral attempted to deal with it, but instead chested the ball into the net for an own goal. Italy’s second goal came when Leonardo Spinazzola’s initial shot was parried by Cakir, but Ciro Immobile was there to poke home the rebound. Italy put the match to bed in the 79th minute when an intercepted goal kick was eventually worked to Lorenzo Insigne in the box, who produced a beautiful curling effort that sailed into the bottom right corner of the net.
Italy’s next match in Group A is vs. Switzerland while Turkey will take on Wales.
Wales 1, Switzerland 1
This match started out a bit slow with both teams wanting to ensure they came away with a result in their opening fixture. The first real chance came in the 15th minute when Welsh winger Daniel James’ cross was headed on goal by striker Kieffer Moore, but goalkeeper Yans Sommer got up to palm it over the bar. Swiss striker Haris Seferovic had several looks at goal but was wasteful in his opportunities as the match remained 0-0 into halftime.
Switzerland’s Breel Embolo was played into the box in the 49th minute, but his effort was stopped by goalkeeper Danny Ward. On the ensuing corner, Embolo rose up to head the ball into the bottom left corner and open the scoring for his country. Wales would equalize in the 74th minute on a set piece of their own when Moore broke away in the box and directed his header towards the bottom left corner through a couple of bodies. After Switzerland forced Ward into a couple more tough saves, they thought they had the match won when substitute Mario Gavranovic had the ball in the net, but VAR intervened and correctly ruled him offside.
Finland 1, Denmark 0
It is anyone’s guess as to how this match would’ve played out had the incident that occurred just before halftime never happened. Playing in front of their fans in Copenhagen, Denmark controlled the match from the jump, forcing Finland goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky into making a handful of saves. However, the match became irrelevant in the 43rd minute when Eriksen collapsed on the far side of the pitch. Medical personnel were fast on the scene and immediately began applying CPR as Eriksen’s teammates stood around him to provide some privacy. While Eriksen was eventually stabilized and transported off of the pitch, the match was suspended. After a crisis meeting was convened between UEFA officials and members of both teams, the players requested that the match continue, and the remainder of the first half was played after a 105-minute delay.
In the second half, Denmark remained vigilant despite playing with the heavier of hearts, but Finland would expose them against the run of the play with their first and only shot of the match. Striker Joel Pohjanpalo dove in the six-yard box to meet Jere Uronen’s cross and he got just enough power on his header to get it past goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. Denmark were gifted a chance at an equalizer in the 74th minute after VAR upheld the referee’s decision that Yussuf Poulsen had been brought down in the box. However, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg’s effort was saved by Hradecky going down to his left. Finland would hold on for their first-ever win at the Euros, but there’s no question what happened to Eriksen had an overwhelming effect on how this match played out.
Finland will move on to face Russia in Saint Petersburg while Denmark will have to refocus before a tough matchup vs. Belgium.
Belgium 3, Russia 0
Motivated by the St. Petersburg crowd, Russia put pressure on Belgium during the opening stage of the match, but the number one ranked team would open the scoring in the 10th minute on their first shot attempt. Striker Romelu Lukaku would collect a miskick from the Russia defense and fire his shot calmly into the bottom right corner. Russia would continue to push forward but were once again caught out in the 34th minute. After replacing an injured Timothy Castagne, substitute Thomas Meunier was at the right place at the right time to slot home his shot after Thorgan Hazard’s cross was parried into his path by goalkeeper Anton Shunin.
The physicality that led to a handful of substitutions due to injury in the first half continued into the second, with Belgium content to hold on to their two-goal lead. The only shot on target of the half didn’t come until the 88th minute, but it resulted in Belgium’s third and final goal. Meunier played an excellent through ball towards Lukaku, who was able to keep a Russian defender at bay as he scored with a nice shot to the near post corner.