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What happened at Euro 2020?


Despite its name, Euro 2020 didn’t actually take place in 2020.

With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, UEFA made the decision to postpone the quadrennial tournament that was originally set for the summer in March of 2020.

When the tournament was eventually played in 2021, it retained its name. With the tournament celebrating its 60th anniversary, the decision was made to hold games all over the continent instead of a single host nation with matches played in 11 different countries.

Heading into the tournament, a number of top stars were unavailable due to injury. After helping Hungary secure a spot in the tournament with the game-winning goal in a playoff against Iceland, exciting midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai was ruled out with an adductor injury. Left-back Ferland Mendy emerged as a star at Real Madrid during the 2020-2021 season, but a shin injury meant that he wasn’t named to the France squad. A trio of Liverpool defenders – captain Virgil van Dijk of the Netherlands and England duo, centre-back Joe Gomez and right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold – all saw their Euro dreams end with ailments.

Perhaps, though, the cruelest absence of all was that of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The legendary striker came out of international retirement after five years on the sidelines and returned to the Sweden squad in the spring of 2021, but a knee injury meant that the then-39-year-old star wouldn’t be fit to compete in a seventh major tournament. Ibrahimovic would go on to retire from football in the summer of 2022.

In Group A, Roberto Mancini’s Italy quickly showed that they came to play. Still smarting from missing out on the World Cup in 2018 for the first time in 60 years, the Azzurri returned to the world stage with a vengeance, winning all three of their group-stage matches with panache and without conceding a goal to finish atop the group. Wales, as runners-up, and Switzerland, as one of the four best third-place teams, would join Italy in the knockouts.

As expected, Belgium was the class of Group B. Roberto Martinez’s Red Devils scored seven goals in its three group-stage matches, including three from Romelu Lukaku, to finish with three victories and atop the group. They would be joined in the knockouts by Denmark, who qualified as runners-up.

But football quickly became secondary for the Danes. In the 42nd minute of Denmark’s opener against Finland, Inter midfielder Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch. Medical staff quickly performed CPR on Eriksen and attempted defibrillation before he was stretchered off the pitch in front of horrified spectators in Copenhagen. Within an hour after the incident, UEFA confirmed that Eriksen was alert in hospital and the match was resumed. Eriksen would return to football in January of 2022, signing with Brentford before joining Manchester United that summer.

The Oranje proved to be the kings of Group C. The Netherlands scored eight goals in the group stage, with Georginio Wijnaldum bagging three, and finished in first place. In just their third-ever Euro appearance, Austria advanced to the knockouts for the first time as runners-up. Ukraine also reached the Round of 16 as a top third-place side.

England finished atop Group D, but did not produce any kind of offensive display the fans at Wembley were hoping to see. Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions managed just two goals, both from Raheem Sterling, in their three games, with a pair of 1-0 wins sandwiched around a drab draw with Scotland that saw England as the second best team on the pitch. World Cup runners-up Croatia and the Czech Republic advanced alongside England to the knockouts.

Back-to-back Euro winners in 2008 and 2012, Spain shook off an opening scoreless draw with Sweden followed by a draw with Poland to thump Slovakia, 5-0, to reach the Round of 16 in Group E. But it was the Blagult who finished atop the group, winning its final two matches, including a dramatic 3-2 win over Poland that saw a stoppage-time winner from Viktor Claesson. It marked Sweden’s return to the knockouts for the first time in four Euros.

Leading up to the tournament, Group F was tipped to be the “Group of Death” and a quartet featuring European heavyweights France, Germany and holders Portugal did not disappoint. Only Les Bleus managed to get through the three matches without a defeat, finishing atop the group with five points.

Surprisingly, though, France was unable to defeat Hungary, the team that finished bottom of the group, and were held to a 1-1 draw. Holders Portugal were defeated by Germany, but a win over Hungary and a draw with France earned them passage to the Round of 16. Cristiano Ronaldo led the way with four goals in three games. Germany bounced back from an opening loss to France to earn four points and also advance as a third-place team.

The Round of 16 produced a number of memorable encounters. After a Cinderella run to the Euro 2016 semifinals, Wales couldn’t capture lightning in a bottle twice and were routed 4-0 by an emotional Denmark. While Italy cruised through the group stage, Austria provided a stout challenge to the Azzurri. Italy needed extra time to defeat Austria, 2-1, on goals from Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina.

The first real upset of the knockouts came when the Oranje met the Czech Republic in Budapest. Back at the Euro after missing out in 2016, the Netherlands hoped to make the kind of deep tournament run like they did when they reached the final of World Cup 2014. But that wasn’t in the cards, with goals from Tomas Holes and Patrik Schick leading to a 2-0 Czech Republic victory.

When Spain won the Euro in 2012, they became the first team ever to retain their title. Portugal’s drive to become the second team to do so ended in the Round of 16 at Euro 2020. A goal in the 42nd minute from Thorgan Hazard was enough for Belgium to eliminate the defending champions with a 1-0 win.

For the second time in the Round of 16, extra time was needed when Spain met Croatia in Copenhagen in what was a high-scoring and exciting affair. When Ferran Torres scored in the 77th minute to make it 3-1 for Spain, the suggestion of extra-time seemed like a ridiculous one, but the savvy veterans of Croatia fought back. Mislav Orsic scored five minutes before time to pull within one before Mario Pasalic completed the comeback with a goal in the second minute of stoppage. In extra time, La Roja would restore its two-goal lead with two goals in three minutes from Alvaro Morata and Mikel Oyarzabal to claim a 5-3 win.

Like Spain, France couldn’t protect a late lead in their Round of 16 match with Switzerland in Bucharest. But unlike Spain, Les Bleus couldn’t come back from it.

Paul Pogba scored in the 79th minute to open a 3-1 lead for the World Cup holders before a furious fightback from the Swiss. Haris Seferovic scored his second goal of the match in the 81st before Mario Gavranovic forced extra time with a goal in the 90th. The extra 30 minutes solved nothing, so for the first time at Euro 2020, penalties were needed.

After all five Switzerland penalty takers were successful and France’s first four scored, it was up to Kylian Mbappe to push the spot kicks into sudden death. But the Paris Saint-Germain man’s well-struck effort was parried away by Yann Sommer as the Swiss enjoyed a famous victory to advance to the quarters.

Wembley played host to eternal rivals England and Germany in a mouth-watering Round of 16 tie. For manager Gareth Southgate, the match elicited memories of the Euro 1996 semis in which Germany advanced to final with a penalties victory over the Three Lions when Southgate missed with his spot kick.

With the Three Lions under pressure from restless home fans, Germany appeared to be the more likely of the two sides to produce a goal, but the match remained scoreless late into it. In the 75th, Sterling tapped home a fine cross from Luke Shaw to make 1-0. Only minutes later, an equalizer seemed gift-wrapped for the Germans. Kai Havertz jumped all over a mistimed back pass from Sterling and sprang Thomas Muller behind the England backline. In alone on Jordan Pickford, Muller dragged his shot outside the far post and immediately threw his hands over his head, knowing that the opportunity was squandered. Then in the 85th, Harry Kane’s header gave England a second, effectively ending the tie and earning redemption for their manager.

There was late magic in the final match of the Round of 16 when Sweden met Ukraine in Glasgow. A goal midway through the first half by Emil Forsberg was answered by Oleksandr Zinchenko in the closing minutes of the opening 45, leaving it with all to play for in the second half. The second 45 solved nothing and it appeared that 30 minutes of extra time weren’t about to, either, but Artem Dovbyk had other ideas. In the third minute of extra-time stoppage, Dovbyk slipped behind the Sweden backline to head home Zinchenko’s cross to send Ukraine to the quarters.

The quarters simply couldn’t produce the level of excitement found in the previous round. Perhaps the best of the four matches came in the first match of the quarter-finals when Switzerland met Spain.

La Roja jumped out to an early lead when Jordi Alba’s low drive was deflected into the Swiss net by Denis Zakaria in the eighth minute. Switzerland pulled level in the 68th when Remo Freuler set up Xherdan Shaqiri to score from a sharp angle to make it 1-1. The Swiss joy was short-lived because they were reduced to 10 men in the 78th after Michael Oliver sent off Freuler for a stout challenge on Gerard Moreno. Spain couldn’t make their numerical advantage work and the match headed to penalties. In the spot kicks, Spain emerged as 3-1 victors to reach yet another Euro semifinal.

The other matches were more straightforward. Belgium once again exited a tournament without challenging for a trophy. First-half goals from Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Insigne were enough for Italy to get by the Red Devils by a score of 2-1. Like Belgium, the Czech Republic couldn’t overturn an early 2-0 deficit as Cinderella Denmark reached the final four, also by a score of 2-1. In the final quarters matchup, England finally gave the home fans something to cheer about with a stylish performance in picking apart Ukraine to the tune of 4-0.

The first of the two semifinals was another classic between familiar foes in Italy and Spain. After a 1-1 draw in the group stage of Euro 2012, Spain thrashed the Azzurri, 4-0, in the final on goals from David Silva, Alba, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata. Only Alba remained from that match nine years previous, but the memory of that humiliation was still fresh in the minds of Italy.

After a scoreless first half, it was the Azzurri who drew first blood. Insigne played a fine ball into the area for Ciro Immobile, but before the Lazio man could get a shot off, it was dealt with by Aymeric Laporte. But he could only get it as far as Chiesa, who beat Unai Simon with a powerful strike to make it 1-0. Spain would answer back in the 80th through Morata, who completed a fine give-and-go with Dani Olmo to even it at 1-1. For the second straight match, Spain would head to spot kicks, but this time the ending wouldn’t be happy. The Azzurri won the match, 4-2, on penalties with Jorginho delivering the decisive goal after Gianluigi Donnarumma made a diving stop of Morata. Italy would head to the Euro final for the fourth time.

The other semi also saw some late drama in front of a partisan Wembley crowd as England took on Denmark, who looked to continue their improbable run spurred on by a recuperating Eriksen.

It was the Danes who would get on the board first to quiet the crowd through a wonder goal from Mikel Damsgaard. From a free kick from distance, Damsgaard blasted the ball over the England wall and past a diving Pickford to make it 1-0 in the 30th and suck the air out of Wembley.

The disappointment wouldn’t last long, however, as England were level within 10 minutes. Kane played in a final ball for Bukayo Saka down the left. The Arsenal man sent a pinpoint ball across the face of goal for Sterling to tap in – and he would have – if Simon Kjaer didn’t turn it into his own net first in the 39th. The stalemate played out for the rest of the 90 minutes and the two teams headed into extra time.

Then, in the 104th minute, Kane would play hero. Mathias Jensen was adjudged to have taken Sterling down in the area and the referee pointed to the spot. Kasper Schmeichel guessed correctly on Kane’s penalty attempt, diving to his left to make the save, but he parried the ball directly back into the Tottenham Hotspur man’s path for him to tuck into an empty net. With a 2-1 win, England would play in its first major final since 1966 when they won the World Cup.

Was it coming home? No, it was not.

In front of a rapturous Wembley, England could not have gotten off to a better start against the Azzurri. Coming down the left side, Kieran Trippier sent in a cross to the far post for Luke Shaw. The Manchester United man one-touched it with his left foot and bounced it past Donnarumma to make it 1-0 in the second minute. It was Shaw’s first England goal. England kept the Azzurri at bay for the rest of the first half, but they kept knocking on the door.

In the opening minutes of the second half, England wanted a penalty when Sterling went down with both of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini – both immense for Italy over the course of the tournament – tugging at his arm, but referee Bjorn Kuipers offered nothing. Minutes after Pickford made a fine save on Chiesa, the Azzurri were level off of a mad scramble from a corner. As Chiellini thought he was fouled by Harry Maguire at the far post, Marco Verratti’s header from close range was stopped by Pickford before Bonucci pounced on the rebound to poke it over the line in the 67th. It was a deserved equalizer for the Italians. The 90 minutes would finish at 1-1 and head to extra time.

Chances were to be had in the additional 30. In the 103rd minute, Bryan Cristante’s ball to the near post was met by Federico Bernardeschi, but Pickford was up to the challenge. Minutes later, Bernardeschi’s powerful free kick from distance was momentarily bobbled by Pickford before he gathered it to keep it out of trouble. England’s best chance came in the 108th when Donnarumma darted off his line to keep a Kane ball from being headed by John Stones. Extra time settled nothing, and it was off to penalties to settle a Euro final for just the second time ever and first since 1976.

After Domenico Berardi and Kane scored their openers, Pickford gave England an edge when he dove to stop the effort of Andrea Belotti. Maguire followed up with a goal to make it 2-1 before Bonucci levelled things at 2-2. The advantage then swung towards the Azzurri when Marcus Rashford rang his effort off of the post. Bernardeschi scored his spot kick before Donnarumma stopped Jadon Sancho. Jorginho had a chance to end it, but he was stopped by a diving Pickford.

With a chance to send it to extra kicks, Saka stood over the dead ball. The 19-year-old Arsenal man’s shot was easily turned aside by Donnarumma as the Azzurri claimed their first Euro crown since 1968 and inflicted more penalties misery for the Three Lions.