duminică, 27 iunie 2021

Euro 2021 - Knockout stages

Wales - Denmark 0-4
Italy - Austria 0-0 (2-1 aet)

Ok, so it's not going to be as straightforward as it was beginning to look for Italy. Might as well, I thought the end of the game last night was great. Fast, tense, a joy to watch for the neutrals.

Italy conceded for the first time in the tournament and was really shaky at times. Even so, I thought they controlled the game fairly well, especially in the first half. Funnily enough, I thought they missed Chiellini going forward rather than defending. Old man Chiellini has been brilliant at setting up play from the back in the first two games. Whereas last night, it felt like something didn't quite click in Italy's midfield. All the service that Immobile got was long balls, not even a whole lot of them, and when it came to positional attacks, it felt like there was always the extra turn, the extra touch, which allowed Austria to then push it away.

To their credit, Austria played really well and was an unexpected match for Italy. I thought they dominated the second half, and Arnautovic's offside goal gave Donnarumma cold sweats, even if only for a couple of minutes. Clear offside, so no complaints about the goal being disallowed, but it showed vulnerability.

One thing the favorites tend to do in the modern game is, when they need a goal, they press forward more and more, faster and faster as the 90 minutes draw to an end, and sometimes it works, but sometimes leaves you vulnerable to quick counters, especially when you have either a fast or a strong guy up front. Italy will have none of that. They stayed calm, played their game, and I get the feeling - especially with this being Italy - they would have been happy to play the same for the next few weeks, should the need have arisen. Also, the idea of deciding the game on penalties didn't seem to phase them, though I think that's just bluffing. Slight advantage for Italy, sure, better goalkeeper and better players overall, but penalties are always a lottery. At which, if I was Austria, I would've taken my chances, though kudos to them for trying to wrap it up before that.

No need for any of that, anyway. Chiesa scored as soon as extra time started, and it was game over. Sure, tense final, in the knowledge that the hypothesis of Austria drawing level exists, but come on... it was over. And what a beautiful way to do it, by the way. Excellent composure from young Chiesa, stop the ball, send the defender the wrong way, then kill it with a wonderful curved shot. 90 minutes without a goal are worth it for that beauty.

Austria's goal was great, too. Incredible inspiration from Sasa Kalajdzic to push the ball behind with the back of his head, after getting down to boots level to find it in the first place. And it wasn't even a case of too little too late, his goal ensured Austria stayed in contention (again, no real chance, but at least hope) and, maybe more importantly, they managed to score against Italy. As history tells us, this is no mean feat. Austria can go home happy with their performance, and they'd do well to forget that pitiful display against Netherlands in the second game.

After the first game against Finland, I thought Denmark should consider achievement any game where all players survive. The Danes deserve huge credit though, they battered Russia to give themselves the best chance to qualify from the group and now they seem to be playing better and better.

I also thought Wales are the better team and they're slight favourites for this game. Nowhere near, they really came undone. No real aggression, not much attacking intent, and an overall surrender. Only 1-0 down at half time, but I couldn't really see them getting back in the game. Not only they didn't, but they're going home leaving a 0-4 scoreline behind them, which will be remembered more than the fact that the last two goals were scored very late in the game. I thought Aaron Ramsey has been a liability from the off, but midfield helped him in the group games. No more here, Bale was barely in the game, Joe Allen, Dan James, the starts in the Welsh team didn't really build anything, while the defenders passed to the opposition for the second goal.

By contrast, Denmark has been missing two of their best players, and they still showed their best football yet. I now think they'll be a headache for any opposition, though probably not a match for the big boys.

Wales can probably be happy with reaching the knock-out stage and probably overachieving for such a small nation, but an opportunity was missed here: even if they were to lose, you have to put up a fight. And I felt they didn't.

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