The knockout rounds of Euro 2020(1) are finally here. After a group stage that was solid on action if a little anticlimactic given that two-thirds of the teams would be moving on, the round of 16 brought the tournament to life in earnest. Half of the matches went into extra time, and one ended up in the sport’s ultimate drama, the penalty shootout. That game in particular resulted in a tournament-shattering upset.
Juventus were still well-represented in this round, as only two of the nine squads in which they had players were eliminated at the first hurdle. That number was whittled down significantly as the tournament headed into the quarterfinals, with only two of those seven managed to advance. How did the Bianconeri remaining in the tournament fair? Let’s take a look.
Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Federico Chiesa, Federico Bernardeschi
The big story of the round of 16 for Italy was one Federico Chiesa. Inserted into a scoreless game in the 83rd minute (also known as far too late), the greater of the Wings of Fede was decisive. Five minutes into extra time, he brilliantly controlled a Leonardo Spinazzola pass with his head, took an equally brilliant touch to let Konrad Laimer fly past him, then squeezed a shot into a narrow window between David Alaba and Daniel Bachmann to finish. It was an absolutely brilliant goal, and he was denied once more by Bachmann before it was over. Ten minutes later, Matteo Pessina scored his second goal of the tournament, which turned out decisive after Austria took advantage of some poor corner defending to set up a grandstand finish in the second half of extra time before time was called on Italy’s 2-1 win.
Chiesa has been brilliant when he’s been on the field in this tournament, and there is a lot of clamor to put him in the starting XI against Belgium in Friday’s quarterfinal. He’s certainly played well enough to earn that, but as I said in the most recent episode of The Old Lady Speaks, having a player like Chiesa to bring down like a headsman’s axe on a defense with tired legs is a hell of a move to have in your back pocket. One way or the other, Chiesa is likely to play a big role against the world’s No. 1 ranked team on Friday.
The other Juve player to take the field on Saturday, Leonardo Bonucci, did a good job in the middle of defense, generally staying home and letting Francesco Acerbi do the dirtier work while using his passing skills to try to trigger the attack forward. He completed six of nine long balls and 89.3 percent of his passes overall, while making three clearances and two interceptions.
Giorgio Chiellini sat out the game against Austria due to injury, but is in line to start against Belgium, while Federico Bernardeschi was an unused sub.
Wales were absolutely pummeled by Denmark, falling 4-0 in the only true blowout of the round. As such, Aaron Ramsey was relatively anonymous, despite moving back to a more familiar trequartista role behind Kieffer Moore as opposed to the false nine he played against Italy in the last group game. Denmark’s domination of the game forced Ramsey into more defensive interventions (two tackles) than he managed to create chances (one key pass). He also missed the target with all three of his shots.
Ramsey didn’t exactly make himself an enticing transfer target over the four games he played in this tournament, but it’s still not out of the realm of possibility that an English Premier League team that considers itself ambitious (West Ham, anyone?) might throw something down for him. Given the nature of his free transfer, even a nominal fee would count as profit, although his wage would be a stumbling block.
Matthijs de Ligt
Oh, what a rough day this was.
Matthijs de Ligt was having an excellent game when he fell over trying to run with Patrick Schick on a ball in behind the defense. He ended up scooping the ball away with his hand, and after a VAR review he was ruled the last man and sent off. A scoreless match that the Netherlands perhaps had a marginal edge in was turned on its head, and the Czech Republic eventually took home a 2-0 victory.
De Ligt had racked up a pair of tackles and blocked a shot before he was sent off, but said all the right things after the game, taking responsibility for his mistake on the biggest stage of his career up to that point. It’s the kind of thing you wanted to hear from a guy who could well find himself in a leadership position at Juventus in the future. He’ll pick himself up from this and become an even better player than he already is, but this is going to sting for him for a long time.
Defending champions Portugal are out of the Euros, but Cristiano Ronaldo did his damndest to keep them there in their 1-0 loss to Belgium.
Ronaldo led Portugual in key passes (3) and led the game in aerial wins (5), and only one player on the field had more dribbles than his four (Edin Hazard with five). He did absolutely everything to get his team into the quarterfinals except actually produce an equalizer. Portugal outshot Belgium 23-6, but only four of them were on target. Ronaldo only hit the target with one of his four shots, and that was, of all things, on a free kick in the 25th minute. All three of his other attempts were blocked, never testing Thibaut Courtois.
Still, Ronaldo’s effort in the service of his country was impressive. Now, attention will turn to whether Ronaldo stays at Juventus or leaves a year early, while in terms of the international scene he’ll turn to the World Cup, which has a chance to be the last big tournament he’ll play in.
Alvaro Morata has endured a lot in this tournament. He has literally endured threats of violence as Spain sputtered through the group stage, only securing a spot in the round of 16 on the last day. Tasked with taking on Croatia on what turned out to be the best single day of matches so far in the tournament, Morata gained a huge measure of redemption.
The Spaniards probably thought they were home free after Ferran Torres scored with 13 minutes left to make the score 3-1, but Croatia showed that even with top player Ivan Perisic out due to COVID protocols, it’s never a good idea to count them out. They scored twice in the last five minutes to send the game to extra time. That’s when Morata struck.
He was unmarked at the back end of a cross from Dani Olmo, took it down beautifully with his first touch, then crushed the ball into the roof of the net with his second. It was the kind of goal he scores when he’s in his full flight of confidence, and any number of fingers sent up in front of the faces of the critics that have been dogging him all tournament. Overall, he finished with that goal and one more shot on target besides, as well as two key passes and even a pair of tackles defensively. Spain added on to his winner and won 5-3, booking them a date with Switzerland in Friday’s early game.
With Lucas Hernandez and Lucas Digne both unavailable due to injuries, Adrien Rabiot was again tasked with playing as a left back — or, in this case, a left wingback — from the start in France’s meeting with Switzerland on Monday.
Given he was playing out of position, he wasn’t all that bad. He racked up two tackles, two interceptions, and two clearances defensively, and looked to get forward and support the French attack whenever he could. He had a pair of shots, including one from a pretty good position that could have put the game away late with France up 3-2, but it was always going over, and when the Swiss equalized with 15 seconds to go until stoppage time, the events were set in motion that eventually saw Les Bleus eliminated on penalties. Rabiot was not among the five that took the kicks, and there’s no way of knowing when he might have taken one if the shootout had gone to sudden death.
Kulusevski received his first start in Sweden’s match against Ukraine, and he had a decent game playing up front with Alexander Isak. He notched a pair of key passes and had an excellent shot denied by Georgi Bushchan in the 66th minute. While his role in the front two did sap some of his better qualities (where have we heard that before?) this was one of the better games he’s ever played as a striker, and the was perhaps unlucky not to make the scoresheet.
He was withdrawn in extra time after 97 hard-fought minutes, but two minutes after he came on Marcus Danielson was sent off after a nasty incident when he hit Artem Besedin in the knee while clearing the ball, and Ukraine scored the winner one minute into stoppage time for a 2-1 win and eliminate the Swedes.