• Ruaraidh Britton

England shine and Italy’s dream stays alive - Quarter Final Review

And then there were four. After a heavy weekend of footballing drama, we now have our semi-finalists for the Euros, and it’s been a welcome surprise seeing the teams who made it here. So much focus was on World Cup winners France, and current European champions Portugal. But after their shock exits, having the likes of Switzerland and Ukraine fill the void was a much welcome change given the line up we could have had. In some instances it made for an enthralling encounter, whilst others made you want to hide behind the sofa it was that excruciating. But nevertheless, we now have four who can call themselves some of the best in Europe.

Spain survive Swiss showdown

This was the fixture that provided the heart-stopping drama, as 120 minutes failed to separate a spirited Switzerland team and a stumbling Spanish side. Then it happened. One of the worst penalty shootouts we have seen at the Euros, with a shot blazed over the bar, poor penalties saved by the keeper, and just a complete disaster from the Swiss after tucking five away against France.

Credit to Yan Sommer who arguably put in one of the greatest goalkeeping performances in the history of the Euros, but ultimately his teammates let him down with their poor efforts from the spot. But for Switzerland to get to that stage of the game again against another European heavyweight is remarkable. We all thought they’d suffer without the impressive Granit Xhaka, but they stuck at it, and dissected Spain in the second half.

Of course, we do have to mention Aymeric Laporte’s dreadful mistake to give the Swiss a route back into the game through Xherdan Shaqiri. Defences don’t always function how they should, but that error could’ve ended Spain’s tournament. But that pales in comparison to the Remo Freuler red card with his reckless challenge ending his game.

It was scrappy, it lacked ruthlessness and accuracy in front of goal, and it wasn’t what a fan would call an all time classic, but it saw Spain through, and to them, that’s all that matters. They now travel to Wembley for a high stakes clash with Italy, but something tells me it won’t be a 4-0 demolition job like 2012 this time.

Italy lay down a marker for the tournament

This was my game of the quarter-finals, and I would even consider putting this into consideration for one of the best quarter-finals ever. The two favourites to go for the title came toe-to-toe and Italy were made to work for it but ultimately dominated and overwhelmed the Belgians.

Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Insigne’s first half strikes did the business for the Azzurri, with Insigne’s in particular possibly the goal of the tournament with a sumptuous strike from outside the box to stun the Belgian fans into silence. As good as that was though, the Oscar has to go to Ciro Immobile for his acting before Barella’s opener, and if you haven’t seen it, please go and watch it, it puts De Niro and DiCapiro to shame.

Romelu Lukaku’s penalty did come in handy in swinging the momentum right before half-time, but in the chaos and frantic play between the two they made a mess of their best chances and the Italian defence looked too difficult to crack for even the likes of Kevin De Bruyne. Then we witnessed the heartache as Leonardo Spinazzola pulled up and went to the ground. It has later been confirmed he ruptured his achilles which is a damn shame given he was arguably one of the best players of the tournament and it will be a huge loss for Italy, but a welcome return once back to full fitness.

It has been an awful long time since we’ve seen Italy this good, but that was to be expected after the shock failure to qualify for the last World Cup. They needed to sort the chaos that was the Italian nation side and they have made a monster of a team that looks the favourite to beat Spain on Tuesday, and then either Denmark or England on Sunday. Enjoy them while you can, because this could be a seriously good run to the trophy from the Italians.

Denmark’s heartwarming story writes another chapter

Patrik Schick has been a real treat to watch during this tournament, with the Leverkusen striker equalling Cristiano Ronaldo’s five goals in the race for the golden boot. He and his Czech teammates however just couldn’t match the quality shown by the Danes who we have all grown to love throughout this tournament.

Thomas Delaney evaded his man for a header to opening the scoring after five minutes, and Kasper Dolberg struck a second before half-time, and despite Schick’s efforts in the second half, it just wasn’t to be for the Czech Republic, who were looking to reach the semis for the first time since 2004.

A mention for Joakim Maehle, who if you haven’t heard, struck one of the most gorgeous assists you will see all tournament with a curling strike from outside the foot to land perfectly for Dolberg. Exquisite. And that is the magic they might well need if they want to undo England on Wednesday. No one has offered the magic spark against England that the Danes have had since tragedy struck in their group stage opener, and it makes for a mouthwatering clash come midweek.

English heavyweights coast through to Wembley

Oh man you have to feel for Ukraine here. Outmatched in every area of the park, England flexed on their opponents and took the lead through Harry Kane after barely four minutes had passed. That instantly set the tone, and reminded England fans that after years of underestimating opponents, Gareth was not going to make that mistake again.

Algeria 2010. Costa Rica 2014. Iceland 2016. All three games saw England shrug it off as light work and sure enough, it ended up with them being humbled. Not this time said Southgate’s lads who scored a second through Harry Maguire even earlier in the second half than their first. 46 minutes on the clock and a thumping header looked to have put the game to bed. But they didn’t stop as many would expect, and Kane added a second to make it 3-0 in 50 minutes. Did they stop then? No chance.

After 62 games in an England shirt, Jordan Henderson finally got his first England goal to make it 4-0 just after the hour mark, and the scream he let out as he ran to the corner showed just what it meant to the Liverpool captain. This was a special night for these England players, and it put to bed some very dark demons of the past where the light work in front of them has shown they have more bite than they do bark.

For England it was their best case scenario, with a fifth clean sheet in five games, a championship record none the less, the game wrapped up in 90 minutes, and plenty of faces getting game time and others getting an early rest. Much needed when you have a resilient group of Danes on their way to Wembley.