And breathe. It’s been a dramatic, action-packed day at Euro 2020, and it’s time to dissect it all.
This was our busiest day of Euros action yet, with four games – three of them greatly important – packed into just five hours, while a number of great storylines intersected.
We began the day in Amsterdam and Bucharest, where fixture-makers had correctly decided to slot Group C’s deciding games into the earlier slot.
North Macedonia v Netherlands held no real worth on it; the Eastern European nation had already been eliminated, while the lowlanders sealed first place in the group in their previous fixture.
Perhaps in an effort to find consistency amongst his team, Dutch boss Frank de Boer resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes.
Indeed, his only alterations were to drop Marten De Roon and Wout Weghorst for star Eredivisie youngsters Ryan Gravenberch and Donyell Malen.
Of more interest than the match itself was the sub-plot surrounding Goran Pandev; the North Macedonian legend winning his 122nd and final cap before international retirement, and aiming to finish with a flourish.
Ultimately, that did not happen, though he came close by hitting the post while the score was still 0-0.
Instead, the Netherlands gave another emphatic goalscoring performance as Memphis Depay, fresh off his confirmed move to FC Barcelona, waltzed around the Johan Cruyff Arena with the arrogance that deserves such a move.
3-0 it finished, with captain Georginio Wijnaldum adding another two goals to his personal tally to surprisingly surge into the race for the Golden Boot. The Dutch await a third-placed side in the Round of 16, the identity of whom they will learn in the next two days.
As the tournament’s weakest group, it was fitting that Group C’s final drama came really in the form of a damp squib.
In that sense, I’m talking about the performance of both teams in Austria v Ukraine, a match to set up who would face Italy in the next round.
While Austria lacked even a half-decent marksman to target in the final third, Ukraine had the converse problem of possessing a fine one – Roman Yeremchuk – but finding it incredibly hard to give him possession, at least in dangerous areas.
As such, we were lucky that Christian Baumgartner found a way to stab David Alaba’s 20th-minute corner past Ukraine’s impressive goalkeeper George Buschan.
Really, the goal threat from both sides was impressively minimal after that.
Drawn into conservatism presumably because of the stakes being solely on their match, it did not say much for either side’s quality going forwards, and I would be amazed if it’s not Italy celebrating a Quarter-Final spot this Saturday at Wembley.
But then we turned to the day’s real drama, taking place in St Petersburg and Copenhagen.
I’d like to say the equation was simple, but it was far from that.
For Denmark, they had to win against Russia and rely on Belgium to beat Finland, while also requiring a swing of three goals to nab second spot.
They had shown the ability to do that in a strong performance against Belgium last time out, but without any points at this stage, having lost primary playmaker Christian Eriksen and facing a Russia side that was predictably keen to defend, their task was tricky.
Meanwhile, Finland wanted desperately to hold onto the second spot that was theirs at the start of the day and make history on their tournament debut.
What panned out wasn’t easy to explain, but was extraordinary as it happened.
Two cagey first halves went mostly the way of Belgium and Russia, with the former bossing possession and the latter being effective on the counter.
Mikkel Damsgaard was the force that eventually got the Danish battering ram moving at the Parken, with a stonker of a goal in the 38th minute, cutting inside a defender and curling high past Matvey Safonov.
In the second half, Yussuf Poulsen was given a gift as he stroked past Safonov from a misguided Roman Zobnin backpass, but then the flurry of simultaneous chaos began.
First, a Romelu Lukaku finish that initially looked offside was awarded, and Denmark were in business.
But in one stroke, the football gods decided to extend this drama.
Lukaku’s goal was indeed overruled, and Aleksandr Sobolev won a penalty which Artem Dzyuba converted, Denmark were going to be disappointed.
Fortunately, the Belgians were not finished, and Thomas Vermaelen rose highest at a corner to force an own goal from Lukáš Hrádecký in the 75th minute.
The Danes were not to know this, and themselves aggrieved, began an absolute bombardment of Russia’s goal.
One header, saved, a second shot, blocked, but Andreas Christensen was having none of it. He burst forward, and almost burst the ball as he rifled a stunning shot past Safonov to utter raptures in the Parken.
Joakim Maehle was to get in on the act, too, leading and finishing a counter with the tireless spirit he exemplified as one of Denmark’s most reliable outlets all game.
Romelu Lukaku added a second for Belgium, but by this point it was a minor detail to the Danes; they had done enough, and heaven forbid anyone put the dampeners on that.
The final whistle brought complete bedlam for the capacity crowd in Copenhagen, and you could be sure that the spirit shown there, between both fans and the team itself, was down to what happened there on the opening weekend.
It was fully deserved, and a story that these championships will be remembered for.
Performance of the Day: I’d love to give recognition here to the whole of Denmark, as the crowd within the stadium, and no doubt all those at home, were stupendous for the entire 90 minutes. If it had to go a player, it would be Maehle for a truly special performance of real guts, but tonight, I’d rather it reflects the collective rather than the individual. Top work, my brethren.
Up Next: Just the two matches tomorrow, with Group D concluding with England v Czech Republic at Wembley, and Scotland v Croatia at Hampden. The two matches will be very different, but both have crucial points on the line to determine who will face who from the GROUP OF DEATH. It will be fascinating, and considering the English press are in a rather dull mood post-Scotland, it would be encouraging if Gareth Southgate & co. could shut that noise out. Keep the faith!
Author - Will Hugall
Now a BA Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University, I divide my time between my base in Radford and back home in East Sussex while watching as much football as I can!