Sunday, Sunday, here again, a walk in the park.
The eternal words of Blur there for you.
Sundays are meant to be for unwinding, taking things at a slower pace.
Try telling that to the four sides we had in action today; the Netherlands and the Czech Republic in Budapest as part of the more open side of the draw, and the Belgians and Portuguese on the Andalusian coast, with both looking to avoid being the tournament’s first big casualty.
The action was at times mesmerising, at others shocking, but for the full duration, it was breathless.
A big part of that atmosphere was due to the amazing support given to both sides in Budapest, in our first game of the day.
I don’t think many would disagree when I suggest that the most memorable games of the tournament so far have all taken part in the Hungarian capital.
From the first time seeing a full stadium for many months, to the stunning point the hosts gained against France and the highest quality we’ve seen in Portugal v France, the Puskás Arena has been a magnet to great matches.
The meeting of the Dutch and the Czechs may not have necessarily been one, had the sides lived up to their tags.
Joyfully, though, they did not; the Czechs were far from dour and defensive, willing to have a go against the talented Dutch, whose flying wing-backs and speedy forwards would pose a threat to most teams in the competition.
There were vulnerabilities to both, which in the first-half were regularly exposed.
The Dutch often got Denzel Dumfries and Patrick van Aanholt in behind the Czech full-backs, leading to a couple of decent opportunities for Memphis Depay and Donyell Malen, while Jaroslav Šilhavý’s side were a constant threat from corners.
Any talk of this game would be worthless if it did not confront the obvious controversy of the red card, however.
Matthijs de Ligt was initially yellow carded for his handball when seeking a foul from Patrick Schick, but VAR and referee Sergey Karasev overturned that decision to serve the Juventus defender a sending-off.
The handball was cynical, and de Ligt panicked where he shouldn’t have.
Schick and co. took full advantage, with the Dutch’s loss of height and defensive stability certainly a factor when another corner came in, and Tomáš Kalas headed to namesake Tomáš Holeš, who sent the ball past Maarten Stekelenburg.
Suddenly, the Dutch bubble had burst. Oranjeboom, if you will.
They responded with very little, and when Holeš skipped away from Georginio Wijnaldum in midfield in the 80th minute, his square ball to Schick was finished with aplomb, and the game was done.
De Boer will find himself cast as the villain for this result, owing to his tactical missteps in the match and the tournament as a whole.
He has been fortunate to possess a Depay who is at the peak of his powers in a Dutch shirt, and by failing to provide support for him has thrown away a chance for silverware.
The Czechs, meanwhile, will go on to face Denmark in Baku for a Semi Final spot. They will again be second favourites, but with such a prize at stake, it will set up an outstandingly tense game.
In Seville, there was a much more star-studded line-up, yet for the most part the quality on both sides resulted in something of a stalemate.
Tactically, it was an intriguing battle. 3-4-3, of Roberto Martinez, up against Portugal’s more naturally offensive 4-3-3.
But we weren’t here to see these sides preventing space for their opponents. We were here to see the quality of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and their equals on show.
What ended up happening was a victory for tactics, rather than star power; a great metaphor for football as a whole.
Thorgan Hazard, the man most obviously always overshadowed by his stellar teammates, was the man to provide the winning moment after 42 minutes of solid, unbreakable defending.
The left-wing-back’s audacity to shoot from 20 yards out past Rui Patricio was admirable; his precision in executing an effort that swerved perfectly en route to goal was even better.
Patricio was powerless to resist, and Portugal were impotent in their attempts to get back into the game.
Their closest attempt in this battle came from Ruben Dias’ second-half bullet header, but Thibaut Courtois was equal to it.
In fact, the two most important men to Belgium as they held out were Courtois and Lukaku.
Both were immense, which contrasted with Portugal’s key players – Ronaldo kept quiet in front of goal, and Pepe finally showing his age at the back.
Between those two, there was a revolving door of energetic, but ultimately unsatisfying midfielders trying to make the breakthrough.
It all got a little crazy in an entertainingly open closing stage, with João Félix threatening most of anyone on the pitch.
But even he could not reel in Belgium, and in the end, it was Martinez’s side who emerged victorious, ready to take on Italy in the Quarter Finals.
Performance of the Day: Naturally, Holeš will take a massive acclaim for his role in downing the Dutch today. A goal and an assist in a knockout game where his side were not favourites, for a man who wasn’t a starter in the Czechs’ opening game against Scotland, is an outstanding return.
My pick, for sheer romance, though, is Belgium’s Thomas Vermaelen. At 35 years of age, playing his football for Japanese side Vissel Kobe these days, he was part of an outstanding three-man defence that silenced the (joint) greatest goalscorer in international football history. Of course, he has pedigree from his time at Arsenal and Barcelona, but this a great return for a man whose starting place is uncertain. Bravo, Tommy.
Up Next: On Monday, we continue our frantic RO16 charge with a further two matches – Croatia v Spain, a replay of a superb 2016 group stage tie, and France v Switzerland, a match-up that took place at both the 2014 World Cup and Eurovision 2021.
You literally can’t separate these boys. I mean, they border each other, it would be quite hard.
Anyway, vive le foot, and away we go on another manic Monday.
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!