The never-ending march of time goes on, and so must the stages of these Euros.
Yep, that’s right, it’s Round of 16 o’clock.
With eight of the nations that started the tournament culled, we’re left with the crème de la crème of European talent, including such highlights as… an insipid Austria… an underwhelming Switzerland… and a low-scoring Czech Republic.
Say what you will about UEFA’s current format for the competition – it means I get another few days of this spectacle of football to write about, keeping me from further mischief.
Anyway, the introduction of this round for 2016 meant that today we had Wales v Denmark, as well as Italy v Austria, beamed to our screens.
In Amsterdam, Robert Page and Kasper Hjulmand were out to tactically outfox one another, with the Danes the favourites in the build-up but turning up across the North Sea with a couple of injury problems.
The absence of Yussuf Poulsen meant only Martin Braithwaite remained from the front three that started the tournament against Finland, an obvious issue even if Kasper Dolberg was an able replacement.
If anybody needed reminding of that, then the former Ajax forward’s 27th-minute strike past Danny Ward was more than adequate.
It was a stunning effort worthy of opening this round, with the Dane’s shot sweeping past a couple of bodies into the bottom right corner after the Welsh had made the stronger start.
Dolberg was the main threat after his goal, and the Welsh turned to a fairly aggressive game plan to stem the one-way traffic.
They did not make the most of that period of calm, however, when conceding just three minutes after half-time.
A poor defensive clearance from Neco Williams found Dolberg, who crashed past Ward.
The Danes eased through the second half after that, and Joakim Maehle netted superbly in the closing stages.
Harry Wilson was harshly red-carded for the Welsh, and Braithwaite rounded things off for a complete rout of the Dragons.
It was a remarkable victory considering the effort the Danes had to put into their victory over Russia only five days earlier, and even more so in light of the obvious absence of Christian Eriksen.
But it was what makes sport amazing – the continuation of a fabulous story of fortitude and determination.
At Wembley, the evening game saw Italy widely favoured, particularly after their faultless performance in the group stage.
Austria were the second-best team from the weakest group in the tournament, and so hardly merited mention against a genuine title contender.
They were perplexingly competent in the first half, however, with their 4-5-1 set-up proving frustrating for Italy, who had less time in midfield than in any of their previous matches.
Austria weren’t negative, either.
Marcel Sabitzer, Konrad Laimer and Christoph Baumgartner all threatened behind Marko Arnautovic, while the four-man defence employed by Franco Foda – who should never become a coach in Brazil – was solid in the face of Italy’s attack.
The closest either side came in the first half, despite some good attempts, was with Ciro Immobile’s sumptuous 20-yard strike onto the frame of Daniel Bachmann’s goal.
That remained the case until the 65th minute, when Austria were growing in confidence.
From Stefan Lainer’s cross, David Alaba headed on to Arnautović and the striker, a big ball of pissed-off aggression, nodded past Gianluigi Donnarumma.
A VAR check ensued – it turned out that Arnautović was offside.
You try telling him that, I’m not sure it would end well.
Yet that blow didn’t distract Austria; they stayed true to their tasks and Italy continued to be frustrated, eventually accepting extra time.
On the first night of knockout action, we had exactly the type of drama that knockouts should deliver.
Then, a moment of magic arrived.
Leonardo Spinazzola lifted a ball to the right of the box, Federico Chiesa darted in the space and nodded down the pass rather awkwardly.
The decisive moments in these situations usually arrive from such slim margins though, with Chiesa’s control perfect to then poke inside Laimer and pick his spot past Bachmann.
The Italians were overjoyed.
They toiled with the Austrians after, and took advantage of their fresh legs when another chance came the way of Francesco Acerbi, arriving in the box in the 105th minute.
Italy’s centre-back had the nous to hold up the ball and find the onrushing Matteo Pessina.
For the midfielder, it was as simple as a side-step and a blast on target to bag his second goal of the tournament.
Austria roared back in the second half of extra time, with Louis Schaub forcing a great save and Sabitzer scuffing a chance, but Saša Kalajdžić actually netting with a stooping header from a corner.
It was not enough for a full comeback, though, and Italy marched on at full-time to seal a date with Belgium or Portugal in the Quarter Finals.
Mark the date down, and come back tomorrow to find out who completes that tie. It ought to be a cracking Sunday.
Performance of the Day: Dolberg, it must be said, was outstanding for Denmark on the occasion of his first start in a major international tournament.
His two goals were daggers to Welsh hearts; the first just as his side were getting into the game and then as the Welsh sought a quick second-half reply. His hold-up play was also mightily impressive, and his ability to vary that with runs in behind proved Denmark’s flexibility.
The boy from Silkeborg’s got it, ya know.
Up Next: A veritable super Sunday – better than the usual Sky Sports fare anyway – begins as we welcome back the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. Prepare for Memphis Depay exploiting space in behind a not-so-mobile Czech defence while Patrik Schick gets frustrated by a three-man Dutch backline. C’est magnifique.
This drama will be followed by Belgium v Portugal, a game involving two small nations who’ll never amount to anything in this tournament. Tune in if you fancy it…
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!