By Andrew Warshaw
June 24 – So now we know the last-16 line-up at Euro 2020 and some pretty tasty ties there are too.
Hungary are perhaps the unluckiest side, exiting the Group of Death despite having held two of the tournament heavyweights, France and Germany, to draws as the traditional big-hitters made it through.
All eyes will be on next Tuesday’s clash at Wembley when those old footballing foes, England and Germany, meet again though for a while on Wednesday it looked like the Germans would make a shock departure before scoring a last-gasp equaliser in a 2-2 draw against outsiders Hungary in Munich.
“We need to improve on things, we’re aware of that and we need to be careful, especially at set-pieces. We can’t repeat the same mistakes again,” said outgoing German coach Joachim Loew. “But it’s a different match against England.”
Hungary’s Italian coach Marco Rossi said he was proud to be in charge of the world’s 37th-ranked side after they went close to completing a fairytale .
“We’re disappointed because we went very close to a qualification, which wouldn’t have been just historic, it would have been incredible, almost unimaginable,” he said.
“But unfortunately, even in the greatest fairy tales there can be some less than happy endings and unfortunately that was the way it went tonight.”
England-Germany is certainly not the only standout match of the last-16.
Two days earlier on Sunday, Belgium, the world’s number one-ranked side, take on defending champions Portugal in a mouth-watering encounter in Seville.
Also on Sunday the Netherlands meet the Czech Republic whilst in the other ties, world champions France will play neighbours Switzerland in Bucharest on Monday, the same day Spain face Croatia in Copenhagen. Sweden will face Ukraine, the last of the successful third-placed teams, in Glasgow on Tuesday.
Two matches had already been decided before Wednesday’s final group games. The knockout stage will kick off on Saturday with Wales taking on Denmark in Amsterdam and Italy meeting Austria.
As individual landmarks go, Cristiano Ronaldo’s two penalties against France equalled the world record for international goals, taking his tally to 109 to go level with former Iran forward Ali Daei.
The rest of the tournament will be played out, however, without another great marksman. Reigning world player of the year Robert Lewandowski’s two goals for Poland against Sweden couldn’t stop his country from crashing out. The Poles, who needed to win their final group game, hit back from two down but Viktor Claesson scored in stoppage time to secure a 3-2 win for the Swedes.
Lewandowski, who scored an incredible 41 goals for Bayern Munich last season, looked close to tears as he applauded Poland’s fans after the final whistle.
“The fact this is my best Euros because I scored three goals doesn’t comfort me at all,” he said. “I would give all these goals for qualification for the next round.”
It’s not all smiles off the field either.
Austria’s coach said it “makes no sense” for his country’s tie with Italy on Saturday to be held at Wembley as neither side’s fans can fly there because of the UK government’s quarantine rules.
Each host nation has its own travel restrictions and Britain, where coronavirus case numbers have been rising again, has a 10-day quarantine requirement for new arrivals.
“As things stand, there will be almost no Austrian fans in the stadium – or Italian ones, either. It makes no sense to me to play in London,” Franco Foda told Austria’s Kleine Zeitung newspaper.
Missing their side’s first ever appearance in the last 16 is particularly galling for Austrian fans and Foda urged UEFA to intervene.
“I hope for the fans’ sake that a solution can be found. One option would be to change the venue. I hope that as many fans as possible can join. That is my heartfelt desire,” he said.
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