Euro 2020 takeaway: Spain survives, Germany escapes and group stage saves the best for last

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It was a thrilling final day of the group stage at Euro 2020, with drama in all four games as teams from open groups E and F fought for survival. Here’s a breakdown of Wednesday’s slate, the craziest in the competition so far.

  • Spain vs. Slovakia: A knockout round without Spain, one of the best in the tournament, loomed as a possibility before the start of noon against the Slovaks, who started the tournament strong and only needed a point to moving forward. They dug a hole early, however, when goaltender Martin Dubravka turned in his box and unleashed a rebound off the crossbar and into his net. Before half-time, a poor clearance attempt by Slovakian midfielder Jakub Hromada saw Spain score the second goal on their way to a 5-0 victory and second place in Group E. At the end of the game, Slovakia still clung to the hope of climbing to third place – pending results later – despite the self-inflicted defeat.
  • Sweden vs Poland: It was a must-see match for Robert Lewandowski and Poland, as the Swedes were already assured of advancing. And yet the Swedes came to attack for the first time in the tournament and Emil Forsberg, now Golden Boot scorer as the top scorer, scored twice in the 59th minute for a 2-0 lead. It’s never so easy when you’re up against Lewandowski, and the Bayern Munich forward has scored two goals late to tie the game. But as Poland pressed for a potential winner, Viktor Claesson scored on the counterattack for a Swedish victory 3-2.
  • Hungary vs. Germany: You must be feeling good for Hungary, who led twice in a 2-2 draw with the Germans and almost qualified for second in Group F. The performance, however, raises questions about attendance. Germany in the next round – the team that dominated Portugal in their previous game, or the one that almost let Hungary slip away with a surprise.

  • France vs Portugal: Good refereeing was a highlight of Euro 2020, but France and Portugal traded questionable penalties in the first half of their final group game. Cristiano Ronaldo scored his fifth goal of the tournament on the spot, and Karim Benzema responded with his first. In the end, they each scored a pair in a 2-2 draw, with Ronaldo’s second tying the international men’s goals record of 109, set by Iranian Ali Daei. We haven’t seen the best of France or Portugal. The two seemed happy to sail after the Hungary-Germany result saw France win the group and Portugal move up to third.

And now the fans can breathe. Until Saturday, at least, when the round of 16 begins.

  • Four thirds: If we never have to think about this quirk of the group stage qualifying formula ever again, it will be too soon (or Euro 2024). The Czech Republic, Switzerland, Portugal and Ukraine advanced to the round of 16 after finishing third in their groups. The Czechs, Swiss and Portuguese all got four points. Ukraine defeated Finland and Slovakia (all third with three points) on the basis of goal differential. The four survivors will face the group winners in the next round, but there is hope: Portugal qualified for third place at Euro 2016 and won it all.
  • How did we do it? The star’s pre-tournament predictions had Group E ending Spain, Poland, Sweden, Slovakia. Nothing went well for us on this one that ended: Sweden, Spain, Slovakia, Poland. We predicted that Group F would end: France, Portugal, Germany, Hungary. While Portugal and Germany have turned around, we will give each other points with the two advances.
  • Biggest Loser: The first 13 days of Euro competition were exciting. On the pitch, the teams got started – even Sweden took over, albeit late. Off the pitch, there was fan cheer in the stands, unity in tough times, and players showing their support for social justice – whether by kneeling for racial equity or wearing a Rainbow armband in solidarity with the LGBTQ community. The only disappointment? UEFA, the tournament’s governing body, which reportedly gave Denmark limited options to resume play after star Christian Eriksen suffered cardiac arrest in the middle of the match; investigated German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer for wearing this rainbow armband; and refused a request from Munich city council for the Allianz Arena to be lit up in rainbow colors for Wednesday’s Germany-Hungary game. Munich officials recently passed a law that human rights groups say stigmatizes LGBTQ people and limits their rights. UEFA has been a stain on its own competition so far.

  • On file: The round of 16 will start with Wales and Denmark at noon on Saturday, followed by Italy against Austria at 3pm. The eight knockout matches will end on Tuesday, with two matches each afternoon.

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