Then there were four left.
With only three games to go, one of Italy, Spain, England and Denmark are within touching distance of the Henri Delaunay trophy.
Italy vs Spain
England vs Denmark
What happened in the quarter-finals?
The quarter finals kicked off in Saint Petersburg where a lacklustre Spain managed to eliminate Switzerland after one of the worst penalty shootouts in finals history. The Spaniards went ahead thanks to a deflected goal for Jordi Alba and that’s as good as it got for Spain who were dominated by Switzerland. Another mess up at the back allowed for an equaliser. Referee Michael Oliver then made sure Spain would be less stressed by sending off Remo Freuler, incorrectly. What followed was a masterclass by Swiss keeper Jan Sommer. In the end, Spain went through on penalties in spite of the penalty miss by Sergio ‘looks like a bus driver’ Busquets.
The Second game on Friday was between Belgium and Italy. For 75 minutes the game was magnificent, with three goals scored and one disallowed all in the first half. The first legitimate Italian goal was overshadowed by the theatrics of Ciro Immobile, and then a second from Insigne put the Azzurri in complete control until a late penalty converted by Lukaku. The second half continued at a frantic pace. Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku missed the two clearest chances from a combined distance of six yards. Those misses would prove pivotal as the golden generation were dumped out yet again.
Saturday’s first game was probably the best of the round. Both the Czech Republic and Denmark played at a fantastic pace. The Czechs had most of the ball and created plenty of chances only to concede to a very clinical Denmark team. The first goal was a free header from a corner that shouldn’t have been, followed by an excellent finish by Kasper Dolberg from an exceptional cross by Joakim Mehle. Patrik Schick managed to pull one back early in the second half, but the Czechs couldn’t get the equaliser.
The Danes will play England in the semis after a demolition job by the Three Lions. England put in their best performance of the competition so far and kept yet another clean sheet. Two goals from Harry Kane, and one each for Harry Maguire, and Jordan Henderson capped off an excellent performance. For Henderson, it was his first goal for England, on his 62nd cap. The Ukrainians on the other hand just did not show up. They were clearly overawed by the occasion, and outplayed by England in every department.
Results (My Predictions):
Switzerland 1 SPAIN 1 PEN 1-3 ( Switzerland 0 Spain 2)
Belgium 1 ITALY 2 (Belgium 3 Italy 2)
Czech Republic 1 DENMARK 2 (Czech Republic 1 Denmark 2)
ENGLAND 4 Ukraine 0 (England 1 Ukraine 0)
Italy vs Spain
The first semi-final brings together two teams with contrasting styles. Italy are a powerful team, with great leadership on and off the pitch. Unlike Italian sides of the past, they like to play with pace and get into the attacking third as quick as possible. Their opponents Spain like to take their time. The Spaniards have so far completed 3,856 passes – 1,515 more than any other team – at the finals so far. Part of the reason is that they don’t have a cutting edge, however they are finding goals elsewhere with six different scorers so far. Even though Spain are the tournament’s top scorers with 12, and have had 69 more attacks than any other team – Italy are second – in the tournament, yet Italy have managed six more attempts on goal.
Italy have now broken the record for the longest winning run in European Championships history (qualifying and finals included) after the win against Belgium in the quarters. The previous record was at 14 which was held by Germany, and now Belgium as well whose defeat against Italy ended their run of 14 wins. Unfortunately for the Italians, they lost left-back Leonardo Spinazzola to a ruptured achilles, which will be a huge loss. Also, attention will be on Ciro Immobile who was seen to be playacting in the last match, so getting referees to reward him a free-kick or penalty may not be as likely now the officials are aware of his Hollywood-esque skills.
This is the most played fixture in European Championships history. Although Spain has a slightly better record over Italy, it is unlikely to mean much on the day. In 2016, their last meeting at the finals, Italy managed to win, knocking Spain out.
Prediction: Italy 3 Spain 1
England vs Denmark
Both England and Denmark have made the semi-final in contrasting ways. England have managed to win their group, and then take care of both Germany and Ukraine very efficiently. Gareth Southgate has made changes prior to every match, and they have all worked out so far.
This will be England’s first semi final since 1996 in which they lost to Germany. They’ll be looking to go one better this time. Southgate who missed a penalty during that semi-final has tried to distance the team from the past, urging them to put all that behind them. Under Southgate, England have been unbeaten in 25 of 27 games played at Wembley. However, the two defeats suffered are against Denmark and Spain, both of whom remain in the tournament.
For England to go through to the final, they are going to need to have more attempts than what they have done so far in the tournament. England have only had 37 attempts which ranks them in 19th of all teams while the other three nations in the semis are ranked in the top three. England have also scored the least goals of the four teams, but it only takes one more than your opponent to beat them. If England do end up winning the tournament, without conceding a single goal it will eclipse the records of Italy (1980) and Spain (2012) whom had both conceded one goal on the way to lifting the trophy.
Denmark have looked exciting, with plenty of players looking to make a difference. After a rocky first game, understandably, the Danes have been immense. They have a stronger left side which bodes well for them as Kyle Walker seems like he is ready to make a big mistake. Then again, Denmark have a player like that in Thomas Delaney. The midfielder doesn’t ever seem to look in control of the ball at any point. In fact, his first touch is so bad, his second is usually a tackle.
Going to be a close game, but I am going to stay true to what I said at the start of the knockouts regarding Denmark getting to the final…
Prediction: England 1 Denmark 2 ET