Eight things we learned from EURO 2020’s Round of 16

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Wow, EURO 2020 Round of 16. You just did that, didn’t you?

The three teams to advance from EURO 2020’s Group of Death didn’t make it much further.

Denmark, missing its leader after a horrifying on-field incident, is one win from the semifinal.

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Belgium, Italy, and England all answered questions about their national teams’ resolve.

Czechia’s collection of upstarts won’t be worried about the Danes, and Switzerland won’t worry about five-star Spain after sending France home.

Like we said… Wow.


1. Italy continued to press, until they didn’t | Italy 2-1 (AET) Austria: Ladies and gentleman, this is not your father’s Italy, nor is it your grandfather’s or great grandfather’s, and so on. This team, under Roberto Mancini — gasp — presses the opposition high up the field and forces turnovers which result in much easier (and faster) scoring chances for the Azzurri. It’s hardly a remarkable concept in the modern game, but it’s obviously a massive departure for longtime Italy supporters. Mancini is clever, though, and still instructs the team to drop deeper and deeper after the initial line of confrontation is broken, perhaps to keep the more ardent gatekeepers of calcio onside. Where Italy got themselves into trouble was when they no longer looked to press — or, at least, failed to do so effectively — in the second half. At that point, it was a 50-50 game for them, at best (AE).

2. Is it coming home? | England 2-0 Germany: England will head to Rome on Sunday and know that it will be the favorite in that game and — should it advance — the next round, too. Whether Sweden or Ukraine, then Denmark or Czech Republic, England is going to be a nailed-on favorite to reach the final. And with the reigning World Cup and EURO champs eliminated in the Round of 16, there is not a team left who can claim experience will win the day. Southgate’s defense-first tactics have gotten him this far and Thomas Muller’s late miss was one of the only moments of fear England has felt this tournament. It really could come home. Emphasis on the conditions (NM).

3. Belgium prove they can win ugly, too | Belgium 1-0 Portugal: It’s all too tempting to expect superstar players, especially in the attacking half, to show up to a major tournament and simply dominate from the get-go while playing thrilling attacking soccer with reckless abandon. Sadly, that is rarely the case, especially once into the knockout rounds. The unknown with Belgium is precisely that: When it gets down to the business end of a knockout competition, can they take the gloves off, go 12 rounds and sneak a decision on the judges’ scorecards? Few national sides in the world will make you battle and grind the way Portugal do, and did on Sunday, yet Belgium passed the test. A major hurdle cleared, with another one quickly approaching on the horizon (AE).

4. Solid Czech love their underdog tag | Netherlands 0-2 Czechia: From Holes to Coufal, Soucek to Schick, and Vaclik to Kalas, this Czech Republic side is full of solid players who love to prove people wrong. That will get you a long way in a tournament, and it has. The Czech Republic have a lovely balance about them and they are solid defensively but have quality in attack and from set pieces. They will go into their quarterfinal against Denmark with a 50/50 chance of reaching the semifinals and many will favor this rock-solid team. This is their fourth quarterfinal in seven European Championships, as they love this competition and made the most of the Dutch implosion (JPW).

5. Spain’s attack on fire | Spain 5-3 (AET) Croatia: Spain created so many chances in their first two group games but couldn’t put them away. Then their offense exploded. Spain have become the first team in European Championship history to score five goals in back-to-back games, and it was only a matter of time. Spain dominate possession and now they just need to keep putting chances away. Alvaro Morata scored a beauty too as his fine hold-up play helped knit together the entire Spanish attack.

6. Inspired Denmark deliver | Wales 0-4 Denmark: Denmark was dominant aside from the first 10 minutes and played as if they knew they were going to win. After the horror situation with Christian Eriksen in their opening group game, to fight back like this and reach the quarterfinals is nothing short of sensational. They played very well against the number one team on the planet, Belgium, and battered Russia to reach the last 16. Against Wales they were composed, clever and ruthless. Given they are on the easier side of the draw, you shouldn’t bet against Denmark making it to the semifinals. At least (JPW).

7. Twenty-five minutes of French dominance | France 3-3 (pens, 4-5) Switzerland: Did the change work? Did the change work? After a brief blip on the radar (penalty kick given away, but saved) to begin the second half, it was all France — and we do mean, it was all France — until Switzerland hit back out of nowhere 10 minutes before full-time. It’s probably worth noting once again that for all of the incredible talent France possess in their squad, Deschamps remains the greatest road block to winning a second straight major tournament. They seemingly won the 2018 World Cup despite his best efforts otherwise, but can they do it again? (AE).

8. Ten seconds too early for 10-man Sweden | Sweden 1-2 (AET) Ukraine: We don’t know what would’ve happened in penalties had goalkeepers Robin Olsen and Georgiy Bushchan been called upon to play the role of hero in penalties, but we know that a 99th-minute red card to the Swedes did not automatically grant passage to Ukraine. And, in fact, the match was into extra time stoppage time when Ukraine struck for the winner, Man City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko adding an assist to his goal to send the Swedes away from Scotland without a quarterfinal berth. Fine margins (NJM).