Football Features

Belgium join Italy: Five things learned from Group B’s second gameweek at Euro 2020

By Chris Smith

Published: 19:22, 17 June 2021

A stunning subsitute performance from Kevin De Bruyne delivered a 2-1 win for Belgium against Denmark on Friday.

After falling behind to a 99th-second Yussuf Poulsen goal, Belgium introduced De Bruyne at half-time and the Man City midfielder had a stunning effect on the game, setting up Thorgan Hazard’s equaliser before scoring the winner himself.

A day earlier in Group B, Russia picked up their first win of the tournament with a 1-0 victory over Finland. Aleksei Miranchuk’s strike just before half-time did the damage, but not before Joel Pohjanpalo had a goal disallowed for Finland.

So, what did we learn from the second round of games in Euro 2020 Group B?

1. “All of Denmark is with you, Christian”

Following Denmark’s quick start, Belgium graciously put the ball out of play in the 10th minute (Christian Eriksen’s shirt number) to pay tribute to midfielder Christian Eriksen, who remains in Rigshospitalet, just across Fælledparken from Parken Stadium, recovering from the cardiac arrest he suffered against Finland on Saturday.

Referees, supporters and players from both sides stopped to applaud the Inter Milan playmaker, while fans in the stands held up a banner reading “All of Denmark is with you, Christian”. Indeed, the whole footballing world has come together in support of Eriksen and his family.

Earlier in the day, it was confirmed Eriksen would be fitted with a heart-starting device to monitor abnormal heart rhythms.

“Christian has accepted the solution and the plan has moreover been confirmed by specialists nationally and internationally who all recommend the same treatment,” said Danish team doctor, Morten Boesen. “We encourage everybody to give Christian and his family peace and privacy.”

2. Early Poulsen goal lifts Parken lid

As if the atmosphere at kick-off inside Parken wasn’t electric enough already, Yussuf Poulsen nearly lifted the lid off the stadium with his goal after 99 seconds. The fastest goal at this tournament so far and second only to Russia’s Dmitry Kirichenko (65 seconds) in European Championships history.

Denmark continued their ferocious start from there, flying into tackles, hunting in packs and repeatedly testing Thibaut Courtois. In reality, they might well have been out of sight by the time the 10-minute stoppage came about.

Though Denmark couldn’t hold onto their lead and surrendered the points, Poulsen’s goal certainly served to ignite the atmosphere in Copenhagen, ensuring we had an entertaining, frenetic affair to take up our Thursday afternoon.

3. The De Bruyne show

Let’s be honest, for the first 45 minutes of this match we were all left watching on, wondering exactly where the real Belgium were. The Red Devils were totally overrun by Denmark, unable to get a foothold in possession and failing to seriously test Kasper Schmeichel.

Then Kevin De Bruyne came on and everything changed. The Manchester City midfielder immediately set to work carving open the Danish defence, giving Belgium’s passing a much-needed boost of precision, ambition and rhythm.

De Bruyne’s introduction paid dividends after just nine minutes, with 29-year-old being picked out superbly in the box by Romelu Lukaku. De Bruyne put the Danish defence on their backsides with a wonderful touch and just when you thought he was about to fire home, he displayed incredible vision and composure to square the ball to the onrushing Thorgan Hazard. Vision made that much more impressive when you consider he’s just coming back from a broken eye socket.

16 minutes later, De Bruyne then reminded us that he can stick them away himself, sweeping home to finish a superbly free-flowing Belgium move, turning the game on its head and delivering three points which will send the Red Devils marching into the round-of-16.

He was only on the pitch for 45 minutes but make no mistake, this was the Kevin De Bruyne show.

4. Dzyuba and Miranchuk combine to end Russa Euro drought

Though Russia by no means entered Euro 2020 among the favourites, they were at least expected to put up a decent fight after their exploits at the 2018 World Cup and having home advantage. But their 3-0 defeat against Belgium in the opening game was wholly disappointing, with Russia held at arm’s length throughout and rarely threatening Roberto Martinez’s side.

The Russians were left with it all to do and although they put in another turgid performance against Finland on Wednesday, they did at least get off the mark, with Aleksei Miranchuk firing home from Artem Dzyuba’s knock-down. Finland had already seen a goal disallowed for offside at that point, so Stanislav Cherchesov will have breathed a huge sigh of relief as the ball hit the back of the net.

Unconvincing though the performance was, with just three shots on target across the 90 minutes, Russia got the win. And this was their first victory at the European Championships since they beat the Czech Republic 4-1 in their opening game at Euro 2012. Thus ends a run of three defeats, two draws, eight goals conceded and just three scored in this competition. Can they convert this victory into a run of wins against Denmark next time?

5. Group B on a knife-edge heading into gameweek three

Heading into the final match next week, Group B really is on a knife-edge now, with Finland’s shock win over Denmark arguably putting the biggest cat amongst the pigeons.

With six points, Belgium are signed and sealed into the knockout rounds. But for the other three teams, it’s all to play for.

Still stuck on zero points, Denmark know they simply must beat Russia by a considerable scoreline to both give themselves three points and a goal difference that leaves them in with a shot of being one of those best third-placed teams. Should they draw with Russia, they’ll exit the tournament while simultaneously giving their opponents a wonderful chance of progression.

Like Russia, Finland will feel confident that a point will be enough to see them into the round-of-16. Perhaps even a defeat could do it. But the main problem is they face a Belgium side in rampant attacking form. A heavy defeat could seal their fate, so it’s vital the Eagle-owls make themselves hard to break down against the Red Devils.

One thing’s for sure, you’ll need your calculators to work out the permutations when next week rolls around.