In a wild and wonderful night of football, Belgium and Denmark both qualified from Group B at Euro 2020.
The night was high on quality and drama in equal measure. Here’s what we learned.
1. Christensen The Redeemer
In their opening game of Euro 2020 against Finland, Denmark’s Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch and had to be resuscitated via defibrillator. Eriksen is healthy now but for a long while it it didn’t look like he would be.
Denmark lost that game 1-0, given three horrific choices by UEFA they chose to play on mere hours after watching their team-mate collapse and predictably were not in the right frame of mind to play and lost.
Against Belgium in matchday two they played much better and we were winning until Belgium brought the best attacking midfielder in the world off the bench. Two games, two defeats, and their future hung by a thread. The Eriksen moment risked defining the tournament for them, a horrific negative clouding what should have been a joyous occasion.
8 ball recoveries
7/8 aerials won
3 shots (joint-most (!))
2 shots on target (joint-most (!))
1 thunderbolt of a goal
0 x dribbled past
What. A. Strike. 😍 pic.twitter.com/TiZaMHnZ9d
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 21, 2021
On the final game against Russia they took a two goal lead, but Russia pulled one back and looked like they could knick it at any moment. Denmark had been brilliant but the way their tournament was going you could almost predict Russia drawing 2-2 and eliminating them.
With just over 10 minutes remaining, it was tense as hell. Martin Braithwaite pulled a mega save out of Matvey Safonov, and then Simon Kjaer did the same seconds later from close range, but he could not get it in and the ball broke outside the box.
And there he was.
Christensen The Redeemer.
Andreas Christensen driving up from the back saw the ball rolling his way and just smacked the life out of the ball. Hamlet is now somewhere holding this ball up and saying “alas, I knew him well” because Christensen has committed ballicide. He hit it so hard, so pure and so true that it flew off his foot like a rocket and into the back of the net.
3-1. Game over.
Joakim Maehle scored a fourth later, just to really confirm the party. But the team that nearly suffered the most unimaginable tragedy fought their way back from the brink of defeat, from the brink of elimination, to fight their way back into the round of 16 where they will play Wales.
The scenes on the pitch when they were all huddled around a phone waiting for confirmation of the final result from Belgium and Finland, only to burst into joyous cheers and hugging and laughter. Their tournament would not be defined by Eriksen’s tragedy and now they get to fight on for their team-mate and friend. Eriksen will be watching as they head to Amsterdam to play Wales. A game they could win, and beyond that? Well no one gave them a chance in 1992 either…
2. De Bruyne is De King
While not quite as spectacular as stooping onto the field at half-time and turning the whole game on its head like he did against Denmark, Kevin de Bruyne was absolutely outrageous against Finland. Playing in a deeper position he ran the show, dictating the tempo and creating all the best chances. Some of his passes to Romelu Lukaku were electric.
De Bruyne created 7 chances in the game, more than twice as many as anyone else on the field. One chance which wasn’t recorded was a lethal through-ball that Lukaku scored from only for a precision offside to rule the goal out. De Bruyne didn’t let that stop him, however, and his stunning corner found Thomas Vermaelen who headed Belgium into the lead (albeit via an unlucky deflection off Lukas Hradecky) and then with 10 minutes to go he once again found Lukaku again with a delicious trivela pass through to Lukaku who opened the scoring.
One and a half games and he’s got 1 goal, 2 assists and 1 pre-assist (sort of). De Bruyne is De King.
3. Romelu Lukaku is a problem
Romelu Lukaku has been so good all tournament long, whether playing through the middle or even switching to the right as he did against Denmark. The Inter Milan man is on a roll right now, capable of almost anything it seems.
Today his miracle was looking effortlessly better than all the defenders facing him. The Belgian never really got out of first gear yet remained a constant menace. The Finnish defenders were terrified of him and playing at the top of their game to try and deny him.
They succeeded once (by a matter of inches, verified by VAR) but couldn’t keep him out forever. Lukaku’s disallowed finish was a righteously crisp one with his left-foot, his actual goal saw him drive through the ball with his right foot.
Three goals takes him level atop the golden boot standings and it’s clear he is going to be a major problem for defences.
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4. No Hazards for the Red Devil Road Warriors
Thorgan Hazard picked up a knock and so didn’t travel with Belgium. Meanwhile Eden Hazard got his first start of the tournament and put in a display that could charitably be described as poor. Obviously he still working his way back to fitness but Kevin De Bruyne broke his face a month ago and is already back dominating everything; Hazard had nothing as bad as that happen to him.
Luckily for Belgium they have alternatives to playing Hazard and their success at the Euros looks like it will succeed or fail on the backs of the in-form De Bruyne and Lukaku. And they should be taken seriously for success at Euro 2020 for no reason other than their travel.
While most of the Euros most impressive sides so far have been able to play all their games at home (Italy and the Netherlands of course, Germany against Portugal) the Belgians have been on the road three times. Playing twice in St. Petersburg and once in Copenhagen. So while the likes of Italy and the Dutch have to adjust for now playing away, Belgium will now travel to Seville for business as usual.
Euro 2020’s Road Warriors are on a roll!
5. Mass qualifications
Normally you only get the teams in the group playing to qualify, but because of the nature of Euro 2020’s third place qualification system; Denmark qualifying with 3 points has had a ripple effect that has seen several teams qualify prematurely for the round of 16.
Switzerland finished third in Group A with four points and have now been guaranteed a spot in the round of 16. Meanwhile England, Czech Republic, Sweden and France have all qualified by virtue of having already attained 4 points. This means that even if they lose on matchday 3 and finish third in their groups, their points will see them finish above fellow third placers Finland and Ukraine on three points.