In a brutal night of football, Ukraine beat Sweden 2-1 after extra time to go through to their first-ever quarter-finals at Euro 2020.
The last quarter-final didn’t live up to the brilliant football seen earlier in the round but it did deliver on extreme violence and provided us with plenty of drama, albeit in the end the game was settled by two incredible moments of quality from Ukraine’s Oleksandr Zinchenko.
The Manchester City man ended the night with a goal and an assist as he stood tall amid flailing team-mates and opponents falling to injury and fatigue and a simple lack of quality as chances went amiss to win the game.
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Sloppy finishing from strikers kept the score down, after a ruthlessly crisp finish from Zinchenko gave Ukraine an early lead. An utterly ridiculous trivela pass from Andriy Yarmolenko as met with an equally unstoppable volley from Zinchenko. He struck the ball so perfectly that it rocketed off his foot into the net.
More shots went awry from both teams before Emil Forsberg’s deflected effort drew Sweden level just before half-time. The second-half was yet more sloppy and brutal play as neither side wanted to open up and take the kind of risk needed to win the game.
So, to extra-time we went. And just nine minutes later Marcus Danielsson committed a horror tackle to get sent off. In a way he was unfortunate, because he wasn’t actually trying to tackle poor Artem Besedin, but rather he wanted to clear the ball.
However the way he cleared the ball was so reckless and dangerous that the red card was entirely justified. And from there on Sweden were strictly trying to hold on for penalties. And while Ukraine were trying to get the win, injury to Andriy Yarmolenko seemed to end that as a possibility.
But then, in the 121st minute, literally the last minute of the game, stoppage time in extra-time, Zinchenko had the ball wide on the left and with little on he reached back to all the lessons taught him by Pep Guardiola and took inspiration from his Man City team-mate Raheem Sterling’s heroics earlier in the day and reached back and sent in a stunning, breathtaking, beautiful cross.
This thing belonged in an entirely different kind of game, a beautiful game. But perhaps that made it the perfect way to end this contest, to show that even among all the brutality and ugliness of football, the beauty will always be the most memorable and most definitive moments of the game.
Zinchenko’s cross bisected the Swedish defence and Artem Dovbyk was left with the simple job of heading it down and beyond Robin Olsen. The 24-year-old Dnipro striker making just his third appearance and scoring his first goal; his name will go down as the hero of the game but the artist who created it, and who scored the first, and who best embodied the genius of Andriy Shevchenko when he was a player was Oleksandr Zinchenko. Ukraine’s golden child.