The most beautiful football evening of the European Championship lasts exactly five hours and 46 minutes. A trip. An adventure that takes the neutral viewer from a heroic fight in the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen to even more sensational scenes in the National Arena in Bucharest, where the most valuable player in the world would fail fourteen minutes before midnight at a decisive moment.
That’s football. At best.
At odds with what the Dutch national team presented on Sunday, Monday evening brought the spectacle that football-loving Europe will have taken with bated breath. Fourteen goals, spread over two eighth finals in which one top country was released with a fright and the other was eliminated completely unexpectedly.
Would the French have secretly thought that they were going to win, ten minutes before the Swiss would give the game a completely different turn, an hour before people would drive through their neighborhoods honking their horns in the smallest villages near the Alps?
That was the surprise in the late hours. But first there had been Croatia-Spain, also a top match, also a knockout duel with an encore.
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Spain-Croatia: eight goals
Three-time European champions Spain seemed assured of a place in the quarterfinals until five minutes before the end. Until the Croats scored. Earlier this European Championship, Spanish national coach Luis Enrique might have compared his team to a bottle of Cava that had to be uncorked, it was the Croats who suddenly pushed the stopper back in the neck. Two hits in seven minutes. Everything was open again.
And while the enthusiast must have been on the edge of his seat, the stats fan was also catered to, knowing that the Croats broke the European Championship goals record (109) with their second goal, which would later go up to 118 goals. But that was an afterthought, on an evening that would offer even more excitement.
Because although the Spanish victory (5-3 after extra time) was spectacular, the game after that would really be the game of the tournament. France-Switzerland. The reigning world champion against a country that last reached the quarterfinals of a major tournament in 1954. In that respect, the Swiss have played for decades as they manifest themselves in geopolitical circles: fairly inconspicuous.
At least that was the impression before the eighth final against Les Blues.
‘Wir machen das’
It seemed unlikely that Switzerland could measure up to the French. Kylian Mbappé, Antoine Griezmann, Karim Benzema, Raphaël Varane, Ngolo Kanté… no Swiss who enjoys as much admiration as the world champions of 2018. Although it must be said: the French did not get through the group stage really convincingly.
You can see that again in this match. That things are not going well at the star ensemble of national coach Didier Deschamps. Nevertheless, they undo the 1-0 deficit after the break. Twice Benzema. Then Paul Pogba curls the ball unparalleled in the top corner: 1-3.
The midfielder does a little dance. He knows how good he is. He knows that he will probably be the man of the match soon, as Paul Pogba, the playmaker who can dribble with giant strides, often is.
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And as he fishes the ball out of the net, Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer may realize that he will soon see his daughter Nayla again. He just missed her birth when he flew to his family two weeks ago after the lost group match. His second child. A cloud.
However, family reunification will have to wait a little longer. With the chance that some had already turned off their TV, millions of viewers in Europe are watching Switzerland rise, just like the Croats earlier in the evening. After the 3-2, the 3-3 falls in the final minute. It’s 10:45 PM. And the evening continues.
Penalties – that’s what the game turns out to be. “Wir machen das”, the Swiss captain Granit Xhaka shouts to his fellow players who stand in a circle around him. Now football has suddenly become an individualistic sport. Player versus goalkeeper, awaiting fate. Anyway, at least one player after the penalty shootout will be remembered like Clarence Seedorf, Frank de Boer and Jaap Stam in the Netherlands: a penalty miss. The question is who.
Mario Gavranovic is not. He takes the first penalty and scores, just like the other four Swiss. The French follow. Incredible penalty kicks. Pogba, Olivier Giroud, Marcus Thuram, Presnel Kimpembe. All hit. And then he comes to the fore, Kylian Mbappe, a former prodigy teenager, now the most valuable player in the world at 189 million euros. 22 years old.
The Paris Saint-Germain player must score. Otherwise it’s over.
Mbappe backs away. Then fast forward. A staircase to the right, turning away towards the left corner. Wherever Yann Sommer is, the not so tall goalkeeper (1.83 meters) who makes his wife wait even longer because he gets his hands against the ball.
Pats – France’s European Championship is over, as Swiss nationals rush into the streets at home. From Bern to Basel, the party is on as Switzerland will play a quarterfinal in a final round for the first time in 67 years.
Not much later, former footballer and BBC presenter Gary Lineker tweeted: “What a match. What a tournament. What a day. What a Summer.”
GaryLineker Gary Lineker This might be the best day’s football I’ve ever watched. 2 extraordinary games that are almost the mirror image of each other. Unbelievable scenes. June 28, 2021 @ 8:51 PM