After the entertaining but perhaps slightly low-key Euro 2020 group stages, the casting light of world football was set on the last 16 and the drama that would unfold and cause chaos, like a pack of cards chucked across a room.
On a positive note for the Chelsea side of the tournament, the club that started this summer’s international frenzy of world class players with the most participants only lost out on one of it’s members. The unfortunate Billy Gilmour being the only Blues entrant to exit the border crossing Euro 2020 before the knockout stages. Despite the disappointment for the young Scot, there was plenty to watch on and admire as Chelsea’s European Champions once again dominated line-ups for the best that international football can offer.
Euro 2020 knockout stages: Last 16 matches
Wales Vs Denmark: Danish delight for dominant Christensen and Denmark as they progress from Euro 2020 knockout stages
Gareth Bale’s men were rolled by Denmark after a Kasper Dolberg double set up a huge 4-0 win. The Danes were inspired once again and showed few signs of ever letting their dominance slip.
Since the shock and tragedy of Christian Eriksen’s collapse on matchday one the heartfelt response of Denmark’s footballers has been nothing short of sensational. With the experienced Kasper Schmeichal in goal and Chelsea’s own European champion in Andreas Christensen in defence, there is a strong base for the Danes to build from and they haven’t needed anymore motivation this tournament.
Christensen’s astonishing form for both club and country since his reintroduction to first team football in February has seen the Dane become undoubtedly one of the most in form centre halves in world football.
Christensen also showed his positional versatility and subsequent ease in being tactically flexible mid-game, a keystone reason for his success under Thomas Tuchel. Fans were left in tatters trying to decide if he was being deployed as a makeshift defensive midfielder (Tuchel are you watching?) or a right sided centre back in a defensive unit of five. Ultimately, it doesn’t particularly matter where he played on paper, his dominance whilst covering three areas of the pitch was easy to see and as his form continues to rise, the Danes, lead by Christensen’s recent showings, won’t be an easy game for any knockout stage opponents at Euro 2020 after getting through the last 16.
Italy Vs Austria: Jorginho progresses
The second game of the last 16 tiess at Euro 2020 saw the most impressive side so far, Italy, take on Austria. Although David Alaba’s men hadn’t progressed to the second stages of a major tournament since the 1950s, their squad is often billed as a potential dark horse.
Jorginho, so often the illustrator for whichever team and whatever shade of blue his shirt is, was tasked with choreographing Roberto Mancini’s passage into the quarter finals.
As the game unfolded, Jorginho wasn’t as central to the Italian’s eventual 2-1 win as he had been to their group stage victories, however, he the midfield tempo-setter did play all 120 minutes of the game at Wembley.
A game which won’t be billed as a tournament classic picked up in extra time as Mancini’s men marched, just about, to the quarter finals and set up a juicy tie with some other Chelsea devils.
Furthermore, the pictures of Blues legend Gianluca Vialli celebrating with Mancini at full time will be some of the most wholesome, memorable and happy ones from the tournament. Seeing ‘The Boss’ at football and enjoying himself, a reminder to cherish every moment.
Belgium Vs Portugal: Ex-Blues make it through Euro 2020 last 16 clash
With no Chelsea involvement as Czech Republic dumped out Frank De Boer’s impressive Netherland side, attention turned to the first clash of the giants. Belgium’s Chelsea narrative filled devils faced off against the reigning champions.
Unsurprisingly, in a team that featured five ex-Chelsea players, one of them stole the limelight. Hazard, no not that one, Thorgan, was the only goalscorer as Roberto Martinez’s Red Devil’s sent Cristiano Ronaldo’s hopes of stealing a second international tournament home at the first knockout opportunity.
The front-three of Belgium was a reminder of what could have been at Stamford Bridge, arguably the potential forward line that led Belgium would have been the best ever to play for Chelsea. Consisting of the mercurial Eden Hazard, less effected by Madrid politics and with the freedom of the captains armband on his shirt, Chelsea’s best player of the past decade was closely supported by Kevin De Bruyne’s creative genius and Romelu Lukaku’s surprisingly underestimated and underappreciated striking prowess.
On the night, Hazard (Eden this time), went off with injury, one that might cost him the rest of the tournament and alongside him De Bruyne was also forced to retreat from battle after a second nasty looking collision.
The matchwinner, Thorgan Hazard, who never made a first team appearance for Chelsea, won the game with a long-range swirling, dipping and curving effort which evaded the paws of Rui Patricio.
With the matches still to come in this recap, Belgium and their injury hit, Chelsea filled front line, will count themselves as tournament favourites.
Croatia Vs Spain: El capitano leads the way with Morata on target
At least one of Chelsea’s squad would be coming home after the game, but only eight goals later was it fully decided. The game largely passed by Kovacic who was unable to stop his side from squandering a one-goal lead (brought about through the freak goal of the tournament).
Going up the other end, the midfielder wasn’t particularly involved in the comeback either, being substituted in the 79th minute, before both of Croatia’s dramatic late double occurred.
On the other hand, Azpilicueta, the Champions League winning captain, popped up to score his first ever international goal to put Spain ahead.
Azpilicueta’s team mate, Alvaro Morata, then sent Luis Enrique’s side ahead in extra time before the game was sealed minutes later.
Spain, on the same side of the draw as Belgium, will have to improve if they’re to progress much further in the tournament, however, their experiences in this rollercoaster game will have aided their prospects going forward if further matches enter extra time again.
France Vs Switzerland: Favourites crash out of Euro 2020 at last 16 stage as Kante and Giroud fall
The Spain and Croatia goal extravaganza had the honour of being game of the tournament. But it only held that accolade for a few hours. France’s tie with Switzerland wasn’t expected to be a Euro’s epic, but what followed was unforgettable.
Chelsea’s feature was in the solo form of N’Golo Kante in the France midfield before Olivier Giroud’s late introduction, but the general wasn’t able to prolong his stay at Euro 2020 past the first of the knockout rounds.
Following the same scoring path as the Spain match, Switzerland took a shock lead through Haris Sefervovic, he then had a chance to double the lead but couldn’t convert a penalty kick past Hugo Lloris. This was only the start of the chaos which centred around Kante and his midfield partner Paul Pogba.
Karim Benzema’s quick-fire double put the world champions ahead before Pogba, allowed to roam due to Kante’s unerring presence and dominance in the midfield, put forward his bid for goal of the tournament with a curling drive into the top corner of the goal.
The happiness from the Blues duo ended there though, Switzerland blitzed back with two goals in the final 10 minutes, taking the game into extra time, before Kylian Mbappe’s missed penalty ended the shootout at sudden death. Giroud dispatched his spot kick in the typically nonchalant style of the French striker, but couldn’t help his team to progress to the last eight.
England Vs Germany: Blue boys not needed as King Kai crashes out
Unfortunately, for the biggest game of the Euro 2020 knockout stages (well, for most of us anyway), there was no Chelsea involvement from the England side of the next instalment of the historic rivalry which spans over 60 years.
Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell, both recovering from their self-isolation following contact with Billy Gilmour, weren’t relied upon by Gareth Southgate, and Reece James wasn’t needed in a back five, despite being the starting wing-back in a Champions League winning side.
As for Germany, they started with all of their Blues contingent. Timo Werner patrtnered Kai Havertz up front and Antonio Rudiger was in charge of marshalling a three-man defence.
Werner, who was eventually substituted, was on the outskirts of the game but showed a constant threat when running at the English defence. Rudiger wasn’t at fault for either of the English goals, but also didn’t stand out like he recently has done for his club.
It was Kai Havertz that caught the eye. His display was once again outstanding on the international stage, picking up the ball in pockets of space behind England’s defensive midfielders and in front of the centre backs. His ghostly movement in and out of space on and off the ball was the biggest threat for the Germans and Havertz seemed destined to be involved in anything positive for his team.
Although he didn’t score, the goalscorer of possibly Chelsea’s second most famous goal ever did sting the fingers of Jordan Pickford with a blistering half volley, the closest the away side got.
As Kante, Giroud and Chelsea’s German boys crashed out, there is still Euro 2020 hope for Mount, Chilwell, James and Azpilicueta, alongside Martinez’s ex-Blues. It’s all to play for.
Written and edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)
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