Lukaku looks in blistering form
Job done for Belgium. In a game where Finland gave them little room to operate, Belgium still managed to create nearly a dozen clear-cut chances, and their main man Romelu Lukaku looks in the mood.
Lukaku scored his 63rd international goal in 96 games, a quite magnificent return, with a turn and strike that was made to look easy on his weaker foot. He had another ruled out for a marginal offside.
Lukaku has a habit of staying within the width of the penalty area – only one of his 24 touches in the game were out wide, and all were in the Finland half. Lukaku clearly suits international football, and indeed Serie A, where the pace is slightly slower than the Premier League. That is taking nothing away from the 28-year-old, who has proved himself to be a world-class marksman.
This was a good night for Belgium in the end, getting minutes into Eden Hazard, Axel Witsel and Kevin De Bruyne, as well as a start for the impressive, pacey 19-year-old forward Jeremy Doku. Don’t be surprised to see him feature again as a sub in the knockout stages.
One concern for Belgium will be that they have played over 90 minutes at this Euros well under par – in the first half against Denmark and the first half in St Petersburg here. But you cannot knock nine points from three games.
Netherlands will be Euros’ entertainers – but not winners
Watching the Netherlands has been a highlight of the European Championships. I mean, before you even get onto scoring eight goals and playing like they are in a five-a-side match, there have been planes flying around telling Frank de Boer what players to pick and his own captain openly admitting he does not like their formation in press conferences.
They have been, without a doubt, the entertainers of the finals. And it has been brilliant. But entertainment does not tend to win you tournaments, and it will not for the Netherlands.
Netherlands made hard work of getting past a Ukraine side who will struggle to qualify in third in their opening game, could easily have been punished by Austria in their second, and faced two marginal offside goals and a woodwork rattle against North Macedonia – a side ranked 62 in the world – in their final group match.
But they won all of those matches? Yes they did, but none of their opponents have pulled up a lot of trees on the international stage.
The whole reason the Netherlands have been so entertaining is their gung-ho attitude. If there is any unrest in the camp, they do not show it, pushing until the end even in their dead rubber against North Macedonia.
But those spaces they leave as a result will cost them against better opposition, quite possibly in the last 16 where one of Germany, France or Portugal may lie in wait.
That would not be a happy exit for De Boer, but when the dust is settled it would certainly not be one which would do any harm to his reputation, which has been at a low point almost since taking the job.
The Netherlands could surprise us all and embark on a run to the latter stages. Far worse teams have, after all. But to pick an example of a team who did, Greece, back in 2004.
They did not concede a single goal in the knockout stages. Considering Netherlands were almost undone by North Macedonia, that sort of record seems a long stretch, and a glorious defeat looks a lot more likely on current evidence.
Emotional Euros continues for resilient, united Denmark
Nine days ago football was an irrelevance to the Denmark players and the supporters in the Parken Stadium. Christian Eriksen’s harrowing collapse will live long in the memory and puts these Euros in context. It would have been understandable if Denmark had pulled out of the tournament, let alone restarted their match with Finland less than two hours later.
But with good news about Eriksen’s condition, Denmark’s players have quite incredibly been able to gather themselves and refocus on these Euros to reach the last 16. Perhaps the experience has bonded them together but their determination and quality has shone through in their subsequent group games against Belgium and Russia.
Their fans have played their part, too. The national stadium can surely never have been filled with an atmosphere as elated, as united, and as special as the one which drove the team to a 4-1 thrashing of Russia. Sure, football is not everything. But it produces powerful occasions to be treasured and enjoyed – and the Danes certainly did that on Monday night.
Out of the horror of Eriksen’s cardiac arrest has come the stirring reaction of his team-mates. They are thinking of him every step of the way, as their tribute with Belgium and Joakim Maehle’s celebration against Russia showed.
It is a remarkable story – and it is not over yet…
Light work for Austria’s history makers
Before Euro 2020, Austria had never won a game at a European Championships, let alone progress out of the group stage.
It may not have been applied by Andriy Shevchenko’s abject Ukraine, but the pressure was still on Franco Foda’s side by the bucket load.
Christoph Baumgartner’s first-half strike saw him become the youngest scorer at this summer’s tournament and secured a deserved lead and platform for Austria to push on to a more handsome victory.
The returning Marko Arnautovic was among those who passed up countless chances to do just that, but such was Austria’s dominance that not even a number of glaring misses could take the gloss off their historic accomplishment.
For the first time since the 1982 World Cup, Austria navigated their way out of a group stage at a major tournament.
Their reward for a milestone 39 years in the making? A last-16 tie with neighbours Italy at Wembley that will be watched all the way from London, to Linz, to Livorno.
Wales can dream of Euro 2016 repeat – but need Bale to be spot-on
Switzerland hit the post and Andrea Belotti forced Danny Ward into an important save after Gareth Bale had skied his unmarked volley over the bar. The Wales captain looked certain to grab a draw in Rome for his 10-man team when the ball fell kindly for a left-foot strike. But, like with his penalty miss against Turkey, he got it badly wrong. It could have been a costly error.
But that Swiss miss and Ward’s sharp stop prevented Wales from surrendering their goal difference advantage and they battled hard in the heat to ensure a second-place finish in Group A – and a Saturday night in Amsterdam.
The party there will not be quite what it could have been, given the travel restrictions Welsh fans are facing, but, wherever they are watching, they can now start to plot a path through this tournament that would emulate the class of 2016.
Russia or Denmark are the likely last-16 opponents, unless Finland can get a result off Belgium, and then it would be back to Baku to potentially face the Netherlands. That city was a happy hunting ground for Rob Page’s players in the group stage – and Wembley, the semi-finals and the chance to match the legends of Euro 2016 will be beckoning by then. It’s not impossible.
But while Wales have shown in this tournament they have a strong supporting cast – stronger than 2016? – they need their star man to step forward this weekend. Bale has shown moments of brilliance, particularly with his assists against Turkey, but his country needs him to be near-perfect in the knockouts to realise the dream. It’s a challenge he will relish.
Italy strengthen their reputation as potential Euro 2020 winners
Roberto Mancini made eight changes to his Italy team against Wales but the replacements looked just as impressive in the Rome sunshine. The Azzurri have taken this tournament by storm – and on Sunday they showed they have the strength in depth required to go deep into the knockout rounds.
Fit-again Marco Verratti put in a performance of real class, pulling the strings in midfield, and will be a real asset in the next round, while Federico Bernardeschi, Matteo Pessina, Federico Chiesa, and Alessandro Bastoni all came in and caught the eye.
After seeing off Wales and topping Group A, Italy’s players celebrated in style in front of their home fans. It is a shame they are saying ciao to Rome, with their knockout path taking them to London and Munich. The Olimpico Stadium has been the perfect launchpad for this talented group.
But they are 30 unbeaten now – a joint-Italian record – and full of confidence. They will not fear anyone, anywhere. With options all over the pitch, Mancini’s trickiest task may be narrowing his squad down to a matchday eleven.
Swiss and Shaqiri tricky potential last-16 opponents
In the end, Switzerland just had too much to do as they looked to overhaul Wales and reach the last 16 with a top-two finish in Group A.
They finished two goals shy of Wales despite an impressive 3-1 victory against Turkey and Rob Page’s side’s 1-0 defeat in Rome.
However, with a third-placed finish and a tally of four points , Vladimir Petkovic’s side still have high hopes of reaching the last 16 as one of the four best third-place finishers, and should they do that, they will be a tricky test for someone in the last 16.
Should they reach the knockout stages, their opponents will have to keep a close eye on Liverpool forward Xherdan Shaqiri.
Shaqiri has scored in the last four major tournaments and is now Switzerland’s outright top goalscorer at major tournaments, with his second goal this evening his seventh for his country at either the World Cup (4) or European Championships (3).
He was a constant thorn in the side of Turkey, controlling the game and scoring two fine goals to inspire his side to victory, and whoever Switzerland may come up against will have to pay close attention to him.
Podcast: Wales dreaming again, the view from Italy and Germany, and Group D finale previews
Wales are dreaming again! Jasper Taylor is joined by Ben Ransom and Geraint Hughes to discuss Rob Page’s side, who reached the last-16 at Euro 2020 despite a 1-0 defeat to Italy in Rome. With Finland, Russia or Denmark waiting in the next round, how far can the Welsh go at the tournament?
Then we get the view from Italy with Sky Italy’s Valentina Fass giving her thoughts on Roberto Mancini’s side’s impressive start to the tournament before Sky Germany’s Uli Kohler discusses Germany’s scintillating victory over defending champions Portugal and a potential last-16 clash with England.
Finally, Sky Sports features editor Peter Smith joins Jasper and Ben to look ahead to judgement night in Group D. Will England and Scotland join Wales in the knockout stages? The panel preview Tuesday night’s games: England vs Czech Republic and Scotland vs Croatia.