After a crazy round of 16 which included 29 goals, three red cards, and shock results, the quarterfinals are here! Not the same drama, as one of the world’s best players missing a decisive penalty but compelling matches, nonetheless. We will look at all four of the quarterfinal matches from a Reds perspective and forecast the semifinals. The inconsistent amount of travel and location of matches has been unfair and biased towards countries during this tournament. At least they will all be playing on a neutral, unbiased, wait, what? The semi and final are at Wembley, in England…OK, strike that and on to our quarterfinals review!
Switzerland 1-1 Spain (1-3 to Spain on penalties)
Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland’s captain for the night, has been the most consistent performer of all Liverpool players during this championship. His side fell behind 1-0 on a deflected OG by Denis Zakaria just eight minutes in. Nonetheless, Shaqiri found the back of the net, following some horrific Spanish defending, making it 1-1 after 68 minutes. Unfortunately, the match changed dramatically when English official Michael Oliver showed a straight red card to Switzerland’s Remo Freuler. For me, this was never a red card offense and changed the remainder of regular and extra time. As a result, Shaqiri was once again subbed off for defensive reinforcements. Spain brought on Thiago Alcantara as an extra-time substitute in the 113th minute and he made little impact. After partaking in a memorable shootout during the round of 16 Switzerland struggled against the Spanish. Spain prevailed 3-1, no Yann Sommer magic this time out.
I loved that Aymeric Laporte, he of French descent, made one of the errors leading to the Swiss goal. I am all for players utilizing their ancestry to play at their highest national team level, but this is questionable. Then again, this Spanish side does not have a single Real Madrid player in the squad, which is just crazy. The Spanish defender, by way of France, will need to be much better in the semifinal or the Italians will make him wish he had just spent the summer in France!
Belgium 1-2 Italy
I felt going into this round that this would be the cagiest of quarterfinal matchups. Coming out of the group stage either country could take claim for being tournament favorites. In the end, Italy’s experience at the back coupled with their new attacking intent was too much for Belgium. If Belgium does not revamp their aging backline quickly this golden generation will struggle to fulfill their promise. Italy appears to be just the opposite. A balance of experience, a manager who understands his squad, and a country full of supporters who should be excited about the future of their football!
In today’s politically charged football landscape, I found Italy’s response to Belgium taking a knee pre-match refreshing. The Italian national team has not been kneeling throughout this tournament but did during the opening of this match. The commentators mentioned how they would be doing this as a sign of support and solidarity to the Belgium squad. Romelu Lukaku’s gesture to Lorenzo Insigne prior to kickoff and in his comments post-match acknowledged it was an important statement. Regardless of where you stand on their politics, it is important all players’ voices are heard and are supported on and off the pitch.
Czech Republic 1-2 Denmark
The second quarterfinal matchup that did not feature any Liverpool Reds was between the Czech Republic and Denmark. For many, the Danes are the country to cheer for if you do not have a dog in the fight. Easy to understand when you consider everything that transpired during matchday 1 and the resilience their squad has shown. A great match with lots of talking points, none greater than UEFA’s criminal decision to host this match in Baku. The Danes took a two-goal lead into the break and looked on cruise control. Kasper Schmeichel’s errored clearance directly led to Patrick Schick’s goal making it 1-2 and game on. The Czech’s looked the better side for the next 20 minutes but could not score the equalizer. Eventually, both sides appeared to run out of gas and Denmark’s miraculous run continues to the semis.
Ukraine 0-4 England
England saw a return to four at the back and a return to form of their number nine, Harry Kane! Gareth Southgate once again surprised everyone, deciding to start Jadon Sancho for the injured Bukayo Saka. Kane opened the scoring after just 4 minutes. England doubled their lead following a corner in which the ball found Harry Maguire’s massive forehead before finding the net. Kane’s brace made it 0-3 and it was time for Southgate to start to plan for the semifinals. The manager brought on Liverpool Captain Jordan Henderson in the 57th minute for Declan Rice. Rice and his midfield partner Kalvin Phillips were each a yellow card away from suspension. Part of me was hoping for caution so Jordan might see his first start in the next match. Nonetheless, this was good squad management by Southgate, something he is becoming increasingly known for at major tournaments.
Hendo capped off an epic night by scoring his first goal at the international level closing out England’s 0-4 win. After the penalty debacle during the tune-up, I am sure a beautifully timed headed goal was a welcomed surprise. Makes you wonder how different it would have been if this tournament was held 12 months ago. I bet Jordan would have started all five matches last summer. Whereas I do not know if Stones, Philips, or even Foden would have gotten in the squad in 2020. Funny how 12 months can change things so dramatically. Well, not everything, like Roy Keane’s ability to sound like a complete moron on TV! As seen recently, when trying to explain how Maguire and Henderson’s squad inclusions were somehow different? Roy, stop, just stop or don’t, I like the comedy in your errors!
Wildcard Report: UEFA, UEFA, UEFA…
UEFA and the parties that run this crooked organization should be ashamed of themselves for this blatant money grab. I was in support of having this championship from the selfish standpoint of wanting more of the sport we love. That said, the amount of travel, host cities, and unequal treatment on display is just staggering. There is always a host country, you know the one who best greases the pockets of corrupt officials. But the idea this is “a continental tournament with no host” is laughable. England could win this tournament by only playing 1 match outside of Wembley. While Denmark and Switzerland traveled further during one trip in group play than Germany, England and Italy have all combined! Might not have a host country by name, but England surely benefited from the changes. I wonder who at UEFA’s pockets were greased and who from the English FA did the greasing?
The quarterfinals of this championship had a little bit of everything. Three close matches, a lackluster penalty shootout, and a dominant 0-4 win by the three lions. The remaining draw is exciting and chock-full of storylines. None bigger than that of the Dane’s and their remarkable emotional march to the semis. From third-place finisher’s via goal difference to the semifinals, exactly why I love this game. Thank you for reading and we will be back with another recap after the mid-week matches and as always…Go Italy!