The Euro Group Stage: The Final Night!
The saying goes, “Save the best till last.” That is exactly what Euro 2020 did for the final games of the group stage last night. And it had to be that group that we had to wait for didn’t it?! Not some minnows, nor the inevitable stragglers that were always going through. No, it had to be the still completely undecided ‘group of death.’ Group F. The group of giants that included France, Portugal, Germany and Hungary.
As both matches kicked-off simultaneously at 8pm – Portugal vs France, Germany vs Hungary – the teams waiting for them in the last 16, the still to be confirmed best 3rd placed teams, and the whole of Europe watched and waited to see who would progress, who would fall, who would falter, and who would fight back. Nobody was disappointed!
The whistles blew, the games kicked off…
11 minutes; The first event! Hungary take a shock lead in Munich, with Captain Adam Szalai scoring an excellent diving header. The news immediately filters through to the fans at the other game – a murmur, a roar, a cheer – as it stands: the mighty Germany are going out to the minnows Hungary.
30 minutes: another moment of high drama; Hugo Lloris appears to punch Portugal’s Danilo in challenging for the ball. VAR is checking the challenge…PENALTY! Up steps Portugal’s talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo. He wants another international goal record. He wants his country to win. He can’t miss can he? Of course not. 1-0 Portugal, and the Selecao are now topping the group, France drop to third, and England could be facing France at Wembley!
46m 44s first half injury time: On the stroke of half-time, Mbappe runs into Portugal’s Nelson Semedo, the whistle blows. Surely not a France penalty? It is!! The complaints are ignored and up steps Karim Benzema, looking to score his first international goal after a near 7-year exile. A breath, a run…a goal! France are back in the game and back at the top of the table as the game reaches half-time. The Germans are still heading out.
46m 44s second half: At the exact same time as the first-half injury time goal, Karim Benzema scores in the same minute again in the second half! What are the chances?! And what a pass from Paul Pogba to pick out Benzema who runs behind Portuguese lines to slot the ball off the post and acoss the line. But what’s this?! There’s a VAR check. Benzema waits. France waits. We all wait. The goal is given! Benzema was just onside and France are now ahead, winning 2-1 and top of the group, and Hungary are now defying the odds in second place and looking to play England in the next round!
60 minutes: Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Cristiano Ronaldo wins and steps up for another Portugal penalty. This goal will put Portugal back into second place and put him level as the highest international goalscorer ever. He takes a breath…he runs up…he scores. 109 international goals for Portugal and now 5 in this Euro tournament already. Portugal look to be playing England in the next round.
66 minutes: The Germans are not giving up! Kai Havertz equalises against Hungary and now we’re back to square one as the night began. France are top, Germany second, Portugal third, and Hungary are heading out of the Euros. Surely, that will be it now?
68 minutes: It’s not over yet! Straight from kick-off after conceding, Hungary go right down the other end and score again! 2-1 to Hungary and Germany are going home from the Euros once more, whilst Hungary are on the way to making it out of the ‘group of death’ alive!
*Almost 15 minutes of near-misses, close-shaves, and holding tight tick by, until…*
84 minutes: Of course. Germany will not exit a tournament without a fight. Despite brave Hungarian resistance, Germany break through. Leon Goretzka picks up the loose ball, strikes through a sea of bodies to seal his team’s Euro fate. Germany will be finishing second behind France, Portugal will progress in third, but Hungary will be leaving the competition, even after putting up the bravest of fights against three giants of European football.
Just like the best football, the last two games and the last four teams of the Euro 2020 group stage, were all touch and go.
Roll on the Last 16!