The Netherlands have been one of the most obviously entertaining and thrilling sides to watch at Euro 2020 and the opening stages of their shock 2-0 last-16 defeat to the Czech Republic in Budapest was no exception.

Frank De Boer's side were rapid and relentless down the flanks and, by the time Denzel Dumfries peeled infield and charged into the centre-forward position to collect Daley Blind's raking pass, a bedraggled Czech backline might have found it easier to be marking all 50,000 inhabitants of the Scottish town with which the rampaging right wing-back shares a name.

Tomas Kalas managed to force Dumfries wide and made a vital, scampering challenge. There is entertainment in such last-ditch defending too, although it rarely looks much fun for the protagonist.

Seven minutes before half-time, it was impossible to ignore a towering man in orange who appeared to be deriving little enjoyment from what was unfolding.

Some worryingly passive Dutch defending let Lukas Masopust find Antonin Barak in the area. In flew Matthijs de Ligt with a goal-saving challenge. The Juventus centre-back howled at everyone within earshot. He was furious.

 

De Ligt the leader

At that moment, it felt like the 21-year-old was in the process of turning in a defining performance to quell the hum of criticism that has soundtracked the past two years of a career that still promises so much.

"De Ligt is the centre-back of our defence. He needs to become much more of a leader than he is now," Netherlands great Marco van Basten told the NOS channel in a curiously harsh criticism after De Ligt returned to help his side to a clean sheet against Austria following the chaotic 3-2 win over Ukraine.

"He went to Italy to learn how to defend more, but I think he didn't learn much there. He needs to lead the rest much more."

De Ligt left Ajax after their celebratory 2018-19 campaign already looking like a born leader. It was hard to imagine those credentials being questioned. But a transitional year at Juventus as Maurizio Sarri tried to implement a new style, followed by last season's ignominy of surrendering the Serie A title under Andrea Pirlo amounted to an unforgiving education in Italy's top flight.

Still, he managed to retain an admirably positive outlook.

"I'm really lucky as I'm playing with almost everybody I'd be watching if I was a young player," De Ligt told The Athletic midway through 2020-21.

"[Leonardo] Bonucci is really good in the build-up, so I talk to him about that and watch what he is doing. [Giorgio] Chiellini is really good at marking, so I'm trying to learn from him too.

"I play with [Virgil] Van Dijk [for the Netherlands]. In the end, though, it's so important that you develop your own game and don't start being a copycat of someone else."

Sunday's match, with Van Dijk a long-term absentee and the prospect of a charge for glory such as the one Bonucci is underpinning with Italy, looked like it might become the game where De Ligt stepped out of those considerable shadows.

De Ligt the scapegoat

As it was, his ill-timed stumble and handball to deny Patrik Schick a goalscoring opportunity – moments after Donyell Malen should have opened the scoring at the other end – engulfed the defender and his team-mates in a darkness they could not lift as the lights went out on their Euro 2020 bid.

"An experienced mature defender doesn't make the second mistake and lets the forward go on and score, because he doesn't leave his team with 10 men on the field," Gary Neville said on ITV after some horrid last-ditch defending that was no fun at all for the man involved.

 

De Ligt's red card makes him an obvious scapegoat. Everything changed when he went off. Save for the effervescent Dumfries charging forward to draw a yellow card from Vladimir Coufal, making a block to rival De Ligt's earlier effort to thwart Pavel Kaderabek and still causing havoc in the opposition half, there was little to recommend about how De Boer's men responded to adversity – their game management very much a minute-by-minute, reactive endeavour.

Tomas Holes' 68th-minute opener hastened the capitulation and the Golden Boot-chasing Schick put the result beyond doubt with his fourth of the tournament. The Netherlands were out, having not conceded a goal at any stage with De Ligt on the field.

He will not have wanted to perversely prove his worth in this fashion. De Ligt's tendency to find positives will be put to its biggest test after this shot at greatness slipped through his fingers because the ball did not.

Spain boss Luis Enrique has described the abuse received by Alvaro Morata as a "crime" and says it should be a matter for the police. 

Morata has been the focus of attention since being jeered by his own fans during a pre-Euro 2020 friendly with Portugal after missing several opportunities.

He was then criticised for his displays in Spain's 0-0 draw with Sweden in their Group E opener and 1-1 draw with Poland, a game in which he scored but missed more chances.

The Juventus striker, whose loan from Atletico Madrid was extended for another season last week, then missed a penalty in Wednesday's 5-0 win against Slovakia, which saw Spain progress from their group in second place.

Morata revealed in an interview that he has received vicious messages on social media during the tournament, while his wife and children have also been targeted in public. 

Luis Enrique has repeatedly leapt to the defence of Morata for his performances and is expected to stick with the 28-year-old for the last-16 tie with Croatia on Monday. 

Speaking at a media conference, the Spain boss said: "The situation is so serious that it must be put in the hands of the police because it is a serious crime. 

"Insulting Morata's relatives is a crime and I hope it is corrected outright."

 

Spain will hope to end a run of falling at the first hurdle in the knockouts of a major tournament when they face Croatia.

After winning Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, La Roja were eliminated at this stage of both Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.

Despite that, Luis Enrique said his side have no doubts about their ability to get past Croatia. 

"I have had the same confidence since the start of the Championship," he added.

"No team has surprised us. I thought we were going to be first in the group, but football is the result. But in terms of morale and dedication, we are at the max.

"We have not been there since 2012, but against Slovakia we had to win and now we have another final. I don't know if we are going to pass, but my team has no doubts. We are going to try to minimise the threat of the rival."

The match will be Croatia and Spain's third major tournament meeting, with both previous such clashes coming in European Championship group stages. Both sides won once each: Spain in 2012 and Croatia in 2016.

The Czech Republic reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2020 with a surprise 2-0 win over the Netherlands, who had Matthijs de Ligt sent off.

A close game in Budapest swung the way of Jaroslav Silhavy's men 55 minutes in when De Ligt was dismissed for a deliberate handball that prevented Patrik Schick from having a clear goalscoring opportunity.

Tomas Holes then headed in the opening goal before superbly setting up Schick for the second as the Czech Republic progressed to the last eight, where they face Denmark.

The majority of the Netherlands' first-half threat came through the forward runs of Denzel Dumfries, the right-back posing a real danger down the right but unable to provide for Memphis Depay and Donyell Malen.

The best of the first-half chances fell to Antonin Barak, who was teed up by Lukas Masopust but saw his effort from six yards out just blocked over the bar by De Ligt.

Malen carved out a brilliant opening to break the deadlock, driving his way through the Czech Republic defence only to see Tomas Vaclik take the ball from his feet as he tried to round the goalkeeper.

Moments later, De Ligt misjudged a bouncing ball and hooked it away from Patrik Schick with his hand as he fell, leading referee Sergey Karasev to send off the centre-back after a VAR review.

Pavel Kaderabek had a great chance when Schick missed a header, but Dumfries made a brilliant block in front of keeper Maarten Stekelenburg, the Netherlands suddenly on the ropes.

The breakthrough came with a little over 20 minutes left, Holes heading into the net after Tomas Kalas nodded the ball back across the box, with Stekelenburg caught out of position.

Frank de Boer introduced Wout Weghorst in a bid to find an equaliser, but Schick put the game beyond doubt with a slick low finish after Holes drove through a gap between Georginio Wijnaldum and Dumfries before cutting the ball back.

 

UEFA has denied preventing supporters attending the Euro 2020 clash between the Netherlands and Czech Republic from displaying rainbow flags.

Earlier on Sunday, it was reported by Dutch outlets De Telegraaf and Nu that fans arriving for the game in Budapest were having their rainbow flags – a sign of support and pride for the LGBTQ community – confiscated by security guards on the instruction of UEFA.

Hungary has recently faced criticism over its treatment of LGBTQ communities after passing a law that prohibits the sharing of content in schools that could be deemed to promote homosexuality or gender change.

Germany had hoped to underline opposition to that decision when they faced Hungary in their final group-stage game by lighting up Munich's Allianz Arena in rainbow colours, but were blocked from doing so.

However, UEFA insisted any attempted suppression ahead of Sunday's quarter-final in the Hungarian capital would not have been decided upon by Europe's football governing body.

UEFA pointed out local authorities were responsible for areas such as fan parks, and said any rainbow flags should be welcomed.

A statement read: "UEFA had earlier today informed the Hungarian Football Federation that rainbow-coloured symbols are not political and that in line with UEFA’s Equal Game campaign which aims at fighting against any type of discrimination, including against the LGBTQI+ community, such flags will be allowed into the stadium.

"Contrary to some reports in Dutch media, UEFA would like to clarify that it has not banned any rainbow-coloured symbols from the fan zone in Budapest and that the fan zone is under the responsibility of the local authorities. UEFA on the contrary would very much welcome any such symbol into the fan zone."

Netherlands captain Georginio Wijnaldum outlined he would wear a rainbow-coloured captain's armband for his side's last-16 meeting with the Czech Republic.

He also threatened to walk off the field should he or any of his team-mates be subjected to abuse, after reports of players facing homophobic and racist taunts during games held in Budapest during Euro 2020.

Karim Benzema will hope to build upon a return to the international scoresheet when France take on Switzerland in the last 16 of Euro 2020.

Benzema netted both his team's goals in 2-2 draw with Portugal that secured top spot in Group F for Les Bleus last time out – his first since the end of an exile from the national team that began in 2015.

In his only previous appearance against Switzerland at the 2014 World Cup, the 33-year-old Real Madrid forward scored twice and supplied an assist in a resounding 5-2 win.

Indeed, this will be the fifth meeting between the teams at a major tournament and France are unbeaten in the previous four, with their most recent encounter at Euro 2016 finishing goalless.

If the identity of a France front three featuring Benzema, Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe feels fairly settled, Didier Deschamps' starting formation has become a matter for debate.

 

A report by L'Equipe du Soir claimed a number of players have asked the coaching staff to revert to a 3-4-3 system

Jules Kounde started at right-back against Portugal but is a doubt for Monday's game in Bucharest with a hamstring problem and, while Lucas Hernandez is back in training after a knee complaint forced him off at half-time in the previous match, Lucas Digne (thigh) is out, meaning Deschamps has plenty to ponder whether operating with a back three or a back four.

"They’re a well-structured team and they have good attacking potential with [Haris] Seferovic, [Breel] Embolo and [Xherdan] Shaqiri," the World Cup-winning coach said of Switzerland.

"We must not underestimate them and it's a knockout game so we’ll have to do everything we can to ensure we have smiles on our faces at the end of the match."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

France – Kylian Mbappe

While Benzema is now off and running for the tournament and Griezmann netted the equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Hungary, Mbappe is yet to get off the mark – a state of affairs that surely cannot continue much longer for the Paris Saint-Germain superstar. Mbappe has no goals from eight shots in the tournament with a combined expected goals (xG) value of 1.3.

 

Switzerland – Xherdan Shaqiri

One man who had no problem in front of goal during the final round of group stage matches was Liverpool attacker Shaqiri, upon whom Switzerland will again pin plenty of their hopes. His brace against Turkey made him Switzerland's all-time leading scorer in major tournaments with seven, overtaking Josef Hugi (six).

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Switzerland have reached the knockout stages at each of their past four major tournaments. They were eliminated in their first match following the group stages on each of those previous three instances.
- France have only lost one of their previous 17 matches at the Euros and World Cup combined (W12 D4) – the Euro 2016 final against Portugal.
- Switzerland will face the reigning world champions at a major tournament for the first time. Overall, they have won only three of their 20 matches against reigning world champions (D9 L8), with this their first such match since a 1-1 draw with Italy in June 2010.
- France progressed the ball upfield 18.7 metres per sequence on average during the group stages, the highest figure of any side, highlighting their ability to advance the ball after regaining possession.
- Griezmann has played in each of France's past 51 matches, a run that started on August 31, 2017 against the Netherlands. The Barcelona forward is the only player to make 50+ appearances for a European country since that date.

Spain will look to end a run of falling at the first hurdle in the knockouts of a major tournament when they face Croatia in the last 16 of Euro 2020.

A 5-0 thrashing of Slovakia sent La Roja through in second place in Group E after draws with Sweden and Poland had left their chances of progressing in doubt.

Croatia, meanwhile, were 3-1 winners over Scotland on matchday three, ensuring they followed England in escaping Group D to secure a spot in the knockout phase for the fourth time in six European Championship appearances.

They have never progressed beyond the first round after the group stage, while Spain's recent form in the latter rounds of tournaments has also been poor: after winning Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, they were eliminated at this stage of both Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.

Their previous meeting with Croatia ended in a 3-2 defeat in November 2018 in the Nations League, but coach Luis Enrique would do well to be inspired by the match two months earlier when Spain romped to a 6-0 victory. So too would his forwards.

Spain had a higher expected goals total than any other side in the group stage (8.8), but scored only six times. In fact, the players to underperformed the most based on xG over the first three matchdays were Gerard Moreno (zero goals from 2.1 xG) and the much-maligned Alvaro Morata (one goal from 2.9 xG).

Scoring goals is certainly not a worry for Marcos Llorente, who told AS: "In the first two games, we got a bit stuck with in front of goal, but we've already seen we're capable of creating many chances, even for opponents who sit back.

"We did so and we lacked effectiveness in the first two games, and in the last one, we had it. It was a good victory."

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Croatia – Ante Rebic

With Ivan Perisic - who scored one and set up another against Scotland - missing after a positive COVID-19 test, there is great pressure on the rest of the Croatia attack to perform.

Rebic is most likely to replace Perisic in the line-up and, while the Milan forward is far from prolific for his country, his work rate at the very least could be key to disrupt Spain's rhythm.

Spain – Sergio Busquets

It would be wrong to claim the return of Busquets was the reason Spain suddenly found their goalscoring groove against Slovakia, but it is certainly true that there was more purpose to their possession play with the Barcelona man in the middle.

Against a midfield of the strength and experience of Croatia's, Busquets could be critical to La Roja's plans when it comes to keeping the ball and warding off counter-attacks.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- This will be Croatia and Spain's third major tournament meeting, with both previous such clashes coming in European Championship group stages. Both sides won once each: Spain in 2012 and Croatia in 2016.
- Spain forced more pressed sequences (sequences where the opposition has three or fewer passes and the sequence ends within 40 metres of their own goal) than any other side during the Euro 2020 group stages (60), while their average of eight passes allowed per defensive action was the lowest by any side in the round.
-All six of Spain's goals in the group stage were scored by different players, including two own goals. Indeed, Spain were the highest scoring side in the round not to see a player score more than once.
- Last time out against Scotland, Luka Modric became the oldest player to score for Croatia at the Euros (35 years and 286 days), while he also holds the record as the youngest goalscorer for his nation in the competition (22 years and 73 days versus Austria in 2008). Should he score in this game (aged 35 years and 292 days), he would become the second-oldest player in European Championship history to score in consecutive appearances in the competition, after Cristiano Ronaldo.

Gareth Bale put talk of international retirement to bed following Wales' Euro 2020 exit, saying he will play for his country until his professional career comes to an end.

Bale had previously said he would make a decision on his international future after the delayed tournament but walked out of a BBC interview when asked if he had played his last game for Wales following their 4-0 last-16 loss to Denmark in Amsterdam on Saturday.

However, speaking to S4C, he made it clear he will not be calling time on his Wales career.

"I want to continue to play. People ask stupid questions all the time, but obviously I love playing for Wales," said Bale.

"I'll play for Wales until the day that I stop playing football.

"We've just started the World Cup campaign, and we need to take this experience into that.

"I feel like we have a very good way of playing when we play well and we need to keep that confidence high, keep playing football and I think we can qualify for the next World Cup."

Wales are third in Group E of UEFA qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar having taken three points from their opening two games. Belgium are top with seven points with Czech Republic in what would be a play-off spot in second.

They return to action with a qualifier in Belarus on September 5 but before then Bale will likely seek to clarify his club future.

He spent last season on loan at Tottenham, who are still without a permanent replacement for former manager Jose Mourinho, but is due to return to Real Madrid, where his contract expires at the end of the 2021-22 campaign.

Bale fell out of favour with Zinedine Zidane but it remains to be seen whether he will have a chance to revive his Madrid career under Carlo Ancelotti, who returned for a second spell at the club this month having delivered a long-awaited 10th Champions League crown for Los Blancos back in 2014 in his first stint. 

On target in the 4-1 win over Atletico Madrid in the 2014 final, Bale has since won a further three Champions League titles under Zidane with Madrid.

Belgium face holders Portugal in a mouthwatering Euro 2020 last-16 tie on Sunday and their star attacking midfielder is in ominous form.

Kevin De Bruyne began the Red Devils' group campaign on the sidelines as he recovered from facial injuries sustained during Manchester City's Champions League final defeat to Chelsea.

“I don't feel anything on the left side, like after a visit to the dentist," he explained in a typically abrupt fashion.

But since being introduced as a half-time substitute with Belgium 1-0 down to Denmark in Copenhagen, the 29-year-old has unquestionably made his presence felt.

A brilliant assist and thumping winning goal saw the playmaker inspire a 2-1 win almost singlehandedly.

Belgium made it three wins from three thanks to a routine 2-0 triumph over Finland in their final Group B match, with De Bruyne laying on Romelu Lukaku's third goal of the tournament.

Despite only playing 134 minutes at Euro 2020, he has created five chances with an expected assists (xA) value of 1.18.

 

Bruno benched as holders struggle to find their feet

If this is a case of De Bruyne emphatically bringing his Premier League form onto the international stage, the same cannot yet be said of Bruno Fernandes.

Since his Manchester United debut on February 1 last year, Fernandes' 19 assists are the most supplied by any player in England's top fight. De Bruyne, with 17 assists having played 2,904 minutes to the Portugal international's 4,297, is the only other player to have recorded more than 15 over the same period.

The Manchester maestros also close out the top two in terms of chances created (De Bruyne 131, Fernandes 125), big chances created (De Bruyne 31, Fernandes 23) and chances created from open play (99 apiece) in this time.

 

Fernandes was in the starting line-up for Portugal's opener when they left it late to beat Hungary 3-0 in Group F, before being unable to avert a chastening 4-2 loss to Germany in Munich.

The former Sporting CP favourite was one of the victims as Fernando Santos shuffled his pack in response, only coming on as a late substitute in the 2-2 draw against France – his most notable contribution coming when he escaped punishment for an untidy challenge on Kingsley Coman in his own penalty area.

 

KDB running free

De Bruyne and Fernandes' contrasting contributions at Euro 2020 so far can by partly explained by the amount of freedom they are granted by their respective international bosses to recreate their club heroics.

"Kevin will have an influential role, the playmaker, linking possession," Martinez said a couple of days out from the showdown in Seville, with De Bruyne once again poised to leave a stamp on the game irrespective of starting position.

He replaced Dries Mertens against Denmark, nominally roving in the front three, before reverting to a central midfield position alongside Axel Witsel for a man-of-the-match showing versus Finland.

For City, the majority of De Bruyne's Premier League touches last season came in the middle third of the opposition half of the field, with 15.27 per cent in the middle of the left flank.

 

Within the far smaller sample size of his Belgium minutes at Euro 2020, the story is similar enough. Although he does not hit double-digit percentages across the middle attacking third as he does for City, 15.38 per cent of De Bruyne's Red Devils touches are in that favoured position - coming in from the left and able to see the full picture unfolding.

Fernandes' made 14.08 per cent of his United touches in the same area in 2020-21, with a comparable spread across the attacking midfield zones to De Bruyne.

By contrast, for Portugal at Euro 2020, there has been a huge concentration of Fernandes' touches on the right flank - 22.68 per on the right of the middle third of the opposition half, compared to just 4.12 per cent where he does the biggest chunk of his United work.

This suggests far less license to express himself than De Bruyne enjoys under Martinez and the on-field relationship each man has with their team's superstar goalscorer is somewhat wrapped up in all this.

 

KDB and Rom in sync, Bruno struggling to feed Ronaldo

The outcome of Sunday's match could have a huge bearing on the winner of the Golden Boot, although Cristiano Ronaldo's group-stage haul of five means he might have already done enough.

Lukaku is building on a fabulous couple of seasons at Inter and has three for Belgium so far, with the centre-forward seeming to come alive whenever De Bruyne is in close proximity.

A marginal offside call had already thwarted the De Bruyne-Lukaku link before Belgium's number seven and number nine combined to complete the scoring against Finland.

It is not a one-way relationship, either, with Lukaku holding up play expertly for De Bruyne to lay Thomas Meunier's equaliser on a plate in the Denmark match.

 

Of De Bruyne and Lukaku's seven combinations at Euro 2020 – when one of them has passed to the other – six have ended in the opposition penalty area, underling their considerable threat in tandem.

Fernandes and Ronaldo have passed to one another 15 times, but only two of these exchanges have ended in the area and neither yielded a goal.

Their combinations have also been uneven. Fernandes came on in the 72nd minute against France and he and Ronaldo each passed to the other once. They shared three in total despite being on the pitch for 89 minutes together versus Hungary.

Perhaps this speaks of the respective status of the two playmakers with their countries. Fernandes, 26, is in Ronaldo's shadow like the rest of his international team-mates, meaning the cajoling leader on show at Old Trafford is unlikely to be seen to the same extent. Much like his overall presence, his on-field contributions have shrunk.

 

De Bruyne is second to no one in the Belgium set-up, the shining light of a celebrated generation alongside Lukaku and Eden Hazard.

It means that, while they might compete as men of equal status in the next Manchester derby, De Bruyne will be the heartbeat of Belgium's bid for a quarter-final spot as Fernandes seeks to muscle in and make his own talents felt from the margins.

Cristiano Ronaldo will be the man in the spotlight on Sunday, but Roberto Martinez says Belgium cannot afford to focus only on the Portugal star. 

Ronaldo tied Ali Daei's record of 109 international goals with a pair of penalties against France to send Portugal into the knockout stage of the European Championship. 

Still, Martinez insists Ronaldo will get no special attention in their last-16 clash. 

"When you put a plan against a specific player, you can be hurt by other players," the Belgium head coach told a news conference. "The way that Portugal plays, they’ve got a lot of threat, they’ve got a lot of pace in behind.

"Of course Cristiano Ronaldo seems to be the player that gets the right moment, the right pass and the right chance, and you have to be always aware, but you have to defend the 10 outfield players of Portugal in the same measure.

"We need to be compact, we need to be really solid, and we need to defend as a team.

"Obviously we always think about the opposition and that’s always the case, you need to have that information, but I think we’ve got real good momentum and that’s where we’re concentrating."

Belgium conceded only one goal across their three wins in the group stage, but their prime reason for optimism may rest in Kevin De Bruyne's successful return. 

After his swift recovery from facial fractures suffered in the Champions League final, the Manchester City star played nearly the entire game against Denmark after scoring in his return to action as a half-time substitute against Denmark. 

"Kevin, it’s been great to be able to see him 45 minutes and then almost the 90 minutes, so I feel that he is in the perfect physical condition to go into this game," Martinez said. 

"Kevin will have the normal role, an influential role. He’s not a player that needs to play in a certain position. We need to give him that opportunity to be the play-maker, to be able to link up to that possession that we have.

"We will have to be patient against a really good, resolute, and well-defensive-structured Portugal team, but I think we’re going to see ourselves doing what we always do."

Italy head coach Roberto Mancini has hailed the impact of his substitutes who "changed the game" as the Azzurri won 2-1 over Austria in extra-time in their Euro 2020 last-16 clash.

Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina came off the bench to both score in extra-time, while 67th-minute substitute Manuel Locatelli helped turn the game too.

Mancini had weighed up starting Locatelli ahead of Marco Verratti, whom he replaced, and delighted in his subs' impact and their potential roles moving forward, with a quarter-final date confirmed.

"They were brilliant and that can be a huge advantage for us," Mancini said.

"The fact we have players that can step in and change the game because they are fresh, it was an excellent performance.

"The players wanted to win at all costs and with the subs they did a good job and we were able to win."

The win set a new national record as they extended their unbeaten run to 31 games, surpassing the 30-game streak posted under Vittorio Pozzo between 1935 and 1939.

However, Sasa Kalajdzic's 114th-minute header ended their 11-game run without conceding a goal, dating back to October 2020, ending a run of 19 hours and 28 minutes without conceding.

Mancini insisted Italy did not under-estimate Austria, claiming the match would be tougher than their quarter-final against either Belgium or Portugal on Friday.

"We knew there would be potential banana skins in this match and we thought it would be tougher than the quarter-final, they are not as good as teams in quarter-final, but they really make life tough for you, they cause problems," he said.

"We knew we scored in the first half it would have been a different game. We said it would be a match we would have to struggle through to get the win. We had to dig deep."

Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma said their quarter-final opponent held no fears for the Azzurri.

"It doesn’t matter who we face, we have to keep playing our football and keep going," he said.

"The emotions are extraordinary, we can’t wait until we can play in a packed stadium in front of these fans."

Ivan Perisic will miss Croatia's Euro 2020 last-16 clash with Spain after testing positive for COVID-19. 

The Croatian Football Association announced the veteran winger's result on Saturday and said he will spend the next 10 days in self-isolation. 

All other national team members and staff tested negative, they said.

The rest of the team will fly from their base in Pula to Copenhagen on Sunday, with their last-16 match against Spain set for Monday. 

Perisic has scored two of Croatia's four goals at the Euros, with the Inter Milan man providing the equaliser in their 1-1 draw with the Czech Republic and netting the final goal in the 3-1 defeat of Scotland. 

Perisic also provided the winning margin in Croatia's 2-1 victory over Spain at Euro 2016 with a goal in the 87th minute. 

 

The opening two fixtures of the last-16 stage of Euro 2020 played out on Saturday with Denmark and Italy triumphing in contrasting matches.

There were seven goals scored across the two fixtures with Denmark easing to a 4-0 victory Wales thanks to two goals from Kasper Dolberg to become the first team to reach the quarter-finals.

Italy followed them into the last eight later on the day, although their progress was much more hard fought via a 2-1 extra-time win over a spirited Austria at Wembley courtesy of substitutes Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina.

Stats Perform reflects on a day of youthful confidence and omens for later in the tournament.


Wales 0-4 Denmark: A landmark double for Dolberg 

Denmark have won each of their last four competitive meetings with Wales in a run stretching back to June 1999, and they swaggered to victory again in the first meeting between the sides in a major tournament.

The Danes showed their prowess from long range when Dolberg put them ahead with a curling shot from distance - and they have netted more goals from outside the penalty area (three) than any other side at Euro 2020. Indeed, since 1980 only France (five in 1984) and Belgium (four in 2016) have scored more from distance in a single edition of the competition.

Since the start of 2019, only Christian Eriksen (11) has scored more goals in all competitions for Denmark than the eight Dolberg has so far. At the age of 23 years 263 days, Nice striker Dolberg became the youngest player to score for Denmark in the knockout stages of the European Championship.

Dolberg also became the second Denmark player to score two goals in a knockout game at a major tournament (World Cup and Euros) after Henrik Larsen against the Netherlands at Euro 1992 when the Danes went on to win the tournament.

Another youngster making his mark for Denmark was Mikkel Damsgaard, who, at 20 years and 358 days, became the youngest player to assist a goal in Euros knock-out game since Cristiano Ronaldo in 2004 against the Netherlands.

It was a miserable game for Wales who suffered their biggest defeat in a competitive match since a 6-1 thrashing by Serbia in September 2012. Wales had Harry Wilson sent off in Amsterdam and, following the dismissal of Ethan Ampadu against Italy, became the first team to receive two red cards in a single edition of the European Championship since Russia and Switzerland in 2004.

 

Italy 2-1 Austria: Mancini's side finally let one in

Italy have won four consecutive games at the European Championship for the second time, which bodes well for them going far, having previously done so at Euro 2000 when they ended up as losing finalists.

Chiesa and Pessina gave them a 2-1 win over Austria, and it was the was just the second time two different substitutes have scored in a European Championship game for Italy after Alessandro Altobelli and Luigi De Agostini did so in 1988 against Denmark.

Sasa Kalajdzic's goal for Austria was the first Roberto Mancini's side have let in since October 2020, ending a run of 19 hours and 28 minutes without conceding for the Italians.

Although Austria have now lost all five of their meetings with Italy in major international tournaments (World Cup and Euros), netting just two goals in these matches.

This was Italy’s eighth game at the European Championship to go to extra time, more than any other side in the history of the competition. Their two goals were their first goals in the additional 30 minutes.

Despite playing 157 minutes at Euro 2020 so far, Marco Verratti has created more chances than any other player for Italy (nine).

For a moment it looked as though we were about to say goodbye to the outstanding team of the Euro 2020 group stage as early as the round-of-16.

But VAR came to the rescue in denying Marko Arnautovic a famous goal and, from then on, you just had the feeling fate was on Italy's side.

Roberto Mancini's Azzurri were aiming to extend their unbeaten run to 31 matches, setting a new record, and while Austria certainly went for it towards the end as they pulled one back through Sasa Kalajdzic, Italy saw out a historic 2-1 victory.

But where there was unrelenting praise before, there were arguably doubts about Italy and their system for the first time in Euro 2020, with Mancini forced to turn to his bench to get the job done in extra-time.

 

It should be said, for long periods they were dominant in the first half at Wembley, with their 12 shots the second-most Italy have managed in the opening 45 minutes of games at the tournament.

But there was unquestionably something missing, with Austria shrewdly set up by Franco Foda.

The German coach has proven tactically flexible in Euro 2020, switching between a back three and a back four – he chose the latter on this occasion as they zoned in on Italy's threat from the flanks.

David Alaba had been deployed at centre-back against the Netherlands but moved to left-back in the 1-0 win over Ukraine, and that was where he remained here.

Foda went with a double pivot again, giving the centre-backs extra protection but also ensuring Domenico Berardi and Lorenzo Insigne had little joy when cutting in from their respective wings, finding themselves crowded out more often than not by Florian Grillitsch and Xaver Schlager, whose five tackles were more than anyone else.

It became a recurring theme, with the only Italy player who looked even moderately threatening out wide for much of the game being Leonardo Spinazzola.

The left-back was bright in the opening 45 minutes, making some lung-busting runs up the flank and one of those led to arguably their best chance, when Nicolo Barella was denied by Daniel Bachmann. Nevertheless, he too was rather quieter after half-time.

Italy's struggles out wide were further highlighted by the fact they failed to deliver any open-play crosses before the break for the first time in a Euros game since 1980.

This was made even more surprising given 74.2 per cent of their attacks in the group stage came down the flanks. While an attack from the wings doesn't necessarily mean a cross has to be played in, it does suggest Foda was wise to focus his attentions on this area of the pitch.

Italy also weren't helped by the fact Giovanni Di Lorenzo offered very little by way of support to Berardi, who was a source of frustration well into the second period.

 

That was with the exception of one moment very early on in the second half, as Berardi got to the byline and drilled a low ball into the danger zone, much in the same vein as his assist for Manuel Locatelli against Turkey.

This time a team-mate couldn't get it into the goal, but instead of that acting as a source of encouragement, it was a tactic Berardi was barely able to carry out again.

Berardi's performance was summed up by his scissor-kick attempt in the 84th minute that was sliced high and wide. It was a final action befitting his underwhelming performance before being replaced by Federico Chiesa.

It was something of a surprise on matchday one when Berardi was the chosen man ahead of Chiesa out on the right. While the former justified that call in his first few games, the Juventus talent impressively staked his own claim here.

Five minutes into extra-time, Chiesa had hung out wide before springing into the box to receive a lofted pass from Spinazzola. He controlled it with his head, before cleverly knocking it underneath the approaching Konrad Laimer and smashing into the far side of the goal with a vengeance.

Another substitute in Matteo Pessina then got the goal that proved decisive, making the most of good hold-up play by Francesco Acerbi and powering home.

While Pessina's initial introduction for Marco Verratti, who had been key for Italy beforehand, raised eyebrows, Mancini's decision was ultimately vindicated in that moment.

Kalajdzic's late header saw him become the first player to score against Italy since Donny van de Beek for the Netherlands last October, but it could not prevent Italy from marching on to the quarter-finals.

On a day that saw Italy create history, with their unbeaten run as much to do with Mancini as any player such has been the transformative impact he's had, it was only fitting that his in-game changes made the difference.

Italy set a new national record as they extended their unbeaten run to 31 games with a 2-1 triumph over Austria at Euro 2020.

Extra-time goals from substitutes Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina at Wembley Stadium made sure the in-form Azzurri progressed through to the quarter-finals of the tournament, where they will play either Belgium or Portugal in Munich.

Roberto Mancini has not seen his team lose since a 1-0 Nations League reverse against Portugal back in September 2018.

Their current run is now the longest in Italy's long and illustrious history, surpassing the 30-game streak posted under Vittorio Pozzo between 1935 and 1939.

Mancini was appointed to the job after the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup under Gian Piero Ventura. 

Italy have been victorious in 27 of their 36 games under the former Inter and Manchester City boss (D7 L2). His 75.6 per cent win ratio is the highest of any manager to have spent at least 10 games in charge of the national team.

They won all three of their group fixtures for just the fourth time in European Championships and World Cups, defeating Turkey, Switzerland and Wales on home soil in Rome without conceding a goal.

Sasa Kalajdzic's goal for Austria in the 114th minute was the first Italy have let in since October 2020, ending a run of 1,168 minutes without conceding.

 

Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina scored in extra time as Italy beat Austria 2-1 to move into the Euro 2020 quarter-finals. 

The win set a new national record as they extended their unbeaten run to 31 games, surpassing the 30-game streak posted under Vittorio Pozzo between 1935 and 1939.

Marko Arnautovic saw an effort ruled out by VAR in the second half as Austria threatened to cause an upset, but substitutes Chiesa and Pessina booked the Azzurri's last-eight spot with clinical finishes in the first half of extra time, although Sasa Kalajdzic did set up a frantic finish with his 114th-minute effort. 

Roberto Mancini's side will face the winner of Sunday's clash between Portugal and Belgium in Munich on Friday.

Italy started strongly and had seven shots before the half-hour mark, Daniel Bachmann keeping out Nicolo Barella with his feet in what was the Azzurri's best chance in that period. 

At the other end, Arnautovic blazed over from a promising position, while Ciro Immobile crashed a superb effort off Bachmann's right-hand post from 25 yards. 

Bachmann pawed away a low effort from Leonardo Spinazzola shortly before the interval as Italy ultimately failed to make their first-half dominance count.

Austria improved dramatically after the break and thought they had gone ahead midway through the second half, but Arnautovic's deft header was ruled out by VAR for offside. 

Franco Foda's side might have thought they would have the edge in extra time given Italy's lethargy for much of the second period, yet it was the Azzurri who struck the decisive blow. 

Chiesa controlled Spinazzola's cross in the 95th minute, cut inside Konrad Laimer and lashed a fine half-volley past Bachmann. 

The Austria goalkeeper did well to keep out Lorenzo Insigne's free-kick soon after, but there was little he could do to deny Pessina in the 105th minute, the Atalanta midfielder powering past him from six yards after skipping past Martin Hinteregger.

Kalajdzic set up a grandstand finish with a clever near-post header from Louis Schaub's corner – ending Italy's run of 1,168 minutes without conceding – yet Mancini’s men held firm to keep their Euro 2020 dreams alive. 

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