When Dani Olmo's right-footed cross curled through the fervent Copenhagen evening, it only had one man's name on it.

The name of a striker who has plied his trade at the top of European football for the duration of his career, the name of a player chosen to lead the line for one of the continent's great footballing heavyweights.

But also the name of a 28-year-old man with a wife and a young family, whose struggles at Euro 2020 have provoked unforgivable threats from poisonous throats and wicked fingers.

"I would like people to put themselves in my shoes and think what it's like to get threats towards my family, people saying: 'I hope your children die'," Alvaro Morata told Cadena Cope this week, after scoring once but missing a catalogue of chances during the group stage.

"I've had to leave my phone outside my room. My wife and children have come to the stadium in Seville with Morata on the back of their shirts and people have been shouting at them. 

"It's complicated. I understand people booing me for missing chances but there's a limit."

Olmo, who himself slammed Morata's abusers for "going beyond" had put his team-mate in the spotlight once more. It was a perfect cross at odds with the frenzied, haywire nonsense that had gone before.

But then, that's Spain at major tournaments nowadays. It's complicated.

                       ********************

Since winning Euros 2008 and 2012 either side of the 2010 World Cup, Spain were without a win in major tournament knockout games ahead of Monday's last-16 encounter with Croatia at Parken Stadium.

At the 2014 World Cup, they were dumped out at the group stage, at Euro 2016 they were comprehensively outplayed by Antonio Conte's Italy and the hosts bored them to a penalty shoot-out loss at Russia 2018.

But this time it would be different, right?

In Luis Enrique, they have a high-class coach with a point to prove. They put collective goalscoring demons behind them by shellacking Slovakia 5-0 and began against Croatia with authoritative dominance.

Pedri, the youngest player to start a European Championship knockout game at 18 years and 215 days, had everyone dancing to his tune. A stunning throughball released Koke, who should have scored. Morata, naturally, also should have scored but misjudged a header.

It seemed a matter of time before Spain scored with Pedri heavily involved. The Barcelona youngster pinging a 40-yard backpass beyond a haphazard attempt at control from goalkeeper Unai Simon – giving Croatia the lead before they had enjoyed either a shot or a touch inside the opposition penalty area – was not in anyone's script, however.

                       ********************

Scripts, match reports and strands of hair have long since been ripped apart by the time Morata smoothly controlled Olmo's centre with his right foot.

It was time to make his impression upon a contest of clinical finishing and frazzled brains.

"The situation is so serious that it must be put in the hands of the police because it is a serious crime," Luis Enrique rightly said when addressing the media this week.

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

In the sporting sense, he had seen his team fall victim to an improbable heist and needed the centre-forward he trusts above all others.

Around 50 minutes earlier, Morata could look on with satisfaction and leave the finishing to right-back Cesar Azpilicueta, who powered home Ferran Torres' 57th-minute cross.

The effervescent Pablo Sarabia equalised before half-time and Torres getting in on the act showed Spain have enough firepower to absorb Morata's more erratic moments and enjoy his slick, intelligent link play. He created two openings for team-mates and completed 84 per cent of his passes deep in Croatian territory.

Luka Modric, the old master so outplayed by Pedri, was goaded into penning the sting in the tail as he shuffled towards the Spain six-yard box to set up substitute Mislav Orsic.

Right then, it felt as if Luis Enrique might have erred in taking off Sarabia, Torres and Koke to rest their legs for the quarters, not to mention disrupting Aymeric Laporte and Eric Garcia's central defensive pairing by throwing on Pau Torres for the latter.

When Mario Pasalic converted Orsic's brilliant delivery from deep to spark unbridled bedlam, we had our answer.

                       ********************

Morata's perfect first touch granted him time in a game where no one seemed to have any, despite an additional 30 minute being bolted on.

Orsic blazed over at the start of extra time with Spain rocking, while Andrej Kramaric drew a magnificent save from Simon when the score was 3-3.

In terms of redemptive moments, that was only the supporting act.

Where he has snatched at changes so often of late, Morata found time to breath and let the ball drop enough for him to drive his left boot brutally through.

It was in from the moment he connected. Olmo's fellow sub Mikel Oyarzabal concluded a 5-3 win, making Spain the first team to score five goals in consecutive European Championship matches.

That's an awful lot to celebrate for some who have mercilessly tormented their hero of the hour and his loved ones. They don't deserve Alvaro Morata, and the endurance and perseverance that mean one of this tournament's greatest ever games belongs to him.

Alvaro Morata and Mikel Oyarzabal scored extra-time goals to earn Spain a 5-3 win over Croatia in Monday's breathless Euro 2020 last-16 tie after La Roja had squandered a two-goal lead late on in normal time.

Spain recovered from a bizarre Pedri own goal at Parken Stadium thanks to strikes from Pablo Sarabia, Cesar Azpilicueta and Ferran Torres to lead 3-1 with 85 minutes played.

However, Mislav Orsic bundled in to give Croatia a lifeline in Copenhagen and then set up fellow substitute Mario Pasalic in the 92nd minute to take an enthralling game to extra time.

But Spain dug deep in the additional period to book a place in the quarter-finals, where either France or Switzerland await, with Morata making amends for an earlier miss with a well-taken goal and Oyarzabal adding a second from the bench to settle a game that will go down as a European Championship classic.

Profligacy cost Spain in their opening two group games and that looked like being the case again in Copenhagen after Koke was denied by Dominik Livakovic from a one-on-one and Morata headed into Domagoj Vida from close range.

A comical moment followed as Pedri's pass from 49.4 yards was miscontrolled by Unai Simon and rolled into the back of the net, making it the longest-range own goal in European Championship history.

Luis Enrique's men responded well by equalising before half-time through Sarabia's powerful drive after Jose Gaya's shot was parried into his path by Livakovic.

Azpilicueta put Spain in front with his first international goal by getting in front of Josko Gvardiol and guiding Torres' cross past Livakovic from inside the six-yard box.

Spain gave themselves breathing space nine minutes later as Torres cut inside and clinically finished off a swift move.

With five minutes to go, though, Orsic followed up after a scramble in the box to help the ball over the line – the goal allowed to stand following a VAR check for handball inside the box.

Then came the dramatic leveller in added time, with Pasalic left in space inside the box to head in Orsic's cross and pave the way for an additional 30 minutes.

Croatia started the period of extra time on top and would have taken the lead if not for an incredible Simon stop to keep out Andrej Kramaric, but Morata took down Dani Olmo's cross at the back post and thumped past Livakovic four minutes later.

Super sub Olmo then provided the cross for fellow replacement Oyarzabal, who also hit the post in the final seconds, to tuck home the eighth goal of a sensational European Championship tie and confirm Spain's place in the last eight.

Gareth Southgate has urged England to grasp the opportunity to put the Three Lions' poor Euros knockout record behind them but does not feel the omens will have a negative impact on the team.

England have never won a Euros knockout match in 90 minutes, with four of those six games going to penalties – only one of those (v Spain, Euro 96) ended in a victory for the Three Lions.

It is a damning indictment of England's underachievement in the tournament throughout its history.

While Southgate believes his young team have a great chance to overcome such a poor record, he also feels the players should not feel any extra pressure because of it.

"It's an incredible record really," Southgate told reporters on Monday. "I think it's something we've talked a lot about as a team over last four years – this team has that opportunity [to buck the trend].

"In previous eras we've spoken about the past and baggage. There's no reason for these players to feel that way, as most weren't born when those games happened. It's an irrelevance for them.

"But it's a fantastic game to be involved in and great opportunity to progress to a quarter-final."

 

A key area for consideration before Tuesday's game is whether Ben Chilwell or Mason Mount will be involved.

Both have been isolating after being identified as close contacts of Scotland's Billy Gilmour, who tested positive for coronavirus, but they will be allowed to mix with their team-mates again from midnight on Monday.

Southgate accepts the situation certainly has not been ideal, but he thinks either player could cope if needed to start.

"They're having to travel separately to the team," Southgate added. "They have had individual training programmes this week. The only sessions they've been able to join in with is when there's not full team training. That's the basis on which we have got to make a decision.

"Clearly, it's really complicated because there's the physical periodisation that you would want for a game like this. Then there's the tactical training.

"The meetings we've had, they have to be in a separate room and dial in on Zoom. The whole experience for them, including travelling down tonight is very, very difficult.

"But they are young players who can get on with things pretty well. It's a decision I've got to take when we're looking at how they've been able to train and everything else. There's a lot wrapped up in that call."

Southgate will surely be hoping star striker Harry Kane can finally have an impact at Euro 2020, with the Tottenham forward struggling to make his mark in the group stage.

He has managed just five shots in total and only one of those was on target, with Kane on zero goals from an xG value of 1.4.

His 11 touches in the penalty area are one fewer than Che Adams of Scotland, who finished bottom of England's group – but Kane insists his performances are the least of his worries if the Three Lions continue in the tournament.

"I've always said as a striker, you go through spells, sometimes spells don't go your way," he said. "The most important thing for me is we are winning games. The first objective was to qualify, which we've done, the second is to reach the quarter-finals.

"Whether I'm scoring, the most important thing is winning. That's all I'm focusing on at the moment. However we get it done, that's our main objective and we'll do everything in our power to get through."

England will have to overcome a wretched record in European Championship knockout matches if they are to get past their old nemesis Germany in the round of 16 on Tuesday.

The Three Lions go into the match having never won a knockout game in 90 minutes at the Euros, with four of their previous six attempts ending level and two leading to defeats.

Four of those past instances went to penalty shootouts and England only progressed from one of them, against Spain in Euro 96.

That victory came at Wembley, so perhaps the locale of Tuesday's clash will at least provide England with an edge – after all, they are unbeaten in their 14 Euros and World Cup matches (excluding penalty shootouts) at the 'Home of Football'.

 

While former Germany international Stefan Effenberg suggested that all the pressure will be on England because of the home crowd, Three Lions manager Gareth Southgate senses an opportunity.

The rivalry may be weighted more towards England in terms of the significance attached to these fixtures, but Southgate was keen to impress on his players that history is within their grasp.

"It's a great opportunity for this team to make some history and give people memories of England-Germany fixtures for the future that are a little different to some of the ones they've been flooded with over the last few days, which mean absolutely nothing to them because they weren't born," Southgate said.

"The game is probably worthy of more than the second-round stage. We're playing against a very good side.

"They won't fear coming to Wembley. We'll have to play at our very best. We've got to be tactically, physically and psychologically well-prepared."

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

England – Raheem Sterling

With Harry Kane faltering in the group stage, looking a shadow of the sharpshooter who is usually so reliable for Tottenham and England, the goalscoring burden has fallen on Sterling. Despite a disappointing second half to 2020-21, the Manchester City winger has scored both of the Three Lions' Euro 2020 goals, taking him to 14 in his past 19 appearances for his country after just two in his first 45 caps.

 

Germany – Kai Havertz

From an individual perspective, Havertz's first season at Chelsea was not especially impressive. Having been roundly criticised in England during 2020-21, he will surely be eager to catch the eye here, and given his start to the tournament, many would back him to do just that. He's already got two goals, though the fact his non-penalty xG of 2.7 is the highest of anyone in the tournament suggests he's been a threat beyond those two efforts. For example, the total xG of sequences he has been involved in (3.8) is bettered by only Pedri (4.6 - before Spain played Croatia) and Memphis Depay (4.4). Write him off at your peril.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Germany's Ilkay Gundogan has scored twice at Wembley, for Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 Champions League final and for Manchester City in the Premier League. He could become just the second player to score at the ground for a club side and the German national team after Per Mertesacker.

- This will be the 13th meeting between England and Germany at Wembley. England won four of the first five such games (L1), including the 1966 World Cup final, but are winless in their previous seven against the Germans at the national stadium (D2 L5).

- This will be England's 300th international match at Wembley, with this the 77th match they will have played at the new site since it reopened in 2007. The Three Lions have won 187 times at this venue (D73 L39).

- Germany have reached at least the semi-final in each of the last three editions of the European Championship. Indeed, since the tournament was expanded in 1996, the Germans have reached at least the last four of the competition each time they have progressed to the knockout stages.

- Germany have conceded at least once in each of their previous eight matches at major tournaments (Euros and World Cup), since a 3-0 win against Slovakia at this stage of Euro 2016. Only once have had they had a longer run without a major tournament clean sheet, which was in their first nine World Cup matches between 1934 and 1954.

Pedri's own goal for Spain in Monday's last-16 tie with Croatia was the ninth scored at Euro 2020 – as many as seen in each of the previous editions combined.

The Spain midfielder played a pass back to goalkeeper Unai Simon from close to the halfway line and his team-mate failed to control the ball, allowing it to roll beyond him and into the net.

The own goal was initially credited to Simon before going to Pedri – in the same game the Barcelona talent became the youngest player to start a knockout game in the European Championships.

At 18 years and 215 days, he beats the record set by England's Wayne Rooney (18 years and 244 days) against Portugal in 2004.

Pedri joins Merih Demiral, Wojciech Szczesny, Mats Hummels, Ruben Dias, Raphael Guerreiro, Lukas Hradecky, Martin Dubravka and Juraj Kucka in putting into his own net in this year's tournament.

Only nine own goals were scored in the previous 15 Euros: Anton Ondrus, Lyuboslav Penev, Dejan Govedarica, Igor Tudor, Jorge Andrade, Glen Johnson, Ciaran Clark, Birkir Mar Saevarsson and Gareth McAuley were the unfortunate players.

Pedri's bizarre own goal was officially registered from a distance of 49.4 yards, making it the longest-ever netted in the Euros and the first ever scored from outside the box.

Watching Alvaro Morata toil at Euro 2020 has been almost tragic, with every miss seemingly guaranteed to invite some form of pile-on, whether on social media or from fans inside the stadium.

Rarely do footballers inspire feelings of sympathy, with fans perhaps generally forgetting that these entertainers performing for our satisfaction are humans too, carrying out a job like any other member of society.

Maybe it is the money they're paid that prevents certain individuals from feeling empathy for footballers, but surely even the most vociferous cheerleaders of "footballers' wages for soldiers" and other comparable arguments must have felt some kind of compassion for Morata at one time or another during this tournament.

Even before a ball was kicked, Morata was already a hot topic of conversation after he was widely jeered by the home crowd during Spain's 0-0 warm-up friendly draw with Portugal at the Wanda Metropolitano, the home of the club – Atletico Madrid – that owns him. Just 11 days later it was confirmed he would be spending another season on loan at Juventus rather than return.

While Spain as a collective were booed in that game, Morata certainly bore the brunt of it, the crowd making their opinions known after he had wasted four chances. One of those hit the crossbar, meaning he was literally a matter of inches away from winning the match and capping off an otherwise impressive individual performance with a goal.

It has been much the same story during the tournament. No matter how many of those associated with the squad – including Luis Enrique, Dani Olmo, Koke and Aymeric Laporte – publicly defend their colleague, it seems the boo-boys have their target and will not waver.

And the particularly sad aspect of it all is that Morata revealed in a recent interview that even his wife and children have been victims of the abuse when attending Spain's group games at La Cartuja.

But has Morata even been that bad at Euro 2020? Generally speaking, you would have to say no.

 

Now, there is undoubtedly an elephant in the room: his wasteful finishing. No one is going to try and convince you Morata has been effective in front of goal – after all, the data says the exact opposite as his one goal comes from an xG (expected goals) value of 2.9.

In fact, only his team-mate Gerard Moreno has a worse xG differential (2.1) in the group games at Euro 2020, so there's no getting away from the fact Morata has not been clinical enough. On top of that, Morata has missed more Opta-defined "big chances" (four) than any other player in the tournament.

This isn't a new phenomenon, though; since the start of 2017-18 only Lorenzo Insigne (7.8), Gabriel Jesus (9.85) and Edin Dzeko (16.85) have underperformed their xG by more than Morata (7.3) among forwards in the top five leagues (minimum 40 goals scored).

Additionally, among the same group of players since 2017-18, only Alassane Plea (70.3 per cent) has missed a greater proportion of his big chances than Morata (66.4 per cent).

But, intriguingly, no one had more shots on target during the group stage at Euro 2020 than Morata, his six from 11 attempts exactly the same as top-scorer Cristiano Ronaldo.

This suggests the problem is an age-old one with Morata: composure. So much of this part of the game comes down to mentality, and mental health is something Morata has commendably been open about for much of his career.

 

He previously spoke about how mental illnesses should be considered ailments much like physical injuries, and in 2018 he revealed he was seeing a psychologist while at Chelsea.

In that sense, if we consider the incessant abuse of him, Morata's arguably performing better than anyone could feasibly expect.

Now, that raises the question of whether Luis Enrique should have taken Morata out of the firing line before things reached this stage.

It surely cannot be conducive to positive mental health to have 16,000 people enthusiastically communicating that something doesn't impress them much, as if Morata was performing keepy-uppies on stage at a Shania Twain concert.

But the striker insisted last week that he has found himself motivated by the jeers, particularly prior to the penalty against Slovakia. Admittedly, he did miss it.

"I'm proud of the fact I picked up the ball [to take the penalty] after people booed me in the warm-up," he said. "A few years ago, I would have been devastated but I'm really motivated. Whoever thinks the opposite doesn't know me."

It's also worth considering that, while there have been problems with Morata in front of goal, he has otherwise been a positive influence on the team.

For example, Spain's six shot-ending high turnovers have only been bettered by four teams following all group fixtures, while Morata fits into that philosophy given the fact he has won possession in the final third three times – only Memphis Depay and Ronaldo (four each) managed more in the group stage among forwards.

Similarly, Morata brings bursts of positivity and drive to Spain once he gets on the ball, as demonstrated by the fact he has recorded eight progressive carries measuring between five and 10 metres. The only out-and-out strikers to do better in the group stages were Alexander Isak and Ronaldo.

It is also worth bearing in mind that Morata ranks in the top 10 for forwards involved in open-play sequences that end in a shot (12), while his 24 touches in the opposition's box ranked him second behind Kylian Mbappe (27) ahead of the knockout fixtures. Both statistics are further evidence that he has been actively involved in keeping Spain in the ascendancy.

 

Unfortunately for Morata, many will look no further than chances converted when evaluating a striker's performances, and in tournament football when the action is so condensed, conclusions are 100 times more reactionary. Just ask Harry Kane.

But as long as Luis Enrique retains faith and the opportunities keep coming, there remains the chance of a Hollywood-esque conclusion to the hard-on-his-luck tale that has seemed to epitomise the past few years of Morata's career.

In a 2006 biopic of stockbroker Chris Gardner's life, Will Smith portrays a man who has to overcome countless setbacks on his path to making a name for himself.

The script is written for Morata to become the decisive player in a victorious Euro 2020 campaign for Spain, giving him his own successful Pursuit of Happyness.

Cristiano Ronaldo has insisted dethroned European champions Portugal will return stronger following their defeat to Belgium.

Portugal's title defence was ended by a Thorgan Hazard strike on Sunday as Fernando Santos' side fell to a 1-0 loss in the last-16 tie. 

The Selecao won just one of their four Euro 2020 matches, which is their fewest in a single European Championship tournament since their first appearance in 1984 (also one win).

The 23 shots recorded by Portugal against Belgium is the highest tally for a team at Euro 2020 without scoring, with Ronaldo responsible for four of those attempts.

Despite his side's disappointing exit in the first knockout round, Juventus star Ronaldo is proud of his team-mates and is predicting a bright future for the Euro 2016 and Nations League 2019 winners.

"We didn't get the result we wanted and we left the race sooner than we wanted," he posted on his official Instagram page. 

"But we are proud of our journey. We gave everything to renew the title of European Champions and this group proved that it can still give much joy to the Portuguese.

"Our fans were tireless in supporting the team from start to finish. We ran and fought for them, in order to live up to the trust they placed in us. 

"It was not possible to get where we all wanted, but here is our sincere and profound thanks.

"Congratulations to Belgium and good luck to all the teams that remain in the competition. As for us, we will come back stronger."

 

Portugal's exit means Ronaldo will have to wait at least another three months before he can surpass Ali Daei as the outright top international goalscorer of all time.

However, the Juve forward's five goals – coming from 15 shots – could yet see him end as the top scorer at Euro 2020.

Santos' side are back in action in September with a World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland, while Belgium will face Italy on Friday for a Euro 2020 semi-final spot.

Aymeric Laporte has claimed Didier Deschamps did not reply to his messages before the defender switched international allegiance from France to Spain.

Manchester City centre-back Laporte declared for La Roja last month after being granted Spanish citizenship, leading to him being included in their 24-man Euro 2020 squad.

Laporte represented France at youth level, including the Under-21s, but was never handed a senior cap despite being called up by Deschamps.

The 27-year-old has made a positive start to his Spain career by helping his side to three clean sheets in his first four caps, while also scoring in last week's 5-0 win over Slovakia.

Spain finished second in their Euro 2020 group and are on course to face France in the quarter-finals should the heavyweight nations see off Croatia and Switzerland respectively in the last 16.

Deschamps insisted ahead of the tournament he was only ever contacted once by Laporte to discuss an injury issue, but the player has refuted those suggestions.

"They called me six years ago. But in 2019? No, they didn't call me. While I don't want to go over this again, I had sent a message and didn't get a reply," he told The Guardian.

"I have it here. Maybe [Deschamps] changed number, got a new phone. Could be. I don't know, but I replied to the same number he'd called from before.

"I didn't get a reply then. Anyway, given everything that happened, nor did I think I was important enough to France to have to inform them of anything.

"My importance to them has been more a media issue than anything. I've always been very clear that I'm going to be with those that want me, not those that don't.

"I'm not saying France didn't want me, but I'm grateful to those that bet on me. Spain did and I'm trying to return that faith."

 

Laporte's passing accuracy of 96.64 is the third-highest of any player to have played more than 90 minutes at Euro 2020, behind Axel Witsel (96.91) and Dedryck Boyata (97.74).

The former Athletic Bilbao man's 86.33 successful passes per 90 minutes, meanwhile, has been bettered by just five others, including new team-mate Pau Torres (94.52), reflecting how quickly he has settled in with his adopted national team.

"Everyone has different feelings. I felt comfortable coming with Spain, fully identified," he said. "That's what made me change everything. 

"Also, my family hasn't spent eight years in Spain like me.

"I'd been in contact with Spain for years because they've always wanted me. Luis Enrique called. I took the decision.

"It wasn't easy at all. My family still lives in France and from very young I played there with the national team. 

"There were family chats, discussions, an exchange of opinions, the same doubts there would be if you had dual nationality I imagine."

Andriy Shevchenko insists Ukraine have "nothing to lose" against Sweden as his side aim to reach the European Championship quarter-finals for the first time.

Ukraine's only previous appearance in the knockout stages of a major competition came at the 2006 World Cup when eliminating Switzerland before losing to Italy in the last eight.

The Eastern European nation hardly boast the best of records at the Euros, either, having lost seven of their last eight games.

However, a 2-1 win over North Macedonia, bookended by defeats to the Netherlands and Austria, proved enough for Ukraine to progress as one of the best third-placed sides.

Sweden await at Hampden Park on Tuesday and head coach Shevchenko believes his players can be proud whatever the result in Glasgow.

"We have travelled a long way to be here. We have achieved the result we wanted and have nothing to lose now," he said. "Everything else will be a big bonus for us.

"I think we played a good group stage. We played well against the Dutch and we put in a good performance against North Macedonia. Austria were very strong opponents. 

"But Sweden are well prepared tactically and have good individual players."

Sweden topped a group containing Spain, Poland and Slovakia to reach the knockouts of the Euros for a third time, having made it to the 1992 semi-finals and quarter-finals in 2004.

Despite coming through a difficult group with seven points from nine, Sweden boss Janne Andersson is taking nothing for granted against Ukraine.

"They are a good team; they know how to switch from defence to attack," he said. "They looked worn out against Austria, but like us they've had some rest – even more actually.

"After the last game I gathered the players and told them I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world than in that room with them."

 


KEY PLAYERS

Sweden – Emil Forsberg 

The RB Leipzig man has been one of the star performers of Euro 2020 so far, scoring the only goal against Slovakia from the penalty spot before netting twice against Poland.

It has been quite the turnaround for the 29-year-old, who has now scored four goals in his last four games for Sweden, following a previous run of 11 games without a goal.

Forsberg could yet write his name in Swedish football folklore, with Kennet Andersson (five) and Martin Dahlin (four) the only players to score more than three goals for the country in a single major tournament, both doing so at the 1994 World Cup.

Ukraine – Andriy Yarmolenko

West Ham forward Yarmolenko scored twice and assisted another during the group stage, including a 25-yard goal of the tournament contender in the 3-2 loss to the Netherlands.

No Ukraine player has ever been involved in more goals than Yarmolenko at a major tournament, level with team-mate Roman Yaremchuk, who has also played a big part in his side's progression to the last 16.


KEY OPTA FACTS

– This will be the fifth meeting between Sweden and Ukraine, with Sweden's only victory coming in a friendly in August 2011 (D1 L2).

– The last meeting between Sweden and Ukraine was at Euro 2012, with Ukraine coming from behind to win 2-1 thanks to a brace from current manager Shevchenko.

– Of the teams to reach the last 16 at Euro 2020, no side faced more shots on target in the group stages than Ukraine (16, level with Wales).

– Sweden made the fewest successful passes (591) and had the lowest passing accuracy (69.9 per cent) of any side in the group stages at Euro 2020. Of the teams to reach the last 16, they also had the lowest average possession rate (29.6 per cent).

– Sweden scored with 44 per cent of their shots on target in the group stages of Euro 2020 (4/9), with only Portugal having a higher such ratio of teams to reach the last 16 (50 per cent - 7/14).

England have not so far entertained the neutral at Euro 2020, but heavyweight clashes with Germany rarely disappoint.

The old rivals on Tuesday meet at a major tournament for the first time since the 2010 World Cup, where chaos reigned in another last-16 bout.

A stodgy England approach – not out of keeping with this year's group stage, a Rob Green error aside – gave way as the knockout phase began. The teams shared 35 shots – the only Three Lions tournament game to feature at least 17 for each side since 1998 – and England's 1.13 expected goals (xG) surpassed each of their prior three matches in South Africa.

Germany won 4-1.

 

Control is the name of the game now, though – at least for Gareth Southgate's England.

As Germany traded blows with the big boys in Group F, conceding first in each of their fixtures and extending their run without a clean sheet at a major tournament to eight matches, England kept their guard up.

The Three Lions have 15 clean sheets in 19 games, including three in three at the finals – as many as in 14 matches at the past three major tournaments combined and already more than their two at Euro 96.

At the same time, England netted just twice in Group D, becoming the lowest-scoring pool winners in Euros history.

These statistics do not suggest an exciting, attacking outlook, even if the squad list does. But criticism of Southgate will soon fade if the result goes his way at Wembley this week.

Express yourself

Jack Grealish, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka – England's eight attacking options – registered a combined 147 goal involvements in the league in 2020-21.

It is easy to see why fans want these players to be let off the leash. Premier League Golden Boot winner Kane has had five shots, one on target and 11 touches in the opposition box in 246 minutes.

But England's rapid starts to matches have been too easily forgotten.

In each of their group games, the Three Lions hit the post inside 11 minutes. Raheem Sterling's lob against the Czech Republic was touched onto the post when it could have become England's earliest Euros goal at one minute and 47 seconds. That honour still belongs to Alan Shearer (2:14) – against Germany in 1996.

Southgate's side had at least 60 per cent of the possession in the opening quarter of an hour of all three matches. Nine of their 22 attempts came in this period.

The issue has been capitalising on this dominance, with Sterling's header against the Czech Republic the only time England have netted before the 15-minute mark.

Southgate has been level-headed in his assessment of performances so far but acknowledged his team have "run out of steam a little bit in a couple of games".

Unable to either race into a big early lead or maintain this initial frantic pace, England have settled for slowing the play instead, ensuring to avoid the sort of setbacks that saw Shearer's goal cancelled out by Stefan Kuntz on 15 minutes in 1996.

They have been successful in this regard of late, their past four wins – over the course of five matches – coming by 1-0 scorelines. Only in 1990 have England previously had five 1-0 wins in a calendar year.

Don't give it away

In the second half against the Czech Republic, with protecting a narrow lead their only apparent aim, England did not attempt a single shot.

Yet this performance stood completely at odds with the previous most recent example of the Three Lions failing to muster an effort after half-time. Against Spain in the Nations League in 2018, Southgate saw a three-goal lead at the interval almost wiped out.

 

 

England look to be able to manage games now. Even after the goalless draw with Scotland, Southgate spoke of the need to "manage the tournament as well as the game".

They have been versatile in that sense.

In the win over Croatia, England ceded 60 per cent of the possession after the restart and 81.6 per cent in the final 15 minutes, yet their opponents' six second-half chances were worth a meagre 0.3 xG combined.

That figure stood at just 0.07 xG as the Czech Republic attempted in vain to rescue a result in an uneventful second period in which England preferred to keep the ball a little more (53 per cent of the possession).

England have given up opportunities worth 0.77 xG across their three second halves. In the group stage, Spain (0.93) were the only other team below 1.0 in this sense.

Besides against Croatia, when Sterling struck on 57 minutes, England have benefited from not needing to chase a result, with their own second-half xG of 1.57 the seventh-lowest.

"We look difficult to play against," was Southgate's summary, one he will hope holds true against Germany, whose average possession percentage (64.7) far outweighs Croatia's (55.5).

With or without the ball, though, England have managed to dictate the pace of the play – and it is slow.

While averaging 4.5 passes per sequence in the first round – the seventh-highest – Southgate's side ranked last for both direct speed (0.98 metres progressed upfield per second) and directness (17 per cent of distance covered per sequence was upfield).

Crucially, the opposition were slowed, too. Only against Spain (0.87) did teams progress fewer metres upfield per second than against England (1.1), whose opponents moved upfield with a tournament-low 19 per cent of their distance covered per sequence. Croatia and the Czech Republic each fell below their averages in both metrics when facing England.

"I felt like we've been in control in the games," said captain Harry Kane, adding: "I feel like we're in a controlled place going into the big match on Tuesday."

But the worry will be whether England remain capable of responding, picking up the pace should their plodding plan fail and they fall behind.

In the 20 games that followed the 2018 World Cup, England conceded first four times and won on each occasion.

However, since then, in 12 outings, they have lost both such matches without scoring (1-0 v Denmark, 2-0 v Belgium). In Russia, Southgate's side were beaten in all three games in which they trailed at any stage.

After the Scotland stalemate, Southgate said of his reluctance to throw on additional offensive players: "If we had to chase to win, with no consequences for conceding, then you might approach it differently."

So, perhaps it might take England to concede first for fans to see the all-out attacking approach they crave. 

If that happens, though, the form book suggests the Three Lions may well end up bidding their tournament hopes arrivederci.

Is Lionel Messi's future on the verge of being resolved at Camp Nou?

Messi's contract with LaLiga powerhouse Barcelona expires this week and the six-time Ballon d'Or winner has been linked with a move.

But, if reports are to be believed, the superstar is poised to extend his long stay at Barca.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA READYING MESSI ANNOUNCEMENT

Barcelona are preparing to officially announce an agreement has been reached with Messi, according to Football Espana and Fabrizio Romano.

The superstar captain has been linked with Premier League champions Manchester City and Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain.

But Messi is now set to renew for a further two years at Barca, where the 34-year-old has spent his entire senior career.

 

ROUND-UP

City will renew their attempts to sign Harry Kane from Tottenham after Euro 2020, claims Romano. City are among a host of clubs interested in Kane, who is also reportedly wanted by Manchester United, Chelsea, Barca, Real Madrid and PSG. Spurs, however, are unwilling to sell the England star. City have also been linked with Inter's Romelu Lukaku and Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland.

Brahim Diaz will join Milan from Madrid on loan with an option to buy, reports Sky Sport. The Spaniard spent the 2020-21 season on loan at San Siro. Milan are also interested in Alvaro Odriozola if they are unable to bring Diogo Dalot back from United.

- Gianluca Di Marzio says Arsenal are trying to sign Benfica full-back Nuno Tavares, who has also been linked with Napoli and Lazio.

- Serie A champions Inter are eyeing Franck Kessie amid his contract stalemate with neighbours Milan, according to Tuttosport.

- Tuttosport reports Arsenal are pressing to bring Italy forward Andrea Belotti to London from Torino. Roma have long been linked with Belotti, as well as Milan.

Juventus are ready to make a bid for Lille and Portugal star Renato Sanches, per Calciomercato. Milan are also interested as Juve look to prise Manuel Locatelli from Sassuolo.

- Mundo Deportivo says Atletico Madrid are interested in former Barca midfielder Paulinho. The Brazilian is a free agent after leaving Chinese outfit Guangzhou FC.

- There are two clubs trying to sign Luka Jovic from Madrid, claims Diario AS. Jovic, who returned to former club Eintracht Frankfurt on loan in 2020-21, has been linked with Milan.

- Gazzetta dello Sport reports Achraf Hakimi will complete his move to PSG from Inter, who are eyeing Arsenal's Hector Bellerin as a replacement.

Brazil head coach Tite insisted "perfection does not exist" after the Selecao's 10-game winning streak was snapped following a 1-1 draw with Ecuador at the Copa America.

Neymar was rested for Brazil's final Group B fixture as the defending champions played out a disappointing stalemate against Ecuador at the Estadio Olimpico Pedro Ludovico on Sunday.

Eder Militao's first international goal gave Brazil – who made 10 changes to the starting line-up – a 37th-minute lead before Angel Mena secured a point for Ecuador eight minutes into the second half.

Tite had been looking to extend Brazil's winning streak in pursuit of the country's all-time record – 14 under legendary boss Mario Zagallo – but his team were forced to share the spoils in their final group fixture.

"Saying that you cannot err is not human, perfection does not exist, what we have to do is minimise the margin of error for a team," Tite said post-match.

"When we talk about defensive solidity and also when we talk about game generation, we have to find the balance point without being too defensive or offensive.

"During matches there are different ways to play, dominance is when you have the ball and you try to attack, control when you stand further back, you do not have the ball and the opponent does not generate danger.

"So to play these difficult games we have to find the balance between dominance and control."

It was the first time Brazil had scored at least one goal at the CONMEBOL showpiece tournament and did not win since the 2015 edition.

Brazil, meanwhile, are the only team to score more than one header at this year's Copa America – Militao's goal was the nation's third consecutive headed goal.

Tite's Brazil will face either 15-time Copa champions Uruguay or two-time winners Chile in the quarter-finals.

"I can't choose, they both have tradition, quality, individual technique and weight of the jerseys, great technicians, outstanding players," Tite replied when asked who he would prefer to face in the last eight.

"The three of us are the last Copa America champions and with Uruguay we are a historic South American classic, I can't choose."

Thiago Andrade produced a moment of individual brilliance to cap a comeback in stoppage time as New York City dramatically defeated DC United 2-1 in MLS.

DC United appeared on track for victory following Nigel Robertha's ninth-minute opener away to New York City on Sunday.

That was until New York City – who have never lost a home match to DC United (W5 D2) – rallied, with Keaton Parks equalising in the 84th minute after flicking home a header from Maxi Moralez's corner.

Thiago then took centre stage in the 95th minute – the Brazilian embarking on a spectacular solo run from his own half, breezing by his opponents and finishing decisively.

New York City have scored in 21 consecutive MLS games (including playoffs). It is the longest active run in the league and longest in club history.

With the win, New York City are fourth in the Eastern Conference – six points adrift of leaders New England Revolution, who lost 2-1 to Dallas.

The Revolution were unable to restore their five-point lead atop the table following Ricardo Pepi's brace for Dallas.

Homegrown star Pepi was the hero for Dallas, who snapped their six-game winless streak by topping the Eastern Conference leaders.

In other results, Atlanta United and New York Red Bulls played out a goalless draw, while Austin and reigning MLS champions Columbus Crew also drew 0-0.

Neymar, a mask hanging from his left ear, took a bite from a bar and gestured this way and that. This was a game the world's most expensive player was happy to sit out, his unique talents probably better saved for another occasion.

Such as that which awaits Brazil on Friday, back at the Estadio Olimpico Nilton Santos in Rio de Janeiro, when Uruguay or Chile will be the opposition for Tite's team.

This Sunday showdown with Ecuador was one for La Tri to savour and the Selecao to get out of the way, perhaps learn a thing or two but ideally come through unscathed and with a thing or two for the head coach to mull over before the knockout stage begins.

So Ecuador made the most of their opportunity to face Brazil at just about their most meek, the 1-1 draw sending Gustavo Alfaro's team through to the Copa America quarter-finals and a likely clash with Argentina next.

Whoever Ecuador do come up against next, they will be back here at the Estadio Olimpico Pedro Ludovico in Goiania, where after holding the five-time World Cup winners to a deserved draw they had every reason to celebrate.

Ecuador are through to the Copa last eight for just the second time in the 21st century, and they were full value for their point as they finished above Venezuela and brought Brazil's 10-game winning streak – a record for Tite at the helm of the national team – to an end.

But what of Brazil? Tite made a raft of changes to ensure his hand will be as strong as possible for when the stiff competition begins, and it was hard to pick a promoted player who did his hopes of starting that quarter-final any good.

Certainly not Roberto Firmino, who started behind Gabriel Barbosa and played just 17 passes and had a mere 25 touches before being substituted midway through the second half. The Liverpool forward did not have a single goal attempt, and strikeforce spearhead Barbosa had only one, an early prod at a clever lobbed pass from Lucas Paqueta.

It fell to defender Eder Militao to show the Brazil attackers the route to goal, his neat header in the 37th minute opening the scoring.

Militao, Paqueta and Douglas Luiz danced away in a presumably rehearsed celebration, and you wondered if that was the kickstart this flat Brazil performance needed, the cue for a raising of their game.

'Vibra el continente' read the pitchside boards – 'Rock the continent'.

Brazil were rocking in a shy way here though, enjoying 71.1 per cent of first-half possession but not looking in the mood for a kill.

Angelo Preciado saw a thumping shot deflect just over the bar early in the second half as Ecuador chased an equaliser, and Enner Valencia also went close with a low strike before Angel Mena lashed past Alisson to level up in the 53rd minute.

Mena became the second substitute to score for Ecuador at this year's Copa, after Gonzalo Plata. Only Brazil (four) have benefited from more goals via a substitute this tournament.

A clever headed pass by Valencia set up the chance for the equaliser as Brazil's defence nodded off, and Ecuador went on to dominate the half, even swinging the possession dial around in their favour. They had 50.8 per cent of the ball in the second 45 minutes, five goals attempts to Brazil's two. Sebas Mendez was a titan in midfield, albeit against semi-interested opposition, winning possession a game-high 10 times and finding his man with 48 of his 50 passes over the 90 minutes.

 

Valencia was denied by a brave defensive header from Militao, who got to Preciado's dangerous cross just ahead of the former West Ham striker, and Ecuador then wanted a penalty when the ball struck Everton on the arm.

Mena almost scored a stunning second for Ecuador when his free-kick from close to the right touchline was whipped in with audacious curl and dip, forcing Alisson to tip over his crossbar.

Richarlison and Vinicius Junior came on as Tite looked to spark Brazil to life, but there was to be no ignition. It was the first time the reigning Copa America champions had scored at least one goal at the CONMEBOL showpiece and did not win since the 2015 edition.

Brazil are unbeaten against Ecuador in their last 11 games now, and this result probably matters very little, given the wins over Colombia, Peru and Venezuela that preceded it.

Moreover, the theory that you are only as good as your last game hardly applies when you rest the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Thiago Silva, Casemiro and Fred.

Yet Neymar, as he took another gnaw at his touchline snack, might have wondered when a Brazil team had ever looked so passive as this side did after the interval.

Eden Hazard fears he suffered a serious hamstring injury after Belgium eliminated defending champions Portugal in the Euro 2020 last 16 as Roberto Martinez also awaits news on star Kevin De Bruyne.

Belgium ousted Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal 1-0 en route to the quarter-finals on Sunday but it may have come at a cost, with Hazard and De Bruyne both hobbling off in Seville.

Thorgan Hazard's stunning long-range strike set up a showdown with in-form Italy, however, it was overshadowed by brother Eden Hazard, who clutched his hamstring as he left the field late in the match after De Bruyne succumbed to an ankle problem early in the second half.

Afterwards, Eden Hazard – who has been hampered by injuries since joining Real Madrid in 2019 – told reporters: "I hurt myself, I felt something in the hamstring.

I think I have something, we'll see tomorrow. We will analyse the injury well, we will see the extent afterwards.

"As captain, I will stay with the group because I have an important role to play."

Thorgan Hazard said: "I hope it's not a big injury but it doesn't look so good. The medical staff in Belgium is very good so we hope everything will be ok for the rest of the tournament. Also for Kevin because we need these two players to go forward."

Joao Palhinha's challenge on De Bruyne in the 45th minute saw the Belgium star substituted shortly after the restart, as head coach Martinez added: "We will take 48 hours now to assess the situation of the two players.

"We go back to Belgium now and they will have scans on the injuries tomorrow.

"It's too early to say how they are doing. With Kevin, it's the ankle -- he couldn't really turn in the second half. With Eden it's the muscle, but we have to wait for a diagnosis."

Belgium claimed their first win over Portugal since September 1989 (3-0 in a World Cup qualifier) – ending a run of five meetings without a victory against them (D2 L3).

The Red Devils also equalled their longest winning streak at major tournaments, winning five in a row for the second time (both under Martinez). Belgium have won 10 of their 11 games across the World Cup and European Championships since the Spaniard took charge.

"We had incredible concentration and defended really well," said Martinez. "We scored a very good goal. In the second half the more the momentum went to Portugal we had to show an incredible mentality. Everything was about being disciplined and tactically astute.

"We never lost concentration and there were difficult moments. The way Portugal pushed for victory until the end, this gives me incredible satisfaction.

"This is what a winning team needs. We know the talent we have but all the other elements you need were shown today. For us it was the biggest test there is."

Belgium have scored six goals from outside the box in the last two European Championships (2016 and 2020); at least twice as many as any other team in this period.

Thorgan Hazard was the fifth different Belgian player to score from outside the box in the competition since 2016, along with Radja Nainggolan (two), De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard.

Belgium's Thorgan Hazard netted in consecutive games for the country for the first time, while he has now scored four international goals since his brother Eden last scored for the national team.

"I think the trajectory was a little bit weird for the goalkeeper," Thorgan Hazard said after his goal was compared to Ronaldo. "I tried my luck.

"In these matches, if you have an opportunity or you have a chance, you always have to try and with a little bit of luck, it went it. Especially as this was a qualifying goal so it’s a dream." 

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