Euro 2020’s quarter-finalists have been confirmed following an unforgettable first knockout round, one which saw both the holders and world champions eliminated from the competition.
Monday’s action saw a staggering 14 goals scored across just two fixtures as Spain and Switzerland progressed from thrillers, the latter beating tournament favourites France on penalties following a pulsating clash.
Elsewhere England beat old rivals Germany to move into the last eight in impressive fashion, whilst there were wins for Belgium, Italy, Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Denmark with a number of standout showings across the last-16 ties.
Here are eight players who shone during the round of 16 fixtures.
Thorgan Hazard has spent much of his career in the shadow of elder sibling Eden, but had his moment in a major tournament for Belgium after booking the Red Devils their place in the quarter-finals.
Hazard started Belgium’s last-16 clash with Portugal in a left wing-back role and looked at it from the opening minutes, working tirelessly down the flank and standing out as one of the bright sparks for Roberto Martinez’s side.
The two teams exchanged chances in a tight game that could perhaps have been staged later in the competition, but it was Hazard who proved the difference after cutting inside from the left and letting fly with a dipping effort that had Rui Patricio beaten.
⚠️ 𝐖𝐎𝐑𝐋𝐃𝐈𝐄 𝐀𝐋𝐄𝐑𝐓! ⚠️
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) June 27, 2021
It was a spectacular effort from the 28-year-old with the movement on the ball deceiving Patricio, whilst the wing-back never neglected his defensive duties as he hassled and harried the Portuguese players to make six ball recoveries.
Belgium head into the quarter-finals with injury doubts over Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard and will need performances of a similar calibre from the likes of Hazard to progress past an impressive Italy outfit.
Kasper Dolberg was handed his first start of Euro 2020 for Denmark’s clash with Wales in the last 16, the Nice forward selected to lead the line in the absence of the injured Yussuf Poulsen.
Denmark had bounced back from losing their opening two fixtures to progress after thrashing Russia and continued that momentum with an emphatic 4-0 victory over Wales to reach the quarter-finals.
Dolberg stood out as Denmark’s danger man from the opening exchanges and opened the scoring with a wonderful finish just before the half hour, stepping inside before bending a sublime finish beyond Danny Ward and into the far corner.
The 23-year-old linked well throughout with Mikkel Damsgaard and made no mistake when provided with a gift of a second, lashing home after Neco Williams’ miscued clearance landed at his feet with the goal gaping.
— UEFA EURO 2020 (@EURO2020) June 26, 2021
Dolberg’s showing has now handed his manager a major selection headache as Poulsen looks to return for the quarter-final against the Czech Republic, the Danes – in form and spurred on by a wave of good-will from neutrals – possessing the attacking options to continue their Euro 2020 venture.
Italy have emerged as the team of the tournament so far, but the Azzurri were made to work hard for their place in the quarter-finals after being forced into extra-time by a resilient Austria side.
Roberto Mancini’s side are now unbeaten in a national record 31 games across all competitions, though the Italians were thankful for their strength in depth to get past Austria 2-1 at Wembley – with all three goals coming in the additional 30 minutes.
Struggling to find a way past the resistance of their last-16 opponents, Mancini made a handful of substitutions with Manuel Locatelli, Andrea Belotti, Matteo Pessina and Federico Chiesa all making an impact off the bench.
Chiesa and Pessina scored the goals that sealed Italy’s progress and the former must surely be pushing for a start in the last eight following his injection of attacking quality.
The Juventus star took his goal in superb fashion to open the scoring, flicking the ball past Konrad Laimer with his right foot before lashing home a left-footed finish into the far corner.
Italy have been praised at Euro 2020 and rightly so, though face arguably their first real acid test with a quarter-final date against Belgium on Friday evening.
Brilliant throughout as the Czech Republic upset the Netherlands to reach the last eight, capitalising on the sending off of Matthijs de Ligt to progress to the quarter-finals.
Holes ran himself into the ground to compete with a strong midfield contingent including Frenkie de Jong and Georginio Wijnaldum, whilst he remained alert to Memphis Depay dropping deep from the forward line to get involved.
The 28-year-old was in the right place at the right time to open the scoring after Tomas Kalas’ header across goal, before showing tenacity and desire with a burst forward to tee up the second and secure the Czech’s progress.
Recalled to the starting side, Torres was at the heart of Spain’s best work during a thrilling eight-goal clash with Croatia, a fixture that included a near capitulation from La Roja before coming back to book a quarter-final tie with Switzerland.
Torres was energetic and involved throughout, picking out Cesar Azpilicueta to put Spain ahead, before bursting into the box and finishing smartly to seemingly assure a victory for Luis Enrique’s side.
No player created more chances than Torres’ four, whilst he incredibly registered 100% success rate for metrics including shot-conversion, aerials won, tackles won and crossing accuracy against Croatia.
100% aerials won
100% tackles won
100% crossing accuracy
4 chances created (most)
2 big chances created (joint-most)
Obscene output. 🤯 pic.twitter.com/V96c1LIkif
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 28, 2021
The 21-year-old has also now scored six goals and provided an assists in his last seven starts at international level and the Manchester City winger will be confident of keeping his place ahead of Spain’s clash with Switzerland in the next round.
Mentions must also go to Pedri, who at 18-years-old is already an outstanding talent.
The upset of the tournament so far, Switzerland trailed the world champions 3-1 with just nine minutes of their tie remaining before coming back from the death to force extra-time and emerge victorious in a shoot-out.
France had appeared to ride their luck after Ricardo Rodriguez missed a penalty with the score at 1-0 to Switzerland, the quality of the world champions eventually shining through as Karim Benzema’s quick-fire double and Paul Pogba’s spectacular effort seemed to have secured Les Bleus’ progress.
Switzerland fought back to secure a memorable win however, Granit Xhaka at the heart of their success with the captain embodying the Swiss’ never-say-die spirit and battling superbly against the competition’s strongest midfield.
Xhaka has never been a fan favourite at Arsenal and as the 28-year-old nears an exit from the Emirates, this was a reminder of what he is capable of when operating at his very best.
He was strong in the challenge and showcased an excellent range of passing, including sliding in Mario Gavranovic for a late equaliser with a precise defence-splitting ball.
Raheem Sterling has handled more criticism and bad publicity than most, but at Euro 2020 the winger has been England’s leading light and has shouldered responsibility for the progression of Gareth Southgate’s side so far.
Winners in group stage clashes against Croatia and the Czech Republic were important, but his opening goal in the 2-0 win over Germany was his most crucial yet and rich reward for a player who has been the bright spark of this side.
Sterling started strongly and tested Manuel Neuer with a curling effort from distance, whilst his movement and runs in behind gave England an outlet with Harry Kane anonymous during the opening exchanges.
The 26-year-old ran his socks off to press from the front and was rewarded for his efforts after turning home Luke Shaw’s cross, Sterling the right man, in the right place, at the right time once again.
His afternoon was almost soured after conceding possession in the build-up to Thomas Muller’s agonisingly close chance, but both his and England’s efforts proved enough to secure a huge confidence-boosting victory.
There are few doubting his place in Southgate’s side now.
Oleksandr Zinchenko has often featured in midfield for Ukraine but returned to a left wing-back role against Sweden, a position he has become accustomed to during his club career at Manchester City.
Zinchenko was strong defensively as Sweden struggled to make inroads down the right-hand side, before showcasing his attacking quality with the game’s opening goal, lashing home a rasping drive after arriving at the back post.
The 24-year-old’s goal was just one highlight of an impressive performance in which he surged forward at will, with Zinchenko provided a superb cross for Artem Dovbyk to head home a dramatic 121st-minute winner for Andriy Shevchenko’s side.