London: The Euro 2020 group stages are over and the knockouts are set to begin and no doubt there will be plenty of drama to look forward to. But, we have already had a goal full of that from unbelievable goalkeeping errors to players biting one another. Here are the craziest moments of the tournament... so far!
France and Germany’s opener together in Group F in Munich just five days into the competition was thrown into chaos before it had even kicked off when a paraglider came tumbling to earth inside the Allianz Arena in a protest that went horribly wrong. The Greenpeace activist was trying to make a statement against one of the tournament’s main sponsors Volkswagon, for making petrol and diesel engines, and had intended to drop a ball into the centre circle with a slogan that denounced the German car manufacturer. However, the ‘experienced pilot’ failed to factor in overhead camera cabling, struck the wires and went into a death spin that saw him recover just in time to hit two people in the stands across the head before showering debris down onto a bewildered Didier Deschamps. Luckily everyone managed to escape serious injury and the pilot was just left red faced, but it could have been much worse, Bavarian minister Joachim Herrmann has since revealed that snipers were honing their sights on the pilot thinking he was a terrorist but pulled their aim when they saw the Greenpeace logo on his parachute.
One of those sporting moments where everyone will remember where they were when it happened. The Inter Milan midfielder stumbled and fell in an off the ball incident 40 minutes into Denmark’s opener with Finland in Copenhagen and it was immediately clear that all was not well with the former Tottenham player when captain and teammate Simon Kjaer had to clear his airway before referee Anthony Taylor anxiously waved on medics. What ensued was at least 12 minutes of unbroken coverage of Eriksen receiving CPR while his teammates formed a human barrier around him to protect his dignity. Eriksen’s distressed wife Sabrina Kvist came onto the field and was consoled by Peter Schmeichel and Kjaer before television coverage finally cut to the studio leading many to believe the midfielder had indeed passed away. An image then appeared on social media of Eriksen sat upright and alive. Amazingly his teammates came out to play the second half albeit 45 minutes late and although they went on to lose 1-0 with other things clearly on their mind, the outpouring of love and support for Eriksen amazingly carried the Danes through to the next round as runners up despite a follow up 2-1 defeat to Belgium, thanks to a late 4-1 thrashing of Russia. The whole episode has helped draw attention to the importance of defibrillators, with even local sports clubs now ensuring they have one to hand.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s disgust at seeing two Coca-Cola bottles in front of him at a press conference before removing them and holding a preferred bottle of water aloft, put sponsorship noses well and truly out of joint on the sidelines of the tournament. It prompted the obvious talking point on the promotion of healthy products at a sporting event and sparked a bit of a trend among players with Italy’s Manuel Locatelli also replacing water for Coke at his press conference and devout Muslim Paul Pogba removing a bottle of zero alcohol Heineken from in front of him at the press conference top table. Several other players like the Ukraine’s Amdriy Yarmolenko, Scotland’s Paul McGinn and Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku all made light of the situation at their press cons by either ensuring all the bottles were in place, asking where the Coke was or even asking the brand to get in contact with their image rights agency. Coca-Cola had initially said “Everyone is entitled to their drink preferences” but then Uefa warned of fines for those who continued to move the bottles. Ikea looked to cash in by releasing a reusable water bottle called ‘Cristiano’, water company Evian also backed Ronaldo’s stance and even the World Health Organisation saw it as a chance to preach the importance of cutting sugar from your diet.
The Scotland Lob
Patrik Schick’s second in a 2-0 win for the Czech Republic over Scotland at Hampden in Group D not only became an early candidate for goal of the tournament but also went in the record books for the longest distance goal in tournament history at 49.7 metres – that is just shy of the halfway line to you and me. The previous record of 38.6 metres came from Germany midfielder Tortsen Frings at Euro 2004 in a 1-1 draw against Holland. Scotland lost the ball in the opposition’s half allowing Schick to spot keeper David Marshall off his line for the almightiest of lobs that forced Marshall back peddling into his own net in vain. The image of Marshall tangled between his posts will become synonymous with an otherwise valiant effort from the Scots who were making their first appearance at a major tournament in 23 years. Despite finishing bottom of Group D after losses to Czech Republic and Croatia they still managed a goalless draw at Wembley against the ‘auld enemy’ England, and but for a positive Covid testing for their key player Billy Gilmour they might have fancied slightly less of a humbling against Croatia in their final group game, which they lost 3-1.
Italy’s ‘everyone on’ policy
The sight of Italy coach Roberto Mancini subbing his goalkeepers Salvatore Sirigu on for Gianluigi Donnarumma in 89 minutes of a 1-0 win over Wales in Rome might have looked pointless or even foolhardy from the former Manchester City boss, but besides a cynical attempt to wind the clock down there was actually quite a poignant reason. Mancini himself was part of Italy’s World Cup squad at Italia 90 but didn’t play a single minute of a major tournament on home soil. Given that it remains one of the biggest regrets of his career he is determined not to let the same fate befall his current players, so instead he has made it his mission to give all 26 players a run out. So far 25 have had a game. It’s been deemed incredible man management from the coach and in honesty it has paid off, with the resulting camaraderie and team spirit a sight to behold. Italy came into this tournament as no starters having missed the last World Cup, but Mancini has quickly got them firing with clean sheet 3-0 wins over Turkey and Switzerland plus that 1-0 win over Wales making them now one of the tournament’s surprise favourites.
At first glimpse you wouldn’t have thought there would be much beef between Austria and North Macedonia but dig a little deeper and take into account the Serbian heritage of Austrian striker Marko Arnautovic and the fact two of North Macedonia’s players Egzon Bejtulai and Gjanni Alioski have Albanian roots, and we perhaps should have seen something coming. Kosovo, an ethnic Albanian majority province within Serbia, has long fought for its independence but Serbia just isn’t having it and thus there exists quite a rift. Cue Arnautovic scoring against North Macedonia in a 3-1 win in Group C and turning to allegedly abuse their players of Albanian descent before being literally silenced by his own captain David Alaba, and you have quite a kerfuffle on your hands. Arnautovic is slapped with a one match ban and has to apologise and distance himself from accusations of racism, stating he has friends in ‘almost’ every country.
Ronaldo’s no look pass
Coolly flicking the ball over Rudiger’s head, throwing his arms out in a nod to social media sensation Khaby as if to say: ‘simple’, and then pulling off a no look back heel pass to send Rudiger scattering; Cristiano Ronaldo couldn’t have been less antagonistic in this moment of magic between Portugal and Germany. But my, did it come back to haunt him. Executing this moment of trickery while 1-0 up looked smart, but riling the Germans is never wise, even if they have been looking out of sorts. After a 1-0 defeat to France and a 2-2 draw to Hungary, it would be easy to write Germany off but whatever Ronaldo did sparked some sort of fire in them enabling them to go on to win 4-2. The whole thing had former Liverpool and Germany star Dietmar Hamann labelling Ronaldo the fool. “What is he trying to achieve? Maybe this [Germany’s comeback] is where it all started.” You can’t knock him too much - he’s reached another famous landmark by equalling the men’s international goalscoring record. He now has 109 to his name and looks set to overtake Iran’s Ali Daei.
Rudiger’s bite on Pogba
Move over Luis Suarez there’s a new sheriff in town. Antonio Rudiger appeared to sink his teeth into the back of Paul Pogba during France’s 1-0 win over Germany in their opening Group F game together and the whole thing posed more questions than answers. Quite what Rudiger was thinking is anyone’s guess. “I should have not come so close with my mouth to his back, no doubt about it,” he said. But Pogba’s vehement defence of the player despite appearing to writhe in agony as it happened perhaps got Rudiger off the hook. “He nibbled, I think, a little bit on me. But we have known each other for a long time,” defended Pogba. “I’m not crying for cards, yellows, red cards, because of such actions. I told the referee and he takes decision and he took a decision. It’s over. It was a great match for us, and I didn’t want him to be suspended because of such a situation.” That’s Ok then!
Dubravka’s own goal
Up until this tournament there had only been nine own goals in Euros history, but seven have now been scored in this edition’s group stage alone – the most of any tournament. Of all these efforts one stands out for special mention and that is the comedic volleyball spike flap of Slovakian keeper Martin Dubravka who when met with sun in his eyes and an unruly chip from Spain - that he was attempting to tip out with his fists aloft and his body towards goal – ended up being palmed into his own net. It set the tone with this being the first in a 5-0 thrashing from Spain who had been otherwise under the weather up until this point with only draws against Sweden 0-0 and Poland 1-1. The victory got Spain through as runners up and maybe makes them look a bit better than they really are.
Who are England playing anyway?
Those trying to keep up with all the permutations of Group F as it reached its dying moments would have been forgiven for being royally confused on Wednesday night as ding dong battles between France v Portugal and Germany v Hungary saw the race for placings – in particular the runners up spot - change five times as goals shipped in and leads switched. Both games were drawn 2-2 in the end, Hungary twice conceding a lead to go from potential England facers to elimination and Germany doing the reverse to book their slot at Wembley despite looking all at sea at one stage. Meanwhile France equalised and pulled ahead only for Portugal to level in a maze of penalties. Criticism of the best four third placed teams going up has been rife with it making a mockery of playing groups when so many progress, but on nights like this it has added spice with the viewer virtually having no clue as to who has progressed least not the players. It’s just a shame for England’s sake that they couldn’t all of been eliminated. For the record England play Germany now in the Last 16. I think.