The knockout rounds of the Euro 2020 tournament are underway with teams engaging in do-or-die encounters to take home the much-coveted title. This edition of the European Championships has seen no major surprises – all major teams have progressed to the knockout rounds. The dark horses have failed to cause upsets, but nevertheless, many teams put on impressive team performances to give the giants a tough fight.
We take a look at five teams who, despite being eliminated, made their mark with their performance in the tournament:
The Dutch entered the competition as favourites in Group C, alongside minnows Ukraine and North Macedonia. A tough fight from Ukraine in their first fixture saw them just edge past with a 3-2 win, but the men in orange regrouped quickly to score emphatic wins over North Macedonia and Austria. They finished at the top of the table with nine points and were drawn with the surprise of the tournament Czech Republic in the round of 16.
But the Dutch lost all energy on Sunday as they produced no shots on goal, a first in the history of Euros for any team. Matthijs de Ligt’s red card left the team with just ten men for most of the second half, which the Czech were able to capitalise on. Tomas Holes and Patrik Schick scored to bring to the Netherlands’ run to a halt.
A team that defied all odds to reach the knockout rounds, Wales managed to finish above a much stronger Switzerland in Group A with some impressive performances. The 2016 semi-finalists banked on key performances from Danny Ward, Joe Rodon and Kieffer Moore, but Gareth Bale ended the tournament without scoring a goal. The highlight of the tournament was inarguably their 2-0 emphatic win over Turkey, ensuring that they reached the knockout rounds.
Wales lost their final fixture to the Azzurri, but entered the knockout rounds on the back of a superior goal difference. But a strong Denmark cheered on by a significant fan support proved to be too much for Gareth Bale’s men, and they had to go home after a 4-0 thrashing.
Euro 2020 was the first major international tournament in Finland’s history, and the Finns played their hearts out in their fixtures. Their first fixture was overshadowed by Christian Eriksen’s unfortunate illness, but Markku Kanerva’s squad outplayed Denmark registering a 1-0 win. They also showed bravery against Belgium, daring to attack while keeping their defences compact, despite losing 2-0. A 1-0 loss to Russia proved to be the nail in the coffin for the Finns, putting them behind in the third-spot rankings. In the end, a much stronger Belgium, a late comeback by Denmark and an inability to score more goals led to their elimination in the group stage despite finishing third.
Austria were placed in an easy group by all means – alongside North Macedonia and Ukraine, their hopes of advancing to the knockout rounds were high from the start. But Austrians outperformed even their own expectations, registering their first Euro 2020 finals win in their history – a 3-1 comprehensive victory over North Macedonia. While a loss to the much stronger Netherlands was always in the offing, they rallied back quickly to edge past Ukraine.
But it was Austria’s resolute display against Italy in the Round of 16 that really made a mark in the minds of the fans. The Azzurri were clear favourites, but Franco Foda’s men managed to push the game into extra time with their impeccable defence at Wembley. With a bumpy start in the World Cup qualification campaign, Austria have now received a much-needed confidence boost to become a strong continental team.
The top spot in the best of the rest rankings goes to Hungary, who with their performance in their last two fixtures, kept the Group of Death alive until the final whistle. After losing 3-0 to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, Marco Rossi’s side regrouped to deliver the most brilliant 180 minutes of football in the country’s history. A strong defence along with a spirited midfield made two former world champions struggle to score.
The Hungarian fans were up in a frenzy every time their team scored a goal – especially in the game against Germany when every goal changed the fortunes of all four teams in the group. Hungary deserved to advance to the knockouts, but being placed along with three giants brought the country more glory than a knockout-round elimination would have. The future is bright for Marco Rossi’s men.