Euro2024 Last Eight Fixtures Enfold More Drama

by Isidore Emeka Uzoatu

As the quarterfinals of the UEFA Euro2024 in Germany commences on Friday,July 5, the appetites of aficionados of the beautiful game of football worldwide are at their ‘whets’ end again for more drama. What with a dramatis personae inclusive of international stars like Mbape of France, Bellingham of England, Ronaldo of Portugal, Musiala of Germany – to name a few. And all are set to steer their respective teams to victory.

According to the released schedule, the curtain will be raised when Spain takes on Germany at the MHP Arena in Stuttgart by 17.00 hours.

The apparent final before the final will come full of promises given the current forms both teams have exhibited so far in the tournament. The only advantage there is remains the vociferous cheers the home team will attract.

The sizzler will then be followed by the Portugal vs France clash three hours later at the 57,000+ capacity Volksparkstadion in Hamburg. An encounter bound to light up the atmosphere in the arena, it has the prime stars in either team hoping to announce themselves to the world, nay Europe. Given their respective placings in the latest FIFA rankings released on the 20th of June, (Portugal 6, France 2) it promises are loud.

The next day, July 6, will see another pair of matches. The first, scheduled for 17.00 hours, will see England trade tackles with Switzerland at the Merkur Spiel Arena in Dusseldorf. Though still the favourites for the trophy (7/2 by Skybet), England will find the Switz a hard nut to crack. What with the latter’s antecedents so far. If it took hosts Germany a late goal to wrestle a hard fought draw from them, then England will need all the rabbits in their hat to survive their onslaught.

Following, at 20.00 hours, the Netherlands will come to grips with Turkey at the 100,000 capacity Olympiastadion in Berlin. There is no doubt that hoping to feature in the final match of the tournament that will be held there on Sunday, the 14th, will serve to spur both teams to stiffer action. The more so the Crescent Stars of Turkey. At least for the dramatic way they put all the Ralf Rangnick bla bla bla to bed in the previous round.

For starters, if the eventful first-round matches threw up any surprise(s), the subsequent shift into knockout gear has served to upturn them. Put sharp and straight, it turned out to be a bonfire of the underdogs. Yes, but for Turkey’s heroics against an apparently overrated Austria, most of the top guns scaled through – the scars some incurred notwithstanding.

Seen however, these quarterfinal fixtures connote nothing but a survival of the fittest. For instance, by crushing almighty Portugal in their last group game, tournament debutants Georgia, like the Crusaders of their moniker, appeared to have arrived. Then wham, like a James Hardley Chase sucker punch, they were brought down to earth by Spain. But the 4-1 scoreline the day was more gentrifying than the 1-7 hammering they had received from them at home during the qualifying matches.

Slovakia, on the other hand, achieved the enviable status of qualifying for the knockout stage of any international competition from their group. Like Georgia against Spain they had also led by a lone goal. More dramatically, though, theirs lasted till the dying embers of the game. Till Jude Bellingham, nicknamed Smellingham by English fans, got his deserved redemption before Skipper Harry Kanye sealed their fate in the first half of extra time.

A theme reiterated when, after being framed as Misstendo Penaldo by a BBC commentator, Cristiano Ronaldo still steered Portugal to a penalty shootout victory over Slovenia. After the latter had drawn England to the wire and had Southgate pelted with empty beer cups in their last group encounter. Indeed, many had expected them to go the whole hog.

And why not. After all, if football were akin to mathematics, Belgium, currently ranked 3rd in the world, may have followed a different path other than the one that brought them face to face with 2nd ranked France in the round of 16. A situation that wily nily caused their early exit from the tournament.

Same to Croatia and defending champions Italy. Ranked 9th and 10th respectively, both lost out to lower-ranked teams. Confirming the football truism about what matters being a team’s current form. Which is why there has to be first time winners in competitions.

Like in the present situation. It marks up the Turkish achievement a notch higher on the Richter scale of football upsets. Ranked a distant 42nd in the world, squaring up with Austria – ranked 25th – appeared a tough hill for them to climb. Yet at the end of the nerve-wracking game, they could not but overcome. And in grand style.

Mighty kudos to Vincenzo Montella, their Italian gaffer. Despite this being his first Euro as a coach, he has written his name with the stars. And nothing, I mean nothing, can stop him from going all the way with his boys – no minding the heavy odds heaped against them by betters and pundits alike.

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