When the full-time whistle blew on Portugal’s pulsating 2-2 draw with France on Wednesday night, it signaled the end of EURO 2020’s group stage — and even-higher stakes for Atlético Madrid’s players in the competition.
Belgium, Croatia, England, France, Portugal, and — of course — Spain all secured spots in EURO 2020’s last 16, which starts Saturday afternoon and ends Tuesday night. Belgium and France advanced with relatively little fuss, clinching their places before matchday three. England kept three clean sheets in the group stage, but only scored two goals and failed to really convince.
Meanwhile, Croatia needed a brilliant second half to overcome Scotland and finish second in Group D. Portugal’s draw against the reigning world champions was good enough to see them through — even as they finished third in Group F. And Spain’s 5-0 mauling of Slovakia was a huge relief after two inert attacking displays to begin the tournament, and the result sends a message to those doubting La Roja before the last 16.
Let’s begin with Koke, Marcos Llorente and Spain. The group stage didn’t start well for the three-time European champions, but it sure ended on a high note.
Luis Enrique was hammered for his squad choices and substitutions after Spain sputtered to a 0-0 stalemate with Sweden before blowing a 1-0 lead in a draw with Poland. But the ex-Barcelona coach got just about everything right on Wednesday as his side pounded an unfortunate, error-stricken Slovakia to finish second in Group E — despite having the largest goal difference among the four teams in it.
Koke started all three group games and played the full 90 minutes against Slovakia, while Llorente got the day off with César Azpilicueta filling in at right back for the first time. Atlético Madrid’s captain produced another fine display, as he drew a first half penalty (which the much-maligned Álvaro Morata duly missed) and recorded 92 percent passing accuracy with a couple tackles, too. Only Aymeric Laporte took more touches than Koke’s 85.
Spain will play Croatia in Copenhagen on Monday evening, with both colchoneros expected to be in Luis Enrique’s 11.
Yannick Carrasco and Belgium were mostly-dominant on their way to topping Group B. Belgium won all three games by an aggregate 7-1 scoreline and trailed for less than 20 percent of the group stage. Carrasco started as a left-winger against Russia (3-0 win) and Denmark (2-1 win) and was hooked before the hour against the latter as Roberto Martínez’s men rallied to win. With group stage progress secured, Carrasco watched the 2-0 win over Finland from the bench.
Belgium are possibly the favorites to win this tournament, and they will play Portugal in Seville on Sunday.
Kieran Trippier and England took top spot in Group D without allowing a single goal over 270 minutes. However, Trippier did not take part in the Three Lions’ goalless draw with Scotland, nor did he play in the 1-0 win over the Czech Republic that wrapped up first place. The one game Trippier did play was the 1-0 victory against Croatia...in which he started at left-back.
England’s two goals during the brief group stage came from Raheem Sterling, and coach Gareth Southgate has come under scrutiny for his team selection and decisions. That group’s first major test of the Euros will be against Germany at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday.
Šime Vrsaljko is heading to the knockouts, too, with Croatia. Even after that loss to England, the 2018 World Cup finalists could only manage a draw against the Czech Republic before beating Scotland 3-1 at Hampden Park. Vrsaljko started and played all 90 minutes of the 1-1 draw with the Czechs, completing 87 percent of his passes with two clearances, one tackle, and one interception. He was left on the bench during the win over Scotland.
Finally, Thomas Lemar didn’t feature much for France in group stage action and João Félix played even less for Portugal.
The latter is clearly unfit — he continues to nurse a sore right ankle and fight off a new muscular problem that cropped up before the defending European champions’ 4-2 loss to Germany in matchday two. He hasn’t played a single minute. Lemar played the final three minutes as a replacement for the injured Ousmane Dembélé in France’s 1-1 draw versus Hungary.
Les Bleus will play Switzerland in Bucharest on Monday.