SUNDAY’S HEADLINES

WORK TO DO FOR ITALY

For 95 minutes, Roberto Mancini’s Italy team looked to be consigned to be forever put in articles or tweets that remind us never to get too carried away in the group stage.
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And then a football hit Federico Chiesa in the face.
After that momentary moment of surprise the Juventus forward deftly touched the ball past an Austrian defender and slammed the ball into the net with his left foot.
Super-subs Chiesa and Pessina send Italy into the last 16 a little over 25 years after his father, Enrico, had done the same in the 1996 finals.
It was a goal that the game did not deserve. For most of the match it was dour and tough to watch, Chiesa’s moment of magic was the only real highlight except for Domenico Berardi’s hilarious overhead kick attempt and the glorious celebration of goalscorer number two Matteo Pessina. Most of extra-time was a welcome improvement.

Italy's forward Domenico Berardi attempts an overhead kick during the UEFA EURO 2020 round of 16 football match between Italy and Austria at Wembley Stadium in London on June 26, 2021

Image credit: Getty Images

There are real issues for Mancini to look at though, namely how his team can look so different between the group stages and the knockouts. You don’t have to be swashbuckling all the time to win a tournament, but it’s not as if Daniel Bachmann in the Austria goal was particularly troubled during the game barring Lorenzo Insigne’s sizzling late free-kick.
There has also to be concern for Mancini how easily Austria got in behind his backline that was missing captain Giorgio Chiellini. Gianluigi Donnarumma looked more Taibi than Buffon at times, although a fine stop at the start of the second-half of extra-time warrants mentioning. What will feel good is breaking their own world record for most time without conceding, it went for 1,168 minutes until Sasa Kalajdzic snuck his head in at the front post. That obviously made things way more uncomfortable than they needed to be.
It’s remarkable in many ways to see the difference between the previous two Italy performances. The stark contrast is not unlike the difference between Mancini and Gianluca Vialli on the touchline, particularly before and after the Italian goals.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 26: Roberto Mancini, head coach of Italy celebrates with assistant Gianluca Vialli during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Round of 16 match between Italy and Austria at Wembley Stadium at Wembley Stadium on June 26, 2021 in London,

Image credit: Getty Images

Mancini will know there has to be a step up when they face Belgium or Portugal. He will also know he has to start Chiesa, who has regularly tormented defences off the bench, or at the very least bring him on earlier. But he will know that his Italy team have won four out of four without conceding a goal, that’s not too bad at all.
Perhaps we were all too quick to laud Italy as potential winners, this is a squad that missed the last World Cup after all, or perhaps this was just the test they needed.

DENMARK ARE GOING TO DO IT AREN’T THEY?

The Warm-Up is not a spiritual entity. We don’t pray to a god. We don’t believe that everything is pre-determined or what everything happens for a reason. After enough pasties on a Saturday evening you might talk us into the theory of parallel universes.
But we really do believe in the footballing gods. These gods are can be generous and loving but they can also be cruel for seemingly no reason. As it is with life bad things often happen to good clubs or players and vice versa.
But you listen up football gods. You preserve everything that is joyous and pure about this Denmark team and you keep it going for as long as you possibly can.

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - JUNE 26: Martin Braithwaite of Denmark (obscured) celebrates with team mates after scoring their side's fourth goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Round of 16 match between Wales and Denmark at Johan Cruijff Arena on June

Image credit: Getty Images

After their stunning victory over Russia to qualify for the Round of 16, Denmark’s feel-good party then swept Wales aside en route to the quarter-finals.
And they were brilliant value for the win. At one stage the Danish fans even started to ole as their team knocked it about. It feels particularly noteworthy to see Kasper Dolberg net twice, having a top striker can be a real difference-maker at this level. Dolberg was once spoken about in a similar way to how we spoke about Erling Haaland when he was at RB Salzburg. If he can start putting it together consistently Denmark will be a real threat.
Dolberg is 23 now and he wasn’t alone in showing up as a young player. Joakim Maehle (24) and Mikkel Damsgaard (20) were both excellent as well. Without the experience of Daniel Wass and Yussuf Poulsen it was imperative that they stepped up.
A word too for Martin Braithwaite. Without his partner Poulsen he was fantastic in leading the line. Much maligned during his time at Barcelona which has made it feel as if we were forgetting just how good a player he can be.
They will face the winner of the Netherlands against the Czech Republic and then one of Sweden, Ukraine, Germany or England. It’s a big ask of course, and you don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself, but if any kind of magic is going to happen, it’s going to happen on this side of the draw.

GARETH BAILS FROM INTERVIEW AFTER TRICKY QUESTION

Post-match interviews in football are a bit of a weird one (as are the half-time interview that take place in some countries) and it’s hard to see who benefits. Often we get a frustrated reporter trying to probe against the immoveable wall or a media-trained player.
The player has just come off the game and clearly won’t have had time to form their thoughts. At least when we hear from managers they’ve had some time to prepare a statement that can look innocent but can also contain four or five well-designed digs.

Gareth Bale walked out of his post-match interview

Image credit: Getty Images

So quite what the BBC reporter thought they were going to get when they asked Gareth Bale about his Wales future following the 4-0 thrashing by Denmark, we’re not entirely sure. This is a Bale who has become visibly more irritated throughout the tournament as speculation as to his future mounts, a Bale who looked positively cheesed off throughout the Denmark game, that culminated in his exasperated hand throw when the Danes’ fourth goal was confirmed.
There is every chance that that match will be Bale’s last in professional football. It is, however, equally possible that we see him smash one in from 25 yards in Qatar next year having been rejuvenated by his old boss Carlo Ancelotti.
The point is that we don’t know either way. And, perhaps more importantly, Bale deserves the right to go out on his terms when he wants. Should he have been more professional? Perhaps. But it does feel awfully like one of those instances where we’re only seeing a player and not an actual human being.

IN THE CHANNELS

This, from Slovan Liberec to announce the return of Theo Gebre Selassie, is absolutely superb.

HAT-TIP

Not everyone can handle that and one of the biggest weapons for a goalkeeper in that moment is to let the taker know how much pressure is on them.
The Athletic have absolutely nailed it with their Euro 2020 columnists and this from Arsenal and Australia goalkeeper Mat Ryan, on penalties, is fascinating.

COMING UP

More football and more cycling. It never stops and Belgium v Portugal is going to be an absolute cracker.
Andi Thomas thinks he can make it a three-way striker battle with Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku for the Euros so he’s broken out the pop-up goal in his back garden. He’ll be here on Monday to tell you why no matter who wins Sunday’s super clash he’s the real winner.
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