Euro 2020: France, Croatia exit in a blistering night of comebacks, redemptions and heartbreaks
After a frantic set of Euro 2020 matches on Monday, former English striker and BBC Sports presenter Gary Lineker tweeted: "This might be the best day’s football I have ever watched. Two extraordinary games that are almost the mirror image of each other. Unbelievable scenes."
It was unbelievable indeed. In the opening Spain vs Croatia match in Copenhagen, there was a bizarre own goal from the Spanish keeper, an incredible Croatian comeback, and an equally incredible Spanish fightback in extra time.
In Bucharest, where title favourites France were facing off against Switzerland, the storyline boasted yet another remontada, a penalty shootout and the most unlikeliest of France exits.
Spain vs Croatia
Spain defeated Croatia 5-3 to reach the quarter-finals of Euro 2020, where the biggest talking point was sweet redemption for striker Alvaro Morata. Croatia took the lead in the first half after Spanish goalkeeper Unai Simon fumbled a backpass from midfielder Pedri. As the game wore on, Spain regained control of the game and took the lead 3-1 with goals from Pablo Sarabia, Cesar Azpilicueta and Ferran Torres. As the match went into the final ten minutes, the lead looked unassailable. Almost. Croatia hit back in the final five minutes, with substitute Mislav Orsic scoring in the 85th minute and Mario Pasalic heading in the equaliser at the cusp of added time.
The game then went into extra time, when Spain once again reclaimed the lead with a stunning Morata strike in the 100th minute and Mikel Oyarzabal doubling the tally in the 103rd.
"It was a very intense game today that really had everything. Everyone saw our true team spirit today," Spain coach Luis Enrique told a news conference."When the word ego disappears and the word team appears, of course it is fantastic to be part of a group like that. Those final 10 minutes are something we have to learn from. We don't have that much international experience within the squad, and perhaps those kinds of mistakes are inevitable."
For Morata, the goal was a sweet reply to all the recent criticism that were directed his way. He had struggled to find consistency in the final third, with the striker receiving a torrent of online abuse after missing a penalty against Slovakia. He was also heavily criticised after the first two games, despite scoring against Poland. Morata said he received threats against his children and couldn't sleep for nine hours after the Slovakia game. Coach Enrique had even urged a police investigation into the incident.
The game was frantic from start to end, when Switzerland won on penalties 5-4. Switzerland took a 1-0 lead in the first-half with a Haris Seferovic header, missing a golden chance to go 2-0 up when Hugo Lloris saved Ricardo Rodriguez's penalty kick. However, France slowly grew into the game with the heroics of Karim Benzema taking the team to a 2-1 lead. The game looked all sewn up when Paul Pogba hit a sweet long-range effort in the 75th minute to take France 3-1. However, France loosened the throttle, allowing Switzerland's Seferovic and Mario Gavranovic to return fire. The game was forced into extra time 3-3, when France's Kingsley Coman hit the goalpost. In the penalty shootout, French superstar Kylian Mbappe had his deciding kick saved by Swiss goalkeeper Sommer.
France coach Didier Deschamps said: "It is my responsibility and I told the players that I assume it. When France win merit goes always to the players. When things are less good then it is my responsibility. But that is the way sport is. You have to accept it even if it hurts."