In the match between one of three teams who were able to keep a perfect record up until the last group state round, Netherlands, and Group C’s last place North Macedonia, it was the former who got to confirm their perfect campaign even though their opponents were not that far from an upset. Meanwhile Austria were able to frustrate Ukraine to no end with a great defensive shift after getting a first-half opener, joining Netherlands in the knockout phase.
Although it was Netherlands who got the first close shave of the match, North Macedonia would later answer with an Ivan Trichkovski goal — though it was ruled offside — and a great Aleksandar Trajkovski shot that hit the post. But the Oranje were still the better side of the match, and of the entire group in fact, proving so with Memphis Depay’s opener.
Trajkovski would try to recover the tie almost immediately after Depay’s score with a screamer from range, but it went over the crossbar. And the last good chance of the match would be from the Macedonians, with Visar Musliu’s unchallenged header showing that the visitors at Johan Cruijff Arena were still up for a fight.
But having failed to profit from the good chances they had in the first half, North Macedonia would soon see themselves in hot(ter) water right after half-time. Following a clearance off the line by Trichkovski in a corner play for the Netherlands, Depay would assist Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum for a tap-in to double their lead over the Macedonians.
North Macedonia yet again got the chance to immediately answer the Netherlands’ second score. A well-taken Enis Bardhi free kick almost beat goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, but the Ajax shot-stopper was able to stretch himself and catch it before the worse could happen.
But hopes of an upset over the Oranje would soon be over, thanks again to Wijnaldum. Striker Donyell Malen saw a good pass to be played in the box and set up Depay for a good strike against Stole Dimitrievski. While the Macedonian goalkeeper managed to slap the attempt away, Wijnaldum was around to score on the rebound.
This was certainly not the way North Macedonia wanted to end their participation in the Euros, having failed to record a single point in the entire group stage. But they were still able to give a great guard of honour to long-time veteran Goran Pandev, who announced his retirement from international football last weekend.
Much was on the line for both Ukraine and Austria, who would fight directly for the second-place spot in Group C to advance to the knockout stage alongside the Netherlands. Before the match it was Ukraine who held the edge with a greater goalscoring record, and they could play for the draw to join the Oranje and leave Austria hoping to be one of the Euros’ best third-placed teams.
But even if Ukraine wanted to be more proactive and get things done by beating Austria, they were unable to breach a great defensive effort by the Burschen lead by soon-to-be Real Madrid defender David Alaba. The Austrian captain would also work on the offensive side of things with great success, taking the corner that got Christoph Baumgartner to score their winning goal 21 minutes into the match.
Austria would keep up the pressure until the end of the first half, with 13 shots to Ukraine’s single one from Mykola Shaparenko. It was then a matter of containing the Ukrainian’s impetus post-halftime and keep things tight at the back until the final whistle was blown to confirm Austria’s second-place finish in Group C and their first time ever making to the knockouts in their Euros history.