On paper, the matchups looked juicy and ripe for a banner day in the theater of quality football. In reality, as it so often happens in knockout games, it was a day of much more pragmatic football, especially in the marquee night game, wherein Belgium hung on to a 1-0 win over defending champions Portugal.
Despite the glittering talent available on both sides, it was a largely low-quality, attritional, chippy affair, highlighted by a brilliant strike by Thorgan Hazard just before half-time. One of a handful of former Chelsea players on the pitch, the younger of the Hazards beat Rui Patrício from distance as he cut inside from his left wing-back position. At the other end, Thibaut Courtois was called into action a few times and was saved by his post once as well, but Portugal never truly threatened and Belgium were content to sit back and counter and protect the lead.
The only bad news for Romelu Lukaku & Co were the injuries picked up by Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, both of whom were forced off the pitch in the second half. Hazard’s especially looked worrying as he was seen clutching his hamstring just when it looked like he was finally putting the last two injury-filled seasons behind himself.
No, Michy Batshuayi did not play.
Belgium, the No.1 national team in the world, will take on Italy, the most in-form national team in the world, in Friday’s quarterfinal. Should be a good one — or at least an intense one.
23 - Belgium faced 23 shots against Portugal, the most they've faced since allowing 27 shots against Brazil in 2018 in a World Cup match, with this their 35th game since. Stoic. #EURO2020 pic.twitter.com/CuRuaoSiZR— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 27, 2021
Meanwhile, earlier in the day, the Czech Republic shocked ten-man Netherlands with two second-half goals to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2004, where they will take on fellow Cinderella-stories Denmark on Saturday.
After a scoreless and fairly even first half, the game’s complexion changed when Matthijs de Ligt was sent off for denying a goal-scoring opportunity with a handball not long after the restart. The Czechs took advantage of their numerical superiority with Tomáš Holeš heading in a set-piece goal (former Chelsea prospect Tomáš Kalas getting the assist with a far-post header back across), before Patrick Shick added another goal to his tally (now second with 4 only to Cristiano Ronaldo, with 5) to make sure of the victory ten minutes from time. Even more impressive was the defensive work of the Czechs, with the double-six of Holeš and Souček screening the pairing of Kalas and Čelustka, holding the Dutch to zero shots on target.