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    UEFA EUROS 2024: Royal rumble in the Round-of-16

    Football Heritage! The UEFA Euro 2024 tournament has finally reached the mouthwatering point of the campaign.

    The knockout stages kicked off on Saturday afternoon, wasting no time in setting Germany on fire. The atmosphere in Europe heated up, with fans coming from different directions to support their countries who were still in the competition. This weekend saw the start of the ‘now or never’ spirit in this competition- characterised by upsets, late winners, beautiful goals, and key performances from star players.

    Saturday, June 29

    Switzerland 2-0 Italy: Italy and Switzerland locked horns at the Olympiastadion in Berlin, Germany. A mouthwatering tie of two strong teams set the scene for the knockout stage, and it delivered nothing short of what was expected, jam-packed action. The Rossocrociati (Red Crosses) paid no respect to the 2020 UEFA Euro champions as they came out guns blazing from the first whistle. Using their defensive strength to their advantage, they silenced all doubters in resolute fashion, walking away with a 2-0 victory and a booked ticket to the quarter finals. The Italian attack failed to capitalise on their big chances, leaving questions to be asked about the Gli Azzurri (The Blues) attack.

    Italy entered the game as the stronger of the two teams, however their reputation preceded them. From a pure football perspective, their form for the duration of the tournament raised eyebrows. They narrowly made it to the quarter final and were up against an opponent that has not yet been beaten at this tournament. This was an unexpected upset, but not a surprising one.

    Germany 2-0 Denmark: German fans flooded the streets and were like ants scurrying to get their food in the streets of Dortmund. The host nation was set for a beautiful game of football at the Signal Iduna Park, backed by the reassurance the choiring voices of their fans gave them. De Rød-Hvide (The Red-White) put on a strong showing, and matched the German powerhouse for as long as they could.

    An unfortunate disallowed Denmark goal, coupled with a penalty conceded two minutes later was the turning of the tide for Denmark. Germany put a firm grip on the game after Arsenal forward, Kai Havertz, slotted the spot kick with composure. Tied for leading top goal scorer at the tournament, Jamal Musiala shone again. He added to his catalogue with a beautiful weak foot finish, which served to be the ‘Danish dagger’ that put the game to bed.

    The Germans have proved to be a force to be reckoned with. The technical team’s tactics, immense talent and the advantage of home soil are all working in favour of the hosts. A convincing 2-0 victory means the Nationalelf (National Eleven) march on to the next round and can continue to give their home fans a show.

    Sunday, June 30

    Spain 4-1 Georgia: A goal fest ensued on Sunday, following up on the next set of round- of-16 matches. The dreaming debutants, Georgia, attempted the same feat they achieved against Portugal. They stole a lead early in the game once more, courtesy of an own goal by Spanish defender, Robin Le Normand. But the Jvarosnebi (Crusaders) had a short-lived excitement, as Spain equalised before the half, through a goal from Manchester City skipper, Rodri.

    This goal opened the flood gates and prepared La Furia Española (The Spanish Fury) for what turned out to be a dismantling of their opposition. It was simply boys against men for the remainder of the game, the 2010 FIFA World Cup winners dominated the ball, and scored goal after goal, cruising past the Georgians, with a flattering 4-1 scoreline.

    Spain is among the favourites; they have won all their group stage games and topped Group B undefeated. Their ball retention has proved difficult to match, as they leave little margin for error and create a lot of opportunities as a result. The next round will be their first major test, as they come face to face with the German giants.

    England 2-1 Slovakia: A marque matchup between two sides that have put on a decent display so far in the tournament was the icing on the cake for the weekend. Fireworks set off in the VELTINS- Arena in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. In true ‘save the best for last’ culture, the game did not fail to impress, characterised by high emotions and momentum shifts. The Slovakians took the game to their opponents and took an early lead at the 25th minute mark thanks to Slavia Praha forward, Ivan Schranz.

    What seemed to be a typical EURO upset, took a sharp turn in the dying embers of the game. Magical, impossible, unfathomable- a few words that still do not do justice to the heroics of English skipper, Jude Bellingham. Following a throw in, with 80 mere seconds left on the clock, the ball wondered in the air, waiting for someone to bring it under control. Then he rose like a golden eagle looking for its prey. Except this time, the prey was the heart of the Slovakians.

    A beautiful overhead kick saw England grab a 95th minute equaliser in unbelievable style. Carrying with him the Real Madrid ‘never say die’ attitude, Jude Bellingham anchored his team from the ashes and gave them a fighting chance.

    The game could not be settled after 90 minutes, but the pendulum had already swung, with England coming into extra time in confidence. England captain, and feared forward, Harry Kane, answered the call at the opening of extra time. He fired home and gave his nation a 2-1 lead, putting the game to bed. The Three Lions roared, as they celebrated an emphatic win over Slovakia.

    England are a powerhouse that command respect, due to their star-studded lineup and key players who continue to show up in the final moments. This win sees England go head-to-head with an impressive Swiss outfit in the quarter finals.

    What fans on X had to say about this weekend’s games…

    @WolfRMC posted, “The script of this Jude Bellingham goal was straight out of a movie. Like 80 seconds to go, your country is about to be knocked out and you score an overhead kick like this to keep them in it. Just incredible.”

    @1Wirtziala posted, “Musiala goal from the stands”

    @WalterRichie8 posted, “

    Players that have been exceptional since this @EURO2024 Bellingham NicoWilliams Yamal Kante Doku Musiala Xavi Simons Arda Guler Pepe (41years old n balling) Kvaratskhelia Diogo Costa, Xhaka Calafiori Fullkurg #EUROS2024#euros#Romania#Netherlands

    What to expect…

    This was an exciting weekend for football enthusiasts and emphasised the action to expect in the next round of the UEFA Euros 2024 tournament. As the quarter finals approach, eight more teams are still to decide who books their place in the quarter finals. It is truly the royal rumble point of the campaign, leaving one question, who will be the last man standing?

    Fixture list, results, standings and all live game updates can be found on Fixtures & results | UEFA EURO 2024 | UEFA.com

    Main image: News18

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