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Czechs pick holes in Dutch defense at Euro 2020

Paris (AFP) – The Czech Republic ended the Euro 2020 dreams of a 10-man Netherlands side on Sunday before Cristiano Ronaldo and holders Portugal faced Belgium in a blockbuster last-16 tie.

The Netherlands travelled to Budapest for their last-16 showdown with the Czechs full of optimism after impressing in the group stage, but they were undone by second-half goals from Tomas Holes and Patrik Schick.

In the heat of the Hungarian capital, the tie swung on two moments early in the second period that went against Frank de Boer’s team.

Donyell Malen was denied by Tomas Vaclik after bursting through and finding himself with just the Czech goalkeeper to beat and then Netherlands centre-back Matthijs de Ligt was sent off after a VAR review for a deliberate handball.

Holes opened the scoring in the 68th minute after Tomas Kalas headed a free-kick back across goal, and the 28-year-old Slavia Prague midfielder then made the clinching second goal with 10 minutes left, pouncing on a loose ball and breaking through to set up Schick.

It was Schick’s fourth goal of the European Championship so far and the Czech Republic, ranked 40th in the world, now go through to a quarter-final against Denmark in Baku next Saturday, July 3.

“We might not be big stars like the Dutch but we showed great team spirit and that is what made the difference,” said Schick.

Denmark secured their place in the last eight with a comprehensive 4-0 win over Wales in Amsterdam on Saturday before Italy joined them by beating Austria 2-1 after extra time at Wembley.

Meanwhile the inquest will begin in the Netherlands as their first appearance at a major tournament since the 2014 World Cup ends in disappointment after some promising displays in the group phase.

Dutch captain Georginio Wijnaldum admitted that De Ligt’s red card “made things more difficult” but accepted they had failed to build on their good previous results.

“They had given us confidence, but that makes this defeat more painful. We didn’t show enough,” said the former Liverpool midfielder.

As the 1988 Euro winners return home, the reigning continental champions were looking to keep their hopes of back-to-back titles alive in Sunday’s late game against Belgium.

– New record for Ronaldo? –

The two countries boast nothing like the populations of Europe’s major nations but on the field they are genuine powerhouses and came into Euro 2020 among the favourites to lift the trophy.

Belgium, the world’s top-ranked national team, won all three group games while Portugal somewhat stuttered into the last 16 after losing heavily to Germany.

The match in Seville pitches Belgian stars like Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard against a talented Portuguese side led by Ronaldo.

The 36-year-old needs one goal to become the all-time top scorer in international football after equalling the mark of 109 set by Iran’s Ali Daei in the 2-2 draw with France in Budapest on Wednesday.

“He’s a phenomenon. He’s working hard and training all the time and what he’s done so far, he deserves and maybe he can play until he’s 40 years old,” said Belgium defender Jan Vertonghen.

“He’s the biggest player in the history of Portugal and we have to respect that, and I respect him a lot, but it’s not Belgium against Ronaldo, it’s Belgium against Portugal and they have a lot of good players.”

– Bigger crowd in Bucharest –

The tie is one of the two standouts in the last 16 along with England’s meeting with old rivals Germany in London on Tuesday.

England will be looking for their first win over the Germans in a knockout match at a major tournament since the 1966 World Cup final, something their manager Gareth Southgate tried to play down on Sunday.

“I don’t need to demystify it. The history is an irrelevance to them,” he said of his players.

On Monday the World Cup holders France will be expected to see off their neighbours Switzerland when the teams clash in Bucharest, where local authorities have increased the number of fans allowed in.

Up to 25,000 supporters will be permitted inside the National Arena in the Romanian capital, amounting to half the overall capacity as Covid-19 restrictions are relaxed.

Monday’s earlier match will see 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia tackle 2008 and 2012 European champions Spain in Copenhagen.

Croatia will be without Ivan Perisic, one of their key players, after he became the latest star at the tournament to test positive for coronavirus. 

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