Gareth Southgate has a reputation for matter-of-fact sincerity in news conferences but it felt like even he was laying it on a little thick last October.

Luke Shaw was fit and a fixture in Manchester United's first team but had ticked past two years without an England call-up.

For Nations League matches against Belgium and Denmark and a friendly versus Wales, Ben Chilwell was unavailable. Southgate selected and split left wing-back duties between Kieran Trippier, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Bukayo Saka – none of whom are specialists in the position.

"The door is certainly open," he replied when asked about Shaw's seemingly dwindling prospects.

"I don't think we've ever closed the door on any player - and we certainly wouldn't on Luke.

"He's more than capable of being the best left-back in the country in my opinion."

A scroll through some of the social media responses to that assertion suggests not too many agreed.

After his starring role in the stirring 2-0 Euro 2020 win over Germany, it is hard to argue against the notion that Shaw – despite everything he has endured since becoming the most expensive teenager in world football back in June 2014 – is England's premier left-sided defender.

 

Dark days at Old Trafford

"If I'd flown back, I would probably have lost my leg because of the blood clots."

It is an incredibly stark statement. A tackle by PSV's Hector Moreno during a September 2015 Champions League match left Shaw with a horrific double leg fracture that threatened to become worse than that gruesome description.

As Shaw recuperated from surgery at St Anna Ziekenhuis hospital in Geldrop and United made plans to fly him home, doctors discovered two blood clots and scheduled an emergency operation.

"I've got two scars down the side of my leg where they had to cut me open and pull them out," said the former Southampton youngster, when discussing his ordeal while on England duty three years later.

"I'd be lying if I said I hadn't sometimes thought about stopping playing football [during rehabilitation]. It went on for a long period, doing the same things every day.

"I couldn’t do anything else because of the break. It was frustrating but I came out the other side."

When he returned to action the following season, Shaw had another draining, sapping problem - Jose Mourinho was the Manchester United manager.

After starting the season as first choice, Mourinho singled out Shaw for strong criticism after a 3-1 defeat at Watford.

Things came to an unsavoury head in April 2017, when the former Chelsea boss first questioned "the way he trains, the way he commits, the focus, the ambition" ahead of a game with Everton.

 

Then, after Shaw came off the bench and impressed to help United salvage a 1-1 draw, Mourinho claimed: "He had a good performance but it was his body with my brain. He was in front of me and I was making every decision for him."

The relationship remained strained, even as Shaw was handed a five-year contract extension in October 2018 - two months before Mourinho was sacked.

"There is no hiding that we didn't get on," Shaw told reporters last week, after Mourinho – now working as a pundit after his Tottenham tenure went the same way as his United reign – criticised his "dramatically bad" corner taking during England's 1-0 group stage win over the Czech Republic.

"I think he was a brilliant manager but, you know, the past is the past. It is time to move on. I am trying to move on but, obviously, he can't. He continuously talks about me, which I find quite strange."

The long road to Wembley

The raucous din as Shaw drove forward from midfield and fed Jack Grealish on Tuesday meant he would have been unlikely to hear instructions from the touchline or anywhere else inside Wembley. Funnily enough, his football brain was in good order.

Grealish crossed and Harry Kane stooped to head England to a 2-0 win over Germany, their first knockout stage victory over any team with a world title to their name since 1966.

Southgate's Euro 2020 side have worn their pragmatism proudly. Despite an enviable array of attacking talent – Shaw described it as "absolute madness, so frightening" this week - they go forward with cautious calculation and are yet to concede a goal.

As well as being part of that watertight defensive unit, Shaw has proved invaluable to an attacking approach that values quality over quantity. His five chances created, with four from open play, are the most of any England player, as are his 18 passes into the opposition box. An expected assists (xA) figure of 1.08 also shows him to be cumulatively laying on a better quality of chances than any of his team-mates.

Those attacking gifts were a large part of what persuaded United to pay Southampton £27million for his services, with Shaw following Wayne Bridge and Gareth Bale off the St Mary's production line as a left-back with game-changing qualities.

Initially, he appeared inhibited at Old Trafford, as then-manager Louis van Gaal questioned his fitness in an early taste of what was to come under Mourinho. Then the injury nightmare began.

It has been a long road back, but in 2020-21, United got their most sustained look at the player they hoped they were buying six years earlier.

 

Shaw's 47 appearances were his most in a single campaign and culminated in Europa League final heartache against Villarreal. It was his first United appearance in a major final, representing a personal triumph over a catalogue of fitness problems amid penalty shoot-out woe.

He claimed six assists in all competitions, the most of his career, while 90 chances created was more than double his previous best of 41 in 2018-19.

Shaw averaged 6.88 passes into the opposition box per 90 minutes, having never averaged above 3.5 before, despite some of his previous sample sizes being far smaller due to injury interrupted campaigns.

Southgate's faith repaid

If those performances made Shaw impossible to ignore last season, he was easily forgotten in March 2017.

Injuries and Mourinho's ire had combined to mean a solitary Premier League start in a five-month period, but he received a call-up from the recently installed England manager to take on Lithuania and Germany.

"Generally, we've tried to pick players who are playing regularly, and one or two have missed out because of that. Luke is probably the exception. He's a player we have a lot of belief in," said Southgate, his former England Under-21 boss.

"Having worked with him before we think he can be an important player for the future. Now would be a good time to give him that confidence boost."

The progress from that point has been far from linear. Shaw was absent when England reached the semi-finals of Russia 2018, indeed this is his first tournament since the 2014 World Cup, when everything felt possible for a prodigiously gifted teen.

 

His latest recall only came in March but, with Ukraine up in Rome on Saturday as the first in a potential three-game shot at sporting immortality, the possibilities are opening up again.

Having made his debut in March 2014, this weekend is set to mark Shaw's 14th cap. At 25, there should be plenty more to come for an easy going member of the squad, visibly a friend to everyone who fits perfectly with Southgate's team ethos.

"I remember at the [2018] World Cup seeing all these videos of the fans celebrating, going wild. And I thought: 'I want to be a part of that'," Shaw told England's YouTube channel in the aftermath of his hard-earned part in the historic win over Germany.

"I'm [feeling] brilliant, it's so good. Everything about the last day or two has been unbelievable. I've not felt this happy in a long time."

Czech players know a thing or two about unforgettable Euros goals.

In 1976, Czechoslovakia became European Champions after Antonin Panenka unveiled his audacious dinked penalty – imitations of which still bear his name to this day.

Karel Poborsky's sensational scoop sunk Portugal as the Czech Republic charted an unlikely course to the final of Euro 96.

Such heroics secured Poborsky a dream move to Manchester United and a handful of Premier League clubs have reportedly had their attention piqued by Patrik Schick's exploits at Euro 2020.

Schick's sensational goal from halfway, part of a brace in the 2-0 win over Scotland at Hampden Park, will remain one of this tournament's enduring moments, but it was no flash in the pan.

The Bayer Leverkusen striker slotted home to seal an assured last-16 win over the 10-man Netherlands, moving on to four for the competition.

With Cristiano Ronaldo (five), Emil Forsberg, Karim Benzema and Romelu Lukaku (all four) having packed their bags, Schick has a chance to further boost his Golden Boot prospects in Saturday's Baku quarter-final against Denmark.

It would see him emulate another of his country's footballing heroes, the Euro 2004 top scorer Milan Baros, and burnish a reputation that has taken a battering over recent years.

From Samp star to Roman ruin

In 2017, Schick was on the brink of the sort of dream move Poborsky secured two decades earlier.

A stunning breakout season at Sampdoria in 2016-17, where he scored 13 goals in 35 appearances in all competitions – only 15 of which were starts - captured the attention of Juventus.

The clubs agreed a fee in the region of €25million and Schick was even pictured on Juve's website in club training kit for a medical, but that was where the problems started.

 

Juventus pulled out of the deal, amid speculation that tests had uncovered cardiac problems. This was dismissed as "a farce" by Sampdoria owner Massimo Ferrero and, after Roma stepped in to take Schick off their hands, further examinations gave the forward the all-clear.

However, Juve's loss did not become Roma's gain as Schick failed to reproduce his Sampdoria form.

"Do I wonder what might have been? No, I've already closed it out," he told Czech newspaper Lidovky in June 2018, but his output on the field in his debut season at the Stadio Olimpico told a different story.

Schick scored just three goals in all competitions as he struggled to dislodge first-choice striker Edin Dzeko and was often shunted out to the right wing. His shot conversion rate plummeted from 28.9 per cent at Samp during the previous campaign to 8.1 in 2017-18.

A similarly fallow 2018-19 followed (five goals in 32 appearances) and Schick needed a fresh start.

Rebuilding in the Bundesliga

RB Leipzig took Schick on a season-long loan and across all competitions in 2019-20, as the Bundesliga club reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, he scored 10 times in 28 appearances (18 starts).

It was a solid if unspectacular return, but a huge step in the right direction and one that meant Roma were able to make their money back as Schick joined Bayer Leverkusen on a five-year deal ahead of last season.

His rehabilitation continued impressively at the BayArena, hitting 13 goals for the first time since he came to prominence at Sampdoria four seasons earlier.

According to Opta, Schick's big chance conversion rate was up to 40.9 per cent, having dwindled at 33.3 in his post-Samp years. A total of 32 chances created for team-mates was his best in the top-five leagues.

 

It laid the foundation for a stunning Euro 2020 so far, where the variety of Schick's goals has caught the eye.

His showstopper against Scotland was preceded by a fine, towering header. He kept his nerve from the penalty spot against Croatia before coolly converting after Tomas Holes' run scattered a tiring Netherlands.

Going for gold

This body of work leaves Schick in contention for his own piece of history. He is one shy of Baros' five-goal haul, which included a quarter-final brace against Denmark that he would dearly love to emulate.

Indeed, in Euros 80, 92, and 2012, Schick's haul would already have been enough to take home the Golden Boot, with the joint-top scorers in each of those tournaments scoring three apiece.

He and everyone else at Euro 2020 remains some way short of Michel Platini's nine goals as France tasted glory on home soil in 1984 – a feat made all the more remarkable by the fact the championship was only a five-game tournament back then.

A more realistic target for Schick and this year's frontrunners is Antoine Griezmann, who scored six in seven matches as France plotted a path to the final of Euro 2016, the first time the present 24-team format was used.

Schick averages 1.1 goals per 90 minutes after spending 326 minutes on the field in total. This marks a slightly better frequency than Griezmann (0.97) four years ago. Indeed, only Marco van Basten (1.16 - five goals in 389 minutes at Euro 88), Baros (1.17) and Platini (1.69) have a better scoring rate. If we dismiss Platini as something of a freakish outlier, Schick is on Golden Boot form.

 

A challenge at this business end of the competition for those not playing in teams likely to dominate the action is how many shots their main goal threats are able to get away.

Schick averages 3.59 shots per 90 minutes (13 overall), remarkably similar to Baros' 3.52 (15 shots) in 2004. By comparison, Platini (4.88) and Griezmann (4.55) were able to fire off goal attempts with far greater frequency.

Ronaldo had 37 shots for three goals (6.94) during Portugal's 2012 campaign, while David Villa – in a Spain team hardly noted for indiscriminately peppering the opposition goal – averaged 4.57 per 90 en route to glory at Euro 2012.

Such a volume of opportunities are unlikely to fall Schick's way on Saturday. But whether they come aerially, in the penalty area or from distance, a player in prime form at the perfect time after a long road back to his best looks ready to capitalise.

Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez refused to comment on his future after the country's Euro 2020 elimination at the hands of Italy, insisting the situation is "too raw".

Italy booked their spot in the semi-finals against Spain after overcoming Martinez's Belgium 2-1 in Munich on Friday.

Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Insigne put Italy two goals ahead by the 44th minute, but Belgium pulled one back before the interval courtesy of a Romelu Lukaku penalty. 

Despite going close, Belgium – one of the pre-tournament favourites – were unable to find an equaliser against red-hot Italy as the Red Devils lost in the quarter-finals of the European Championship like they did in 2016.

Attention swiftly turned to Martinez, who is contracted through to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar but has been linked with a return to club management.

"Well, obviously, this is a moment that is very, very difficult to speak anything else than the defeat and that we are out of the Euros," Martinez said. "As I say, at the moment, it's still too raw. And I do not want to say anything that it could be [seen as] emotional.

"At the moment, all I want to do is look back into this tournament and I would say that the players have done nothing wrong. It is the opposite.

"They did everything they could to get us as far as we can [at Euro 2020]. And now is the time to analyse and to assess. But, at the moment, the feelings of disappointment and sadness, unfortunately, is what is in my head now."

Belgium have faced Italy more times at major international tournaments (World Cup and Euros) without winning than any other side (five).

No Belgium player has scored more goals than Lukaku at either the European Championship (six) or the World Cup (five, level with Marc Wilmots).

Lukaku has scored 24 goals in his last 23 appearances for Belgium, including 22 in his last 19 competitive internationals.

"The feelings are what you can imagine, really - sadness and disappointment - because I do not think these players deserve to be out of this tournament," said Martinez. "They have done an incredible job to be prepared to be ready to go step-by-step every day, from the beginning of the tournament. And unfortunately, today [Friday], we faced a very good side [Italy]. I thought it was two very good teams in this knockout phase. And, unfortunately, the margins did not go in our favour."

Belgium star Kevin De Bruyne played despite carrying an ankle knock, though captain Eden Hazard watched from the stands due to a hamstring injury.

"The situation with Axel [Witsel] and Kevin [De Bruyne] and Eden [Hazard] going into the tournament, I think we managed it very, very well and you could see the attitude of those players," Martinez added. "They started to grow into the tournament and they have been a real bonus. They really helped us from the moment that they could be on the pitch.

"Obviously, injuries happen and it is unfortunate that Eden could not be on the pitch with us [against Italy]. But it was exemplary to see Kevin De Bruyne getting through whatever he would, to get 90 minutes with his national team and showing that he was ready to help the group.

"So, I think, for every 'Red Devil' fan, there is a real pride and understanding that these players did everything they could to try to get what we wanted to get. And unfortunately today, we faced a very good team [Italy] and, with two good teams, the small margins went for them. And that is a small difference and that happens in football."

Roberto Mancini described his Italy players as "extraordinary" after they booked a Euro 2020 semi-final spot with a 2-1 win over Belgium in Munich on Friday. 

Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Insigne put the Azzurri two goals ahead by the 44th minute, but Belgium pulled one back before the interval courtesy of a Romelu Lukaku penalty. 

The Azzurri held on to extend their unbeaten run to 32 games, however, and will now play Spain at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday after Luis Enrique's side overcame Switzerland on penalties earlier in the day.

Italy have now reached the semi-finals of a major tournament for the 12th time – the only European nation to do so more is Germany (20 times).

The result also meant Mancini became only the second coach in European Championship history to win each of his first five matches in the competition finals after Michel Hidalgo, who won all five of his matches in charge of France at the 1984 edition.

"We deserved the victory," Mancini told RAI Sport. "The lads were extraordinary, and clearly we suffered in the last 10 minutes as we were really tired, but we could've scored more goals earlier.

"I didn't see 25 minutes of struggle at the start. There were chances at both ends, it was an open game. We only struggled in the last 10 minutes when Belgium started playing a long ball game.

"We had no minimum target. We just wanted to do our best. There are still two games to go, we'll see what happens.

"Let us enjoy this victory, then we can think about Spain. Congratulations to the lads, they did a great job."

 

Central to Italy's success was the colossal defensive display by Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. 

No player on the pitch made more clearances than Chiellini's six, while the pair helped reduce the Red Devils to just a solitary shot on target in the second period. 

Bonucci expects a tough game against Spain but urged his team-mates to be ready to go into battle. 

"Now we can keep dreaming with our feet on the ground," he said. "Spain are a great team, but we started this tournament with a dream in our hearts; let's keep it there until the end.

"There are two matches to go, the most difficult will be against Spain, who play similar to Belgium. They again looked as if they might not make it, but they got back on their feet, so it'll be a battle to the end."

The one sour note for Italy was the late injury suffered by Leonardo Spinazzola, with reports in Italy after the game suggesting he had ruptured his Achilles tendon.

"Leonardo had a great Euros, whoever replaces him will do just as well," Bonucci added.

After two engrossing games on Friday, we have our first Euro 2020 semi-finalists.

Spain ended a nine-year wait for a place in the final four of a major tournament, but they had to do it the hard way once again, with penalties needed to defeat Switzerland after a draw in Saint Petersburg.

Then came arguably the finest match of the tournament to date, Italy prevailing against Belgium to set a new record for consecutive wins in this competition and continue their remarkable form under Roberto Mancini.

Here are some of the key data takeaways from day one of the quarter-finals...

 

Switzerland 1-1 Spain (aet, 1-3 pens): Luis Enrique's men are the Euros shoot-out kings

Switzerland's previous three European Championship knockout games had gone to penalties (against Poland in 2016 and France this year), so perhaps we should have expected another shoot-out here.

Things certainly looked to be under Spain's control when Denis Zakaria, in for the suspended Granit Xhaka, scored the 10th own goal of Euro 2020 – that's more than were seen in the previous 15 championships combined (nine). Three of those have now gone in Spain's favour: they got two against Slovakia in the group stage.

Xherdan Shaqiri steered in Remo Freuler's pass to become his country's leading Euros goalscorer with four – he has as many goals (three) in his most recent three games as he did in his previous 31 – as Switzerland responded well in the second half. Then came a crucial moment: a heavy challenge from Freuler, and a red card flashed his way. It made the Atalanta midfielder the sixth person to be sent off at these finals and Switzerland only the third side in the competition's history to score an own goal and have a player dismissed in the same game, after Poland (against Slovakia this year) and Czechoslovakia against the Netherlands in 1976.

Still, Switzerland stood firm. Yann Sommer produced 10 saves, the most by a goalkeeper in a knockout match who did not suffer defeat during normal or extra time since Ivo Viktor for Czechoslovakia, again in 1976. Spain fired in 28 shots in total, with substitutes Dani Olmo and Gerard Moreno attempting six each. They have struck the most shots of anyone at these finals without scoring (Olmo 16, Gerard 15).

Yet Sommer's heroics were not enough in the shoot-out, Ruben Vargas' miss allowing Mikel Oyarzabal to ensure Spain progressed from penalties in a Euros match for the fourth time, more than any other nation. One of those came against Italy in 2008, and another against Portugal in 2012 – each time, La Roja went on to lift the trophy...


 

Belgium 1-2 Italy: Azzurri clinch Euros record against favourite foes

Italy stretched their record unbeaten run to 32 matches and 13 consecutive victories to see off Belgium and reach the semi-finals of a major tournament for the 12th time, a tally only bettered among European sides by Germany (20).

Perhaps more impressively, Italy have now won each of their past 15 games at the Euros (including qualifying), which is a competition record. Had Belgium claimed victory, they would have reached that tally themselves.

Roberto Martinez's side might be the top-ranked in the world, but they have now faced the Azzurri five times at the Euros and World Cup without winning, more than they have against any other side. They may have feared this result was coming.

Nicolo Barella opened the scoring with his sixth goal in 27 international games – only one fewer than he has managed in his past 116 club matches – before Lorenzo Insigne swept home a quite stunning second. Romelu Lukaku got a goal back after the impressive Jeremy Doku had become the first teenager to win a Euros spot-kick since Wayne Rooney in 2004.

Lukaku had a couple of chances for another in the second half, but he could not quite muster what would have been a 23rd goal in his most recent 19 competitive internationals, as Roberto Mancini celebrated becoming just the second coach in Euros history to win each of his first five games in the finals after Michel Hidalgo in 1984.

Italy's resolute defending in the second half was built on the partnership of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, whose guile helped the Azzurri over the line. This was something of a showcase for experienced stoppers: the five starting centre-backs – Chiellini (36), Bonucci (34), Thomas Vermaelen (35), Jan Vertonghen (34) and Toby Alderweireld (32) – averaged an age of 34 years and 234 days.

 

As impressive as Italy were at Euro 2020 before Friday, much of that praise had been tempered – rightly or wrongly – by scepticism from some, with those suggesting their opponents to this point. and throughout their unbeaten run, had been sub-optimal.

It seemed a largely harsh assessment given they are playing at a major international tournament, though the unconvincing nature of their 2-1 extra-time win over Austria did bring with it a hint of doubt.

Regardless of whether or not the sceptics had been correct about Italy, Belgium – the number-one ranked nation in the world – were always bound to leave fans and pundits alike with perhaps a better appraisal of just how good the Azzurri are.

After all, there had been plenty of evidence to suggest Belgium had almost been the antithesis of Roberto Mancini's team in Euro 2020. While Italy had the most efforts on goal of any team at Euro 2020 (87, Belgium had 38) prior to the quarter-finals, Belgium were one of only two teams to face 20 shots in two matches along with Turkey, yet they had only conceded once.

But in Munich on Friday there only ever looked like being one winner, with Roberto Martinez's Belgium eventually running out of luck at the hand of a side that will take some beating, the Italians winning 2-1.

At least the pragmatism Belgium seemed to employ against Denmark and Portugal – when they only managed six shots per game – was less prominent here, as they reached that total by half-time.

But were it not for a fortuitous penalty just before the interval, a spot-kick converted by Romelu Lukaku, they would have been 2-0 down at the break.

Where Italy had perhaps lacked fluency against Austria, they were intensely impressive here – their ability to play straight through Belgium thanks to their exceptional ball-players in midfield was coupled with their desire to win the ball back, routinely having two men putting the pressure on.

Their press resulted in a tournament-high (joint with the Netherlands) two goals from high turnovers before the quarter-finals and a similar scenario led to the opener here, Verratti cutting out Thomas Vermaelen's pass out from the back and finding Nicolo Barella, who brilliantly held off a tackle before firing past Thibaut Courtois.

 

The Real Madrid goalkeeper's form had undoubtedly played a role in Belgium's progress as well, given his 1.7 goals prevented was the third-best in the tournament prior to Friday, though even he could do little to prevent Lorenzo Insigne's gorgeous 25-yard effort finding the top-right corner to make it 2-0.

Italy's approach after the interval seemed to relate more around keeping the ball, firmly aware that the less time Belgium had in possession the less likely they were to draw level. In the 24 minutes that followed half-time, the Azzurri's share of possession was 70 per cent, compared to 54 per cent in the first half.

That's not to say Belgium didn't trouble them. When attacking at pace they caused Italy some issues – Jeremy Doku beat Giovanni Di Lorenzo and played a teasing ball right across goal, but Lukaku somehow failed to net, with Leonardo Spinazzola making a vital block.

Then Dries Mertens darted through the middle and played Nacer Chadli into the same channel of the box, with his eventual delivery being deflected over Lukaku and agonisingly behind Thorgan Hazard.

But Belgium got to the quarter-finals mostly down to moments of individual quality, as highlighted by the fact their eight goals scored was way above their xG tally of 4.1, which was the lowest of the eight teams remaining.

And while Doku was a nuisance with this tendency to dribble, Belgium had little else to throw at Italy as it almost became Lukaku or bust. Their form had seemingly been unsustainable and their luck ran out in Munich.

 

Even if Eden Hazard had been fit, given his form over the past two years it is difficult to see how things would have been any different with him on instead of Doku.

Kevin De Bruyne was passed fit and his three key passes were more than anyone else in a Belgium shirt, but it would be fair to suggest he hardly filled the same talismanic role he has become accustomed to at Manchester City. While you have to take playing styles into consideration, he averaged 81 touches per game in 2020-21, but only 51 on Friday.

His average for Euro 2020 had been 74.1 per 90 minutes. Perhaps there was an element of Belgium playing him out of desperation without him being completely fit.

Either way, Italy's first-half intensity was what set the tone for their victory, yet it was their well-rounded nature as a team that saw them get the job done – the fact they still had more shots than Belgium despite already having the lead and playing with less attacking urgency being the case in point here.

For many, Euro 2020 was seen as the final chance for Belgium's so-called 'Golden Generation' to truly leave their mark on the international stage, with a title eluding them.

But they leave the competition after getting very few people excited, with Italy making something of a statement to those who until Friday had dismissed them as flat-track bullies.

Luis Enrique said it was a good thing Gerard Moreno missed a string of chances in Spain's victory against Switzerland rather than Alvaro Morata following the recent criticism aimed at the Juventus striker.

Three-time European champions Spain booked their place in the semi-finals of Euro 2020 on Friday with a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over 10-man Switzerland.

La Roja, who needed extra time to overcome Croatia in the last 16, were pegged back by a Xherdan Shaqiri strike in St Petersburg after Denis Zakaria's own goal had put them in front.

Even after Remo Freuler's dismissal with 77 minutes played, Luis Enrique's men could not find a way through due to a mixture of profligacy and a number of Yann Sommer saves – a tournament-high 10 in total.

Gerard replaced Morata and endured a tough time of it, the Villarreal striker missing a number of good opportunities to win the tie for Spain before penalties were required.

He managed six shots, half of those on target, while his expected goals (xG) return of 3.3 for the tournament so far is the highest of any player yet to score at Euro 2020.

Morata revealed last week he and his family had been subjected to abuse by Spain fans, and Luis Enrique is glad the striker was not the recipient of any more criticism on Friday.

"Luckily it was Gerard Moreno who failed to take the chances. If Morata misses them, you impale him," the Spain head coach said after the quarter-final win.

"It's quite evident what Morata has experienced and what Gerard has experienced. They are both my players and I love them very much."

 

Spain are the sixth team to progress from two separate knockout games of a single European Championship tournament that went to extra time or beyond, all five previous sides going on to lift the trophy.

They were on the back foot when Sergio Busquets missed the first spot-kick, but Fabian Schar, Manuel Akanji and Ruben Vargas all failed to find the net for Switzerland.

Asked if he felt nervous watching the shoot-out, Luis Enrique said: "It was a tranquil moment for me because we'd already worked on everything. Nothing else could be done.

"Win or lose on penalties, the team would have done excellently for my judgement. For how they've handled this, how they've played, how they've represented Spain.

"We are so proud. It'd be ridiculous to think that we, or any of the semi-finalists, would settle for just getting that far now – all of us want to get to the final and win.

"I've said from the outset that we are one of the seven or eight teams which, no exaggeration, could win this trophy – now we're one of four."

Switzerland knocked out competition favourites France on penalties in the last round following an incredible 3-3 draw, but they ultimately could not do likewise against Spain.

It is the fourth time the Swiss have been eliminated from a major tournament at the last-eight stage, with each of those previous occasions coming in the World Cup.

"I have mixed feelings," said head coach Vladimir Petkovic after the game. "I have pride – we can all be so proud. We leave here with our heads held high. 

"On the other hand, we were so close to the semi-final, and that doesn't happen often. I have more positive than negative feelings.

"Congratulations to Spain. They tried everything and in the end won on penalties. I am very proud of my team, and all the players.

"My players were the heroes of the night. We would have deserved to go to the semi-final."

Italy's superb Euro 2020 campaign continued on Friday as they edged past Belgium 2-1 in Munich to set up a semi-final clash with Spain.

Superb strikes from Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Insigne put Italy two goals ahead by the 44th minute, but Belgium pulled one back before the interval courtesy of a Romelu Lukaku penalty. 

Lukaku went close in the second period, yet Roberto Mancini's side held firm in the first knockout meeting between the sides at a major tournament. 

The Azzurri will now play Spain at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday after Luis Enrique's side overcame Switzerland on penalties earlier in the day.

Italy thought they had opened the scoring in the 13th minute, but Leonardo Bonucci's bundled finish from Insigne's free-kick was ruled out for offside following a VAR review. 

Gianluigi Donnarumma denied Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku in quick succession midway through the first half, before the Azzurri went ahead in the 31st minute when Barella superbly lashed across Thibaut Courtois for his sixth international goal.

Italy doubled their advantage a minute before half-time when Insigne powered towards the penalty area and whipped into Courtois' top-left corner from 25 yards. 

Belgium halved the deficit in first-half stoppage time, however, Lukaku stroking home from the spot after Giovanni Di Lorenzo had pushed Jeremy Doku in the area. 

Inter striker Lukaku had a glorious opportunity to draw the Red Devils level on the hour mark, but his close-range effort hit Leonardo Spinazzola with Donnarumma beaten. 

Doku blazed over after a mazy run late on as Roberto Martinez’s side, who only had one shot on target in the second half, ultimately saw their Euro 2020 campaign end with a whimper.
 

 

After nine years, Spain are back in the semi-finals of a major tournament – and, boy, has it felt like hard work.

A group-stage slog, an extra-time thriller with Croatia and then this, a match against Switzerland that seemed under their control but still required 120 minutes of football and a penalty shoot-out to decide.

Yet here they are: exhausted, written off, but in with a shot of a third European Championship final out of the past four. The passing might not be as slick, the control not as imperious as it once was, but one thing Euro 2020 has given these players is belief. After this latest challenge posed by the Russian summer and the Swiss Sommer, it will only be stronger.

It seemed Spain had found the ideal antidote to any lingering fatigue from the last 16 once Jordi Alba's volley took a hearty deflection off the studs off Denis Zakaria and flew into the net, a stroke of misfortune for Granit Xhaka's replacement in midfield that meant Euro 2020 has seen more own goals (10) as the 15 previous editions combined (nine).

It also left Switzerland with a daunting task. Trailing 1-0 after eight minutes is not a great outlook against any team, but especially one that came into the quarter-finals with the highest average possession (73.4 per cent) and the joint-lowest number of shots faced (24). Getting the ball back is hard enough; getting a shot away is damnably difficult.

 

Yet Switzerland did. They ended the 90 minutes having managed eight attempts on Unai Simon's goal, as many as Croatia managed in that chaotic 5-3 defeat in the previous round. Two of those were on target, the same number as Spain managed; one ended up in the net, via the composed right foot of Xherdan Shaqiri. The Liverpool man has 51 direct goal involvements in 96 Switzerland matches, the team's hopes in major finals still carried on those spectacular shoulders.

If Vladimir Petkovic's side did not really deserve to be trailing on the scoresheet, they certainly didn't merit being a man down on the pitch. After 77 minutes, they were, Remo Freuler issued a straight red by Michael Oliver for a strong challenge on Gerard Moreno – strong, but not obviously reckless, or out of control, and one in which he cleanly won the ball. But red was the colour it remained, meaning the Atalanta midfielder became the first player at the Euros to assist a goal and be sent off in the same game since Nuno Gomes for Portugal 21 years ago.

It also meant, in extra time, Spain suddenly cut loose. They attempted 11 shots in the first period, one more than they managed in the whole of the first 90 minutes. Gerard Moreno smashed wide from five yards; Yann Sommer flew around the Switzerland goal as though his life depended on it. When it looked as though Gerard might finally best him, Ricardo Rodriguez hurled himself in the way, the block inspiring louder cheers from the Saint Petersburg crowd than perhaps any other moment.

It looked as though Sommer's save from Rodrigo in the shoot-out might have swung things Switzerland's way after Sergio Busquets had hit the post, but two Simon stops and Ruben Vargas' effort that flew into the stand gave Mikel Oyarzabal the chance to send Spain through. This time, the finish was clinical.

So Luis Enrique's men marched, or rather hobbled, into the semi-finals of the Euros for the first time since winning in 2012. Unfancied before the finals, uninspiring at the start of them, they are still here, still passing and, more than ever, still believing. Tougher footballing tests await but, physically and mentally, they have already gone through the wringer. You won't scare them now.

Spain will contest their first major tournament semi-final since 2012 despite failing to beat 10-man Switzerland after extra-time, with La Roja finally getting the job done on penalties after a 1-1 draw.

Luis Enrique's men were dominant throughout and even had a man advantage throughout extra-time, and although their finishing left a lot to be desired, they proved more clinical from 12 yards than the Swiss.

It was a Switzerland player who provided the decisive touch to put Spain one up as Denis Zakaria scored an early own goal, but they capitalised on a defensive error to level through Xherdan Shaqiri in the second period.

Spain could not take advantage of Remo Freuler's contentious sending off, with Yann Sommer starring between the posts for Switzerland, but even he could not make up for his team's profligacy from the spot as Mikel Oyarzabal converted the winning kick.

History and odds will be stacked against Ukraine in their first ever European Championship quarter-final against England on Saturday.

The Three Lions have only lost one of their previous seven meetings with Ukraine, who never scored more than once in any of those matches.

That does not bode well when you consider England are yet to even concede once at Euro 2020, having become only the third side in Euros history to keep clean sheets in all of their first four games of a tournament.

If England do shut Ukraine out, they will match the record set by Italy at the 1990 World Cup of five successive clean sheets from the start of the competition.

 

While England fans may already be mentally preparing themselves for a second successive major tournament semi-final, Gareth Southgate acknowledged the Three Lions will arguably be out of their comfort zone for the first time in Euro 2020 as they travel to Rome.

"We've got to go away from Wembley, into a potentially quite hot climate, hardly any England fans in the stadium, and maybe a not particularly full crowd full stop," he said.

"And then there is this perception that all we've got to do is turn up, and we are on our way. We're very clear now that the total focus is on Saturday. We have to prepare the game in the right way, and our mentality is critical."

'The bigger they are, the harder they fall,' Ukraine will be telling themselves.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Ukraine – Georgi Bushcan

The performances of Ukraine goalkeeper Bushchan have been largely positive, though the odd mistake has crept in – for example, he gifted Memphis Depay the opener in the group stage defeat to the Netherlands. Further to this, the goals prevented metric puts him at fault for 1.2 goals, the joint-third worst record at Euro 2020. If Andriy Shevchenko's men are to progress here, they will need Bushcan at the top of his game.

 

England – Harry Maguire

Manchester United defender Maguire has been a rock in his two Euro 2020 games, winning every single one of his aerial duels so far, but his importance to England goes beyond his physicality. His forward-thinking nature has been notable since his return, with his 11.5 progressive carries per 90 minutes being the best of everyone in the squad, while he and John Stones are also England's most direct carriers in possession, bringing the ball upfield 20 per cent of the time. With Ukraine likely to sit deep, Maguire will see a lot of the ball and therefore have significant influence in starting attacks.

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Andriy Yarmolenko has either scored (two) or assisted (three) five of Ukraine's eight European Championship goals. Indeed, his five goal involvements is level with Shevchenko (four goals, one assist) for the most by a Ukraine player at major tournaments (World Cup and Euros).

- Raheem Sterling has scored three of England's four goals at Euro 2020 so far, while only two players have ever scored more for the Three Lions in a single edition at the tournament – Alan Shearer in 1996 (five) and Wayne Rooney in 2004 (four).

- Coming into the quarter-final matches, only Italy (2.1) have a lower expected goals conceded total than England (2.7) at Euro 2020. England have faced just eight shots on target in their four games (two per game), their lowest ratio on record in a major tournament (since 1966 for World Cup and since 1980 for the European Championship).

- Ukraine's only previous quarter-final appearance in a major tournament ended in a 3-0 defeat to Italy in the 2006 World Cup. Ukraine have won two of their last three European Championship matches, more than they had in their first seven in the competition (W1 L6).

- Each of England's previous three quarter-final matches at the European Championship have gone to extra-time and penalties – after progressing from the first of these against Spain in 1996, England lost in penalty shootouts against Portugal in 2004 and Italy in 2012.

Denmark will be hoping to end something of a quarter-final hoodoo when they tussle with the Czech Republic, who beat them in their most recent last-eight match back in Euro 2004.

Since winning Euro 92, Denmark have only reached the quarter-final stage of a major international tournament on two occasions, losing to 3-2 to Brazil in the 1998 World Cup and then 3-0 to the Czechs six years later.

The Danes will fancy themselves to at least ask questions of the Czech Republic on Saturday though, given they became the first team in Euros history to score four or more in successive games last time out.

While they took a little time to get up to speed, converting just two per cent of their first 44 shots, they have scored 26 per cent of their 31 attempts since.

 

But even when they were wasteful in front of goal, they still posed a threat, as highlighted by the fact their 18.8 shots and 7.3 shots on target per game are their highest averages on record at a major tournament.

That attack-minded approach coupled with their response to Christian Eriksen's ordeal on matchday one have seen Denmark have become the neutrals' favourite.

And while the Inter man has since left hospital following his cardiac arrest, Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand recognises that Eriksen will be on the players' minds again.

"Christian is the heart of the team," Hjulmand told reporters on Friday. "We will play for him tomorrow.

"We will not be afraid, you cannot play football if you are afraid. I want my players to go down to the pitch feeling free, with courage, showing the best."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Czech Republic – Tomas Vaclik

As highlighted, Denmark have been particularly potent in attack in Euro 2020, particularly in the past two games. As such, the Czech Republic goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik can expect to be kept busy. Nevertheless, the free agent has impressed so far, his 1.9 goals prevented being the most of any goalkeeper still in the competition.

 

Denmark – Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg

Tottenham midfielder Hojbjerg only created 14 chances in the Premier League last season, so the fact he's already on six and three assists in Euro 2020 will probably come as a shock to Spurs fans. Granted, he seems to have benefited from particularly good finishing by team-mates as his expected assists (xA) is only 0.7, yet only four players made more key passes before the quarter-finals.

Similarly, he has been involved in 30 shot-ending sequences, the most of anyone in the tournament before Friday, showing how he has also been essential to the Danes' build-up play.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Mikkel Damsgaard has been directly involved in seven goals in his six appearances for Denmark in all competitions, scoring three and assisting four. He also created more chances than any other Danish player in their 4-0 victory against Wales in the last round (three).

- Patrik Schick has scored 15 goals in 30 appearances for the Czech Republic, netting four in four games at Euro 2020 so far. Only five players have scored five times or more in their maiden European Championship, most recently Antoine Griezmann in 2016 for France (six), while one of the other previous five was Schick's compatriot Milan Baros at Euro 2004 (five).

- Schick has scored three left-footed goals at Euro 2020, the most of any player. In European Championship history, the only player to score more than three left-footed goals in a single tournament was Griezmann at Euro 2016 (four).

- This is the Czech Republic's fourth European Championship quarter-final, progressing from two of the previous three (1996 vs Portugal, 2004 vs Denmark) but failing the last time they reached this stage in 2012, losing 1-0 to Portugal.

- Denmark have nine goals so far at Euro 2020, only scoring more in a major tournament in the 1986 World Cup (10).

Toni Kroos has retired from international football after Germany's defeat to England at Euro 2020, declaring: "I want to concentrate fully on my goals with Real Madrid."

Midfielder Kroos announced his decision in a post on Instagram, expressing disappointment he had not been able to bow out on a high.

Kroos wrote: "I've played for Germany 106 times. There won't be another time.

"I would have dearly wished, and I gave everything again, that there would have been 109 internationals in the end and that this one big title, the European Championship, would have been added at the end.

"I had made the decision to quit after this tournament a long time ago. It had been clear to me for a long time that I would not be available for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. More than anything, because I want to focus fully on my goals with Real Madrid for the next few years.

"In addition, from now on I will deliberately allow myself breaks that have not existed as a national player for 11 years. And moreover, as a husband and dad, I would also like to be there for my wife and three children.

"It was a great honour for me to be able to wear this jersey for such a long time. I did it with pride and passion."

Kroos would have got to 109 caps if he had played every game in a triumphant Germany campaign, but their 2-0 defeat to England in the last 16 of Euro 2020 ended those hopes.

Now 31, Kroos broke into the Germany squad at the age of 20, making his debut in a friendly against Argentina shortly before the 2010 World Cup, for which he was selected by Joachim Low.

He was a World Cup winner with Die Mannschaft in 2014 and scored 17 goals over the course of his Germany career.

His decision to step away from the national team comes as long-serving coach Low also departs, with former Bayern Munich boss Hansi Flick taking charge.

Kroos made sure to thank Low, coach for every step of his international career.

"Thanks to all fans and supporters who carried and supported me with their applause and cheers. And thanks to all the critics for their extra motivation," he wrote.

"At the very end I would like to say thank you very much to Jogi Low. He made me a national player and world champion. He trusted me. We have written a success story for a long time. Good luck and success to Hansi Flick."

Toni Kroos has retired from international football after Germany's defeat to England at Euro 2020, declaring: "I want to concentrate fully on my goals with Real Madrid."

Midfielder Kroos announced his decision in a post on Instagram, expressing disappointment he had not been able to bow out on a high.

Kroos wrote: "I've played for Germany 106 times. There won't be another time.

"I would have dearly wished, and I gave everything again, that there would have been 109 internationals in the end and that this one big title, the European Championship, would have been added at the end.

"I had made the decision to quit after this tournament a long time ago. It had been clear to me for a long time that I would not be available for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. More than anything, because I want to focus fully on my goals with Real Madrid for the next few years.

"In addition, from now on I will deliberately allow myself breaks that have not existed as a national player for 11 years. And moreover, as a husband and dad, I would also like to be there for my wife and three children.

"It was a great honour for me to be able to wear this jersey for such a long time. I did it with pride and passion."

Toni Kroos has retired from international football after Germany's defeat to England at Euro 2020, declaring: "I want to concentrate fully on my goals with Real Madrid."
 

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