It was a sweltering Sunday evening in Budapest. 60,000 fans in a nearly-full Puskas arena watched on as the Netherlands locked horns with the Czech Republic in the round of 16 of Euro 2020.
Frank De Boer’s Dutch side went into the game as favourites. Top scorers in the tournament with 8 goals, and full of confidence after topping their group. With clear talent (Depay, Wijnaldum and Dumfries to name a few), they looked to have the beating of the Czech Republic.
But this is knockout football. It’s a completely different game, as the Dutch would inevitably find out.
The Netherlands did start off the match well, with a lot of energy and causing the Czech defence problems early on. Notably, a teasing ball into the back post from Malen for an arriving Dumfries, which narrowly missed his run.
Clear cut chances, though, were scarce for both sides in the first half. De Ligt headed wide from a cross into the box from his defensive colleague Daley Blind, which should really have found the net. So to West Ham’s Thomas Soucek, with the midfielder’s header glancing past the far post.
The game would begin to erupt in the second half.
Netherlands had a pair of decent opportunities when the game resumed. Firstly, with Denzel Dumfries putting a cross into the box, following a ball played to him over the top. His cross, though, failed to reach striker Malen in the box.
PSV’s man had a good chance not long after. The ball fell kindly for him just outside the box. Trying to round the Czech goalkeeper, Vaclic stood tall and gathered the ball from Malen’s feet with relative ease.
Orange patches of Dutch fans scattered around the arena began to share concern in the moments that followed. The long ball played into the path of Patrick Shick certainly worried the Dutch defence. Juventus centre back Matthias De Ligt tried to nullify the danger. He achieved the opposite.
From the replay, it became clear to viewers that the defender handled the ball. Initially issued a yellow card by the referee, a VAR review would eventually turn it red. The Netherlands were down to ten men.
It was an obvious turning point in the match. Losing their key defender and one of their leaders, it would soon become an obstacle too large for the Dutch outfit to overcome.
Pressure mounted from the Czechs. Kaderjabek was found in the box, having his shot blocked at the last moment by Dumfries. Dutch shot stopper Stekelenberg, unconvincingly parried a cross from the left and out for a corner. It was poor from him.
That moment epitomised the second half for the Dutch. They didn’t help themselves. Nervous, penned back, and with a man down, it wasn’t long before they were punished.
Tomáš Holeš arrived in the box in the 68th minute. The ball crossed in from near the corner flag into the back post, headed back across the penalty area, where the Czech midfielder powerfully headed past three Dutch defenders on the line. They had capitalised on their pressure.
Patrick Schick would finish the Netherlands off twelve minutes later. Tomáš Holeš initially looked to have taken too heavy a touch in the box. He recovered well though, sliding a ball across the six yard box into the path of Schick, who calmly slotted the ball into the bottom left corner. 4 goals in 4 games would tell you that the Czech striker isn’t lacking in confidence.
The realisation began to sink in immediately for the Oranje. It was going to happen again. Just like Euro 2006 and Euro 2008, they would crash out in the round of sixteen once more.
But, you can’t take anything away from the Czech Republic. They bossed the second half, capitalising on the Netherlands’ misfortunes. The Dutch had to go for it. Sadly for them, they weren’t able to create any clear chances in the second half. By the time the second goal went in, the Czech defence had shut up shop.
Looking back on the match, Dutch fans and their players alike will wonder what would’ve happened if not for De Ligt’s sending off. In what looked like a promising tournament for them, it ended far sooner than many would have predicted.
Following the shock win, the Czech Republic will now advance to the quarter finals to face Denmark. It might not be the only upset to come, either. The Czechs and neutral fans alike will be intrigued to see how far the team can go in the Euro’s.
Featured Image Credit: Reuters