LONDON — A review of the best, worst and downright strange at this year’s European Championship:
It was beautiful, touching and uplifting, so soon after a near-tragedy. Shaken fans inside the Parken Stadium were waiting for updates after Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen collapsed on the field during the game against Finland when supporters from the Finnish contingent broke the eerie silence.
“Christian! Christian!” they chanted.
Danish fans gave their own booming response that reverberated around the venue: “Eriksen! Eriksen!”
Within seconds, supporters from both teams united in a huge roar when the stadium announcer said Eriksen was “stable and awake.”
Soccer, as a whole, gave a collective sigh of relief after one of the scariest incidents in the tournament’s history, one which brought the best out of Eriksen’s teammates as they tended to him and shielded him but also out of the fans of both teams involved that day.
Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma might have been named UEFA’s player of the tournament, chiefly because he saved the decisive penalty in the shootout in the final. But it’s hard to look beyond Simon Kjaer. After all, the Denmark captain might saved a life.
It was Kjaer who secured Eriksen’s neck, ensured his airways were cleared, and started chest compressions before medics arrived. Kjaer then organized the formation of a protective ring around Eriksen with his teammates and comforted Eriksen’s partner when she came onto the field.
Kjaer took his role as a captain way beyond the field of play, addressing his team’s shaken players after that distressing game against Finland and leading them on an emotionally charged journey out of the group and all the way to the a semifinal match against England.
OK, he scored an own-goal for England’s equalizer, but that was unfortunate as much as anything else. It was no surprise that it was Kjaer consoling Denmark’s distraught players after the extra-time loss at Wembley Stadium.
It resembled a golf shot more than a soccer shot.
As the ball rolled loose and just across the halfway line into Scotland’s half, Czech Republic striker Patrick Schick took aim from 49.7 meters and managed to curl the ball high and from left to right, straight into the goal vacated by goalkeeper David Marshall.
It was outrageous — by more than 10 meters the longest goal in the tournament’s history — and some time in the making, with Schick later saying he’d noticed Marshall coming off his line previously and was waiting for the moment.
Making the goal better was the back-pedaling Marshall’s desperate dive in a forlorn bid to stop the ball from going in. He got nowhere near and ended up tangled in the netting.
It will go down as perhaps the tournament’s greatest goal and helped give the Czechs a 2-0 win at Hampden Park in the group stage.
When Kylian Mbappe saw his penalty pushed aside by Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer to end the shootout and consign France to an round-of-16 exit, it capped an underwhelming — some might say disappointing — tournament for a player widely regarded as the new superstar of world soccer.
The striker didn’t score in four games at Euro 2020, which he started uncomfortably after he went public on Day 3 of the tournament about a feud with teammate Olivier Giroud. He didn’t get any better.
Mbappe, the breakout star of the 2018 World Cup, surely will be back but he won’t fondly remember his first European Championship experience.
France coach Didier Deschamps was in his technical area, waiting for his team’s group match against Germany to start, when he was forced to duck into his dugout and put his hands over his head as debris fell from above.
A protestor for environmentalist group Greenpeace had just glided into the stadium on a parachute, lost control and struck wires for an overhead camera attached to the roof. That made him veer away from the playing area toward the stadium’s main grandstand and he barely cleared the heads of spectators.
Several spectators were treated for injuries in the hospital because of the falling debris.
Reaching the semifinals didn’t appear beyond the Danes at the start of Euro 2020. It certainly did, however, after losses in their first two group games and with their most important player, Eriksen, out of the tournament while he recovered from cardiac arrest.
How amazing it was, then, to see Denmark — thrust into the role of every neutral’s favorite team — get out of its group with a 4-1 rout of Russia at an atmospheric Parken Stadium and then advance to the denouement of the tournament in London with a 4-0 win over Wales and a 2-1 victory over the Czech Republic.
A repeat of Euro 1992, when Denmark was added to the tournament at late notice because of Yugoslavia’s disqualification, suddenly couldn’t be discounted. But a 2-1 loss to England in the semifinals, following the contentious awarding of a penalty in extra time, ended the fairytale.
Denmark’s players headed home distraught but as heroes to many soccer fans.
The match ball being delivered to the center circle for kickoff aboard a small remote-control car proved a neat addition to proceedings, and certainly generated excitement on social media.
As did the stirring rendition of “Nessun Dorma” at the opening ceremony by Andrea Bocelli.
Italian tenors and tiny cars, it appears, should be regular fixtures at every soccer tournament.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80