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A season of the inspiring and the ugly

Last Updated : 14 July 2021, 06:15 IST
Last Updated : 14 July 2021, 06:15 IST

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The month-long football festival spread across two continents and pitting most of the best players in the world against each other ended with defeats for the host nations in Copa America, the symbol of supremacy in South America, and Euro 2020, postponed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Argentina and Italy were popular winners as they felled Brazil and England, respectively, in gripping title clashes that provided a fitting end to high-octane action full of spectacular goals, incredible misses and a near-tragedy that inspired Denmark to mount a stirring challenge that took them to the Euro semis.

On the second night of Euro 2020, Christian Eriksen collapsed on the field just before half-time in Copenhagen against Finland. Fellow players, thousands at the Parken Stadium and millions watching television feared the worst until, heroically, Denmark’s players formed a wall around him and allowed the medical staff to work unseen. Eriksen’s recovery not merely united a nation but installed Denmark as everyone’s second favourites, and they rallied from a loss to the Finns to storm into the last four, where they were halted by England. Several fancied teams fell by the wayside, leaving England and Italy as the last ones standing, at London’s Wembley Stadium for Sunday night’s denouement. There was optimism in England that their first entry into the final of a major tournament since the World Cup triumph at the same venue in 1966 would end their long drought, but an inspired Italy had other ideas. Bouncing back from conceding a second-minute goal, the Italians finished regulation and extra-time stronger, and held their nerve in a tense penalty shootout to lift the Euro title for the first time in 53 years. It ought to have been a night of celebration, even in defeat, for the hosts, but hooliganism and racism reared their ugly heads. English ‘fans’ went on a rampage while the three black players who failed to convert their spot-kicks – Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka – were at the receiving end of vile abuses which have since been widely condemned.

Brazil’s supporters reacted with greater maturity after Lionel Messi’s extended wait for a first major win in Argentine colours came to an end on the tenth go. The celebrated Barcelona giant was the inspiration behind a sparkling campaign, translating club form to the wider stage and scoring and setting up goals like only he can. The stigma of never having won anything significant with his country must have troubled the genius. That has now emphatically been put to rest. The ‘Player of the Tournament’ award and the ‘Golden Boot’ for the most goals must surely only be the icing on the cake.

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Published 14 July 2021, 04:54 IST

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