Mid-week brought with it two mouthwatering semi-final clashes, and the two Leeds players remaining in the tournament were left with mixed emotions come Wednesday night.
Diego Llorente’s Spain side were against Italy on Tuesday night, and it was agony for the Leeds centre-back as his side were dumped out by the Azzurri on penalties, without Llorente managing a single minute on the pitch.
Kalvin Phillips and England were up against Denmark on Wednesday, and their victory after extra-time took them into the Euro 2020 final on Sunday. Phillips, again, was brilliant.
Wednesday evening’s incredible semi-final ended in ecstasy for England and Phillips, as they beat Denmark 2-1 after extra-time to progress into their first major tournament final since 1966.
Phillips started alongside Declan Rice again and played the full 120 minutes for Gareth Southgate’s side, once again emphasising his incredible fitness levels, and subsequently the entire Leeds team - Phillips covered a ridiculous 15km during the game, 11% of the entire distance covered by England’s 15 players and the most by some margin.
The opening stages of the game were understandably cagey, and Phillips took some time to settle. It was the Leeds man that gave the ball away to Pierre-Emile Højbjerg who drove a shot at Jordan Pickford.
Much of the pre-game talk centred around England’s potential response to going behind, and after half an hour everyone had a chance to see for themselves, as Mikkel Damsgaard’s stunning free-kick flew past Pickford and into the top-left (kind of) corner.
England answered the pre-game worries emphatically, however, instantly regaining control of the game. Raheem Sterling had his close range shot saved by Kasper Schmeichel, before a similar move released Bukayo Saka down the left. His low cross was on its way to Sterling to tap home. Simon Kjaer got there first but it didn’t matter, as the Dane’s interception found the back of his own net.
England continued to push in search for a second and Phillips, settled after his wobbly start, gave a typically solid performance against a workmanlike Denmark midfield, breaking up play efficiently whilst distributing the ball accurately.
As the game went on Phillips’ energy levels came to the fore. Denmark looked shot towards the end of the second half and going into extra-time, and Southgate again opted to take off Rice for Jordan Henderson whilst Phillips marched on.
Then towards the end of the fist half of extra-time Sterling burst into the box. Shut in by two Danish defenders, he felt the contact and went to ground. Penalty.
Harry Kane stepped up and had his original spot-kick saved before following up sharply on the rebound and tapping into the empty net for 2-1.
England controlled the end of the game after that, and with Denmark tiring Phillips seemed to be gaining more energy as the minutes ticked by. The final few minutes were relatively comfortable for the Three Lions, and the final whistle cued pandemonium in front of 60,000.
England’s progression into the final is a testament to Phillips’ performances as the most ever-present outfield player of this England side, and his appearance in a major final will be the pinnacle of an incredible development under Marcelo Bielsa.
WE’RE IN THE FINAL . Team were immense today what a night and what support from our amazing fans! See you Sunday ❤️ pic.twitter.com/bwaurVGPbm— Kalvin Phillips (@Kalvinphillips) July 7, 2021
Tuesday night brought heartbreak for Llorente and Spain as they were knocked out of Euro 2020 at the semi-final stage, losing to Italy on penalties, with the score level at 1-1 after both 90 and 120 minutes.
The Leeds defender was the only Spanish outfield player that failed to rack up any minutes for Luis Enrique’s side, a double-blow for the 27 year old, who will feel aggrieved to have not been given a chance to put his touch on a vulnerable defence.
The game itself was worthy of a European Championship semi-finals, and Spain can definitely consider themselves unfortunate not to have progressed within 90 or 120 minutes. A 60,000 strong crowd at Wembley added an incredible atmosphere to a tactically intriguing clash.
After some initial panic - Nicolo Barella hit the base of the post after four minutes, only to be flagged offside - Spain really got a hold of the game, and Mikel Oyarzabal’s poor touch from a Pedri pass was the only fault preventing an early lead.
Dani Olmo and Pedri caused endless problems for Italy and the former had a good shot saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma on 25 minutes, after his own brilliant cute back-heel released Ferran Torres.
And with that, the game found its pattern: Spain dominated the ball and continued to find space even in the most packed of Italian defences, whilst Italy sprang from the compactness with devastating pace and quality. Somehow, at half-time, it was 0-0.
The half-time break did nothing to slow the game down and 15 minutes in Italy took the lead with a typically rapid counter attack, finished by Federico Chiesa who curled a lovely finish into Unai Simon’s bottom corner.
But Spain kept to the process, and kept creating chances. Firstly, Oyarzabal missed the ball entirely from six-yards, knowing any touch will have lead to a goal. Then Olmo had a shot from the edge of the box swerve just wide. Then finally, Alvaro Morata - subbed on 20 minutes earlier - got on the end of a one-two with Olmo before slotting calmly past Donnarumma.
As extra-time passed it became clear both sides were expecting penalties, and when Alvaro Morata’s spot-kick - Spain’s fourth - was saved it was left to Jorginho to settle it. He did so in frankly ludicrous style.
The defeat knocks Spain out and ends Llorente’s Euro campaign before it had a chance to start, whilst Italy will be back at Wembley to face England in the final on Sunday.
Decimos adiós a la Euro con la cabeza alta y con la convicción de que nos vamos siendo mejores y más fuertes de lo que llegamos. Hemos estado a las puertas de la final y eso nos ayudará a crecer y a mirar al futuro con optimismo. pic.twitter.com/0jJjbkQYJD— Diego Llorente (@diego_2llorente) July 7, 2021