The beauty of chaos
A frenetic night that featured 14 goals across just two games set the tone for the rest of Euro 2020 as both 2018 World Cup finalists, France and Croatia, joined reigning European champions Portugal by the wayside.
A calm take on the chest from Alvaro Morata before lashing into the net for the winner against Croatia in extra-time, Karim Benzema's scrumptious touch before lifting the ball over for France's equalizer against Switzerland and Paul Pogba's homing rocket to give the world champions a 3-1 lead were some of the most beautiful moments of the night, but they paled in comparison to the sheer chaos that unfolded in the 90 minutes around them.
In one way, the chaos was systematic. The same scoring pattern was followed in both games: 0-1, 1-1, 2-1, 3-1, 3-2, 3-3. That is how it went for the first 90 minutes at least, with trailing teams scoring twice after the 85th minute on both occasions. But while Spain went on to win 5-3 in extra time against Croatia in Copenhagen, France fell short on penalties against Switzerland, with Kylian Mbappe suffering his first international heartbreak after missing the all-important fifth spot-kick.
He left the field in tears, as did some of the bravest Croatians, who had pulled Spain back to reality with two goals from substitutes Mislav Orsic and Mario Pasalic in the final five minutes and stoppage time. The tournament's leading scorer also made an appearance on the night, Own Goal finding the net for the ninth time, as many as in all of the previous editions of the competition combined.
But it was not the heartbreak, joy or any consequence from the games that should draw headlines, but the entertainment value of the matches themselves.
Many feared that fatigue would be a significant factor and deter from the quality of football on show. After all, the players returned to the international stage following two grueling seasons in the face of the pandemic separated by one shortened break.
Perhaps that fatigue has added even more excitement to the mix. The best players in the world play week in, week out, but others are prone to rest and rotation. That must also play on the minds of players and managers of teams such as Austria, Croatia and Switzerland, who were insistent on applying numbing pressure to teams such as Italy, Spain and France respectively, perhaps in hope that tired minds and legs would be susceptible to making mistakes. If so, they were not mistaken.
Both games last night swung wildly. They were tense, raucous affairs and perhaps that tension was amplified for viewers by the chants, celebrations and audible anguish of fans, for many of whom the tournament provided a first chance to return to venues.
The defining image of the night was that of one Swiss fan, who has since become an internet sensation. In the 87th minute, the telecast panned to him with tears welling in his eyes. Resolve was slowly giving way to thoughts that the game was well and truly beyond his side's reach. Four minutes later, he was up in the air, shirtless, celebrating Switzerland's stoppage-time equaliser.
It was enthralling and encapsulated a roller coaster of emotions and the full spectrum of chaos. For half the teams and fans, it was cruel. For the other half, it was football, lay bare in all its chaotic beauty.