The last round of the group stage in Euro 2020 certainly was the most dramatic, as there were 13 qualification spots up for grabs (Italy, Belgium and Netherlands got the job done on matchday 2) for 21 teams to squabble over in six separate groups.
After four more days of some excellent football and entertainment in 12 matches, we now know the sides that will be participating in the knockouts, so let us unpack all of matchday 3 action:
Italy once again looked very impressive against Wales, as Roberto Mancini’s well-oiled system worked wonders even though almost all its components were replaced.
Having already secured qualification and needing just a draw to win the group, they made eight changes from the line-up that beat Switzerland 3-0, but the result was another success.
Wales switched to a back-five after picking up positive results in both of their group games, but you can understand the shift as they knew that they would have to defend a lot more here and quite possibly continue to do so if they reached the round of 16.
Their main plan was to restrict the Italians from progressing centrally, and although it did work alright, their defence was opened up on a couple of occasions, and in the end, a set-piece proved to be their undoing.
Switzerland’s match against Turkey was the one where the fate of progression really lay, and it was the dark horses who became colourless centaurs as they went out of the Euros without picking up a single point.
To be fair to them, they did look slightly better in the initial stages here as they racked up five shots in just the first four minutes, but two sweet Swiss strikes from outside the box took away any confidence they might have built.
Şenol Güneş’s side continued to threaten thereafter in a very open match, eventually pulling one back through İrfan Kahveci (who was making his first start after coming on off the bench in the last two games) from yet another long-distance effort.
They could not add to that and instead conceded another, though, so this spelt the end of their Euro 2020 campaign.
The other three teams in the group have indeed progressed, with Italy maintaining a perfect record to win it, Wales holding on to second with a better goal difference and Switzerland’s four points proving enough to be one of the best third-placed sides.
Denmark hosted Russia in Copenhagen for a Group B decider, where the winner would have an excellent chance of progressing to the knockouts.
The Danes stuck to the 3-4-2-1 system that caused many problems to Belgium last time out, and their system was matched like-for-like by Russia.
The home side looked far more settled, though, as they kept almost 64.6% of the ball and were comfortably in control.
Although Russia did possess some threat in transition, Matvei Safonov was by far the busier of the two goalkeepers with 16 shots coming his way.
Four of those went in, including a wonderful strike from Mikkel Damsgaard to open the scoring and a gift of a backpass that only reached Yussuf Poulsen.
An Artem Dzyuba penalty did put Russia within one goal of Denmark at one point, but two quickfire goals late on settled any Danish nerves.
The scenes at the Parken that followed were just beautiful, as the packed crowd which had cheered almost every touch of the ball celebrated with the Danish squad.
There have been many heartwarming narratives to come out of this group stage, but nothing will possibly ever top this.
Both of the teams in Copenhagen were keeping a close eye on the other match too, as they needed Belgium to beat Finland to have a better chance of finishing in the top-two.
Roberto Martínez made a host of changes to his line-up, having effectively secured a spot in the last-16, so he was fielding a second-string side, barring the inclusions of Thibaut Courtois, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku.
As expected, Finland sat back in their 5-3-2 block, which proved resolute once again as Belgium had a hard time creating any notable chances in the first half.
Eventually, an unfortunate own goal for Lukáš Hrádecký broke the deadlock, before Romelu Lukaku (who had one ruled out by VAR for offside earlier) made it 2-0 to seal a perfect group stage record for his side.
Denmark’s hefty win against Copenhagen, therefore, sees them go through in second with a superior goal difference to the teams below them, while Russia finished last.
Finland’s third-placed finish did give them a bit of hope at the time, but their three points proved to be inadequate because of a marginally lower gal difference relative to Ukraine.
Ukraine’s match against Austria was the big one in Group C, as the two sides were level on three points in the battle for the runners-up spot, with Andriy Shevchenko’s side having a slight edge thanks to a superior goal difference.
After trying a 3-1-4-2 in the first two games, Franco Foda switched to a back-four here to use Alaba as an overlapping left-back, and this certainly worked well as the Austrian captain delivered a whopping 14 crosses in the match.
Ukraine’s system remained fairly unchanged, but they barely managed to attack in the first half of the match as they conceded seven shots before registering their first.
Alaba’s set-pieces deliveries were deadly, with the opening goal coming from a corner. Austria could have had more, but even after Ukraine tried to switch things up at half-time, they continued to look hopelessly disjointed in the process of succumbing to a 1-0 defeat.
North Macedonia’s clash against Netherlands was a bit of a dead rubber game as the two sides were set to finish last and first respectively regardless of what happened here, but the match was fun to watch either way.
Despite securing qualification, Frank de Boer made just two changes to his line-up, with exciting youngsters Ryan Gravenberch and Donyell Malen getting a start.
The 3-5-2 system continued for the Dutch, so we had another very open match on our hands.
Although the home side were able to establish some sort of control over the midfield at the Johan Cruijff ArenA, North Macedonia were always a threat in transition.
Ironically, it was a rapid counterattack from the hosts that opened the scoring, with two subsequent goals in the second half securing a victory and resultant perfect group stage record for the Netherlands.
Alongside them, Austria go through in second place with six points, while Ukraine just about do so too as the only side with three points to reach the knockout rounds.
Croatia’s match against Scotland was the Group D decider, as only the winner would have a chance of participating in the knockouts.
Urged on by a buoyant Hampden Park crowd, the hosts got away to an excellent start once again, but as they did against Czech Republic, they conceded first – this time to a calm Nikola Vlašić finish.
Zlatko Dalić had chosen to revert to the 4-3-3 he tried against England, so Marcelo Brozović was reinstated to holding midfield, while Bruno Petković was used up front with Vlašić to his right and Ivan Perišić to his right.
Against Scotland’s 5-3-2, they were able to control possession and the tempo of the match for long periods after scoring, but things went up in the air again after Callum McGregor scored just before half-time.
The 2018 World Cup finalists remained in control, and eventually, a magical strike from Luka Modrić followed by a Perišić header helped them to a 3-1 win.
Some of the previous matchday 3 results secured progression for England before they even kicked a ball, and with Czech Republic level on points, their match was pretty much a showdown to decide the group winner.
Gareth Southgate made a few changes to his XI as Harry Maguire came in at centre-back, and both Jack Grealish and Bukayo Saka were instated into the attack.
The game itself wasn’t the most exciting of football matches as both sides looked unconvincing.
England remained in control throughout as they opened the scoring through a Raheem Sterling (who was operating in a new central role behind) in the 12th minute, holding on to that lead until the end.
So, England go through with an unbeaten record in Group D, while Croatia follow them in second thanks to the third goal against Scotland, which made them level with Czech Republic on goal difference and took them ahead thanks to just one extra goal scored.
The Czechs progress as well, though, but they will have a tougher draw as one of the best third-placed finishers.
Group leaders Sweden faced Poland, who were at the opposite end of the table, in the last early kick-off slot of the group stage.
The Swedes took less than a couple of minutes to score, as Emil Forsberg pounced on a defensive lapse to make it 1-0.
Poland did all the attacking thereafter in the first half as Sweden sat in their 4-4-2 block, but they failed to create any substantial chances apart from a free header for Robert Lewandowski from a corner where he struck the crossbar not once but twice as the rebound missed a gaping goal.
Janne Andersson’s men looked really threatening on the counter early on in the second half, and a second from Forsberg looked to seal the deal.
Lewandowski scored a worldie thereafter to give his side some hope and then equalised with six minutes to go as Sweden’s defence looked all over the place, but a late Viktor Claesson goal made it 3-2 and secured Sweden’s Euro 2020 future.
Group favourites Spain were in dire need of a win as they welcomed Slovakia to Seville, for whom a draw was most probably enough to book a spot in the knockouts.
Luis Enrique absolutely shook things up after the last two draws as he made four changes to his line-up but also shook things up positionally, as Gerard Moreno moved to the left wing, Aymeric Laporte operated as a left centre-back and an orthodox right-back was used in César Azpilicueta.
The same problems continued, though, as Spain squandered their chances and Álvaro Morata even had a penalty saved, but Martin Dúbravka went from hero to zero in the Slovakian goal as he then ended up punching a looping Pablo Sarabia shot that wen up off the crossbar into his own net.
Laporte added a second through a calmly placed header just before half-time, before Sarabia, Ferran Torres (off the bench) and Juraj Kucka (own goal) made it 5-0 in the second half as Spain finally cashed in on all that xG.
These results mean that Sweden progress as group winners, while Spain slot into the runners-up spot at the death with their comfortable victory.
Slovakia will not be in the last-16 despite leading the group at one stage because their goal difference (which took a battering against Spain) was worse than Ukraine’s.
Group F had a massive match every week, and this time, it was Portugal and France’s turn. Les Blues had already secured qualification, but first place was just as important to get a favourable draw in the round of 16.
Fernando Santos made a couple of changes to the Portuguese line-up, which saw João Moutinho and Renato Sanches (finally) join the midfield in a 4-1-4-1.
This worked well, as the Seleção looked the better side from the start and were calm and controlled in possession. A Cristiano Ronaldo penalty put them in front, but Karim Benzema responded in kind to make it 1-1 before half-time.
The Real Madrid striker then got behind against a poor Portuguese backline early on in the second half to make it 2-1, but another Ronaldo penalty ensured that the spoils were shared.
Germany hosted Hungary at the Allianz Arena in the other group game, knowing they would reach the knockouts if they avoided defeat.
In just 11 minutes, though, they conceded to Ádám Szalai whose header looked to be putting Hungary into the last-16.
Marco Rossi’s side once again looked very disciplined in their 5-3-2 defensive shape, keeping Germany out on the wings by never being outnumbered in the final line while also posing a decent threat on the counter.
Eventually, though, the Germans equalised after Péter Gulácsi misjudged a free-kick and failed to punch it away, leaving an open goal behind him.
András Schäfer pretty much scored from kick-off thereafter, but with six minutes remaining, Germany’s substitutes combined to finally pry open the Hungarian defence and earn a crucial point.
The two draws mean that the standings remain unaltered in the mother of all groups of death, so France and Germany progress in the top-two, while Portugal’s four points are enough to be one of the four best third-placed sides.
Stats courtesy WhoScored.