Night of the tragic hero: Yann Sommer, Jeremy Doku win hearts on way out

When Spain’s goalkeeper Unai Simon was given the Man of the Match award at the end of the penalty shootout in the Euro 2020 quarterfinal against Switzerland on Friday, he had a one-line response: “Honestly, I’d have given it to Yann Sommer.”

Sommer, better known as a food blogger in his own country, a non-celebrity footballer who had foiled French wunderkind Kylian Mbappe a couple of days ago, had just pulled off the most heroic performance of this year’s European Championships yet.

Over the 120 minutes of the examination Spain put Switzerland through, Sommer made 10 saves — the record for the most saves by a goalkeeper in Euro 2020. He then blocked a penalty in the shootout, even as Spain nicked it to book a place in next week’s semifinal against Italy.

Switzerland, playing without captain Granit Xhaka, might have folded when they were reduced to 10 men after a questionable red card decision. In not doing so and taking Spain to the limit, they offered this year’s European Championship’s best underdog story yet.

Roger Federer tweeted, “Danke Switzerland, it’s been an amazing Sommer, thank you, great effort,” even as Rafael Nadal would have been celebrating the Spanish win.

Doku’s dribbles

Later in the night, as Belgium took on Italy in the second quarterfinal, one thing that stood out was how Roberto Mancini’s ‘Neo-Rennaisance’ project dominated the World Number 1 team. The other thing that was striking was that the primary source of attacks for the Belgians seemed to be from the left flank, being manned by the least illustrious name on their team sheet –19-year-old Jeremy Doku.

Doku completed eight dribbles against Italy, the highest number for a player in Euro 2020 so far. No other player has managed to complete more than 6 dribbles in a single match. Doku’s record of 8 dribbles in the match is also the highest for a teenager since there is full data for World Cups (since 1966) and Euros (since 1980).

In fact, as Belgium made their final attempts to equalize in the dying minutes of the match, it seemed like their attack had divided into two — Doku driving forward from the left, and the superstar ensemble on the right comprising the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and Dries Mertens trying to draw the Italian defence towards them to make space for him.

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