There was a certain mania gripping the football-loving portion of the country by Monday evening.
Already stunned by a confounding 5-3 extra time win for Spain over Croatia, France had just conceded a penalty, saved it, then scored two outstanding goals. Here were your Euro 2020 favourites, awoken from an odd slumber to prove their class, seize the game and march towards glory at Wembley.
Paul Pogba scored an unimprovable goal 16 minutes later. Point proved, it seemed.
Then Switzerland inexplicably became interesting at an international tournament for the first time in living memory. Roaring back, clinching a late equaliser, just about surviving extra time and then winning on penalties.
By the time of their celebrations those who had watched both games were reeling, stomachs churning like they had spent an hour on a rollercoaster immediately after a hot dog eating competition.
It was a feeling only an international tournament can provide. As the kids say, sometimes international football ‘hits different’.
You have presumably seen the goals and know the scores by now. What else made it such a special evening?
Swiss fan, before and after
Forget about the players, here was the evening’s true hero.
The embodiment of an unreal evening of sport, going from miserable poindexter to furious, delighted topless superhero.
It has been a vintage knockout round so far for excitable young men jumping on one another in delight. Nothing shows the importance of representing your nation more than throwing yourself at a pal with reckless speed. Someone will inevitably do themselves a mischief soon, but until then: BUNDLE!
The loneliness of Kylian Mbappe
Mbappe’s missed penalty was a rare ‘gasp of genuine disbelief’ moment. The footballer who would be king capped a pretty wretched tournament by failing to match the precision of nine previous takers. Odd to note how few of his team-mates seemed keen to comfort him in the immediate aftermath. Read into that what you will.
Luis Enrique’s jeans
You just don’t see those sorts of managerial fashion choices in the domestic game.
Pogba’s celebration in three acts
A superb game for Paul Pogba, clearly one of the world’s most talented players when on song.
Having earned the right to have a haircut in the eyes of disapproving pundits, he delivered yet more incitement to the proper football men with an ornate celebration in three movements, prog rock-style.
Marvellous, deserved and let’s not dwell too much on him giving the ball away for the Swiss equaliser.
A dash of Sunday League
Of course we all enjoy top-level football played beautifully. But you need the occasional reminder that the players aren’t so different from us, the frequently inept mortals. Hats off to Spain’s goalkeeper Unai Simon for providing us with the best own goal of the tournament so far.
The limits of language
At some point those watching at home were only capable of making a series of unusual noises. You can tell it’s been a good night when Twitter is filled with people essentially tweeting variations on one word: “Football!”.
The pitch invader you didn’t see
The France match was briefly interrupted by a fella wearing the unusual combination of cargo shorts and Moldova shirt. While obviously nobody can possibly contemplate condoning this heinous act or anyone planning similar, it did bring a certain reckless frisson to the occasion. The cameras steadfastly stayed focused on an improvised water break.
The noise of the crowd in Bucharest
At the final whistle, the score at France 3 Switzerland 3, there was a roar like a goal celebration. Presumably this came mostly from the Swiss supporters, but to these ears it seemed more like a collective exhalation of joy about the game the crowd had just witnessed. How wonderful to have such a memorable matched played in front of people rather than plastic seats.
All fun and games with the French fans in Bucharest before the game:
Similar delight in a Lyon fanzone mid-game:
Slightly less upbeat by the end:
Bloke in the cockerel hat above may have felt quite silly on his way home.
Perhaps the most important component of all. Everyone was able to watch both games. Clearly the domestic game would be vastly different without subscription TV, but part of the joy of Monday night was its throwback feel – it was the grand shared moment.
In a time of streaming, other tech distractions and Love Island on the other side it felt as if the country’s football fans were experiencing something wonderful together.
Will England provide something similar on Tuesday night?
On second thoughts, don’t answer that.
Forget the Champions League, international football is the pinnacle
By Luke Edwards
This was not just the day this tournament delivered two of the most stunning games a European Championships have witnessed, it was the moment we were reminded with the force of a slap around the head that international football remains truly special and wonderfully unique.
Spain did not just win an eight-goal thriller against Croatia and Switzerland did not only knock out France in a rollercoaster of a contest, that flung you one way and then the next, hurtling towards a penalty shootout conclusion that sent the pre-tournament favourites home before the quarter finals line up was complete. They injected international football with the most powerful of drugs: adrenaline.
The games had everything you would want. They had humiliating individual mistakes, emotional moments of redemption, stunning team goals and mouth open wide displays of individual brilliance. Whether you were in the stadium, watching at home or in the pub, it was as close to footballing perfection as you can get.
To get one game so good in the knockout rounds of a tournament is rare. To get two on the same day is unheard of. It instantly turned this Euros into something remarkable, the dreary opening two games of the Group Stage banished and forgotten.
This was football at its very best and a reminder of why only international football can make you feel like this.
This was not toying with the emotions of a few thousand fans, like we do in club football, this was the hearts and minds of entire countries being captivated by 120 minutes of football, played on a foreign land. Millions of people caught up in it all.
If you have ever fallen out of love with the sport; ground down by the greed, depressed by the politics and disenchanted by the increasing predictability of the top European leagues, where the uber rich club seem to win all the time, this was the most potent aphrodisiac. It made you lust for football again, not just love it.
It is also something more, a reminder why international football matters. The power it has to steal our hearts; to make memories that will last a lifetime.
For too long we have allowed ourselves to be conned into thinking that it is the Champions League that is the pinnacle. That European club football’s flagship continental competition is the peak in terms of interest, quality and drama.
Maybe it is the highest standard, but it is different because it comes around every year, has become bloated and overly long, lasting months. And the same clubs reach the latter stages every season.
We have become used to focusing on the Premier League as the most enthralling competition in the world, fawning over the teams and their star player, gorging on the almost daily drama of English club football, title race, relegation battle and European qualification.
So enraptured by it all, the soap opera, the constant unfolding stories of a season, that we have, perhaps, all been guilty of seeing international football as an unwanted distraction whenever a break comes for national teams to gather.
We probably will again when next season resumes and the World Cup qualifiers return in the autumn because far too many of them are dull and predictable.
But when we do, remember Spain vs Croatia and France vs Switzerland, think how you felt heading into England vs Germany on Tuesday evening and reprimand yourself for being so shortsighted.
Tournament football is the greatest football show, the most dramatic and the games that mean the most. So thank you Euro 2020, we needed this.