The cruelest part was that it all started so well. Martin Dubravka stretched to parry away Alvaro Morata’s penalty on 12 minutes and in that moment, as the camera zoomed in on Morata’s beautiful face and sad eyes, the idea that Dubravka would be the one wanting to be swallowed up, digested and excreted directly into Seville’s sewage system seemed quite far-fetched.
Spain had several more sniffs at goal without testing the keeper before a cooling break. Could what came next be explained by the heat? Did he pick up the wrong drinks bottle? One suspects even Dubravka himself would be at a loss to unriddle it. As Pablo Sarabia’s long-range shot cracked against the crossbar and spun high into orbit, Dubravka turned to face his own net, leapt into the air and swatted the ball firmly and confidently into his own goal.
He looked to the heavens. Rarely has a man displayed such a diverse array of professional excellence and incompetence in such a short space of time. Slovakia’s No1 had managed to reduce his status from the internationally renowned Dubravka to a tall man named Martin in half an hour’s work.
Sarabia, incidentally, milked the moment for all it was worth. As the ball crossed the line he actually had both hands on his face, disappointed to have hit the woodwork. But suddenly he was wheeling away now with both hands in the air, accepting his teammates’ congratulations as if somehow he’d instigated it all, like he’d calculated the most confusing amount of backspin he could muster and allowed gravity to do the rest.
Dubravka’s misfortune was part of a bizarre pattern in becoming the seventh own goal of Euro 2020, approaching the tally of nine in the tournament’s entire history before this summer. Each one was a special moment in itself, that made you want to watch the replay from every angle: Merih Demiral’s mid-riff; Wojciech Szezesny’s head; Mats Hummels’ shin; Ruben Dias’s toe; Raphael Guerreiro’s laces; Lukas Hradecky’s left thumb. But, from the standpoint of an own-goal connoisseur, Dubravka’s firm palm was undoubtedly the best of the bunch.
Where defenders often score own goals while trying heroically to stop a striker, like Portugal’s Dias against Germany, goalkeepers’ own goals are almost always comedic. A ricochet from the woodwork against an unsuspecting body part is the classic, of course, which did for Szezesny and Hradecky. But what made Dubravka’s so spectacular was that it had the appearance of calculated rebellion, a deliberate act of sabotage, despite the goalkeeper quite clearly trying to achieve something entirely different.
Clearly Dubravka was rattled by his own nightmare and by the end it was a tough watch. Newcastle’s goalkeeper is a high-level Premier League player as he endeavoured to prove earlier in the day, and he will come again. But as the evening wore in he must have been desperate for the final whistle to blow. Spain scored five goals in total, some brilliant, some almost as slapstick as the first. Dubravka seemed particularly disorientated as Spain scored their second, losing a footrace with Gerard Moreno before scuttling back into his goal as a cross looped over him one way and the header looped back over the other like a particularly humiliating game of piggy in the middle. As the ball hit the net, Dubravka was on his knees, and once again he looked to the heavens.
Perhaps one of the most vital own-goals at this tournament came in the semi-finals when Simon Kjaer, under pressure from Raheem Sterling, deflected into his own net after Bukayo Saka’s dangerous ball across the six-yard box. It cancelled out Mikkel Damsgaard’s opener for the Danes and gave England parity at Wembley.