Football: Euro 2020 R16 – Preview

Now that we are at the thick end of Euro 2020, it is a good time to take a look at the upcoming knockout games and recap the best and worst of the group stages.

With a total of eight previous champions, fans are about to be treated to a classic tournament, especially if you follow the top half of the draw.

Round of 16
Wales vs Denmark
Italy vs Austria
Netherlands vs Czech Republic
Belgium vs Portugal
Croatia vs Spain
France vs Switzerland
England vs Germany
Sweden vs Ukraine

Highlights from the group stage

Best Game:
This has to be the match between Germany and Portugal. In the end it finished 4-2 to ze Germans, but could have been a lot more with both defences showing real weakness. Robin Goosens had an exceptional game and was rightfully the man of the match, beating the likes of Kimmich, Ronaldo and the rest.

If you haven’t read Goosen’s autobiography, you really should. He talks abut the embarrasment of asking for Ronaldo’s shirt at the end of a game, and being told no. It was at that moment he promised himself to be better.

Most Goals:
Cristiano Ronaldo is leading with five goals after three games, with a whole host of players two behind. Three of CR7’s goals have come from the penalty spot, two of which were against France on match-day three. Ronaldo is now one goal away from being the all-time international top scorer in the men’s game. He is currently tied with Iranian Ali Daei on 109 goals.

Worst Team:
Turkish team just did not show up. Touted as dark horses by many people, including me, Turkey had come into the tournament in good form. Defensively they had conceded 3 goals in qualifying despite playing the likes of France and Iceland. Yet, that same tight defence had gone AWOL when it mattered most. Zero points, one goal and eight conceded. Only positive were the supporters in the stands that were fantastic. Worst team in the competition!

Best Group to Watch:
Group F was branded as the “group of death” and it turned out to be exactly that. Everyone expected Hungary to be the whipping boys in a group that consisted of France, Portugal and Germany, yet the reality was far from that. In fact, Hungary led for more minutes and were behind in games for less minutes than any of the other three giants. In the end they finished bottom of the group. On match-day three, the excitement reached a pinnacle. At one point, Portugal were looking at elimination for about 13 minutes, and Germany faced the same end for roughly 71 minutes. The team that finished in second was going to play England in the round of 16, yet that team changed eight times during the 90 minutes.

In the end, Germany finished second thanks to a goal from Leon Goretzka, and a double from France’s Karim Benzema in the other game of the group. The most striking detail about Benzema’s first goal was that it was his first for France in 2086 days. More incredible was that both his goals were scored exactly on 46 minutes and 44 seconds – first half injury time, and the start of the second half.

Highlights of the Group Stage:

The group stages were excellent with only two goalless draws. Also, there are two teams yet to concede a single goal – Italy and England. England supporters have so far only witnessed the net ripple twice in the three games their team have participated in, making them the least exciting in terms of goals. In contrast, Portugal’s three games have resulted in a total of 11 goals, half of which came in the aforementioned 4-2 loss to Germany. The Netherlands lead the scoring with eight goals, one ahead of Italy and Belgium. The goal of the tournament has to be Patrik Schick’s screamer from the halfway line against the Scots.

The group stage also rocked the whole world of football after Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch and needed CPR for over ten minutes. He is all well now after being fitted with a device to prevent such an incident from happening again. Denmark lost that game after being forced to come back out on the pitch, but made it through to the knockout stage thanks to Mikkel Damsgaard, who replaced Eriksen in the starting 11.

What to expect in the Round of 16

Wales vs Denmark

The opening match of the knockout round will see a resurgent Denmark side face off against a Wales team looking to go one better than in 2016 – semi-final loss to Portugal. Denmark hold the advantage in the head-to-head with the most recent game being won by the Danes in 2018. Denmark will need to score early in order to calm their nerves down against inferior opposition.

Prediction: Wales 1 Denmark 2

Italy vs Austria

This is the Austrians’ first appearance in the knockout stages of a tournament since the 1954 World Cup, and the first time they’ve ever made it out of the group stages at the Euros. Their reward is to play the most impressive team in the tournament so far. Italy are on a run of 30 games unbeaten, and 11 wins in a row. During those 11 games they’ve scored 32 goals and conceded none. This is the David vs Goliath fixture of the round, but unlike the legend, Goliath will win this one even if captain Giorgio Chielini has to miss it.

Prediction: Italy 4 – Austria 0

Netherlands vs Czech Republic

Euro 2004, group stage, Netherlands went 2-0 up, Czechs came back to win. A total of 36 shots, 21 on target, still one of the best games in history. It is unlikely to expect a similarly attacking game this time round, but we can hope. The Netherlands come into the game with a lot of confidence. They have an abundance of talent in the attacking positions but still don’t look convincing in defence. They are likely to be able to keep an inexperienced Czech Republic at bay, though.

This will be the Orange Army’s best chance of winning the tournament since they took the spoils in 1988.

Prediction: Netherlands 2 – Czech Republic 0

Belgium vs Portugal

The tie of the round. World number one against the defending champions. A pitch full of stars including Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruben Dias, Joao Moutinho, Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and the list goes on and on. This tournament may be the last chance for Belgium’s golden generation to win a tournament as most of their players are reaching retirement age. At 28 years old, Lukaku is one of the younger stars in the team.

Portugal are looking to be the second nation, after Spain, to be able to retain the title they won in 2016. Their recent form against the Belgians is positive, but they were friendlies. Belgium could punish a surprisingly poor Portuguese defence. Lukaku will be looking to make up the two goals that he is behind Ronaldo in the race for the golden boot, while Ronaldo will break Ali Daei’s record with a goal. Even though Portugal have a good squad, Belgiums’ is better!

Prediction: Belgium 3 – Portugal 1

Croatia vs Spain

This tie is marred by what has been happening to Alvaro Morata. His family have been sent death threats by Spanish hooligans who are displeased by his performances on the pitch. So far, he has had 10 attempts, scored one goal, and missed a penalty. However, that doesn’t justify death threats.

Croatia are another one of the teams that are coming to the end of an era. Ivan Rakitic retired from international football late last year and this is likely to be Luka Modric’s last tournament for the Croats. Croatia’s recent record against Spain is very good, but with such a long 18 months of football, their aging squad has to be running on empty. Spain on the other hand have a lot of young players, but lack the experience of previous squads. Luis Enrique selected three players from Barcelona, and none from Real Madrid which has been criticised by the Spanish media.

It could be a real tight game.

Prediction: Croatia 1 Spain 1 (3-4 Pens)

France vs Switzerland

France made hard work of their group games, but this is the knockout round, and that requires a different animal. This French side are different to past ones that self combust. Since 1994, France have reached 13 tournament finals in a row, played in five final games and won three of them. They are the reigning world champions, and the favourite to win Euro 2020. They were pipped by Portugal in 2016, which will likely push them to go one better this time.

Switzerland’s best chance is to get the ball in early to Seferovic, Shaqiri and Embolo, and hope that they will cause the French defenders trouble. Going to be a tough day for Switzerland who have not won a knockout game in any tournament since 1954.

Prediction: France 3 – Switzerland 1

England vs Germany

Two nations with a lot of history both on and off the pitch, however, none of that recent. Since the opening of the New Wembley in 2007, the two countries have played twice at the stadium. The first was a one-nil win to Germany, and the second was the last game they played which finished as a goalless draw. The better statistic to look at might be the 26 games that England have played at the stadium under Gareth Southgate, in which only Spain and Denmark have managed to beat them.

Germany will need to be a lot better to win, while England need to create more. The Three Lions had the third fewest shots on target of any team in the group stages – Slovakia and Finland had fewer – which is not good enough for the second highest scorers in qualifying. Their chances may lie with Jadon Sancho who has been given very little time on the pitch so far. Just baffling that a player that Manchester United have bid £72+ million for is not good enough for the England starting 11.

Prediction: England 1 – Germany 1 (2-4 Pens)

Sweden vs Ukraine

Definitely the least exciting game of the round on paper, but might be the most intense. Ukraine have the potential to unlock the Sweden defence but the Swedes seem to have a knack of getting the job done in big games. Sweden are yet to lose in the tournament, and have kept two clean sheets. As for Ukraine, this is their first ever knockout game.

Sweden will dictate the pace, relying on Isak and Forsberg to show quality in the attacking third. So far, the two players have been excellent for the Scandinavian team, but can they do it now when it matters most?

Prediction: Sweden 2 – Ukraine 1

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