Euro 2020: Belgium vs. Italy headlines enthralling quarterfinals

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Huge upsets, historic victories and goals galore — Euro 2020 is a tournament that just keeps on giving.

Few would have predicted that the quarterfinal lineup would look quite like this, after Switzerland stunned world champion France and the Czech Republic eliminated a Netherlands team that had impressed many during the group stages.

England ended a 55-year hoodoo by finally beating Germany in the knockout stages of a major competition, while Ukraine secured a dramatic late winner in extra-time to book its place in a European Championship quarterfinal for the first time in its history.

The quarterfinal ties of Euro 2020 will take place on July 2 and 3.

Belgium vs. Italy

Among the favorites to win Euro 2020 before a ball had been kicked, Belgium has lived up to the hype so far at these championships.

Roberto Martínez’s side has reached the quarterfinals with very little fuss at all and it has done so without so far being able to count on both a fully fit Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne, two of its most important players.

Both players are unlikely to be fit enough to feature in Friday’s quarterfinal against Italy after coming off injured in the impressive last-16 win over defending champion Portugal.

Fortunately for Martínez, Belgium’s “golden generation” is blessed with plenty of depth and he will be able to fall back on the likes of Dries Mertens, Yannick Carrasco and Thorgan Hazard — Eden’s brother — who scored the winning goal against Portugal.

Many have declared this tournament as the last chance for this talented, but aging group of players — currently ranked as the world’s No. 1 team — to become the first to win some silverware for their nation.

Conversely, few people were expecting Italy to shine as it has prior to the tournament, but Roberto Mancini’s side has become one of the most entertaining teams to watch at Euro 2020.

The boundless energy of the likes of Leonardo Spinazzola and Manuel Locatelli have given this team an exciting attacking edge, while the return of Marco Verratti from injury has given the midfield increased control.

Italy narrowly edged past Austria 2-1 after extra time.

The gritty 2-1 extra-time win over Austria, by far the sternest test it has faced so far, proved that classic defensive DNA still exists within this version of Italy, even if the overall team looks different to years gone by.

Certainly, this team would not have been able to achieve its current 31-game unbeaten run — eclipsing its own 82-year-old unbeaten record — without the likes of stalwart defenders Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini.

Ukraine vs. England

Could football really be coming home?

After finally getting one over on old rival Germany, this is arguably England’s greatest chance of winning a major trophy since it lifted the World Cup in 1966.

Its route to a potential final looks considerably easier than it does for teams on the other side of the draw, but if there’s one thing the shock results of the past week have taught fans at Euro 2020, it’s to not take victory as a given when playing an underdog.

Harry Kane celebrates after scoring England's second goal against Germany.

Head coach Gareth Southgate echoed those sentiments in his post-match interview, stating that his players had already started focusing on Ukraine once they had returned to the dressing room after Tuesday’s win over Germany.

Southgate’s opposite number, legendary former Ukraine striker Andriy Shevchenko, was understandably bullish about his side’s chances going into Saturday’s clash.

After all, this group of players has already created history by making it this far.

“England are a great team — they have a deep bench, an outstanding coaching staff and we are fully aware how tough this game is going to be,” Shevchenko told reporters after Ukraine’s 2-1 extra time win over Sweden.

Ukraine's players celebrate with supporters after beating Sweden.

“They are incredibly difficult to score against but their strength shouldn’t scare us. It should motivate us because everything is possible in football, as in life, and we will play our hearts out to give our fans even more to cheer about.”

It’s only the second time in Ukraine’s history that it has reached the quarterfinals of a major competition — it also made the last eight of the World Cup in 2006 — but all the pressure will be on England to win in Rome and make it back to Wembley where it could play either the Czech Republic or Denmark in the semifinals.

Czech Republic vs. Denmark

After Christian Eriksen’s shocking collapse and his teammates’ emotional response, Denmark provided the feelgood story of Euro 2020 by qualifying for the knockout stages.

It looked unlikely after defeats to Finland and Belgium in its first two group stage games, but the 4-1 hammering of Russia and Finland’s 2-0 defeat to Belgium secured its place in the last-16.

Many thought the match against Wales would be a close affair — it was anything but.

The Danes ran riot, securing a hugely impressive 4-0 win to announce its arrival in the latter stages of Euro 2020.

Denmark's Kasper Dolberg celebrates with teammates after scoring against Wales.

Denmark’s players spoke of the emotional toll returning to finish the game of Eriksen’s collapse the same afternoon had on them, with several members of the squad criticizing UEFA for not allowing them to play the match the following day.

Given this group’s remarkable mental fortitude, Denmark fans may have perhaps already allowed themselves to start dreaming of a repeat of Euro ’92, when the national team secured its only major international trophy to date.

Awaiting them, however, is a Czech Republic side that secured one of the biggest upsets of the tournament so far.

The Czechs were hugely impressive in their 2-0 round of 16 win over the Netherlands, a team that many thought would go on a deep run at Euro 2020 after an impressive showing in the group stages.

Patrik Schick is mobbed by his teammates after scoring against the Netherlands.

Striker Patrik Schick has been one of the standout players of Euro 2020 and is the highest scorer remaining in the competition; another goal against Denmark would see him go level with Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the Golden Boot standings.

These teams will certainly be relishing playing each other, and for both, this will feel like a very realistic chance of progressing to the semifinals.

Switzerland vs. Spain

These teams were involved in two of the greatest European Championship matches we are ever likely to witness.

Trailing 3-1 to France with just nine minutes left to play, Switzerland somehow pulled itself level and went on to eliminate the defending world champion 5-4 on penalties, with the golden boy of French football, Kylian Mbappé, missing the decisive penalty.

The Swiss were certainly not lucky to come through that tie against France; they showed composure and quality that matched their more illustrious opponent’s all over the pitch.

Switzerland players celebrate after Kylian Mbappé misses the crucial penalty.

It was a remarkable, seemingly impossible, comeback and Switzerland will now rightly believe it can beat any team it comes up against.

Next opponent Spain somewhat spluttered through the group stages until a calamitous own goal from Slovakia goalkeeper Martin Dúbravka opened the floodgates for the first time at Euro 2020.

Luis Enrique’s side seemed to carry that confidence through to its last-16 match against Croatia, opening up a 3-1 lead with less than five minutes left to play.

However, Spain’s soft underbelly was exposed again as Croatia scored twice in the closing moments to force the tie into extra time.

Álvaro Morata had struggled at Euro 2020 until his goal against Croatia.

Much maligned striker Álvaro Morata, who had endured a torrid time in front of goal so far, rifled home a brilliant volley to give Spain the lead once again, before Mikel Oyarzabal sealed the win.

The odds makers now have Spain as second favorite to win Euro 2020 behind England, and while questions remain about the team as a whole, 10 goals scored in the last two matches will be enough to give any opposition defense sleepless nights.

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