We are now certainly at the business end of Euro 2020. Four major powers have fallen, most notably of all pre-tournament favorites France, whose penalty shootout defeat to Switzerland could have major ramifications throughout the competition. Which of the eight still standing are best placed to win it all? We rank them here:
1. Italy (4-0-0)
Previous rank: 1. Their victory over Austria was not the sort of comprehensive thumping Roberto Mancini’s side were giving out in the group stage, but it was perhaps a more authoritative display than the 2-1 score suggested. In the first half 13 of the game’s 14 shots were taken by Italy, had they been somewhat more shrewd in their selection they might have established another early lead.
Meanwhile Marco Verratti is playing with the ease of a man in the perfect environment for his talents. After two games he is now averaging 9.23 shot creating actions per 90 minutes, according to fbref. By way of comparison Sweden had hit 10.67 across their entire team before their round of 16 tie. Belgium will be a stern test but the authority and composure with which Italy have gone about their task so far means they ought to be treated as favorites for that quarter-final and with it the tournament as a whole.
2. Spain (2-2-0)
Previous rank: 7. These rankings have been a little sniffy when it comes to Spain so far in this tournament, questioning whether in a tournament environment they can really be trusted to convert their dominance of possession and territory into goals. Well, it is probably fair to say we called that one wrong. In their last two games Luis Enrique’s side have been an offensive juggernaut, scoring 10 and twice overcoming defensive wobbles to eliminate Croatia. That they did that suggests those questions of mentality might have been ill-placed.
Certainly their performances as a whole deserved more credit than they received and a degree of trust that a team creating this volume of shooting opportunities would eventually come good. In their four games so far the Spanish have registered non-penalty expected goals (npxG) tallies of 1.9, 1.4, 2.3 and 3.4. They are the only team in the competition to average higher than two npxG per 90. Yes some of those shots will be taken by Alvaro Morata, a player you still trust less the better the opportunity, but other opportunities will fall to the likes of Ferran Torres, Dani Olmo and Pablo Sarabia, three stars of the tournament so far. This team is a serious contender, it took far too long for this column to see that.
3. England (3-1-0)
Previous rank: 4. Even amid the jubilation of a first knockout win over Germany since 1966 it is worth asking whether such a reactive approach is the best way for England to win this tournament. Certainly it gives them fine margins with which to operate when they are looking to shield their relatively weak center backs in such great numbers. Yet it is hard to argue that Gareth Southgate’s are not carrying out their plan quite expertly.
Germany were the first of four opponents to register more than one expected goal (xG) in a game against the Three Lions and even that was significantly down to an error by John Stones that was completely out of character. Jordan Pickford is still yet to concede a goal whilst at the other end the likes of Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish are all providing just about enough of a cutting edge. The draw is sitting favorably for England, it is hard to see them not making a deep run in this competition.
4. Belgium (4-0-0)
Previous rank: 3. They beat Portugal and that is the main concern. When the draw places you against another one of Europe’s most star-studded sides there is no cause for quibbling with mere progress. However, Belgium still have the air of a team that can beat you with a moment of exceptional individualism but precious little else. It should be said that those moments have been fairly frequent so far in this tournament, particularly from Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne, and Thorgan Hazard’s winner in Seville might have been the best yet.
In their two toughest tests Roberto Martinez’s side have won the game rather than the argument. Against Portugal (0.2 to 1.1) and Denmark (1.1 to 1.8) their xG have been alarmingly less than their opponents. The latter is all the more worrying when it was a game they had to chase, one where there did not seem to be much of an underlying plan to do so. Never mind, sometimes De Bruyne will turn the tide. Not in the quarterfinal, however, where he will likely miss the match and that could spell an early end to Belgium’s Euro 2020 campaign.
5. Denmark (2-0-2)
Previous rank: 9. The most heartwarming story of the tournament, Denmark have got their just rewards for all the off field turbulence — and performances in the first two games that did not get the results they merited — in thumping victories over Russia and Wales. Additionally, the crowd at Parken Stadium might just have been the stars of the tournament, an orchestra of noise and excitement that players feed off to reach ever greater heights.
While the likes of Mikkel Damsgaard and Kasper Dolberg have caught the eye, it is worth noting how parsimonious this team have been at the other end. Ahead of the final two round of 16 ties the only teams who allowed their opponents a lower npxG per 90 minutes than Denmark had been France, Italy and England. Kasper Hjullmand’s move to a back three has tightened things up at one end without sacrificing punch in the final third, in no small part thanks to the marauding Joakim Maehle and a rejuvenated Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.
6. Czech Republic (2-1-1)
Previous rank: 11. Their victory over the Netherlands was thoroughly impressive, one where they looked to be a strong approximation of the Slavia Prague side that forms the core of Jaroslav Silhavy’s squad. They did what they do as well as any team in the tournament, pressed smartly and in packs while keeping an eye out for passing lanes that could be closed down for quick interceptions.
Full backs Vladimir Coufal and Jan Boril have particularly excelled at that, the pair lead Euro 2020 in terms of interceptions, and then do a fine job of driving counterattacks up the pitch. Add to that the dynamism of midfield duo Tomas Holes and Tomas Soucek and you have a team that can win the ball back and punish you swiftly as they did for their second goal against the Netherlands. They will likely be underdogs against Denmark but you suspect that may suit the Czech Republic to a tee.
7. Switzerland (1-2-1)
Previous rank: 13. Though the quality they showed in beating France should not be underestimated, Granit Xhaka’s dominance of midfield and Haris Seferovic’s precise headed finishing should also be weighed against the tactical failings of Didier Deschamps, who effectively handed the game to Switzerland in the first half.
If there has been a shining light in this tournament for the Swiss it has been Xhaka, whose 13 shot creating actions from live passes are bettered only by Hojbjerg and Pedri. The Arsenal midfielder, though perhaps not for much longer, also ranks in Euro 2020’s top ten for passes into the attacking third, progressive passes and passes received. He is the hub of this Switzerland side and they are playing all the better for it.
8. Ukraine (2-0-2)
Previous rank: 15. The walking wounded will head to Rome after what was a grueling if invigorating late win over Sweden, one where Oleksandr Zinchenko looked like he could be the answer to a midfield problem Pep Guardiola unfortunately does not have at Manchester City. In each of their four games so far their build up has been elegant but only in the victories over North Macedonia and Sweden did they really convert that into a high volume of shooting opportunities.
Ultimately they may just be an awkward match up for their opponents, plenty of possession without much penetration making for the sort of side that England will be happy to hold at arm’s length before Sterling does the business at the other end.
Finally, here’s how we’ve ranked those teams who have now departed the competition, with 17 and onwards having exited in the group stage. In spite of their elimination, how could you not bump Croatia a few spots up?
9. France (1-2-1): Previous rank: 2
10. Croatia (1-1-2): Previous rank: 12
11. Portugal (1-1-2): Previous rank: 6
12. Germany (1-1-2): Previous rank: 8
13. Netherlands (3-0-1): Previous rank: 5
14. Sweden (2-1-1): Previous rank: 10
15. Austria (2-0-2): Previous rank: 16
16. Wales (1-1-2): Previous rank: 14
17. Hungary (0-2-1)
18. Finland (1-0-2)
19. Slovakia (1-0-2)
20. Poland (1-0-2)
21. Russia (1-0-2)
22. Scotland (0-1-2)
23. North Macedonia (0-0-3)
24. Turkey (0-0-3): Previous rank: 23.