Maybe it’s because of the year delay. Maybe it’s because of the return of supporters around the world. Whatever it may be, UEFA Euro 2020 is officially off the rails in the best way possible. As per usual, pundits and writers (including myself) thought they could come close to predicting what would occur in the Round of 16. But as we know, it is impossible to predict something that has never occurred before.
Now, after four extra-time matches, two multiple goal comebacks, and our first penalty shootout of the tournament, we’re ready to go again with the next stage of Euro 2020. Eight teams have a shot at being crowned champions, but at this stage, the opposition is as tough as ever.
While predictions may seem futile after this past round, here’s a taste of what to expect when the quarterfinals kickoff later today:
Switzerland vs. Spain
Both of these teams are fortunate to be here still having survived the chaos of their previous matches. Switzerland pulled off the shock the tournament when they scored twice late in the second half to send their match vs. France into extra time, where they would eventually win in a penalty shootout. Spain were on the wrong end of a two-goal comeback but managed to score twice in extra time to beat Croatia 5-3.
Switzerland will hope that the offensive prowess they showed vs. France continues into this match as they face an opponent that has scored 10 goals in their past two games. While they still have moments in front of goal that make you scratch your head, Spain are getting contributions from everywhere, and the likes of Koke, Pablo Sarabia, and Pedri continue to pull the strings in midfield.
Switzerland will be confident in the knowledge that they can comeback if they go down in this match, boasting a talented midfield themselves with Xherdan Shaqiri and Steven Zuber. However, Spain haven’t held the ball less than 62 percent of the time in any of their matches so far. With that type of control, they should be able to manage the game and find a way to advance vs. this Switzerland team.
Belgium vs. Italy
The biggest matchup of this round features the remaining two teams who have won every match at this tournament so far, only conceding one goal apiece along the way. Italy were pushed by Austria in their match, but ended up winning 2-1 in extra time, while Belgium eliminated the reigning champions in Portugal by a score of 1-0.
The main question mark headed into this match is the physical status of Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard for Belgium. Both were subbed off due to injury in their last match and the updates from manager Roberto Martinez haven’t been encouraging. Either player’s absence, especially De Bruyne’s, would swing momentum in favor of Italy.
This match will come down to Italy’s speed and skill on the wings vs. Belgium’s veteran defense while Romelu Lukaku will look to utilize his strength vs. plenty of familiar foes in the Italian defense that could welcome back captain Giorgio Chiellini. This match could come down to penalties in the end, and if that’s the case, history says bet on the Italians.
Czech Republic vs. Denmark
What this matchup might lack in sizzle, it brings in positive story-lines. Not many people outside of their own country expected the Czech Republic to make it out of Group D, much less beat the highest scoring team in the tournament at the time in the Netherlands. On the flip side, many would have understood if Denmark bowed out after what happened to Christian Eriksen, but they managed to persevere, and crushed Wales 4-0 in the knockout round.
It’s no secret who needs to come up big for the Czechs if they want to advance. Striker Patrik Schick is tied for second at the Euros with four goals while the rest of his team only has one. They face a Denmark offense hoping to get back Yussuf Poulsen to pair with Kasper Dolberg and Martin Braithwaite in attack. Both defenses will be encouraged that they were able to keep a clean sheet in their previous match.
The Czech Republic have been opportunistic in their matches at this tournament while Denmark have ridden a huge wave of emotion playing for their recovering teammate. This match could be low scoring as both teams know they have a great chance to advance, but the totality of Denmark’s squad will show through to lead them to the semifinals.
Ukraine vs. England
England were able to finally vanquish their longtime foe in Germany to advance to this stage of Euro 2020. Now they find themselves in a scenario similar to what they faced in 2016 when they were the overwhelming favorites vs. an upstart football nation. Ukraine will look to take on the role of Iceland in this match, having found a way to beat Sweden in extra time in the Round of 16.
England were able to equal their offensive output from the group stage in their match vs. Germany while also keeping their fourth straight clean sheet. That second component will be extremely important considering that Ukraine have been great offensively so far, especially on the counterattack.
The main story-line for England will be if Raheem Sterling can keep up his scoring form or if Harry Kane’s goal vs. Germany was the first of many. Meanwhile, Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk have done the most damage in front of net for Ukraine.
If England can maintain their grip on the defensive end while being a little more pragmatic on offense, they shouldn’t have too much trouble putting Ukraine away. However, if the match remains tied or close as if moves further on, England could find themselves on the end of another embarrassing defeat.