Euro 2020: R16 Recap and QF preview
Hi, I’ve been having a lovely time watching the Euros. I’ve seen almost all the R16 action so here’s a recap of what happened, how close I was with my predictions and what I think is going to happen in the Quarter Final stage, which is happening on Friday and Saturday.
WALES VS. DENMARK
I predicted a comfortable 2-0 win for Denmark and I was right on the money, until they added two more at the end with Wales effectively giving up. Wales came out after the game complaining about travel schedule and blaming UEFA for giving bigger countries an easier ride in this tournament. It felt quite bitter, compared to Wales’ glorious run to the semi’s back in 2016. Would they have overcome Denmark if they’d been allowed travelling fans? It probably would have been closer.
ITALY VS. AUSTRIA
My assertion that Italy were “way ahead of Austria” and “should win comfortably” didn’t exactly play out as Austria took Italy to extra time. Austria actually played a sensational tactical game. Reducing midfield space and harrying players who’ve been allowed too much time on the ball in the group stages. Italy were still too good. The Chiesa goal alone showed that and although Italy lost their clean sheets record they look like one of the best teams in the Euros. If not THE best. Despite huffing and puffing and playing badly, they still won.
Score: 2-1 AET
NETHERLANDS VS. CZECH REPUBLIC
I said this would be tight and it was…until de Ligt got sent off. At 0-0 Netherlands looked more likely but with ten men they weren’t sure how to change the game and got picked off. The Czechs are a very organised side with tough midfielders. There’s nothing special about them and they are fortunate to be going to the quarters but it goes to show that team unity and organisation can take you far in these tournaments.
BELGIUM VS. PORTUGAL
I said in my preview this would be one of the hardest games to predict and then got the score exactly correct. I pointed out how poor Portugal’s star-studded midfield had been at this tournament and that continued. Belgium even managed to survive without Kevin de Bruyne who went off injured.
CROATIA VS. SPAIN
Here’s where you can laugh at me. I said this would be “tight”, predicted it would go to penalties and predicted a 1-1 draw. Instead we had one of the most dramatic games of the tournament. Starting with a wild Spain own goal, then a dominating performance from Spain. Spain led 3-1 late on only for Croatia to equalise in the last minute to take it to extra time. Spain scored twice in extra time to win 5-3. An absolutely unreal game. Wonderful entertainment value. Not the game I predicted!
Prediction: 1-1 (Spain to win)
FRANCE VS. SWITZERLAND
I said it’s “about time for France to start really playing” and we saw that…after they went 1-0 down. But the French side that masterminded a 3-1 lead was also the French side that let it slip, conceding two dramatic late goals in the process. Much the same as Spain vs. Croatia. Only here, there was no dominant win in extra time.
Score: 3-3 (Switzerland win on pens)
ENGLAND VS. GERMANY
My prediction for this game was one word: “penalties”. I am absolutely fucking thrilled that didn’t happen. Instead England largely controlled the game against historically one of the best countries in world football and engineered a 2-0 victory. I didn’t enjoy the game at all. It was way too tense. I was having 1990 flashbacks. And 1996 flashbacks. Back when I really, really cared about England at major tournaments. My heart was still in my mouth when Muller broke through at 1-0 but I also jumped for joy when Kane’s goal went in with a few minute’s left. This feels like a huge weight lifted off the shoulders of so many England fans. Germany will be back. They have a knack of quickly rebuilding and Hansi Flick is waiting in the wings. This generation of England players looks like an improvement over previous, more star-studded, teams. Teamwork being the key. That and playing very defensively.
SWEDEN VS. UKRAINE
Just to round out my incompetence comes this game, which I said would be Sweden’s on account of their superior defence. It didn’t really work out like that. It was very close, Ukraine’s younger, more exciting side just about edged it in extra time.
So, I got 4/8 teams advancing correct. Only one scoreline perfect. So you probably shouldn’t take too much heed of my Quarter Final predictions but here they are anyway!
SWITZERLAND VS. SPAIN
Switzerland is obviously a huge shock and Spain will probably be happier playing them than playing France. I spoke to a Swiss fan after the win against France and it was pretty evident he felt they’d done great but probably wouldn’t contest the championship. Beating France was their “Final”. That said, once you make it this far it’s 90 minutes away from the semis. Spain seems to have found their goalscoring form, at exactly the right time, banging in 10 goals in two games, having previously scored 1 in the previous two games. Spain will always create chances and as long as they’re taking them they will be tough to beat. The Swiss will surely play it more cautiously so we could see an attack vs. Defence scenario. Spain have faced that already and while Sweden and Poland held them to draws they had chances to annihilate both of those sides and just didn’t take them. I think Spain are too strong and should advance. Just.
BELGIUM VS. ITALY
This is the battle of the heavyweights in the quarters. Italy are surely tournament favourites with France eliminated. Belgium have looked solid so far but there are nagging fitness doubts about several of their best players. De Bruyne and Eden Hazard went off hurt against Portugal. While Romelu Lukaku can normally make things happen on his own, Italy has one of the most resolute defences in the world. The way Italy can cycle players in and out of their starting eleven makes me feel they have too much strength in depth. They can make changes and keep coming at Belgium for 120 minutes. I don’t think Belgium has that luxury on their bench.
CZECH REPUBLIC VS. DENMARK
Denmark has had an incredible tournament after seeing their talismanic midfield creator Christian Eriksen die on the pitch in the first game. He recovered, as did Denmark. After losing their opener to Finland and being bested by a good Belgium team they’ve sparked into a higher gear. The fans are driving them on. They have a sense of unity above just about every other side left. The Czechs have been solid but Denmark has that special something that elevates them here. They’re playing with unreal passion and if they can keep that going it’s a dream trip to the semis for the Danes.
UKRAINE VS. ENGLAND
While the temptation is to say that England will lose, as reverse psychology seems to work on this bunch of players, the win over Germany has elevated hopes around the England camp. There will be an air of positivity around them going into their quarter final game. Ukraine are a talented bunch of lads. They have a young, hungry side that’s a creative force going forwards. Any team that makes the quarter finals of a major tournament is doing something right. It won’t make a cakewalk for England but Gareth Southgate’s defensive approach could get them past a Ukraine team that’s looked shaky defensively.
I’ll drop back in on Sunday and we’ll see how I, and the teams, did. Considering I predicted a France vs. Portugal final pre-tournament…I imagine I’ll be predicting semi finals of Switzerland vs. Belgium and Czech Republic vs. Ukraine. What a wild semi-final line up that would be!