Euro 2016: Predictions for the quarter-finals
With the UEFA Euro 2016 Round of 16 done and dusted, four enticing quarter-finals are now upon us. A total of 24 teams began the football tournament, but only the elite 8 remain, and soon enough, they’ll be down to only four.
The pre-quarterfinal round had its fair share of thrills and spills, including Antonio Conte’s tactical masterclass against the Spaniards, as well as Iceland’s stunning triumph. But now it’s time to look forward to the next set of fixtures. Let’s glance into the crystal ball and make a few predictions for the upcoming quarter-final games.
1. Poland vs Portugal
It all begins at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille, where Poland meet Portugal. Both sides had to walk the extra mile in the previous encounter to get here and now, they have to gear up for another excruciating tie.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. are the obvious favourites entering the fray, having ousted Croatia in the round of 16. But the tie has the potential to be a banana skin encounter for them.
The White Eagles may have struggled in the attack, but their defense has been excellent. With just one goal conceded in four games in the competition, Poland’s stoic rearguard may hold them in good stead in the match, although the frontline needs to start firing on all cylinders. Robert Lewandowski is yet to find the net, whereas Arkadiusz Milik has a solitary goal to his name.
The Poles have relied on Jakub Blaszczykowski’s goals since the last two outings, but they cannot always expect him to bail them out. The Seleccao are beginning to click into gear, and Ronaldo will be hungry for goals.
Prediction – Given the teams’ terrific work at the back, it may boil down to which attack emerges more prolific. We expect a tight game, but predict that Portugal will sneak through by a hair’s breadth. Expect either Ronaldo or Nani to make the difference.
2. Wales vs Belgium
These sides know each other inside out, having met twice during the qualifiers. The first-leg in Brussels ended goal-less, but Wales pulled off an upset in the return. However, their latest clash bears far more significance and in a game like this, history goes out of the window.
The Dragons are currently riding a wave of confidence, having topped their group and also beaten Northern Ireland in the last 16. The underdogs of the UK are scripting a fairytale that is set to live long in the memory, but Belgium will be their toughest test thus far.
The Red Devils are fresh from hammering Hungary with four unanswered goals, banishing the bitter memories of the 2-0 loss to Italy on the opening day effectively. Marc Wilmots’ side are becoming the team that everyone was expecting of them, and now with Eden Hazard also reconjuring his best, Wales have a huge storm to weather.
Prediction – Wales’ fearless attitude has been commendable, and he certainly won't back down at the prospect of facing Belgium. However, the immense quality that Hazard and co. have has started to come to the fore, and it may be just too much for Chris Coleman’s side to handle.
Wales won’t go down without a fight, but Belgium will likely eke out a 2-1 win.
3. Germany vs Italy
The most glamorous match-up of the quarter-finals sees two European heavyweights with a rich history in major competitions battling it out once again. Both sides are now the two biggest favourites remaining to lift the trophy in Paris, but after this weekend, one will see their title bid come to an abrupt end.
The Azzurri have laid down the gauntlet after a clinical display in the 2-0 defeat of Spain, and will once again look to take the game to the Mannschaft, who have only found their form recently. After a mixed performance in the group stages, the world champions turned on the style in the 3-0 defeat of Slovakia, and they need to perform in the same vein to have any chance against Antonio Conte’s band of swashbucklers.
Italy beat Germany 2-1 in the semi-finals of the 2012 edition, but the latter will be eyeing revenge this time.
Prediction – This game has all the ingredients to be a classic. Both sides boast an impeccable defensive record in the competition – Italy have conceded only once whereas Germany still remain unbreached – but the more potent attack of the two may decide the tie.
Expect Mario Gomez to strike late and break the Italian hearts. This is set to be Germany’s first competitive victory over Italy.
4. France vs Iceland
The last quarter-final fixture may not be as high-profile as the others, but it is still worth keeping an eye on.
Whilst France have limped their way here, Iceland are creating one of the most memorable underdog stories in European history. In their first ever major international event, the Strakarnir Okkar came out of group F unbeaten and ahead of the likes of Portugal and Austria,. But what was most stunning was their 2-1 victory over England in the last 16.
It was one of the greatest upsets in the history of the competition, and Iceland are hungry for more. Les Blues, on the other hand, have still not hit full throttle, and only a few moments of quality have bailed them out.
It will take more than just that to beat this Icelandic team who are looking to emulate the Greece side of 2004. Will France step up to end this fairytale?
Prediction – The Nordic nation have the force on their side and will go all guns blazing to cause another major upset. France have all the tools in their armory to stop them, but those will count only if they execute their plans to perfection.
We predict France to nick this 2-1, with Antoine Griezmann or Dimitri Payet doing the damage. Iceland’s fairytale will likely come to a halt.