With the UEFA Euro 2020 knockout stages set to commence later today, there is awe and anticipation in equal measure. We're at the exciting stage of the tournament but the group stage was exciting as well, so it's a fortunate thing for viewers across the world.
Some of these ties might look straightforward on paper, but a handful of games at Euro 2020 so far haven't quite followed the script. Hungary getting draws against France and Germany is not something most of us would have predicted, indicating that the knockout stages could be hard to call as well.
When I look at the fixtures for the knockout stages of Euro 2020, I don't see too many games being easy to call. It goes without saying that Portugal vs Belgium and England vs Germany could both go either way, but I'm going to continue saying England are going to win Euro 2020 till we get eliminated!
As for some of the other games, Wales vs Denmark could well go down to penalties, while the Netherlands vs Czech Republic clash is unlikely to be an easy win for the Dutch.
The funny thing about football is, a lot was said about momentum and players getting regular game time under their belt before the tournament. However, Danny Ward, the Wales goalkeeper, has been one of the best shot-stoppers at Euro 2020 so far, adding value to claims that nothing is easy to call when it comes to the grandest stage.
This is when players can make themselves heroes, the occasion hardly ever gets bigger than this. That said, I've looked at all the squads and picked out five players who could be X-factors for their respective sides in the knockout stages of Euro 2020.
#5 Marcel Sabitzer | Austria, RB Leipzig
Marcel Sabitzer is a player I've always spoken about in high regard, he's been a consistent player for RB Leipzig for the past two seasons and has also shown his class in the UEFA Champions League. Austria making it through to the knockout stages of Euro 2020 means he has the chance to prove himself as one of the best players in Europe and he can do just that with a top performance against Italy.
When you talk about momentum and quality, Italy seem like the best team in the competition currently. They won each of their three group games and did so without conceding a single goal, so they will head into the game against Austria as the overwhelming favorites and with a lot of confidence.
That said, the beauty lies in the fact that no one knows how they'll react after conceding a goal. Italy are coming on the back of 10 successive clean sheets in all competitions, but all good runs eventually come to an end. Sabitzer has the quality to undo the Italians, he just needs one big performance to make himself known to the wider audience.
What he offers is a clinical kind of passing for the attackers to feed on and he's also capable of popping one in from distance with a moment of magic. I watched him before the tournament and realized that there's more to his game. He's not just about getting in the groove and making the decisive pass, he is also capable of doing his defensive duties to stifle opposition attacks.
I've watched him for a few years now and some England players even spoke highly of his performances in the UEFA Champions League. He is at the peak of his powers and is the key man for Austria. If they get a positive result against Italy, Sabitzer is likely to be involved.
#4 Federico Chiesa | Italy, Juventus
While Marcel Sabizer is likely to be Austria's danger man, Federico Chiesa is someone Italy could turn to in the knockout stages of Euro 2020. He was used sparingly in the group stages and started the third game after his side secured qualification, so it would appear that there's been a slow introduction of the Juventus man to the tournament.
When he is performing at his best, he's a delight for anyone to watch and an absolute nightmare for defenders to face. The thing I enjoy the most about Chiesa is watching his reactions after a passage of play - there's almost a childlike innocence about him. You can see it in his face that he is eager to do his best.
He's capable of winning games for his side and showed exactly that for Juventus last season, having played a pivotal role in their push for a UEFA Champions League spot. He can do just about anything and is amongst a lot of young players with Italy.
Chiesa has shown flashes of his brilliance so far and is likely to get his chance in the games ahead, but you just have to wonder if Roberto Mancini will make changes to his starting XI that played the first two group stage games at Euro 2020. They are in their groove, so he might be tempted to play the same side and keep them going. Italy are producing game after game, Mancini has the wonderful headache of choosing a starting XI from a talented pool of players and keeping the balance of his side right.
Will Chiesa get a start in the Euro 2020 Round of 16 encounter against Austria? Only time will tell.