The Round of 16 of UEFA Euro 2020 produced some of the best football we have ever witnessed in decades. While the group stages didn’t really give us too many upsets, the first set of knock-out matches have certainly captured our imaginations with some exhilarating clashes and brilliant results.
The Euro 2020 quarterfinals do feature some of the tournament’s usual suspects but will also bear witness to a host of surprise entries. The Czech Republic, for instance, defied all odds to defeat the Netherlands in their Round of 16 clash and thoroughly deserve their place in this weekend’s set of fixtures.
Ukraine got the better of Sweden in a game that went right down to the wire and produced a winner in the last minute of open play. Switzerland pulled off an even bigger upset and stunned France in a penalty shoot-out for the ages.
The highlight of the Round of 16, for me, was England’s historic victory against Germany in front of a raucous crowd at Wembley. Gareth Southgate and his men have really found their stride and have been defensively solid this summer.
The spectacle we saw in the Round of 16 will take some beating, but the teams that have made it to the Euro 2020 quarterfinals are quite capable of producing the extraordinary. There’s nothing quite like a knock-out game in an international tournament, and the Euro 2020 games have not disappointed this year.
After studying the games we’ve watched this week, I’ve made my predictions and have also chosen one standout player from the Euro 2020 quarterfinals that are being played this weekend.
#4 Switzerland vs Spain
The way Spain are going at the moment, they can be a massive threat at Euro 2020. They’ve put the ball in the back of the net 10 times in their last two games. Luis Enrique and his players were tested by a strong Croatia side but their quality and experience on the big stage helped them to an important victory.
After what they did to France, however, you can never rule Switzerland out of a match. We all thought they were on their way to victory after they took the lead but France showed their hand for a brief ten-minute spell and turned it around. The Swiss pulled off a great comeback, though, and showed us just what can happen when the underdogs take the game to Europe’s bigger teams.
Switzerland played their hearts out in extra time and the massive effort they put in would have taken its toll. Spain also had to play the full 120 minutes against Croatia but didn’t get run around too much. Luis Enrique’s men keep much more of the ball than Switzerland and should be in much better physical shape going into this Euro 2020 quarter-final.
It’s only a matter of time before these longer matches begin to have an effect on the players. Spain have brilliant players like Pedri who don’t need to make runs and beat five players – they see passes very well and find pockets of space. It is important for Switzerland to have another go this weekend, but Spain are real dark horses this time and I’m backing them to win this game and book their place in the semi-finals of Euro 2020.
Player to Watch: Alvaro Morata
Cesc Fabregas mentioned on-air the other day that Alvaro Morata’s penalty miss against Slovakia would have affected his confidence. After that goal he scored against Croatia, though, I’d say he’s certainly got his mojo back. Morata becomes a bigger presence when he scores and his confidence should serve him well in the knockout stages of Euro 2020.
Prediction: Spain 2-0 Switzerland
#3 Belgium vs Italy
I was very disappointed with the way Belgium played their game against Portugal – they were overly negative and were far too reliant on Romelu Lukaku to get them through the game. They did manage to win by a 1-0 margin but with Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard both injured, Italy have the upper hand in this Euro 2020 quarterfinal.
You’ve got to have luck on your side to win tournaments like Euro 2020, and Italy benefitted from their fair share when VAR intervened to rule Arnautovic’s goal offside. Italy have great forwards and when you have someone like Chiesa coming off the bench to score late goals, you’re always in with a chance.
Italy enjoyed a fairly comfortable run in Group A against Turkey, Wales and Switzerland but were given a run for their money by Austria. They passed their litmus test in the Round of 16 against a robust team and now that they have the monkey off their backs, they’ll be better off going into the bigger games of the tournament.
I thought Mancini got it wrong with Verratti – Locatelli is in great form at the moment and should have played against Austria. Belgium’s defense did well against Portugal and effectively proved that age doesn’t matter, but I’d fancy a victory for Italy this weekend.
Player to Watch: Lorenzo Insigne
Lorenzo Insigne likes to play in those nice little spaces and can work between the lines to cause pertinent problems. The Belgians like to bomb forward but will be in two minds – do they attack or do they track back and stay with him? It’s going to be a bit like a game of cards in the end, and I have a feeling Belgium will be more worried about Insigne than the other way round.
Prediction: Belgium 1-2 Italy