With the group stages now complete, attention has turned to the knockout stages, where things get really interesting!! Teams can no longer play for a draw, so we will get to see their true quality, and which don’t have enough to advance into the latter stages of the tournament. Which teams will advance? Here, I have given some quick predictions for each of the last-16 ties.
Wales v Denmark
Wales have shown some quality in the tournament so far, but haven’t looked as good as they did in Euro 2016. Denmark, meanwhile, are playing simply for themselves, with no-one putting too much pressure on them after what happened to Christian Eriksen. This lack of pressure is hugely helping them, and I can see them advancing to the quarter-finals from this tie.
Italy v Austria
For me, this is not a difficult one to call. Austria have not looked like a strong team so far, with some poor performances during the group stages. Italy, meanwhile, have looked really strong and very impressive, with plenty of goals in them. For that reason, they are my dark horses in the tournament, and I don’t see this tie causing them too many problems once they have worked out a way of breaking down Austria’s defensive setup.
Netherlands v Czech Republic
This is another tie where both teams have quality, but one edges it for me. The Czech Republic have looked strong, and are definitely not a pushover, but the Netherlands have come back to the international stage with a point to prove, and I think they are showing everyone what the new generation of players can do. Add that to the experience of the likes of Gini Wijnaldum, and they are a dangerous side to underestimate. I can only see them advancing to the quarter-finals from this matchup.
Belgium v Portugal
This is perhaps the most interesting of the eight ties, as it pits the current World No. 1s against the defending champions. It is tricky to call this one, and I feel like it will come down to who plays better on the day. The Portuguese have looked defensively susceptible so far, drawing with France and losing to Germany, and have conceded some really poor goals, whilst Belgium have looked strong in all areas of the pitch, and are definitely up there as contenders to win the tournament. For that reason, I will go with Belgium to go through here.
Croatia v Spain
Spain have been one of the teams people have been talking about, but I have not been that excited watching them play so far. For me, they have lacked a cutting edge in attack, aside from the last game against Slovakia, but I think that was more to do with how poor the Slovakians were. Having said that, I do think they will get past Croatia here, as Croatia have yet to really turn up to this tournament I feel, and I don’t think they will have enough to get past Spain here.
France v Switzerland
I have been disappointed by Switzerland so far; I expected more from them. They do have good players, but have made some poor mistakes in their performances, which their opponents have capitalised on. France took a little while to get going, but the world champions now look like a team to be reckoned with. I think this could be a one-sided game, with France advancing to the next stage of the tournament.
England v Germany
England v Germany; what an enormous game this will be. Both teams are capable of playing well, and both are capable of crashing out. After a really poor World Cup in 2018, Germany seem to now have the balance right between bringing younger players into the team and keeping their experienced players, with their performance against Portugal a clear demonstration of the threat they pose. England have done enough so far, without setting the world on fire, but they always have a habit of getting the job done, and I feel like they will find a way to win this game too.
Sweden v Ukraine
This is perhaps the most low-key of the last 16 ties, with neither side likely to progress too far into the knockouts. However, Ukraine have looked good so far, and have posed a very real threat in the attacking half. Sweden play defensively, so I would expect them to sit back and make it difficult for the Ukrainians to score against them, but I do think that Ukraine will find a way to break them down and advance to the next round.