Preview, predictions for Euro 2020 quarterfinals
It's time for the quarterfinals at Euro 2020. Here's hoping the tournament saved some drama after an epic round of 16. Below, we examine the four matches on tap this week, highlighting the key factors that will determine which nations advance and predicting the result for each fixture.
Friday, July 2
Switzerland vs. Spain (12 p.m. ET)
- Venue: Krestovsky Stadium (St. Petersburg, Russia)
It's fitting that the winners of the two most scintillating last-16 matches now get the chance to replicate those performances against one another. Conventional wisdom suggests that after such explosive encounters, fans should expect fewer fireworks in the ensuing game. That's down, in part, to simple mental and physical fatigue; riding the rollercoaster as Spain and Switzerland did before coming back to do it all over again a few days later is taxing. The respective managers will also surely be hammering home the importance of defensive solidity after both sides conceded three goals in their last fixtures.
But at this point, who knows? Maybe Luis Enrique and Vladimir Petkovic will decide that their best chance to succeed is actually to go for broke. After slow starts to their respective tournaments, these two teams have combined for 16 goals in their last four outings; Spain's attack is purring, and the Swiss, so long a risk-averse unit, have found joy in trying to take the initiative and play on the front foot.
Switzerland can cause problems for an unconvincing Spanish backline - even if Unai Simon doesn't hand out any gifts this time - but Spain's depth should prove the difference for La Roja. Unlike Didier Deschamps and France, Enrique won't tie one hand behind his team's back from the opening whistle.
Prediction: Spain advances
Belgium vs. Italy (3 p.m. ET)
- Venue: Allianz Arena (Munich, Germany)
Based on sheer star power, this should be the most enticing match of the quarterfinals, at least on paper. In reality, though, Friday's second tilt could be defined more by who isn't on the pitch than by who is. All indications are that Belgium will be without creative force of nature Kevin De Bruyne and captain Eden Hazard after both suffered injuries in a slim last-16 win over Portugal. Romelu Lukaku is more than capable of taking over matches by himself, and he may be tasked with doing just that if neither De Bruyne nor Hazard is fit enough to feature in Munich. How Roberto Martinez lines up his team to mitigate the likely absences of his marquee playmakers - and ensure Lukaku isn't isolated up front - will be fascinating.
His counterpart on the opposite touchline, Roberto Mancini, also has some important decisions to make. There are growing calls for Mancini to insert the electrifying Federico Chiesa into the starting lineup over Domenico Berardi after the Juventus winger's dynamic performance off the bench in Italy's extra-time triumph against Austria. Influential captain Giorgio Chiellini, meanwhile, is progressing toward recovery after suffering a muscle injury earlier in the tournament and could return for the Azzurri.
The individual battles across the pitch are tantalizing here. Who will win the midfield scuffle? Who will grab the upper hand down the flank between Leonardo Spinazzola, perhaps Italy's standout player thus far at the Euros, and the rampaging Thomas Meunier? Can aging center-backs on both sides handle the prolific strikers they'll be tasked with slowing down? Expect a tight affair that could require more than 90 minutes.
Prediction: Italy advances on penalties
Saturday, July 3
Czech Republic vs. Denmark (12 p.m. ET)
- Venue: Baku Olympic Stadium (Baku, Azerbaijan)
Denmark arrives in Baku as the favorite to reach the semifinals after transforming adversity into achievement following the collapse of creative fulcrum Christian Eriksen and defeats in its first two outings.
Since those losses to Finland - which was entirely understandable considering the circumstances - and Belgium, the Danes have been an irrepressible attacking force. Kasper Hjulmand's men are joint-second in the tournament with Italy on nine goals scored, tied with Spain for top spot in shots on target per match (7.3), and third in successful dribbles (11.5). Much of the attacking impetus comes from the left side, where wing-back Joakim Maehle and Eriksen stand-in Mikkel Damsgaard have been penetrative threats and the team's best source of service for the suddenly in-form Kasper Dolberg.
Like Denmark, the Czech Republic has legitimate claims to the "Team of Destiny" mantle after stunning the Netherlands in a comprehensive last-16 victory. Patrik Schick's four goals have helped plenty, as has the play of West Ham duo Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal. But the Czechs will have to be tidier against a Denmark side that can break on the counter in the blink of an eye. Jaroslav Silhavy's team has completed just 75.3% of its passes - the lowest among the 24 teams at Euro 2020 and nearly 10% worse than its opponent Saturday in Azerbaijan.
Prediction: Denmark advances
Ukraine vs. England (3 p.m. ET)
- Venue: Stadio Olimpico (Rome, Italy)
England the overwhelming favorite in the quarterfinal of a major tournament? What a time to be alive. After ending the nation's curse against Germany, the Three Lions are superbly positioned to reach the final and will meet a Ukraine side coming off a punishing, potentially Pyrrhic last-16 victory over Sweden. Can Andriy Shevchenko's team - full of faces very familiar to England players and supporters - find the energy to go again after expending so much of it just to reach this point?
The biggest question surrounding England, meanwhile, hinges on a potential formation shift from Gareth Southgate. After he reverted to a three-man defense against Germany, this contest may call for a more offensively minded approach; four across the back, with newfound national hero Jack Grealish reinserted into the starting lineup for more attacking impetus, seems the obvious move. Southgate's ethos has always been to keep things tight defensively - boring football is perfectly fine by him if it delivers results. But he can still accomplish that while lining up his team to take the initiative against a beleaguered opponent that figures to sit back and cede possession. England, the only team yet to concede a goal in this tournament, can grind out the win if necessary. But it really shouldn't have to.
Euro 2020 has served as a stark reminder to never rule out the underdog. But actually predicting the favorite to fall - against all evidence - is another matter entirely.
Prediction: England advances in extra time
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