The Matildas enjoyed a raucous and triumphant homecoming with a thrilling 3-1 defeat of Brazil at CommBank Stadium on Saturday.
Some serious talent was punted from Euro 2020 over the last few days and now just eight teams remain in the running to claim the title of kings of Europe.
Giant killers Switzerland will look to continue the fairy tale against a seemingly improving Spain, Belgium face the might of Italy with injury concerns likely to make them rank outsiders, whilst Czech Republic and Denmark live the dream draw when they do battle in Baku.
The final quarter-final sees Ukraine out to destroy the English cart apple in Rome of all places and should the Three Lions advance to the final four, the cries of “football’s coming home” will only grow in volume. Let’s go Ukraine.
Good luck with your tips for the quarter-finals and be sure to enter them in the sheet below to have a say as the voice of the crowd. Just a point behind the ladder leading Texi Smith, that voice could well claim the tipping title come tournament’s end. Here are the thoughts of the panel on all the quarter-final action.
Switzerland, Belgium, Czech Republic, England
Switzerland came into the Euros as an unsung outfit, but coach Vladimir Petkovic and his players will leave with their reputations well and truly enhanced. They possess one of the best goalkeepers in the world in Yann Sommer and in the often-maligned Haris Seferovic, they’ve finally have a striker in goal-scoring touch.
As for Spain, this side isn’t a patch on their tiki-taka glory days. They usually have a pretty watertight defence but goalkeeper Unai Simon will be rattled by the 5-3 extra-time defeat of Croatia, whilst they still have the same problem of Alvaro Morata missing a boatload of chances up front. The fact that this game is in Saint Petersburg probably won’t help either side, but I’m tipping Switzerland to win here in a boil over.
With questions over the fitness of Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, you’d have to think Italy will start as favourites in Munich. That being said, the Italians huffed and puffed to knock over Austria in the Round of 16 and I just wonder if many of these Belgians don’t realise this tournament represents their best-ever chance to win an international trophy.
Belgium showed in their 1-0 win over Portugal that it only takes one chance to win a knock-out game such as this. Even if De Bruyne and Eden Hazard don’t feature, they’ve got enough quality all over the pitch to knock off the Azzurri. Couple that with the fact that Italy have looked a bit like flat-track bullies in their long winning run and I reckon this might be the end of the road for Roberto Mancini’s men.
The Czech Republic have been one of the tournament’s surprise packages, even if a team containing the individual talent of Patrik Schick was always going to be pretty handy. The Czechs are one of the most tightly-knit squads in the tournament and even if their football isn’t all that awe-inspiring, they proved with their 2-0 win over a woeful Dutch outfit that they know what it takes to win.
Denmark will expect to go into this game as favourites, but a couple of things should count against them. For one thing, the Danes played all of their group-stage games in Copenhagen, before having to make the relatively short trip to Amsterdam for their Round of 16 clash win over Wales. The fact that this game is in far-flung Baku against a Czech side that are used to playing as underdogs means it’s got a Czech upset written all over it.
It would be a very England thing for the team to down bitter rivals Germany, only to fall in the next round against an unheralded Ukrainian side. The exit of France however, means the tournament has been busted wide open. Someone has to win it and the English surely have as much right as any team, particularly with Raheem Sterling in such irresistible form up front.
There’s a tendency in the English-speaking media to vastly overinflate the ability of teams from the Anglo world and ignore the abilities of pretty much everyone else, which is why Ukraine’s journey to the quarter-finals will have come as a surprise to many. Andriy Shevchenko’s team are a well-drilled outfit capable of stinging sides on the break, but they’ll run into an England side that for once should live up to its own hype.
Spain, Italy, Denmark, Ukraine
The Swiss will be channelling Greece in the lead up to their clash with Spain, knowing full well that something quite astonishing is actually on the cards should they manage to sneak past the men in red and yellow. However, could the most emotional and dramatic downfall occur with Spanish hopes as high as they have been for some time? Probably not this time, as Spain advance to the semi-finals after extra-time.
Italy has played with a quiet and reserved confidence throughout the tournament thus far and are proving mighty difficult to score against. That will serve them well in knock out play and with Belgium experiencing injury concerns, it looks likely that the Italian charge will take at least another step forward towards the final.
Good luck to both Czech Republic and Denmark, what an unexpected opportunity they both have to go further in the tournament than most would have ever thought possible. I’m tipping Denmark based on the emotion they have ridden since the events of their opening fixture. It should be a cracking affair with both seeking to seize a rare opportunity.
Call me a party pooper, yet I am hoping Ukraine get the job done against England and advance to the final four. There is something in the air for them right now and their ability to finish of chances with class and flair might result in a single moment being just enough to topple the Lion. The game will potentially come down to defence and if Ukraine can frustrate the English and keep them scoreless for an extended period, one flash of brilliance could win it for them.
Spain, Belgium, Denmark, England
This is it – the quarter finals start here in St Petersburg as Switzerland look to continue their unlikely route to glory with a match up against the powerhouse of Spain. Both these teams had an almighty passage through and will come into this one believing anything is possible. Switzerland are the Iceland of this tournament, but this is as far as it goes. After soaking up all the intricate play from the Spanish, and having more than enough opportunities to score on the counter, the Swiss will be growing in confidence and Breel Embolo will hit the post. It will be young star Pedri who blasts in the opening goal though with a volley from the edge of the area. The crowd will still be rejoicing that one when Alvaro Morata slides in to finish a wonderful team move to double the lead for Spain at the break. A tense second half with a sending-off for both teams will end with Spain finishing off the job, a header from Koke making it 3-0. Comfortably into the semis for Spain, but injury and suspension woes will start to mount.
The game we’ve all been waiting for, Italy vs Belgium in Munich. The perennial under-achievers of the golden generation of Belgian football against the purring engine of the Italian dream machine. This is going to be the battle of the tournament. One of these magnificent teams will bow out, but both teams will leave with their heads held high after a classic for our generation. Italy will come out fizzing the passes around, it will be breath-taking at times. Thomas Vermaelen will be the difference between a Lorenzo Insigne masterclass and a total lockout as Italy pile on the pressure. Just as we anticipate an opening goal, Belgium will turn the game and rage forward with electric pace and delicate touches. It will be like tides of the ocean crashing and receding in an unrelenting display of attacking football. How the scores remain at 0-0 at the break is anyone’s guess. As Italy turn up the heat in the second half, an amazing run from Romelu Lukaku will unlock the Italy defence, and his quick feet at the near post will open up the opportunity for the incoming Thomas Meunier to poke the ball home for the opener. Italy will reply in spectacular fashion, a Manuel Locatelli pile-driver, but the day will belong to Belgium, Thorgan Hazard finishing Kevin De Bruyne’s outrageous through ball to seal the win with five minutes remaining. What a game. What a tournament. Bring on the semi-finals.
The Czech Republic are everyone’s darlings of the tournament. The goal-scoring exploits of Patrik Schick and their battling defence have won the Czechs plenty of fans on their way to the quarter-finals. They will feel the pressure today though, in a game that they are touted to win. Denmark were unrelenting against Wales in the round of 16, that following a big victory over Russia to make it out of the group stage. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg will be the star of the show, clearing a ball acrobatically off the line, and then 30 seconds later finding the net with a diving header after a crazy counter-attack. Martin Braithwaite to add a second on the hour and the Czech Republic to throw everything forward in the last twenty minutes. Late drama will see Vladimir Darida reduce the arrears with a twice-taken penalty, but Denmark will hold on.
If there’s one team who will give England a thorough test and a taste of their own football, it’s the Ukraine. Manchester City winger Oleks Zinchenko in full flight will terrorise the England defence, the Harry Kane-esque stoop of Andriy Yarmolenko will cause all sorts of issues and England will be all at sea when the ball is lifted long into the box for yet another aerial bombardment. The three lions will remain resolute throughout though and will weather the first half storm before sticking in the knife early in the second. Jack Grealish will be fresh off the bench to burst into the box and send in a cross shot for Harry Kane to bundle home. John Stones will power a corner into the net for two, before conceding an own goal 90 seconds later, sliding the ball into his own net under pressure. A final ten minutes of nervous defending and horribly un-English time-wasting and moaning will see the arms go up on the final whistle and England will be in the semi-finals. Oh my, this is exciting!
Spain, Belgium, Denmark, England
The Swiss have shown remarkable resilience to claw back from the brink, firstly progression from the group stage, and then a comeback to eventually defeat the reigning world champions on penalties.
However, they now face a rejuvenated and free scoring Spain, who know what it takes to succeed in any major tournament.
After a COVID-19 disrupted preparation and sluggish start to their campaign, La Roja look primed to reach at least the semi-final. I’m expecting Morata to add to his goal tally as part of victory over Switzerland in St Petersburg with slightly cooler temperatures forecast compared to last week.
Has Italy peaked too early? More typically, the Azzurri has started more slowly and unconvincingly when building into tournaments and ultimate success. There is a lot to like about their new found and less ‘pragmatic’ style, yet they now face a more serious challenge at the Allianz Arena in Munich.
Belgium have what it takes to win this edition of Euro, and have been in fine form in winning their first four games. With great doubts (as of 1 July) over the fitness and starting availability of De Bruyne and Eden Hazard, even their depth might be tested. Nevertheless in a tight game, I am predicting that De Rode Duivels (Les Diables Rouges) will eventually prevail.
Czech Republic shocked most, except themselves, with a well deserved win over an underwhelming and once again self-sabotaging Dutch side. So much will depend upon how well their star striker Patrik Schick takes his chances on goal or not.
Meanwhile a resurgent Danish side has dominated its most recent opponents, and an encouraging sign is that goals (eight in two games) have come from well spread across the team.
I am feeling a little smug for having predicted pre-competition Denmark was a “dark horse” that could make inroads well into the knock out stages. Obviously it’s one game at a time, yet could they go on to match or even exceed their title achievement of 1992, when that tournament featured only eight participating teams.
When in Rome, do as the………? England has finally got into the groove for their title charge, and must be strongly favoured to win over Ukraine. The latter was rather fortunate to reach the knock out stages, finishing third in the group and only progressing on superior goal difference.
Captain Harry Kane has at last clicked into gear at the right time and Gareth Southgate’s well-rounded and balanced side should reach their first Euro semi-final since 1996.
|SUI vs SPA||SUI||ESP||ESP||ESP||???|
|BEL vs ITA||BEL||ITA||BEL||BEL||???|
|CZE vs DEN||CZE||DEN||DEN||DEN||???|
|UKR vs ENG||ENG||UKR||ENG||ENG||???|
|Group stage total||18||19||23||18||22|
|Round of 16||5||4||5||4||5|