Whether you’re a massive soccer fan, someone just getting into the game, or even an office drone looking for something to watch during the work day, The Euros have been an absolute delight this summer. Postponed a year due to the pandemic, we had to wait for Europe’s premier international tournament, but it has not been disappointing. The group stage took us through a rollercoaster of emotions: We had horrific lows when Christian Eriksen collapsed on the pitch and insatiable highs when fans in Copenhagen, Denmark celebrated a 4-1 victory over Russia to secure a place in the Round of 16 for the first time since 2004. Something about soccer just gets your emotions going, and there is more of that to come in the knockout stage, which begins this weekend on ESPN. Here is what to look out for:
So... Italy is back?
Following an undefeated group stage in which they scored 7 goals and conceded 0, it’s clear the Azzurri have moved on from the disappointment of missing out on the last World Cup, as they have easily been the most impressive team in the Euros. The Italians have always been stout defensively, but their offensive efficiency and clinical counter attacks have been the story this tournament. Manuel Locatelli’s transfer stock has risen considerably and Ciro Immobile has been lethal in front of net. Italy were runners-up in the 2012 and 2000 edition of the tournament and haven’t won the European Championship since 1968. Austria will be heavy underdogs in the Round of 16, and either Belgium or Portugal will await Roberto Mancini’s bunch. From World Cup absentees to European champions: That would be quite the story for the Azzurri.
Italy plays Austria at 3pm ET on Saturday, June 26 on ESPN3
Germany vs England
We are here to tell you it’s OK if you put a 90-minute block on your work calendar on Tuesday starting at 12pm ET. That’s when these two footballing powerhouses will face off in iconic Wembley Stadium. Germany have been an enigma this tournament: Joachim Löw’s team was dull against France; an angry buzzsaw vs Portugal; then barely advanced thanks to a tying goal in the 84th minute against Hungary. They have all the offensive fire power in the world, but the defense has holes and England have the speed and talent to exploit them. The question is, will they? Despite having a squad full of young and talented players, England hasn’t dazzled much this tournament. Bukayo Saka was a bright spot in their 1-0 victory vs the Czech Republic, but the lineup carousel could continue for Gareth Southgate. Will Phil Foden return to the lineup? Will Jadon Sancho finally start? Can Harry Kane get off the mark with a goal? The Three Lions still haven’t conceded in the Euros, but they are going to have to score. This game may depend on which Germany team shows up.
Germany and England play at noon ET on Tuesday, June 29 on ESPN
Belgium vs Portugal
Like Germany, Portugal have also had some consistency and defensive issues. One constant remains—At 36 years of age, Cristiano Ronaldo is still elite. With the help of Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes and Renato Sanches, Portugal can keep up with anyone. But Belgium have quietly been solid at the Euros. Their golden generation showed they were the real deal at the 2018 World Cup and now with some experience under their belt, they have no excuses if they don't make a run to the final. Kevin De Bruyne is the best midfielder in the world, Romelu Lukaku is in form and Eden Hazard showed signs of why Real Madrid dropped £130 million on him. This is going to be a pacy affair and the winner will likely get a date with Italy in the next round. You couldn’t have asked for more on a Sunday afternoon.
Begium faces Portugal at 3pm ET Sunday, June 27 on ESPN3
Croatia vs Spain and what about the defending Champs?
Another team who is in a little bit of a transitional phase: Spain. La Roja blew the brakes off Slovakia, giving them some much needed confidence. On the other side, a seasoned Croatia team are showing why they made it to the World Cup Final in 2018. Beyond scoring on a goal of the tournament candidate, Luka Modric has started to pull strings in the Croatian midfield, giving youngsters Nikola Vlašić and Bruno Petković areas to play in. This will be a tactical battle of Luis Enrique’s tikka-takka style vs the strong midfield of Croatia. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one go to penalties, as the winner will play France or Switzerland. Speaking, of France, Les Bleus put in a entertaining match against Portugal, showing just how quickly they can turn it on. Paul Pogba has been the star of the show with his pin-point accuracy on long passes. France hasn’t been as sharp as we expected, but they casually finished atop a group with Germany and France in it. That means something.
All four teams play on Monday, June 28 beginning at noon ET
Can someone be a Cinderella?
We’ve covered all the big boys, but who could maybe surprise and make an appearance in the quarterfinals? Or even deeper? Two teams come to mind for me. The first is the Netherlands. I’d agree with you in saying that the Dutch don’t really qualify as a ‘Cinderella’, but hear me out. The Dutch are without captain Virgil van Djik and goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen, and though their side still has plenty of talent, their absence has been felt on the defensive end and from a leadership perspective. But Holland have been one of the most fun teams to watch offensively. Newly-signed Memphis Depay and Denzel Dumfries have been runaway trains at lighting speed, and just as punishing. Pair that with Gini Wijnaldum and Frankie de Jong in the midfield and the Dutch really could beat anyone on their day.
The other team to watch is Sweden, a footballing nation with a disciplined style that has worked for years. They’re rock solid on defense and have found a Zlatan Ibrahimovic replacement with Alexander Isak. Plus, the crafty Emile Forsberg can provide a spark at any moment. People continue to sleep on Sweden, but let’s not forget this team finished atop the group in the 2018 World Cup, with Mexico and Germany on their heels. The Swedes got game.
For all fixtures and results from The Euros, click here
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