Delayed a year by the Coronavirus pandemic Euro 2020 is being contested at various sites across the continent in honor of the tournament’s 60th anniversary. The semi-finals and finals will be contested at England’s Wembley Stadium.
Group play has concluded and now the remaining 16 of the original 24 teams enter the knockout phase. Let’s take a closer look not only at the round of 16 match-ups, but how things may progress as we make our way towards Wembley.
Belgium vs. Portugal (game in Seville)
Italy vs. Austria (game in London)
The winners of these two games meet in London for the right to go to the semis at Wembley. Italy looked the strongest in group play, but they also had a penalty kick of a group, humiliating first Turkey and then Switzerland, before resting most of their starters and still handling Wales 1-0 with no particular problems. Now the Azzuri have one of the toughest routes to the final, (assuming they defeat Austria) having to face one of two powerhouses and then a potential match up with France or Spain after that.
Belgium also looked strong, going 3-0-0 as Italy did, beating Russia, Denmark, and Finland by a combined 7-1. Portugal just barely squeaked in as a third place team when a late Renaldo goal knotted their final group match with France, but that’s just how they like things – underdogs. Will Belgium’s depth be able to outlast Renaldo’s magic? I’ll take Portugal over the Red Devils in penalty kicks, but they’ll have no answer for Italy’s speed when they meet in Munich on July 2.
Semi-final pick: Italy over Portugal
France vs. Switzerland
Croatia vs. Spain
If Italy are fast, then France are lightning. In winning the Group of Death, that also included Germany, Portugal and Hungary, France’s 1-2-0 = 4 points line score looks unimpressive, but was anything but. They’ll have little trouble with Switzerland. Luca Modrin has been showing his age, and without more depth, Spain will outlast them. The winners meet in St. Petersburg, where France should prevail.
Semi-final pick: France over Spain, Les Bleu over La Furia Roja
Sweden vs. Ukraine
England vs. Germany
Ordinarily this would be Germany in a cakewalk. Sweden and Ukraine scare no one – I’ll take Sweden – but with the possibility of the home team getting through to Wembley and the semis, the Germans have a tough hill to climb. England is the sentimental favorite right now, is playing the match at home (the only team of the 16 to do so) and keeping the hosts in has always been something FIFA likes to see. I predict controversy and a raw deal for Der Mannschafft. Take the Three Lions all the way to Wembley and the semis. England, this is your best chance to win the Euros in decades. Don’t blink.
Semi-final pick: England over Sweden
Netherlands vs. Czech Republic
Denmark vs. Wales
There’s an old adage in soccer: the Dutch win a lot of games, but not a lot of trophies. The last international title of any import that they won was Euro 88, and that was the year Russia made it to the final. (Yes, Russia!) Denmark and Wales should end in penalty kicks, but who cares? The Dutch steamroll the winners and head across the channel for a date with the English.
Semi-final pick: Netherlands over Denmark