The Group Of Death lived up to its name and not one of the teams in it, made it through. The Ericle had tipped a couple of surprises in the Round of 16 but, never, for a single moment, did I foresee Switzerland upsetting France. To be sure, Mbappé had a ‘mare, but that still left a surplus of quality over their opponents, such that France’s loss can really only be explained by a failure of collective temperament. The Czechs however did come up trumps and Croatia ran Spain very close but succumbed via a fateful 100th minute. Meanwhile Belgium are still standing, Ukraine prevailed over Sweden in a brutally exhausting game, Denmark continue to crest the wave of emotion that is behind their team, and Italy roll along. Oh, and England beat Germany for the first time in a knockout game since 1966.
That leaves 8 …
BELGIUM: Belgium’s future in Euro 2020 hinges on the fitness of De Bruyne but, in the end, it may be the quality of Courtois, their goalkeeper that proves to be the most critical factor in their favour. Also in Lukaku that have the most potent striker of Euro 2020; a player who can turn any game in an instant.
CZECH REPUBLIC: The Czech’s have been punching above their weight but their presence in the quarters is more a reflection of the deficiencies of the Dutch. They will fancy their chances against Denmark, but I feel that this is a far as the Czechs will go.
DENMARK: The loss in Game 1 of Christian Erikson, besides its emotional impact, left the Danes without a talismanic team-leader and a most influential playmaker. The 4-0 win over Wales was the easiest win of the Round of 16. On paper their game v The Czechs is a toss-up but emotion can take you a long way in this game
ENGLAND: Is Southgate a tactical genius or a lucky general? England still have yet to concede a goal but their win over Germany, despite its historical context, papered over the cracks of a one-paced team lacking in midfield creativity. This notwithstanding, the draw is very much in their favour and IF they make if to The Final, their opponent will almost certainly have played some attritional contests.
ITALY: It’s hard to argue against this so-called more attack-minded Italian team but they have yet to be really challenged in this tournament. They have quality and cohesion but they lack a certain je ne sais quoi, or its Italian equivalent. If they can take the Belgians, some serous re-assessment of their possibilities will be required.
SPAIN: my issue with Spain’s claim has majored on their lack of striking power. Perhaps, my opinion on Morata has been tainted by his Chelsea experience. This may be his time and, if so, then Spain are most certainly a team to be reckoned with.
SWITZERLAND: Surprised everybody by their high energy style of positive football against France. Where did this come from and will we see it again. My money says No, Non, Nein & Na (that’s Romansh, in case you didn’t know it – I didn’t, until I liked it up!)
UKRAINE: Ukraine, possibly, are the best passing team in the tournament and their movement of the ball is impressive. They could trouble England but it will be hard for them to recover from their win over Sweden, which could have an draining effect on them; especially so if Yarmolenko is crocked.
There’s still a solid footballing case that can be made for 4 teams. If ‘looking like winners’ counts, then one would chose Italy or Spain. Belgium have the quality but don’t look like winners. England are sitting there on the weak side of the draw and play every of their remixing games at Wembley. But in a tournament that has had it’s share of surprise winners, the other 4 teams are not just making up the numbers. It really is wide open.
“If there weren’t luck involved, I would win every time.”
After my first 4 picks came in (Denmark, Italy, Czech Republic & Belgium) came in, I began to think that I’d cracked it. In the end, out of the next 4, only my patriotic wager on England came home. So The Round of 16 saw me £4.31 in profit. That’s an 18% return on my £24 stake, which can’t be sneered at! And, with my tournament (£10) bets – on Belgium as Winners & England to reach The Final – still standing, my stakes increase to £5 and I am betting on the following results:
SPAIN v Switzerland
BELGIUM v Italy
CZECH REPUBLIC v Denmark
Ukraine v ENGLAND