Unlike its Western counterpart (Copa America), Euro 2016 has seen a number of dramatic finishes and tight games. While only one match in the knockout stages wasbeen decided by penalty kicks, the group stage featured more late goals than I can remember seeing at any other major tournament. And whether that has to do more with some of the bigger nations underperforming or the expanded format giving the smaller nations a platform to impress, Euro 2016 has so far been anything but predictable.
This makes the Quarter-Final round of the tournament the more appealing, as each of the eight teams have a chance to progress to the semis.
Poland v Portugal
Thursday’s match features two teams with very different philosophies. Poland, who were one of the most impressive teams in qualification, have continued to work well as a unit during Euro 2016. So far, they’ve only conceded 1 goal in four matches and it came via spectacular means against an equally impressive Switzerland team. Portugal on the other hand have been fairly less cohesive and much of their success revolves around one man rather than a collective. Cristiano Ronaldo has had a few good moments including two goals against Hungary, but for the most part his play has been overshadowed by his attitude.
Each of these teams has the capability to get a result from this game, but the winner will ultimately be the one who plays with the most discipline at the back. You only need to watch the goals Portugal have conceded so far in this tournament (as well as their defeat in the finals of Euro 2004) to see their defensive frailties. Against a team as stout as Poland, they can’t afford to give away a goal.
But Portugal do have the benefit of having Ronaldo and if he is motivated then Poland is in for a long night.
My prediction: A tight game that is decided by penalties with Poland pulling the upset.
Wales v Belgium
Aside from their loss to England, Wales have been clinical in there approach to the Euro contests but I’m not sure how they will go out for this one. The Belgians have been one of the trendy picks for a lot of analyst because they boast a very talented squad.
However, both teams have as good a chance as one another to score. While superstar forward Gareth Bale has often been the focus for most teams, it’s been the play of midfielder Aaron Ramsey that has led to some of the Welsh’s best moments. Whether he can thrive in the busy midfield of Belgium remains to be seen, though he’s sure to recognize the faces of other English Premier League players like Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne.
Ultimately, this game is going to come down to converting clear cut chances into goals. While there has been much talk regarding Belgium’s 4-0 win against Hungary, it can’t be overstated how many chances the Belgians missed throughout that game.
My prediction: I think I’ll go with the underdog here and predict the Welsh to win in extra time.
Germany v Italy
This has to be my favorite draw of the next round.
On one side, there is the super-efficient and menacing Germans and on the other is the tactically sound Italians who have easily been the most consistent team of the tournament.
There are so many variables and stars to watch in this game, from the keepers to the forwards. I anticipate a very tentative game with most of the possession going to the Germans. So maybe it’s better left just stating that the winner will be the team that can hit their PKs.
My prediction: Germany win 4-3 on PKs.
France v Iceland
Aside from England, France have had the most expected of them at this tournament. As the host nation, they are obviously favorites for the finals but Les Bleus also have a ridiculous wealth of talent and depth at their disposal for Euro 2016.
Paul Pogba, who has had a relatively mediocre tournament thus far, might one day be the most expensive player in the world. With forward Antoine Griezmann on fire and Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud causing headaches for center backs, most teams would likely set out to play defensively in this match.
I’m not so sure that Iceland will be going that route. So far at the Euros, they have played tough and pressed teams defensively. Every time they’ve been pinned back, they’ve managed to scrap their way to a result (just ask perennial chokers England).
However, I do think their fairy tale comes to an end this weekend as the French will be wary after almost slipping up against Ireland last week.
My prediction: France win with a late, late goal.
* * * * *
Are you watching Euro 2016? Share with us your thoughts in the comments below.