Euro 2020: Day 20
The quarter-finals will get underway in Saint Petersburg on Friday night with a clash few could have predicted, as Switzerland take on Spain in the 68,000 capacity Gazprom Arena, although the home of Zenit won’t be full to capacity for this encounter. Switzerland find themselves facing off against Spain after a memorable victory on penalties against France in the last 16 of the competition. When Torino defender Ricardo Rodríguez missed a penalty, they must have feared the chance to progress had gone, France turning the game on its head with 2 quick goals from Karim Benzema, before an absolute world class strike from Paul Pogba.
However, under the stewardship of Vladimir Petković the Swiss showed great resolve, Haris Seferović grabbing his second of the game before a last minute goal from Mario Gavranović pulled them level on the night in Bucharest, the 3-3 scoreline sending the game into extra time. With neither side able to capitalise during the additional 30 minutes, it was left to the lottery of a penalty shoot-out to decide who would be heading to the quarter-final stages, and after the first nine penalties had been dispatched, Lloris not repeating his earlier penalty save exploits, it fell to PSG and France striker Kylian Mbappe to step up, but Borussia Mönchengladbach keeper Yann Sommer proved his equal, his 65th cap for his country producing a memorable moment as his left handed save sent his side through to the quarter finals of the European Championship for the first ever time.
Earlier that same even, Spain had been involved in a ding dong of their own as they had to find an extra gear in extra-time to overcome Croatia to ensure their progress. Lacking composure in front of goal in their opening two games, a 5-0 win in their final group game indicated the tables had perhaps turned, but it was once again a story of wasted chances before Croatia took the shock lead through a bizarre own goal of the highest order, a long back pass by Pedri being completely misjudged by Unai Simón to nestle in the net. Goals from Sarabia, Azpilicueta and Ferran Torres after the break turned the tie round, but late goals from Oršić and Pašalić forced the game into extra time. This time Morata did come up with the goods, showing great control and composure before Oyarzabal, who had also been guilty of missing a few big chances, underlined the result as Spain hit 5 for the second successive game, a new European Championship record.
It goes without saying that based on the last 16 games there is no obvious winner in this encounter, Switzerland having demonstrated the same resolve as Croatia had against Spain, which could be an indicator of how the game goes. That said, I can’t help feeling if Spain can click in front of goal they will be taken more seriously as a threat, and find it hard to see anything other than a Spain win, albeit with far less drama than their respective second round ties.
The second game of the day will have a far more familiar feel about it, with the mouthwatering prospect of Belgium against Italy in Munich, a game that in my mind will provide one of the two finalists in this tournament. Both came into this tournament expecting to do well, and despite drawing Portugal in the last round, Belgium proved once more they have enough quality to make the difference, a 1-0 win in Seville courtesy of a great strike from Thorgan Hazard sending them through, the veteran defence deserving praise for how the kept top scorer Ronaldo under check on the evening, the only concern being the knock star man Kevin De Bruyne picked up on his ankle.
Italy needed extra time to overcome Austria in their tie, finally conceding a goal too for the first time in over 1,000 minutes as they won at Wembley. Austria looked solid throughout, yielding little in the way of major chances to Italy, the introduction of Juventus forward Federico Chiesa turning the game. The 23 year old, coming on for his 29th cap, showed a hunger and desire that appeared to lift his team-mates, and it was no surprise when that told 5 minutes into extra time as he was rewarded with a goal after a fine piece of skill. Pessina added a second before Saša Kalajdžić ensured a nervy finish with his 4th goal for his country, Italy doing enough though under Mancini to progress.
Having tipped Italy pre-tournament, I feel I have to stick with that now, although I think the fitness or otherwise of Kevin De Bruyne could have a real bearing on this game. Romelu Lukaku will also be full of confidence against many players he has got the better of this season while firing Internazionale to the title, but if Italy can show their usual defensive resolve they also have the opportunity to hit Belgium going forward, that ageing back line their to be got at. I’d also love to see Federico Chiesa handed a start for this one, which would underline the intentions to go for the win from an Italian perspective. Betting wise I’m going both teams to score, but expect Italy to edge through.Share this: