Euro 2020: Day 15
The action returns to the Parken Stadium on Monday evening as Croatia face Spain for a place in the quarter finals. The scene of such tragedy earlier in the tournament, the footballing world will be hoping it returns to being the focus for on field matters in this tie, with Spain finally finding a bit of form in their final group game after being poor in the opening two games. Croatia began their campaign facing England at Wembley, and on a searing hot afternoon it was the hosts who were victorious, before they picked up their first point in the second game against the Czech Republic. Their final game saw midfielder Luka Modrić produce a vintage display as they took to the Hampden Park field once more, this time overcoming the crowd and hosts Scotland 3-1 to ensure they would finish 2nd in the group, with signs the old guard are finally starting to click again.
Spain were another side who hosted their opening 3 games, although the venue was switched from Bilbao to Sevilla pre tournament. The initial game was a story of what might as been as they broke a long standing possession record, enjoying 85% of the ball, but failing to claim a win against Sweden, who also hit the post and could have made it worse for the hosts. The second game followed a similar vain, dominating the ball but lacking a cutting edge. The much maligned Alvaro Morata got his first goal of the campaign, but was then guilty of an equally poor miss after Moreno saw his penalty hit the woodwork, before Lewandowski rescued a point for Poland, meaning Spain would go into their final game needing a win. Win they did, as they brushed aside a very poor Slovakia 5-0, finally starting to click in front of goal, although there was yet another penalty miss, their 5th in succession, Morata again the guilty party. There is no doubting Spain will probably dominate again, especially against an ageing Croatia team, but as Modrić has shown a moment of brilliance can turn a tie, so Spain will need to be clinical in front of goal to progress in Copenhagen. Prediction: Spain win
Favorites France are then in action as they have a favorable tie against Switzerland at the National Arena in Bucharest, courtesy of finishing top of the “group of death” although at times it looked like they may have missed the opportunity before Benzema grabbed his first two goals of the tournament, ensuring a draw against Portugal although they did let the lead slip after coming from behind, gifting 2 penalties to the opposition. Their opening game had been a comfortable, if not outstanding, win against Germany, and they looked like they had another gear if required in Munich. Questions were then raised, however, when they needed a late goal to rescue a point against Hungary in Budapest, although in truth they dominated and just like the Spanish sticking the ball in the net was the issue, although with such a gifted front-line that should never be the case. They looked back to something resembling their best in the game with Portugal, and probably should have won, Paul Pogba once again a far better play internationally than domestically as he continually tormented the Portuguese defence with his power and incisive passes.
Switzerland qualified courtesy of victory over Turkey, who were poor all tournament, after only picking up a single point prior to that in a 1-1 draw with Wales. As with several sides, they seem to lack many players who have the ability to produce a moment of brilliance or make a difference consistently, although Liverpool midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri stepped up in the final group game to showcase his talent. They will need to defend far better than then did against Italy, where they lost 3-0, and hope Shaqiri can produce more magic if they are to have any hope in Romania, but I can’t see anything beyond a comfortable France win as I expect them to start peaking at the right time.
The opening game on Tuesday needs no added introduction. England face Germany at Wembley, with more fans expected to be allowed to attend, in a repeat of the Euro 1996 semi-final, against a foe who continually seem to get the better of them at major tournaments. Coming into this, England were joint favourites, aided by home advantage and the wealth of young attacking talent at manager Gareth Southgate’s disposal. However, after a 1-0 win in the heat against Croatia, a 0-0 draw against Scotland seemed to temper enthusiasm and belief, before another professional 1-0 win against the Czech Republic ensured they would remain at Wembley for the first knock out stage, with Portugal, France or Germany the likely visitors. England have chopped and changed several times so far, part enforced, in an attempt to find the right formula, but with only Raheem Sterling having scored to date and Harry Kane being largely ineffective, Southgate could face his biggest decisions yet ahead of this one, especially given the form of some of the younger players who currently play in the Bundesliga against players they are likely to come up against on Tuesday.
Germany made hard work of their own qualification, a defeat against France followed by a bit of form against Portugal in a 4-2 win before trailing for large parts against Hungary in their final game in Munich, going behind just a minute after pulling themselves level before a late equaliser saw them finish second. Their preparation has been hindered by the fact that Joachim Low will leave after the tournament, along with the return of several of the old guard into the starting XI. Against Hungary, the introduction of young Jamal Musiala, who represented England at youth level before switching back to his country of birth, seemed to change the flow of the game, so he could feature against some of his former Chelsea academy team-mates. On paper, you’d have to say England are the better team, especially on evidence in the tournament to date, but Germany seem to have an efficiency and “nous” around tournament football that serves them well, and while my heart says England my head says the old rivals will once again have the last laugh in this one.
The final knockout game of the second stage takes place at Hampden Park, as Sweden face off against the Ukraine. Sweden finished top of a group including Spain, winning 2 games and drawing that clash in Sevilla, looking impressive in their win over Poland after a more pedestrian 1-0 victory over Slovakia. Ukraine finished 3rd in a group including the Netherlands and Austria, qualifying courtesy of a 2-1 win over North Macedonia and scoring twice against the Netherlands which helped them be one of the best placed 3rd place sides). They seem to offer little glimpses of ability, but in the large seem to be punching above their weight under the stewardship of Shevchenko, which in reality they are.
In Alexander Isak, Sweden have a player I absolutely adore (check out my FM21 blog where he gets mentioned a lot despite not even playing for me to see what I mean) and he can get the better of the largely young Ukraine defence and win the game on his own in my opinion. That said, Ukraine’s strike partnership have also done well so far this tournament, both scoring in the opening 2 fixtures, so Sweden will need to remain more solid at the back than they were against Poland, a task I feel they will be up to and I expect them to progress.Share this: