The next four days will see the quarter-finals of the Euros decided. These games will be all on with some exciting match-ups, however the first quarter to be played will be less than thrilling.
Poland vs. Portugal
First of all, this game absolutely should have been Poland vs. Croatia. Portugal have ridden through their games on luck and a whole lot of complaining by captain Cristiano Ronaldo. Now that they are in the quarter-finals, Portugal will have to step up their game. We have seen Ronaldo produce the magic his team needs before, but against a resilient Poland, the rest of the team will have to show up as well. The most exciting thing about Portugal so far has been 18-year-old midfielder Renato Sanches. Sanches brings pace and tenacity to a boring Portugal side, and will be vital if they hope to progress to the semi-finals.
Poland have been strong defensively throughout this tournament. However, their attack has been unimpressive and average. The Polish can string together plenty of passes but that does nothing for them if they can’t put the ball in the net. Poland’s games have not been exciting to watch thus far, and I predict that this game will be a bit of a turn-off as well. Poland’s central fire power Robert Lewandowski has not produced the goals that his country requires. Lewandowski appears to be too nice on the field and must be selfish if he hopes to carry his team to the next round.
This game will be decided in extra time or penalties, and somehow, god only knows, Portugal will once again come out of the match alive.
Wales vs. Belgium
For me this game is hard to call. I would absolutely love to see another upset that would take Wales farther into the dream they are living in. However, Belgium are a categorically world class team.
Wales will bring everything they have to the pitch, emotion, energy and excitement. They have nothing to lose and an army of Welsh fans supporting them. Gareth Bale is the tournaments leading goal scorer with three goals and one assist. I have no doubts that Bale will produce something special in this game. Bale’s combinations with midfielder Aaron Ramsey are on point, and Ramsey is yet another threat that the Belgians will have to shut down.
Belgium will win this game. In order to do so, they must play as cohesively and relentlessly as they did in the final 20 minutes of their round of 16 match-up against Hungary. Belgium have proved that they can deliver, but consistency will be key. Belgium will move on to play Portugal in the semi-finals next week.
Germany vs. Italy
It is safe to say that I have thoroughly underestimated what Italy would accomplish at the Euros this year. The Italians, led by theatrical manager Antonio Conte, have been fantastic. Italy easily has the most organized team in the tournament. They are tactically perfect. Their defensive line is almost impenetrable, with the exception of Irish hero Robby Brady heading a late winner for Ireland, Italy shut out the rest of the competition in their other games.
Germany, the reigning World Cup champions, are the next most strategically sound team to play in the Euros this year. Not only have they been exciting to watch, but they too have not conceded a single goal in this tournament. Jerome Boateng leads a powerful back line for Germany, and is a threat in the box on set plays as well.
I may be underestimating the Italians again, but I don’t see how they can beat the robust German squad. Germany possesses depth and talent that is still one league above Italy. This game should be a fire cracker; Germany will score a last minute goal to win and progress to the next round.
France vs. Iceland
On paper France should win this game. I have said since the beginning that France produce performances on home turf and that they have the capabilities to go all the way. Between Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann they have goal scoring power and finesse. The only consequential issue with the French team is their shaky defensive line. However, so far, the French have shown that they can rely on their goal scorers to get them back into games when they are down.
Iceland, on the other hand, have been the joy of this tournament. Never without a plan, the seemingly underestimated team has been impossible to beat. Entering into this game undefeated, Iceland have also proven that they can, and will respond when goals are scored against them. France will have a tough task getting the ball through Iceland’s 11-man defensive line.
Iceland have nothing to lose, a roaring Haka-esque clap from their fans, and goal scoring ability on perfectly planned counter attacks. Iceland will win this game with the upset of the tournament and join Germany in the semi-final.