Eight teams remain in the Euro 2016 tournament now that the first single-elimination round has ended. With the matches scheduled to begin on June 30, which teams will advance to the semifinal stage?
Poland vs. Portugal
After an early lead, Poland ceded its first goal of the tournament via an outstanding bicycle kick by Xherdan Shaqiri. The Swiss forced the game into extra time, but lost in penalty kicks (5-4). Poland’s strong defense will keep them competitive in most matches, but to continue to progress in the Euros, they must elicit more offense from their go-to goal scorer Robert Lewandowski. The Bayern Munich striker has no goals or assists in the four games for Poland thus far, and the Biale Orly will need more production from their team captain.
While this is the farthest Poland has ever advanced in the Euros, they will be looking to continue their improbable run against a Portuguese team that scored in the 117th minute to beat Croatia 1-0. Portugal was underwhelming in their attack, with six shots and two on frame in 120 minutes. But while Croatia took 17 shots, none were on target. This sets the table for two very similar teams to go head to head in their quarterfinal match. Will team leaders Lewandowski of Poland and Ronaldo of Portugal assert their dominance on the pitch and push their team through to the semifinal round?
Prediction– Both teams have found ways to advance in the Euros while playing less than stellar football. The difference will be the Portugal’s experience playing at this level, and they will come away with a 2-1 victory. Cristiano Ronaldo needs one goal to tie the Euro record of nine goals in European Championship matches. The current record holder? None other than Michel Platini, the now-disgraced former president of UEFA.
France vs. Iceland
While the onset of the match saw Les Bleus cede the quickest penalty kick in Euro history, the hosts regrouped at half-time to take control of the game. The second half began with France scoring two successive goals, which was followed by a straight red card to Irish defender Shane Duffy. The Irish team gave it their all, but the loss of Duffy coupled with the quality play of the French team was too much to overcome, and Les Bleus beat Ireland 2-1 to advance to the quarterfinals to play Iceland. Yes, Iceland. The sun has now set on Roy Hodgson and the Three Lions, who were beaten by minnow Iceland 2-1. With a manager who is part-time football manager, part-time dentist, Iceland has advanced through a tenacious defense and some opportunistic play on offense. While each game has been close, they’ve done enough to frustrate their opposition and have advanced to the quarterfinals.
Prediction– Iceland can be proud of their performance in the tournament, but their journey ends here. Host country France will defeat Iceland 3-1.
Wales vs. Belgium
Wales advanced to the quarterfinal match by beating a tough Northern Ireland squad 1-0. It’s hard to look past the outstanding goalkeeping from Northern Ireland keeper Wayne Hennessey, and the sole score that was ceded was an own goal by defender Gareth McAuley. While Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill said after the game that his squad were the better team, the statistics support Wales as the superior squad (unless you look at the fouls committed, where Northern Ireland held a 19-8 edge). They are led by Real Madrid striker Gareth Bale and midfielder Aaron Ramsey, fine players in their own right. The Welshmen will need better play up front if they are to beat a star-studded Belgian squad. While their play has been uneven at times, Marc Wilmot’s squad controlled the tempo of the game while dispatching a wary Hungarian team 4-0. Hungary’s 40-year-old goalkeeper, Gabor Kiraly, might just be the last keeper still playing the position in sweatpants. With players like Romelu Lukaku up front, a midfield led by Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne, a back line that is solid and Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, Belgium has the highest paid players in the Euros… will those dollars translate into successful results?
Prediction– Belgium has by far more talented players on the roster, but they have yet to perform well in the tournament as a team. Wales has played inspired team football in the Euros, with team captain Gareth Bale setting an example for the rest of the squad. In a major upset, look for Wales to defeat Belgium 2-1.
Germany vs. Italy
While statistics alone are not necessarily harbingers of an outcome, two statistics stood out leading up to the German match against Slovakia. First, Germany possessed the ball 71% of the time, thus denying their opponents goal-scoring opportunities. As a result, leading up to the Slovakia match, Die Mannschaft had not ceded a goal in the Euros. Also, with Germany’s Jerome Boateng scoring first in the 8th minute, history in the Euros favored the Germans, since their record when scoring first was 22-2-1. Germany’s ball possession, coupled with a suffocating defense, proved too much for Slovakia as they fell to Germany 3-0. Their opponent will be Italy, who beat Spain 2-0. Having won the last two Euro tournaments, Spain looked sluggish on the pitch, and manager Del Bosque had few answers to counter an aggressive Italian squad. Few analysts gave the Italians a chance to advance to the knock-out stages, but outgoing manager Antonio Conte has masterminded a game plan to fit each match, and the players have performed well. Italy’s strength is their defense, having ceded one goal in four games.
Prediction– Italy last met Germany in the 2012 Euros, beating them 2-1 in the semi-finals. While the Italians have performed admirably in the tournament thus far, the German squad have too many weapons and are playing motivated football. Look for the score to remain the same as in 2012, but this time Germany will end up on top and advance to the next stage of the Euros.