We’ve weeded out the pretenders and contenders and reached the Round of 16 of the Euro 2016 tournament. The teams remaining from group stage play are the first and second-place finishers plus the four best third-place teams from the six original groups. The winners of each of these eight matches will qualify for the quarterfinals with the loser starting an earlier-than-anticipated vacation. With just 16 teams left vying for the Henri Delaunay Trophy, let’s take a closer look at which teams will advance to the quarterfinal stage.
Switzerland vs. Poland
How They Got Here– The Swiss finished Group A behind France, managing to get through without a loss. While beating Albania and drawing against Romania and France, they scored two goals in the three matches, garnering five points along the way. Poland finished their group play in the second position as well but with seven points, having beaten Northern Ireland and Ukraine while drawing against Germany 0-0.
While scoring only two goals in their three matches, they didn’t cede any goals, advancing in a similar manner as Switzerland. Both teams lack offensive creativity, relying heavily on their defense with miscues from their opponents.
Prediction– Poland has waited 30 years to advance to this level in a major tournament, and will advance to the next round with a 1-0 win over Switzerland.
Croatia vs. Portugal
How They Got Here– Croatia had the difficult task of putting aside their fans’ internal strife and having to play in the same group as Spain (along with Turkey and the Czech Republic). After an early victory against Turkey and seeing the Czechs rebound from a two-goal deficit to earn a draw, they exposed the Spanish defensive flanks en route to a 2-1 victory. While Croatia finished first in Group D with seven points, they have lost midfielder Luka Modric, an integral part of their squad, to a groin injury for the remainder of the tournament.
Portugal finished Group F in third place with three draws in their three matches. After the first two games that saw star Cristiano Ronaldo held scoreless despite of 20 shots, he reemerged with two goals in a 3-3 draw against Hungary and secured Portugal a place in the Round of 16. It will take a continuation of that type of output from Ronaldo if Portugal hopes to advance further into Euro competition. Noteworthy is that Ronaldo is the first player to have scored in four Euro tournaments.
Prediction– Expect Ronaldo to score a goal, but it will not be enough to turn back Croatia, who will beat Portugal 2-1.
Wales vs. Northern Ireland
How They Got Here – The Welsh squad has been reinvigorated under manager Chris Coleman, earning six points with two wins in group play. While relying on their star players Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey for offensive prowess, this is a team that plays with pride and passion. After losing in their second group match to their rival England in the waning moments, they came back in the final group game to soundly defeat Russia 3-0. While only 26 years old, Bale has become only the seventh player in European Championship history to score in every group stage match.
Wales will be matched against Northern Ireland, who are one of the very few teams in Euro history to qualify for the Round of 16 while losing two of three group stage matches. While being unlucky enough to sharing group play with Germany, Poland and Ukraine, they kept their losses close and low scoring affairs (losing both by 1-0 margins) while beating Ukraine 2-0, enough to see them through the group stage, Their most potent weapon is goalkeeper Michael McGovern, who has received praise from his German competitors. As someone who will be out of contract next month, expect this notoriety to assist in his job search. But for the team as a whole, scoring two goals in three matches could be looked at as a harbinger of what is to follow.
Prediction– Wales has played inspired football in this tournament thus far, and Bale has scored more goals in group play than the entire Northern Ireland squad. Look for Wales to dominate and defeat an overmatched Northern Ireland team 3-1.
Hungary vs. Belgium
How They Got Here– At the onset of the Euros, Hungary was considered a contender for perhaps a third place finish with Austria and Portugal battling it out for the top spot. That spot now belongs to Hungary, with Austria crashing out disappointingly and Portugal hanging on by a thread to clinch third place. Offensively, Hungary managed six goals in their three matches, which was among the most prolific output in this year’s Euros. It could be said that they were playing in one of the weaker groups, but perhaps the group was weakened due to the surprising play of Hungary. They will be facing Belgium, who have yet to show that they are the powerhouse as advertised. They lost their opener against Italy 2-0, then trounced Ireland 3-0 before squeezing by a lackluster Swedish team 1-0. With a team of top shelf players like De Bruyne, Hazard and Lukaku playing for the top teams in Europe, clearly this squad is capable of far more than they’ve demonstrated thus far.
Prediction– While underperforming in the group stage, look for Belgium to catch fire beginning in the Round of 16 and dispose of a tired Hungary team 3-0.
Germany vs. Slovakia
How They Got Here– Germany picked up six points in group play with wins against Northern Ireland and Ukraine, while drawing 0-0 against Poland. Finishing in the top spot in Group C based upon goal differential, they have yet to concede a goal in the Euros, but their offensive prowess seems to be lacking. Die Mannschaft have earned the ire of manager Joachim Low for scoring only three times in their three matches, so one would expect the reigning World Cup champs to improve their offense in the remaining matches. Slovakia ended play in Group B in the third spot behind Wales and England, and ahead of hapless Russia. This is a team that has never qualified for a match beyond group play, and they battled England to a draw to achieve it. It appeared that Slovakia was playing for a draw against the Three Lions from the onset of the match. Slovakia will need to show more firepower in this match against Germany if they hope to advance in the Euros.
Prediction– While Slovakia has shown their determination and grit, Germany will take control of this game early and advance to the next round with a 3-1 win.
Italy vs. Spain
How They Got Here– The opening game set the stage for Italy, as manager Antonio Conte masterminded a 2-0 win over highly-ranked Belgium. They went on to defeat Sweden in their second group match 1-0, amassing six points in two games and affording them the luxury of resting several key starters in the match leading up to the single-elimination rounds. Conte leaves at the end of tournament for EPL powerhouse Chelsea, and would like nothing more than to hoist the Euro trophy on July 10.
Spain finished second in Group D behind Croatia, losing to them in the final group match. While Spain has the weapons to go deep into the tournament, one would expect Italy to try to exploit the defensive flanks of Spain as their Achilles’ heel much as Croatia had done in their prior match, Spain will need to exercise restraint and ball possession while awaiting their opportunities via the genius of Andres Iniesta in the midfield. Spain has nine Barcelona players on their squad, and they are not to be taken lightly.
Prediction– Expect this to be a lively, exciting game with plenty of action. In the end, the Spanish midfield will break down the Italian defense. Spain will come out victorious 2-1.
France vs. Republic of Ireland
How They Got Here– As the host country, there is always an extra layer of pressure that weighs on France, but Les Bleus finished group play in the top spot with seven points. They have only ceded one goal in three matches, which was the cornerstone of manager Didier Deschamps’ plan for the team. But with so many potential goal-scorers like Pogba, Griezmann and Coman, this seems to be a team with unbridled talent. They will be playing the Republic of Ireland, who ended up in third place in Group E, just above last place Sweden. After tying Sweden and losing to Belgium, they managed to beat Italy 1-0, amassing a net goal differential of -2. The victory against Gli Azzurri should be tempered by the fact that Italy rested most of their starters for the match against Spain in the Round of 16.
Prediction– Expect Les Bleus to have little difficulty defeating Ireland in front of their home faithful 3-0 and advance to the next stage of the Euros.
England vs. Iceland
How They Got Here– The Three Lions ended group play in second place with five points, a point behind Wales. Manager Roy Hodgson has been widely criticized for not playing some of his first-line players like team captain Wayne Rooney in the third game against Slovakia, resulting in a 0-0 draw and allowing Wales to capture the top spot in Group B. England has a star-studded group of strikers, yet have only three goals to show for their efforts in three matches. They will need more production from Vardy and company if they expect to compete deep into the tournament.
Iceland ended group play tied for the top spot with Hungary. but took the second position based upon goal differential. Most observers had thought that this country with an unforgiving climate and a population of roughly 330,000 people would be making an early exit, but their never-say-die mentality has made them fan favorites at these Euros. After all, this is a country that had never won a game in a major tournament and will now be playing England in a knock-out game.
Prediction– Sadly, the Three Lions will be bringing down the curtain, denying Iceland a storybook ending. Look for England to defeat a tough Iceland squad 2-1.