Soccer

Euro 2020: Second Round Previews (Part 1)

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We’re into the knockout phase of Euro 2020 and this weekend will see the first four second round ties, throwing up a potential classic in Seville. The Euros have already sprung up plenty of surprises as we push into the knockout stages of the competition, so we forward to the second round and analyse the weekends four games.

Wales vs Denmark (Amsterdam)

Denmark produced the performance of matchday three to thrash Russia 4-1 and book their place in the second round. The Danes have ridden an emotional rollercoaster since Christian Eriksen’s horrifying collapse against Finland. Their last two performances have been incredible for a team managing not only through the trauma of Eriksen’s cardiac arrest, but also the loss of their best creative player. Kasper Hjulmand reorganized his team into a 4-3-3 with boy wonder Mikkel Damsgaard joining Yousef Poulsen and Martin Braithwaite in the front line. Damsgaard was outstanding against Russia, finding pockets of space and hammering in a brilliant opening goal.

Wales had hoped to playing at Wembley this week, but the defeat to Italy saw them take second place in the group and book a trip to Amsterdam. Wales campaign has been built again on a stout defence, with goalkeeper Danny Ward enjoying an excellent tournament. However, Wales’ attacking potency has yet again come from revitalised duo of Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale. Both are coming off injury hit club campaigns, but Ramsey has returned to provide the creative fulcrum of the side with Bale back to his tormenting best.

Denmark’s robust defence will be confident of keeping Welsh targetman Kiefer Moore quiet and will look to experienced duo Thomas Delaney and Pierre Emile Hojbjerg to boss midfield. The pressing matter for Hjulmand is how to deal with the star that is Gareth Bale. Wales have been very solid in defence but need to be careful of pushing too high against the pacey Braithwaite and Poulsen.

Prediction: 1-2 Denmark

Italy vs Austria (London)

Italy were the team of the group phase, dominating Group A with their blend of possession based football and intense pressing. Fullbacks Leonardo Spinazzola and Alessandro Florenzi have been key for the Azzurri whilst striker Ciro Immobile has answered his critics with goals in successive games.

Austria are in the knockout phase of a tournament for the first time in 39 years. Franco Foda’s side have been hit and miss but switching to a 4-3-3 against Ukraine suddenly had the Austrian’s clicking. David Alaba had been wasted in a back three but he was restored to the left and at his best in the win over Ukraine. Midfielder Xaver Schlager was another who found his mojo in a midfield that was as energetic against Ukraine, as it was lethargic against Netherlands.

Giorgio Chiellini has returned to training but it seems unlikely Roberto Mancini will play him from the start just yet. The other dilemma for Mancini is whether or not to include Marco Verratti. Verratti has been Italy’s most influential player in recent seasons but with the midfield playing so well, Mancini may just stick with Manuel Locatelli on Saturday. In truth, Austria are now playing with the house’s money. Foda will likely retain his 4-3-3 to mirror Italy but they will be huge underdogs. However in Alaba and Marcel Sabitzer they do have players who can turn a game in an instant, this is likely to be a lot closer than many are predicting.

Prediction: 1-0 Italy

Netherlands vs Czech Republic (Budapest)

Frank De Boer has answered plenty of his critics with a 100% record in the group, but now it gets much tougher. The Dutch have been fabulous in attack with Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum dictating play, a 3-0 win over North Macedonia the latest in a blistering start to the campaign. Denzel Dumfries and Patrick Van Aanholt have been exciting in the wingback roles, but remain untested going back towards their own goal.

The Czech’s have been a surprise package in this tournament, a young improving side, that appears to be the best they’ve had since the days of Koller and Nedved. Jakub Jankto can scheme in midfield whilst Patrik Schick has looked the international striker he previously hinted at becoming. The defence remains questionable with goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik’s contributions vital in getting the Czech’s this far. The worry is after their great start against Scotland and then Croatia in the first half, they were forced onto the backfoot first by Croatia’s second half performance at Hampden Park and then by England at Wembley.

The Netherlands have the quality to open the Czechs up with Depay likely to dictate the attack, whilst Wout Weghorst is starting to look the part as a number nine. The Czech’s will look to play on the break and with Thomas Soucek and Schick they carry a goal threat. Getting in behind the Dutch wingbacks will be key for the Czechs, but Jaroslav Silhavy will have to that without suspended left back Jan Boril.

Prediction: 3-1 Netherlands

Belgium vs Portugal (Seville)

One of the favourites will go home here as the defending champions take on the world’s top ranked team. Belgium have qualified for the knockout phase with a 100% record. Kevin De Bruyne is back to full fitness, it seems Eden Hazard and Axel Witsel are also ready to play the remainder of the tournament and Romelu Lukaku looks razor sharp. The one negative was a sloppy first half performance against Denmark, do that against Portugal and Belgium’s campaign will come to an abrupt end.

Portugal have endured a trickier start, but with the caveat of playing in by far the toughest group. After their 4-2 thrashing from Germany, Portugal revived their campaign with a dramatic 2-2 draw against France. That game saw Portugal move through every position in the Group F table, before settling in third. It also saw Cristiano Ronaldo equal the international goal scoring record and take the lead in the golden shoe race. Bruno Fernandes’ lack of form has been an issue, but the performance of Renato Sanches has negated that problem.

It would be a major shock if Sanches doen’t start against Belgium, as Portugal looked more composed with Danilo and Joao Moutinho in midfield. For Belgium, Roberto Martinez must decide whether or not to start Witsel and Hazard, whilst Jeremy Doku also impressed against Finland and is pushing for a place in the side. The biggest issue for both teams is can those ageing central defenders cope against such awesome attacking talent, whilst Fernando Santos must hope his fullbacks don’t repeat the mistakes that cost his team dear against Germany.

Prediction 3:2 Belgium (AET)

Jonathan Fearby

Jonathan Fearby is a United Kingdom native. Prior to joining The Athletes Hub as a staff writer, he founded and operated Football England.

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