Soccer

Euro 2020: Second Round Previews (Part 2)

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The knockout phase of Euro 2020 continues on Monday and Tuesda, with the last four second-round ties. Favorites France will be in action, two of football’s great midfield generals will clash in Copenhagen, Sweden will be looking to underline their dark horse status and there’s a marquee clash at Wembley.

Euro 2020: Second Round Previews (Part 1)

Spain v Croatia (Copenhagen)

Two teams who took a while to get going are scheduled to go head-to-head in Copenhagen. The campaign of Spain finally sparked into life in a 5-0 hiding of Slovakia. Their midfield was boosted by the return of Sergio Busquets, while Pablo Sarabia impressed in the front three. The question remains whether Spain’s sudden surge down to Luis Enrique’s team resulted in them finding their mojo or Slovakia’s implosion.

Croatia also reserved their best group performance until last in a dominant 3-1 win over Scotland. Their midfield ran rings around the Scots, with Luka Modric capping a masterclass with a winning goal. The attack of Croatia has shown teeth since Bruno Petkovic was brought in at centre forward, as Ivan Perisic is also back amongst the goals.

This will be a chess match between two high-quality and experienced midfields: Modric, Kovacic and Brozovic facing Busqets and Koke. Croatia Coach Zlatko Dalic has found a lineup that works and will stick with it, but Enrique still has dilemma in attack. Striker Alvaro Morata has misfired in attack, leading to the player receiving a torrent of online abuse. Enrique must decide whether to keep faith in Morata or take him out of the firing line and start Ferran Torres.

Prediction: 0:1 Croatia (AET)

France v Switzerland (Bucharest)

France haven’t been scintillating, but came through a tough group unbeaten. The group games did give a sense that France have another gear they can move into; particularly now Karim Benzema is scoring goals. The biggest negative for Didier Deschamps to this point has been injuries, as Ousane Dembele has been forced out of the tournament, Adrien Rabiot is doubtful, and left backs Theo Hernandez and Lucas Digne are unlikely to be fit. Matters went from bad to worse this week when Marcus Thuram and Thomas Lemar limped out of training.

After a dismal display against Italy, Switzerland turned their campaign around with an impressive 3-1 win over Turkey. Haris Serferovic repaid Vladimir Petkovic’s faith in him with the opening goal, while Xherdan Shaqiri gave his best performance in recent years to secure the win. The Swiss looked a soft touch against Italy, but Petkovic will be pleased with the increased work rate and desire his side showed against Turkey.

Switzerland haven’t won a knockout game since 1938 and it would be a seismic shock if they ended that run here. However, they did memorably hold Brazil to a draw at the World Cup and are capable of a similarly-disciplined performance. Despite his injury issues, Deschamps has enormous strength in depth to call on, with Kinglsey Coman and Olivier Giroud among those who will be confined to the bench. Deschamps will likely pick Lyon right-back Leo Dubois to fill in at left-back, and Corentin Tolisso will keep his place in the first eleven in Rabiot’s absence.

Prediction 3-1 France

England v Germany (London)

England will enter this game as the only team who hasn’t conceded a goal at the Euros. Gareth Southgate’s team has been effective rather than thrilling, as seen in their 1-0 win over the Czech Republic getting their campaign back on track after a poor performance in the draw against Scotland. Winger Bukayo Saka added pace to the attack against the Czech’s, while Jack Grealish showed off his creative talents to unlock the Czech defence. The lack of form from Harry Kane’s has been an issue for Southgate, but he too looked far sharper against the Czechs. Most pleasingly for Southgate, Harry Maguire looked sharp on his return to action after recovering from an ankle injury. One frustration for Southgate is Chelsea duo Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell, who are being forced into a Covid bubble for a week.

Germany remain the hardest team to gage at these finals, as their 4-2 win over Portugal revived memories of their brilliance at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. However, against unfancied Hungary, Joachim Low’s side were outfought and outplayed in a manner more in keeping with their form of the last three years. Low will almost certainly restore Thomas Muller to the attack at Wembley in what has been a largely-settled team. For all their problems Germany are tournament players, Low has 11 knockout phase wins to his name as manager, while England have just eight since 1966.

Germany will stick with their 3-4-3 system, which means Leon Goretzka will start on the bench, despite his goal against Hungary. How Southgate lines England up remains to be seen. Southgate might mirror Germany’s system, given his strong options at fullback. However, that would mean leaving Grealish and Mount on the bench. England will look to contain Toni Kroos the way they did Luka Modric with two holding midfielders. The two previous knockout meetings between the two sides at Wembley were both classics, this will be another tight encounter.

Prediction: 2-1 England

Ukraine v Sweden (Glasgow)

It looked like Ukraine had blown their tournament in the final group game. With two solid performances and three points under their belt, they turned in a dreadful performance against Austria and were deservedly beaten. Their fate hung in the balance until Wednesday, when results in Group E went in their favor and got them into the Euros knockout phase for the first time. This is a learning experience for an inexperienced team, with only three players in possession of more than 50 caps. Andriy Shevchenko will demand far better this time, and a strong start will be needed if Ukraine are to keep their tournament hopes alive.

Ironically, one of those who did Ukraine a favor on Wednesday was Sweden, who showed against Poland there is more in their locker than a strong defence and team spirit. Alexander Isak continues to impress and has formed an effective partnership with Robin Quasion, while Emil Forsberg has already scored three goals from midfield. Janne Andersson has options off the bench as well with the in-form Viktor Claesson combining with Dejan Kulusevksi for the late winner against Poland enroute to beating Spain for top spot in Group E.

Andersson will stick with tried and trusted, meaning Claesson and Kulusevski will start on the bench. Left-back Ludwig Augustinsson will be a key player, given the job of trying to keep Ukraine’s Andriy Yarmalenko quiet. Ukraine have shown promise in this tournament, but goalkeeper Herohiy Bushchan has a mistake in him and the defence isn’t the strongest. Isak has turned heads in this tournament, but has not scored yet.

Prediction: 2-0 Sweden

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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