The group stages have trimmed the starting field of 24 nations at the 2016 UEFA European Championships down to 16, and while the world has seen the last of Zlatan Ibrahimovic playing for Sweden, there are many other big names and intriguing matchups to highlight the knockout stages. Interestingly enough, most of the title contenders are positioned in the deathly right side of the bracket, meaning while the likes of Germany, Spain, Italy, France, and England battle to the death, we may very well see a surprise team advance to the finals. However, before they can reach the July 10th final, each team remaining must first advance to the quarterfinals. But which eight teams will succeed in coming one step closer to history? Here to break down the matchups with me are Top Level Sports soccer analysts Robert and Alex. Let’s get straight into it.
Switzerland (2nd Group A) vs. Poland (2nd Group C) 8:00 AM CDT
Connor: Poland enters this matchup as one of two teams yet to concede a goal. They impressed in the group stages, particularly in their goalless draw against Germany. Switzerland is another team solid at the back, but I think ultimately Poland’s stronger, Lewandowski-led attack will be able to break through in a game likely to be decided by a single goal. Poland 1-0.
Robert: I have to agree with the fact that Poland has one of the most polished defenses in the tournament today, as well as having Lewandowski leading the attack. Switzerland at this point, in my opinion, should be glad that they have made it this far. Poland 2-0.
Alex: Lewandowski has been marked to death in every game he’s played in this Euros, but Poland has a strong defense in Szczęsny, Glik, and Piszczek to counter a Switzerland side that has been underwhelming in all accounts so far. I can see Poland making the semis and be a dark horse in this tournament, but first they must see if they can overcome my other dark horse of the tournament, Croatia. Poland 2-0.
Wales (1st Group B) vs. Northern Ireland (3rd Group C) 11:00 AM CDT
Connor: Gareth Bale has been on fire this tournament, and is currently the joint top goalscorer at 3 with Spain’s Morata. Northern Ireland should be proud of their performance in advancing to the knockout stages, but will ultimately run into too much firepower against the impressive Welsh side. Wales 2-0.
Robert: Northern Ireland has certainly made its country happy. With that said, it is time for Gareth Bale to continue what he does best. When a player like him is on form, he is very hard to stop, and I do not believe that Northern Ireland has the capability to do so. I would like to see a goal fest here. Wales 4-0.
Alex: One can’t help but feel happy for Northern Ireland, the second smallest team to ever qualify for the Euros. However, I do not think that their team can overcome a Wales that has been surpassing expectations in this tournament, with an in-form Bale that has scored in every game of the group stages. Wales 3-0.
Croatia (1st Group D) vs. Portugal (3rd Group F) 2:00 PM CDT
Connor: Portugal has to be the most disappointing team so far in the tournament, mustering just three draws with one of the two best players in the world in what appeared to be the easiest of the six groups. For their third place finish, they are given Croatia, a side who dazzled in defeating Spain for first place in Group D. I like Croatia to continue their run of form and send Ronaldo home in another disappointing finish for Portugal. Croatia 2-1.
Robert: Portugal had a very interesting start to this tournament. With many opportunities created, I feel that they have been somewhat unfortunate with how their results ended up. That said, they do revolve their play around Ronaldo, as most feel that they should, although personally I see Croatia being a more complete soccer team with the likes of Rakitic and Modric controlling the midfield and spurring on a good attack, while Portugal are left hoping that Ronaldo plays a good game. Croatia 2-0.
Alex: We all saw what Ronaldo can do when is team is down in Portugal’s last game with Hungary. However, Portugal as a whole has greatly failed to deliver this tournament, with a dearth of goals from their side and a scrappy third place finish in their group. Furthermore, Croatia looks to be one of the most put together teams at the tournament, as evidenced in their 2-1 defeat of Spain even without main men Modric and Mandzukic. I expect a close game, but Croatia to ultimately triumph and meet Poland in the quarters. Croatia 3-2.
France (1st Group A) vs. Ireland (3rd Group E) 8:00 AM CDT
Connor: With France in good form and Dimitri Payet as one of the best in the tournament, it would shocking to see the Irish team advance out of this matchup. France is simply a much deeper team and I believe they will dominate the match. France 2-0.
Robert: On paper, France looks like a strong team, although most of their most crucial goals in the group stages were scored in the last minutes of play, against teams like Romania and Albania. This may mean a few things, that most coaches would be worried about, but with that said, they are playing Ireland which again is another team who has made their country proud and thus I believe will not continue past this one. France 2-0.
Alex: Anything but a win for France against the boys in green would simply be unacceptable, with Payet showing extreme promise this tournament and France’s home field advantage. However, while I expect France to progress to the quarters I predict a Brazil 2014-esque meltdown later on in the tournament, contrary to many who consider them favorites. You heard it here first folks. France 2-0.
Germany (1st Group C) vs. Slovakia (3rd Group B) 11:00 AM CDT
Connor: I currently have Germany as the favorites to win this tournament, so I believe similar to France they will have a convincing win. Slovakia does have a crafty midfield, but Germany is a very experienced, composed team which will be able to break through to a tough quarterfinals matchup. Germany 2-0.
Robert: Germany is my personal favorite to win the tournament and my opinion is very strong in that regards. They have the players, and chemistry to really ramp up their game at any time and although Slovakia has had a good showing, I think it is time for them to go, and see Germany as the #1 European team this year. Germany 3-0.
Alex: Slovakia is a tough nut to crack, with my boy Kucka (I’m an AC Milan fan in case you didn’t know) and fellow Serie A star Hamsik leading the team’s midfield. However, Germany did not win the last World Cup for nothing, and they have more than enough firepower to overcome Slovakia’s most likely parked bus defense. Expect Germany to dominate but a low scoreline. Germany 1-0.
Hungary (1st Group F) vs. Belgium (2nd Group E) 2:00 PM CDT
Connor: Belgium began this tournament slow with a 2-0 defeat to Italy, but have since found their form, picking up two wins to easily move through. They do, however, meet a hungry Hungarian team (kicking myself for that pun) who are coming off great performances in winning group F, including the game of the tournament so far in a 3-3 match against Portugal. However, they had multiple goals coming off deflections, and I don’t think they’ll be as lucky against Belgium. Belgium 2-1.
Robert: I took some time to analyze Hungary’s play. There is no doubt that they are a solid attacking team, although some of their goals I saw came more out of luck than skill in my opinion. Belgium has a great group of players also and a strong core of the team consisting of players such as Hazard, DeBruyne, and Witsel, to name a few. I see Belgium comfortably taking this one. Belgium 2-0.
Alex: You know I think I’ll go against the grain here most likely and say I predict a Hungarian win. Belgium didn’t look too convincing in their loss to Italy nor their scrappy win against Sweden despite having a star-studded roster; it just seems Wilmots cannot get the team to work cohesively and to their full potential. Furthermore, the “mighty Magyars” have taken down Austria in a surprisingly convincing 2-0 win and managed to score 3 against Portugal, and have not lost yet. This may very well be a good tournament for Hungary, and for that, I will go out on a limb here and predict their win. Hungary 2-1.
Italy (1st Group E) vs. Spain (2nd Group D) 11:00 AM CDT
Connor: What a devastating draw for both sides. These are two teams who could easily win the whole tournament, but even the lucky team to advance will have to play Germany in the quarterfinals. Well, to be the best you have to beat the best, I guess. This should be a very tightly contested matchup, with two creative attacks looking to break down great defenses. Ultimately, I think we’ll need more than 90 minutes to decide this one. Sorry, Alex. 1-1, Spain on penalties.
Robert: From having personally played against Spanish teams, I have had a chance to see their play and tactics and I really respect the way they approach and play the game. I see Italy being as they usually are, trying to score a goal, and sending everyone back to defend. For me this is not an entertaining way to play the game, and although they do have talent and some discipline in that regards, I have seen Spain dismantle many teams no matter how strong with how they pass and defend the ball in numbers, always together, and I see a clear victory for Spain here. Quite frankly, I would be disappointed if Italy were to somehow go through. Spain 2-0.
Alex: Disclaimer: I’m of Italian descent and therefore support the Italian team, so maybe I’m overestimating them. However, I believe we have the best defense at this tournament in the likes of Chiellini, Barzagli, Bonnuci and Buffon, and very solid midfielders in De Rossi and Candreva. Our offense is lacking granted, but then again so is Spain’s, with the lack of a really clinical striker to break down Italy’s mighty defense. Spain’s high possession game leaves them very vulnerable to Conte’s counter-attacking style, and I therefore predict an Italian win this game. Italy 2-0.
England (2nd Group B) vs. Iceland (2nd Group F) 2:00 PM CDT
Connor: Man, I love the story of Iceland. A country roughly the size of Santa Ana, the 11th most populated city in California, with 300 times fewer people than Ronaldo has Facebook followers, who sent 8% of their population to cheer on the team, that actually advanced (ahead of Portugal). However, the run for Iceland is likely to come to an end against England, who’s attack will prove too much for the tiny nation that could. England 2-1.
Robert: You do have to take a moment and appreciate the atmosphere and love of the game that Iceland has; not to mention the support they get from their fans. I have never been a fan of England as a national team, although I think it’s fair to say that Iceland made it farther than any of us thought possible, and England was fortunate in this draw. England 3-0.
Alex: ah Iceland, every neutral’s favorite team, and the internet’s chosen country for the tournament. While Iceland’s story is incredible and heartwarming for even the most cynical fan, it would take a stroke of luck to beat England in this tournament. Though England has not been the most convincing team this tournament, they have enough defensive ability and attacking power in Alli, Vardy and Sturridge to overcome Iceland I believe. My heart says Iceland but my brain says England. England 2-0.
Lastly, now that we’ve gotten a chance to view each team in the group stages, which two nations will make the finals, and who takes home the trophy?
Connor: I believe Germany will survive the bloodbath in their half of the bracket to meet what really could one of at least five teams coming from the other side. If I had to pick, I’d say Belgium, but don’t count out Poland, Wales, Croatia, Hungary, Portugal (what the heck, I’ll throw in Switzerland and Northern Ireland too). It’s anyone’s game.
Robert: To be completely real, I think the final should be between Spain and Germany and that Germany wins in penalties. To me, these two teams are unstoppable and would really make another great final fixture. I am sorry to those who want the underdogs, but Germany will take this one.
Alex: Would I like to see an all-Irish final this Euros? Of course, but realistically speaking that won’t happen. I am going to predict that Croatia will take it all the way to the finals on the easier side of the bracket, and Germany, the current world champions, will face them. While it’s hard to see Croatia winning this matchup, anything can happen because, as my dad has always said, the ball is round. I’ll be rooting for Croatia in this case, because hey, everyone likes an underdog.
Thanks for reading. Comment your predictions and if you would like to see our predictions in future rounds.