The first two weeks of Euro 2016 had left many bemoaning the format change as a succession of low scoring games left us underwhelmed by the quality on show. But the second round saw the tournament finally burst into life.
After England crashed out with arguably the worst defeat in their history, Italy knocked out the current holders Spain, and Belgium finally showed their tournament-winning potential, the quarter-finals looks set to be high on quality – and goals.
Italy play Germany in undoubtedly the pick of the games (the Azzurri are quickly becoming tournament favourites alongside the Germans), whilst Iceland prepare for the biggest match in the nation’s history against hosts France. Poland versus Portugal pairs together two teams that are yet to find any rhythm and are struggling for goals, but Wales against Belgium has the potential to be one of the games of the tournament.
Wales v Belgium
Wales laboured to an unconvincing 1-0 victory over Northern Ireland in the second round but will not be disheartened by their performance on Saturday; Belgium are an entirely different type of opposition, and one well suited to Chris Coleman’s 3-5-2 formation.
Wales won 1-0 and drew 0-0 in their two qualifying games against Belgium. Their underdog mentality makes them more effective against teams like Belgium, that look to dominate possession.
The Welsh are at their best when sitting deep and attempting to play on the counter-attack, using long sweeping balls into the channels for Hal Robson-Kanu to chase. Their plucky underdog mentality makes them more effective against teams that look to dominate possession; staying disciplined, tackling aggressively, and breaking forward with the pace of Gareth Bale is their best tactical style. Belgium are, therefore, the perfect quarter-final opponents for the Welsh.
Wales won 1-0 and drew 0-0 in their two qualifying games against Belgium, and will be hopeful of a similar result on Friday. Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne were exceptional against Hungary, but Belgium struggled to score until Hungary advanced further forward in the second half. Another passionate, gritty Wales performance could nullify this dual threat – particularly if Aaron Ramsey has another sensational game as a box-to-box midfielder.
Draw not bet - Wales to win odds: 4.15*
Germany v Italy
Germany’s 3-0 victory over Slovakia was arguably the first time this tournament that Germany lived up to expectations, comfortably beating their opponents with the sort of fluid movement in the final third that had been absent in the group stages. They are certainly favourites here, but Italy’s magnificent win against Spain has set up an intriguing and complex tactical battle in Lens.
Italy play in a very narrow 3-5-2 formation, which looks to crowd out the middle of the pitch and force their opponents into the channels; both Belgium and Spain struggle to create from the flanks, which helps explain Italy’s two biggest wins of the tournament to date. Germany will not have the same problem. Thomas Muller, Julian Draxler, and Mesut Ozil covered the width of the pitch against Slovakia, interchanging positions in a way that their opponents could not contain.
However, Germany’s dominance of possession (64.1% average, the highest in the tournament) should play into Antonio Conte’s hands. They are the perfect counter-attacking team, holding their positions expertly and shuttling across as a unit with patient off-the-ball football. Expect Germany to aimlessly probe for long periods of the match as Italy sit back; this is unlikely to be a high scoring game, and could be settled by Italy’s wing-backs. Can they pour forward in the spaces left by Draxler and Muller, or will these two German playmakers pin them back in the Italy half?
Germany to score in the 1st Half: 2.34*
France v Iceland
The psychological mind-set of these two nations could ultimately decide the outcome of one of the most intriguing matches of the tournament so far. Iceland’s monumental 2-1 victory over England puts them in a fearless position where everything from now on in is a bonus, whilst France face a high pressure match as hosts; they have often looked nervous during the tournament, and another time 90 minutes on Sunday could end in disaster.
The psychological mind-set of extremely well organised Iceland and rather disjoined France could ultimately decide the outcome of this year’s Euro tournament.
Iceland are extremely well organised, as any England fan will know. Their 4-4-2 formation has been so successful largely because of their small population, rather than in spite of it; their starting eleven has played together for a very long time, and therefore each player understands his role perfectly. In contrast, France have looked disjointed throughout much of the tournament, and although they have more talent in their squad than England, their lukewarm performances are not dissimilar.
N’Golo Kante’s absence will be a big loss against the power and movement of central midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, although if Antoine Griezmann and Dimitri Payet play with the same confidence as they did in the second half against Ireland then the hosts should be able to squeeze through.
Iceland to score: 2.20*
Poland v Portugal
Portugal’s luck continues. Having failed to win a single match over 90 minutes in Euro 2016, Cristiano Ronaldo and company are faced with the least challenging opponent in the quarter-final; this will most likely be the dullest match of the four.
Poland have scored just three goals in four games in France and squeezed through the second round with an unconvincing penalty shoot-out win against Switzerland. Portugal, meanwhile, were dreadful against Croatia – amassing just six shots on goal in 120 minutes in what is being widely regarded as the one of the most boring matches in the history of the competition. In short, both Poland and Portugal have looked stodgy, disorganised, and desperately lacking in creativity throughout June.
Arguably the biggest reason for this is that their respective star players, Robert Lewandowski and Cristiano Ronaldo, have hardly been involved. Ronaldo failed to record a single shot on goal against Croatia, whilst Bayern’s striker is yet to score in France. Don’t expect a classic.
Portugal to win with clean sheet: 3.26*
See the latest Euro 2016 odds, including Top Goal scorer, who will reach the semi-finals, over/under points, handicap markets and much more under the left-hand side menu Bet Options/Specials!
See the latest Euro 2016 odds, including Top Goal scorer, who will reach the semi-finals, over/under points and much more under the left-hand side menu Specials!
*Odds subject to change