The round of 16 in Euro 2016 is now in the books. After a knockout round that saw defending champions Spain eliminated by a resurgent Italy side, and perennial hopefuls England knocked out by tournament debutantes, Iceland, we can look ahead to some intriguing quarterfinal clashes later this week.
Poland vs. Portugal
After being ridiculed for missing a penalty in Portugal’s scoreless draw with Austria in the group stage, Cristiano Ronaldo was back on song helping his team battle to a 3-3 draw with Hungary in its final group stage outing and setting up the late winner against Croatia that booked Portugal’s passage to the quarters in the next round. Next up for CR7 and company is a date with Poland, a side that despite not having played particularly well so far finds itself in the quarterfinals.
Unlike Ronaldo, who’s had his highs and lows in this tournament, Poland’s talisman, Bayern Munch striker Robert Lewandowski, has yet to make an impact on these Euros. Having finished at the bottom of their group on the two previous occasions they appeared in the Euros – 2008 and 2012 – Poland are already playing with house money at this point. However, if they have any hope of keeping their Euro dream alive, they need a big performance from Lewandowski. Oh yeah, and to find a way to try and stop Ronaldo!
Watch Poland vs. Portugal, this Thursday, June 30 at 3:00 p.m. EST on ESPN2.
Wales vs. Belgium
It’s the most talented group of players in the Euros against the man who just might be the most talented individual player at the Euros. Belgium, with its “golden generation” of talent is no longer the dark horse it was at the 2014 World Cup. But despite a couple of good results in the group stage – a 3-0 over Ireland and a 1-0 over Sweden – it wasn’t until late in the second half of their round of 16 rout of Hungary that this Belgium team really seemed to catch fire. Suddenly, the dark horse has a discernible path to the final.
But that path lies through a Gareth Bale-led Wales side that surprised everyone by topping its group over England. Bale has three goals in these Euros so far and sits joint-top of the scoring charts with Spain’s Alvaro Morata and France’s Antoine Griezmann. The Real Madrid man has done an admirable job of leading his team at this tournament and has been aided by a supporting cast that includes Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey and Liverpool’s Joe Allen. But apart from a 2-1 loss to England and a tougher than expected 1-0 win over Northern Ireland, there’s a sense that this Wales side hasn’t really been tested yet. They surely will be when they meet a Belgium side stacked with world-class talent like Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin DeBruyne.
Catch Wales vs. Belgium this Friday, July 1 at 3:00 p.m. EST on ESPN2.
Germany vs. Italy
Italy surprised everyone by opening their tournament with a commanding 2-0 win over Belgium. Although they were upset 1-0 by Ireland in their final group stage match, Italy showed their title credentials were legit by knocking out Spain by 2-0 in their next match. This has set them on a collision course for a quarterfinal clash with World Champions Germany.
On paper, Germany would seem the favorites, despite not having swept through the early stages of this tournament quite as easily as they did at the World Cup two years ago. But surprisingly, Germany have still never beaten Italy in a competitive fixture. So while Germany possesses enough superior talent to continue their march toward the final, Joachim Loew’s team will need to find a way to banish the “Italy curse” if they are to follow their World Cup up with a European championship.
Watch Germany vs. Italy this Saturday, July 2 at 3:00 p.m. EST on ESPN2.
France vs. Iceland
The final quarterfinal clash pits the team everyone picked to reach this point against the team no one picked. Host nation France has been the favorite to win the Euros since before the first ball was kicked. However, with qualification automatic for host nations, France hadn’t played a competitive fixture for two years prior to their opener against Romania; and it’s shown. Despite a collection of talent that in addition to Griezmann includes the likes of Paul Pogba, Dimitri Payet and Kingsley Coman, this France side do not yet look like world-beaters.
Iceland meanwhile, having qualified for the Euros for the first time in their history, pulled off the upset of the tournament in the last round when they came from behind to beat England 2-1. Lars Lagerback’s Iceland team boasts no major stars but is an extremely well drilled outfit and has yet to lose a match in Euro 2016. While France remain heavy favorites to reach, and possibly win the final, Didier Deschamps’ Les Bleus side must take nothing for granted when it comes up against this Iceland team.
Watch France vs. Iceland this Sunday, July 3 at 3:00 p.m. EST on ESPN.