Euro 2020: Elimination Day #1

Euro 2020: Elimination Day #1

And now to the knock-outs

Wales v Denmark,  26th June, Amsterdam 1800

Italy v Austria26th June, London, 2100

Netherlands v Czech Republic, 27th June, Budapest, 1800

Belgium v Portugal, 27th June, Seville, 2100

Croatia v Spain28th June, Copenhagen, 1800

France v Switzerland, 28th June, Bucharest, 2100

England v Germany, 29th June, London, 1800

Sweden v Ukraine, 29th June, Glasgow 2100

(All times are Central European)

The round of 16 is what the Euros were until Euro 2016 and many believe is the ideal size.

UEFA's expansion to 24 teams five years ago in France allowed Eire, Hungary, Northern Ireland and Slovakia to make it to the second phase, where they were eliminated. This time, we have the likes of Austria, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Ukraine facing the same fate.

The teams who have now left the competition:

Finland, Hungary, North Macedonia, Poland, Russia, Scotland, Slovakia and Turkey, hardly merited a place in the last 16, so the argument for expansion looks weak.

Hungary and North Macedonia certainly entertained with their fighting spirit and front-foot football, but their defences were not up to scratch. With 13 European teams qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar next year, a 16 team Euros seems about right.

While it makes the Euros a bigger commercial cultural event, in footballing terms it is hard to argue the increase to 24 finalists has worked. A return to 16 teams would be a good idea but of course it won't happen. Plans for Euro 2024 in Germany are already well advanced and there are two confirmed bidders for Euro 2028.

Of the sides remaining, Ukraine are perhaps the weakest, not much better than the eliminated Finns or Slovaks, while three of the eight ties look lop-sided - Italy should beat Austria, Holland should beat the Czech Republic and France Switzerland without breaking too much of a sweat.

Wales v Denmark, Croatia v Spain and England v Germany seem more equally matched and hard to call.

The Danes arrive in Holland on the crest of an emotional wave after their hammering of Russia, but Wales are a tough nut to crack too. Croatia remembered their lines too with a 3-1 win over Scotland in Glasgow and their toughness and greater experience should tell over Spain.

England have home advantage over Germany which counts for something and this Germany side is not one of their best ones, but the Mannschaft's defeat of Portugal and double comeback against Hungary means you cannot write off their chances at Wembley.

The Three Lions blow hot and cold too, excellent for one half against the Czechs, anonymous for the other, solid against Croatia, unable to dominate the team which finished bottom at home.

England are the only nation left in the Euros who can play at home, although if they beat Germany they will fly to Rome for their quarter-final.

Belgium v Portugal could be the pick of the matches, when the crown could be passed in a colourful, hard-fought goal-fest full of big-name performances.

And then there is Sweden, who won their group but did not get the plaudits for their watertight defence keeping the Spanish pass class away from their goal.

The Swedes were rewarded with the best second round draw against Ukraine. I don't bet and abhor predictions, but it is too tempting to not picture the quarter-final lineup.

Here's my tuppence ha'penny worth (two cents) on what the last eight will look like:

Belgium v Italy

France v Croatia

England v Sweden

Netherlands v Denmark

The other thing which stands out from the draw is how much heavier the top half of it is, packed with France, Italy, Belgium, Croatia and Spain.

England, Germany and the Netherlands, in the bottom half, have smoother passages to the final at Wembley on the 11th of July.


(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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