Friday, July 2, 2021

EURO 2020: Quarter Finals - Be Gamble Aware

EURO 2020: Quarter Finals

EURO 2020: Quarter Finals

So we are down to the last eight and from my prediction I only got half the teams right -

Belgium v Italy

France v Croatia

England v Sweden 

Netherlands v Denmark

My 'expert' tips garnered from my FIFA, UEFA and Premier League accreditations were stabs in the dark - confirming I am right to stay away from anything resembling a betting slip, although I am game for losing £1 in the office World Cup sweepstake once every four years.

I am glad I was half wrong, because how boring would football be if it were 100% predictable (are you listening Florentino Perez)?

To that end, I cannot see the point of envisaging who will be in the semi-finals and am tiring of the media asking players or fans streaming out of Wembley daft questions like, "So will England go all the way?" No one has a crystal ball.

I smiled when Sven-Goran Eriksson was once asked at an England press conference, "Sven, will we win tomorrow?" and the glacial Swede responded with the cold logic of an I.Q. test, "I don't know if we will win tomorrow but I know we can win," which left the tabloid hack frustrated without his longed-for headline.

When people ask me to predict football I always cast my mind back to the 2002 World Cup and reply, "Who could have predicted two of those semi-finalists would be Turkey and South Korea?" I might also add that World Cup last fours in my lifetime have included Poland and Sweden.

Therefore, it would not be a shock to see one of the Czech Republic, Denmark, Switzerland or Ukraine in the Euro 2020 final. They have all shown real steel to get to the last eight, a martial virtue whose absence arguably did for France and certainly for the Netherlands.

All the ties look tough to call. The Englishman in me feels Ukraine will be summarily dispatched in Rome but after washing off my St George's Cross face paint, the rational observer thinks it will be a close scrap. The head should rule the heart, some of the time.

Andriy Yarmolenko and Oleksandr Zinchenko really impressed me against Sweden. Since the pair play for English clubs and coach Andriy Shevchenko has a London home and played for Chelsea, they will all surely be motivated.

England beat Ukraine 1-0 at Euro 2012 in Donetsk but the hosts gave them a right fright that afternoon and in the absence of goal line technology, had a shot wrongly disallowed too. Their last meetings were in 2014 and ended in two draws so there is no reason to believe England will walk it in Rome.

Whenever Spain play there is a clash of styles on show because Luis Enrique's men outpass the opposition massively. Their average possession stat of 67.5% is far ahead of the next best, Italy, on 56.3%, bucking the recent trends of more vertical than horizontal football.

If anyone wants to diss the Spanish game as 'pass-enaccio' they might want to note Enrique's men have found the net more than any other nation at Euro 2020 - 11 times in four games. The team is still fairly inexperienced and Sergio Busquets the only survivor from the golden age of tiki-taka.

In their way are a Swiss side buoyed by their surprise elimination of the favourites, France, on penalties.

Also revved up after upsetting the odds are the Czechs, the lowest-ranked side left in the competition, who deservedly beat the Netherlands and did it in normal time too. Patrik Schik is only one goal behind the eliminated Cristiano Ronaldo in the race for the golden boot. Against them are the most motivated nation in Euro 2020, Denmark, who seem to have tapped into higher powers.

The standout tie of course is Belgium v Italy. One of the best two nations left in the competition will go out tomorrow night, a reminder of the vagaries of knockout football.

Unlike in leagues, when it comes to cups the best team often does not lift the trophy. Just remember the Mighty Magyars of '54 and the Clockwork Orange of '74, both universally eulogised, but fallers at the last.

EURO 2020 Quarter-Finals 

Kick-off times GMT; FIFA World Rankings in brackets

Friday 2nd July

Switzerland (13) v Spain (6) 1700, St Petersburg

Belgium (1) v Italy (7) 2000, Munich

Saturday 3rd July

Czech Republic (40) v Denmark (10) 1700, Baku

Ukraine (24) v England (4) 2000, Rome

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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