We’re down to the quarterfinals of this year’s Euro Cup. Some of the sides that remain - such as Belgium, England, Italy and Spain - were expected to get here. Others - like Czech Republic and Ukraine - are a bit of a surprise.
Over on the right side of the bracket, there is potential for the ultimate “feel good” story with Denmark. Their tournament got off to the worst possible start with Christian Eriksen collapsing in the opening match and going into cardiac arrest. Later that day, Denmark had to resume the match with Finland and suffered a shock 1-0 loss. Then they blew an early lead to favored Belgium and lost that one too. But Eriksen showed up on the sideline for the team’s final match of the group stage and since then everything has changed. Denmark rolled Russia 4-1 to qualify for the knockout stage, then beat Wales 4-0 in the Round of 16.
The right side of the bracket is considered the much weaker half. Next up for Denmark will be Czech Republic, who shocked the Netherlands 2-0 in the Round of 16. The Czechs have conceded only two goals the entire tournament. Going back to earlier competitions, it’s been a long time since they conceded more than one in any match.
But something to keep in mind is that even before their “resurgence,” Denmark had been playing well. They had the second best shot difference (+46) and fourth best expected goal differential (+3.4) in the group stage.
England should now be considered the favorite on the weaker side of the draw. They are more than a 2/1 favorite to beat Ukraine in the quarterfinals, as they should be. Through four matches in Euro “2020,” the Three Lions have yet to concede a single goal. They are the lone side that can say that. But they’ve only scored four times.
Ukraine beat 10-man Sweden in the quarters with the latest game winner ever in a major tournament. They got the game-winner in the final minute of added time. They’ve scored six goals in the tournament, more than England, but also conceded six. It would be shocking to see them in the semis.
Over on the other side of the draw, Spain is favored to beat Switzerland. It should not have been as hard as it was for La Roja against Croatia in the Round of 16. They blew a two-goal lead in the final 10 minutes. Added time belonged to them as they scored twice. That’s now 10 goals from Spain in the last two matches. Keen observers probably saw this coming. Spain had 7.5 expected goals in the group stage, which was second most of anybody.
Switzerland also erased a late two-goal deficit in its Round of 16 fixture. But unlike Croatia, they were able to finish the deal and stunned France on penalties. The Swiss had an underwhelming first two matches of this tournament before blitzing Turkey to stay alive. They probably “should have” lost to France though. This is the first time La Nati has ever made the European Championship quarterfinals in their history. Their record against Spain is quite poor, but they’ve also only been beaten once in the last 11 competitions.
Clearly, the marquee quarter final fixture is between Italy and Belgium. Italy looked like the best side in the group stage. They are on an unbeaten run of 31 straight matches, a new national record. But they needed added time to get by Austria in the Round of 16. Belgium was the #1 ranked team in the world coming into the tournament. They have not lost in 2021. Both sides will come into Friday on 14-match win streaks. But one streak obviously has to end.
Belgium has not only won 14 in a row, but 23 of their last 27. They’ve scored a goal in 34 straight matches. But their record against Italy isn’t very good. They have just four wins and 14 losses in the last 22 meetings.
There are injuries to monitor on the Belgian side. One of them is Kevin De Bruyne (ankle) and the other is captain Eden Hazard (muscular). Neither injury is believed to be serious, but you’ve got two significant contributors that won’t be fully fit. That could end up being the difference in the match.
I, for one, will be looking forward to the remainder of Euro 2020.