Poland v. Portugal – Thursday 30th June
Having finished third in their group and facing the tough prospect of playing the impressive Croatians in the last 16, Portugal belatedly came up with a sufficiently stifling game plan which prevented Croatia from asserting their dominance. Chances were at a premium, but Portugal eventually found the killer blow in extra-time. They will need to keep this higher level of disciplined performance if they are to prevail in this quarter-final.
Poland will present a slightly different challenge to Croatia, as they lack the supreme play-making talents of the Croats, but they do have several players
Both teams possess world class talents, but neither have shown their full capabilities in this tournament, or even close to it. Cristiano Ronaldo has shown flickers, notably against Hungary, but more often than not he has been left visibly frustrated by his team’s lacklustre performances, and at times at his teammates’ levels of ability. He can’t be the most inspiring captain to play for since he rants and rails every time a pass isn’t sent his way. Let’s not even delve into his free-kick deficiencies – or maybe I will. It’s now over 40 free-kicks taken in World Cups of European Championships with none of them resulting in a goal. Will someone else get the chance to take a free-kick? Don’t bet on it.
For Poland, Robert Lewandowski has been even worse. For such a clinical striker, he’s barely had a shot on goal, let alone troubled the scorers. Having made it this far with their star man restricted to a support role, Poland really need him to kick in to gear if they are to go any further. At the other end of the pitch, Poland may prove a tough nut to crack, with Xherdan Shaqiri’s spectacular bicycle-kick for Switzerland being the only goal conceded so far.
But the overriding narrative is of an intriguing tale of two world class players playing below their capabilities. If either one of them hits their stride in this match it will probably swing the result their way. If neither does so, then I would think Poland are the better team and can get through as they have a more cohesive unit beyond Lewandowski’s troubled times.
My Prediction: Poland 1-0 Portugal
WGF Prediction: Poland by 1 goal
Wales v. Belgium – Friday 1st July
These two faced each other in the qualifying group, and it was Wales who had the better of things with a 1-0 win in Cardiff to add to a 0-0 in Brussels. Wales know they have the wherewithal to get the better of Belgium, and perhaps more to the point, so do Belgium. Gareth Bale has claimed that Wales might be Belgium’s bogey team – we shall see.
While Wales were rather underwhelming in their narrow win over Northern Ireland, Belgium eventually ran riot against Hungary but not without suffering some uneasy moments. Their quality told in the end, and in Eden Hazard’s performance, they produced one of the best individual displays of the Euros.
While Belgium have a team littered with star names that sometimes struggle to form an effective unit, Wales have one star named who fits seamlessly into a very effective team. For these reasons this is a tough match to call. Belgium should have the quality to win, but the fact that they sometimes flatter to deceive and came off worse against Wales in the qualifiers makes that assertion seem a little hollow. But I’m still leaning the way of the Red Devils to sneak through, but not by much.
My Prediction: Wales 0-2 Belgium
WGF Prediction: Belgium by 1 goal
Germany v. Italy – Saturday 2nd July
The most anticipated of the quarter-finals sees two giants of the game, and two of the most impressive teams so far in the tournament, come face to face.
It barely seems credible, but Germany have never beaten Italy in a major tournament. The Azzurri have overcome their fellow super-powers in three semi-finals and one World Cup final as well as a handful of drawn games.
This time around, Italy were meant to be weaker than usual, so all the pre-tournament discussions said. Not a bit of it. Individually that may be true, but as a collective they are the very essence of a team playing cohesively and collectively. And under the stewardship of Chelsea-bound Antonio Conte, they are led by probably the finest coach in this tournament. He has shown himself to be tactically astute and has found a way to garner his resources into a team that has already surpassed many expectations. Forgetting the almost reserve-team loss to Ireland (and remembering that Italy are almost always woeful when there is absolutely nothing on the line for them) the performance in the dazzling win over Spain was perhaps the finest of the tournament. It will take another fine display to overcome Germany, but don’t rule it out.
Germany will present rather different problems to Spain, though the midfield dominance may be similar. However, Germany are fairly blunt in attack. They may create a number of chances but their strikers haven’t really hit the mark yet, most notably Thomas Muller. However their dismantling of Slovakia was eerily effective in the kind of easy tournament display Germany have repeated frequently over the years.
This match is one not to miss and could go either way. I really wouldn’t be surprised to see it going to extra-time and from there who knows.
My Prediction: Germany 1-1 Italy (penalties to decide it)
WGF Prediction: Germany by 1 goal
France v. Iceland – Sunday 3rd July
While France struggles and eventually overcame an exhausted but spirited Ireland, Iceland have taken their fairy-tale story to a whole extra level with the 2-1 win over England. While it can’t be denied that England were woeful on the day, nothing can be taken away from the way Iceland performed. If there was to have been another goal in the second half of that match it was far more likely to have come from Iceland than it was from England. This was no rear-guard defensive effort. Iceland were the better team all over the pitch and were deserved winners.
France, like England, haven’t impressed consistently so far. You could argue they’ve escaped from bad predicaments in most of their games so far: a last gasp winner over Romania, likewise against Albania, before failing to break down Switzerland, and then struggling initially against Ireland.
These travails will give Iceland heart ahead of Sunday night’s big clash. If the story is to carry on they will need to be at the top of their once again. They will be facing some players playing at a better level than any of England’s contingent, Griezmann in particular. But France are weakened at the back with Rami suspended in central defence and N’Golo Kante missing from his defensive midfield slot.
Iceland will play as they have done all tournament. The same starting 11 has lined up for each match and it would be a shock if that were to change now. They will be direct, and seek to exploit set pieces. The long throw-ins that so befuddled England will be on show again, though France will surely be better prepared to deal with them than England were. France know what will be coming at them, but whether they can fully stop it is another matter.
It’s a matter of heart versus head for me. My heart would love to see Iceland go a step further and record an even more historic victory. The head says it just can’t happen. But it will be fun watching the latest episode of the Viking saga.
My Prediction: France 2-1 Iceland
WGF Prediction: France by 1 goal
Best beer for the quarter-finals
My tip is to enjoy the latest Icelandic epic with a bottle or two of Einstok White Ale. Delicious, crisp and with a Viking on the label. What more do you need?