Euro 2016: Second Group Matches

 

What to look out for in the second set of Euro 2016 group matches:

Russia v. Slovakia – Wednesday 15th June

After their late equaliser against England, Russia rescued what had been a fairly dire on field performance to steal a vital point.  (I’ll not delve into any off field matters here.)  Slovakia, on the other hand, played quite well against Wales but were undone by a fluffed strike that found its way into their net.  They came oh so close to getting a second equaliser but it wasn’t to be.  Therefore this now becomes a critical match for Slovakia, with England waiting in their final match.  A win is almost essential, a defeat catastrophic.  All evidence suggests that Slovakia are currently a better team than Russia, however, so don’t be surprised if they pull it off.

My Prediction:                  Slovakia 2-1 Russia

WGF Prediction:               Slovakia by 1

 

Romania v. Switzerland – Wednesday 15th June

Romania played a marginally more progressive game against France than many had expected and created some very good chances.  They need to do the same against Switzerland, only finishing them off this time, if they are to keep their hopes alive.  It looks to me to be a fairly even contest, with Switzerland struggling to put away the 10 men of Albania in their opener, showing that for all the bigger names on their team they aren’t overly impressive.  Expect a tight, tense battle in this one.

My Prediction:                  Romania 1-1 Switzerland

WGF Prediction:               Draw

 

France v. Albania – Wednesday 15th June

Les Bleus were rescued by a wonder strike in their opening match and should be on something of a positive roll after avoiding the opening night banana skin.  But another lies in wait in the form of Albania – a team who beat France just a year ago in a friendly.  Albania showed more than enough fight and ability against the Swiss to show they could cause a few problems for France, who looked far from assured at the back.  Their finishing will need to be significantly better though – something that has been their problem for some time.  They were wasteful against the Swiss.  If chances do come along against France they can’t be spurned, but they will surely be few and far between.

My Prediction:                  France 2-0 Albania

WGF Prediction:               France by 2

 

England v. Wales – Thursday 16th June

This local derby has taken on an added dimension given England’s late collapse against Russia.  They now really need a win to get back on track but Wales will provide a real test.  It’s shame in a way that this match is being played in the small town of Lens in northern France.  A match that could have easily sold out many times over is being hosted in one of the smallest stadiums in the tournament in a town with very little provision for the Anglo-Welsh arrival, and that’s before we even think about Russia playing in nearby Lille.

On the field, the sublime skills of Gareth Bale are the focus for any English fears but that is not to suggest that Wales are a one man team.  With a supporting cast containing Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey and Swansea’s impressive Ashley Williams patrolling the defence Wales have formed a strong unit.  But there is no getting away from the fact that Welsh hopes are strongly dependent on Bale and if England can nullify him then rational logic suggests that England should have the wherewithal to prevail.  They were impressive going forward against Russia although without carving out too many clear chances.  That will need to improve against Wales.

But since when did rational logic have much bearing when local bragging rights are on the line?  Form and reputations often go out of the window on such occasions, and should Bale get the upper hand then England’s defence is suitably shaky as to offer hope for Wales.

My Prediction:                  England 2-1 Wales
WGF Prediction:               England by 1

 

Ukraine v. Northern Ireland – Thursday 16th June

Both teams were beaten in their opening match, and are both desperate for something from this now vital clash.  But whereas Northern Ireland were, understandably, ultra-defensive in their loss to Poland – at least until late on when their loosened their shackles – Ukraine gave a reasonable showing against Germany until losing their way in the second half.

They ought to have enough to see off the spirited Irish challenge.  They have quality in attack, particularly out wide, and will need to make that superior quality show.  Northern Ireland will probably try to keep things tight again initially at least, but will have to adapt a little bit to become more attacking if they are to give themselves a chance of going through.  Having lost the opener, they are now in the position of almost having to go for it.  They need to give it a real go at some point against Ukraine.  If not, Germany, and elimination, awaits.

My Prediction:                  Ukraine 2-0 Northern Ireland

WGF Prediction:               Draw

 

Germany v. Poland – Thursday 16th June

Both won their opening matches, but both suffered one or two nerves before sealing the points.  For Poland, they faced a massed green wall of defence throughout their match with Northern Ireland which proved tough to break down.  They won’t suffer in the same way against Germany and so may have more opportunity to create clear goal chances and get Robert Lewandowski into the game.  Although in the likes of Milik and Kapustka, they have others more than capable of coming to the fore.

Poland beat Germany in qualifying – their first ever win over their near neighbours.  They are capable of repeating that trick but will have to perform a bit better than they did at the weekend.  Germany, on the other hand, were comfortable in patches against Ukraine, but were tested at times.  They certainly won’t have this all their own way either.  This match is definitely one not to miss and could go either way.  If there is a winner, they will be certain of qualifying to the knockout stages, but I’m thinking this might be a hard fought draw.

My Prediction:                  Germany 2-2 Poland

WGF Prediction:               Draw

 

Italy v. Sweden – Friday 17th June

Italy were so impressive in their opening win over Belgium, while Sweden were often lacklustre against Ireland, that what may have previously looked a closer contest now seems very much in Italy’s favour.

Sweden just don’t have sufficient quality to threaten a team that have seemingly found their mojo and are led by one of the game’s top managers currently.  Swedish keeper Andreas Isaaksson had a tough day against Ireland and he’s going to have even ore to deal with in this one I fear.

My Prediction:                  Italy 2-0 Sweden

WGF Prediction:               Draw

 

Czech Republic v. Croatia – Friday 17th June

While the Czechs carried out a sterling rear-guard action against Spain, Croatia were demonstrating their credentials as a team that could go a long way in this tournament.  Ok, so they only won 1-0 against Turkey, but the signs were there of a team very much heading in the right direction.

After losing to Spain in an effort to stifle and contain, the Czechs will need to show a bit more against Croatia.  Whether they have the ability to do so is, or if Croatia allow them, is another matter altogether.

My Prediction:                  Czech Republic 0-2 Croatia

WGF Prediction:               Draw

 

Spain v. Turkey – Friday 17th June

Turkey are in the unenviable position of needing to get something from this game to keep themselves in the battle for qualification.  Two defeats don’t necessarily mean elimination given the 24-team format of this Euro, but it makes things rather tricky.  They will need to find a way to avoid death by passing and possession as Spain play their way around.

For Spain, the lack of a decisive cutting edge against the Czech Republic nearly cost them victory.  For all their neat approach play and opportunities created, if they can’t consistently finish them off they will come unstuck at some point.  I doubt that tipping point will be reached in this match, but they could do with finding the net from their numerous chances a little more frequently.

My Prediction:                  Spain 2-1 Turkey

WGF Prediction:               Spain by 1

 

Belgium v. Ireland – Saturday 18th June

Just what has Marc Wilmots done to make a squad of such talent a team of individuals?  The shortcomings of Belgium circa 2014 World Cup are all still apparent.  If Wilmots hasn’t found the answer in all that time, he’s unlikely to have discovered it in the last week.  After the disappointing defeat to Italy, Belgium need to get their campaign back on track against an Ireland side who were a little unfortunate to only have picked up a point against Sweden in an impressive display.

Like Italy, Ireland exemplifies everything that Belgium do not.  A team that is greater than the sum of its parts.  If Belgium are to do justice to what is without doubt a great generation of players, then they need to figure out that particular conundrum quickly.  This will be an intriguing match to see how this question plays out.

My Prediction:                  Belgium 2-1 Ireland

WGF Prediction:               Draw

 

Iceland v. Hungary – Saturday 18th June

Both of these teams impressed in their first matches, with Hungary sitting proudly at the top of group F.  If they can get another point at least against Iceland they could stay on top for a few more days at least, as well as setting themselves up nicely for an unexpected place in the last 16.

Iceland largely sought to stifle Portugal in their opener, understandably so, but will need to show more attacking intent against Hungary.  They will revert from underdog to favourite for this match and it will be interesting to see how they adapt their approach accordingly.  That’s not to say they didn’t show some adventure against Portugal, as when the opportunity arose they went for it, but that opportunity should arise more often against Hungary.

My Prediction:                  Iceland 1-0 Hungary

WGF Prediction:               Draw

 

Portugal v. Austria – Saturday 18th June

Neither team will be happy after their first matches so I would expect to see a reaction in this one.  Austria in particular are up against it having lost to Hungary and will need to show more cutting edge if they are to avoid a second straight defeat.  Getting more from their star men Alaba and Arnautovic is a must if Austria aren’t to be staring at the exit door sooner rather than later.

Portugal were particularly wasteful against Iceland but Austria’s desperation may well play into their hands here.  They struggled to break down a packed and disciplined defence but Austria may have to show a little more attacking intent leaving them exposed at the back.

Ronaldo’s influence was limited against Iceland.  He will need, and want, to show more against Austria.

My Prediciton:                  Portugal 3-0 Austria

WGF Prediction:               Draw

 

Most Anticipated Match for Footballing reasons:

Germany v. Poland – it has the local rivalry aspect to it, but it also sees two teams playing at a high level and with a decent smattering of star names going head to head.  They faced each other in qualifying too, each winning once.  This could go either way and I’m just hoping both teams go for it rather than settling for a mutually convenient draw.

I’m greatly looking forward to England – Wales too, but with a high degree of fear and panic.

 

Most anticipated match for beer reasons:

Also Germany v. Poland.  I have some Munich beer hall classics from the famous Hofbrauhaus where the beers are served by the litre and the pretzels are bigger than your head.  Polish Tyskie is a fairly standard beer, but is not too bad at all.  Best drunk with a large smoked sausage!

 

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