Well the Group Stage of Euro 2020 has been completed and it lived up to its billing and then some. Some surprises, not a lot of controversy, and a shock that brought the soccer world together.
After a year delay due to the pandemic (oh I so can’t wait until we don’t even have to mention that as having been an impact) the tournament kicked off on June 11th with Italy (more on them later) trouncing Turkey 3-0. Then the shock hit. On Saturday, Denmark, one of the pretournament sleeper picks was playing Finland. Finland in their first ever Euros competition. Then the unforgettable moment late in the first half when Denmark’s Christian Eriksen collapsed on the field. Sometimes when you see things like this you just know its bad. And this one was as bad as it gets. He had suffered cardiac arrest. Thankfully medical staff at the field was immediately able to perform what needed to be done to save his life. A week later he had a successful surgery for an implantable cardioverter defibrillator and discharged from the hospital.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
The match was suspended and ultimately both teams and FIFA decided to resume the match. Hard to know how the outcome was affected by such a horrible event. But then the second shock of the match. On their first and ONLY shot of the match Finland scored and held on the upset the Danes 1-0. Soccer is a crazy sport sometimes. Look at these stats:
- Denmark had the possession advantage 64-36%
- Denmark outshot Finland 16-1.
- Denmark completed 553 passes to the Fins 186.
By every metric the Danes dominated the match…well except the one that counts. So the stage was set. A horrific tragedy ended up being a feel good story. The entire soccer world sent their well wishes and prayers to Eriksen. Opponents wore tshirts under their jerseys for him. Opposing fans wore Eriksen jerseys. Its was heartwarming to see!
So with that lets take a look at how the group play shook out. Starting with the projections prior to the start.
Prediction: Look for Italy to advance and Switzerland and Wales to battle for 2nd in the group. Good chance that all three will advance.
Results: Nailed it. Italy won the group, Wales took second, and the Swiss advanced being one of the four best third place teams. What wasn’t surprising is that Italy showed once again what a tremendous defense they have shutting out all three opponents. What was somewhat of a surprise was their attack. They found the net seven times. Look out for these guys moving forward.
Prediction : Belgium and Denmark should advance with Russia having a shot at a 3rd place slot.
Results: Nailed another one. Belgium easily cruised through winning all three matches. And Denmark took second but not without some serious struggles. The Danes having lost to Finland then lost their second match to Belgium setting up a must win in their last match against Russia. And they needed to do so convincingly to advance. They trounced Russia 4-1 and got the help they needed in Belgium beating Finland. Finland has an outside chance to make it through as a third place finisher.
Prediction: Netherlands move on. Austria wins their first ever Euro match and will fight with the Urkaine for second (and both have shot at a 3rd place slot), and North Macedonia goes home winless.
Results: Another one. The Dutch looked very solid winning all three of their matches. The Austrians did indeed get their first ever win at the Euros and took second. Ukraine got a third place spot.
Prediction: England and Croatia should advance fairly easily. If they get points in their early matches it ill set up them resting some players prior to the Round of 16. That is always a huge benefit. The Czechs and Scots are talented enough to pull of an upset along the way though so England and Croatia will need to stay focused.
Results: England took first in the group but they needed a win on matchday 3 to get there so no rest for the weary. Croatia had to battle Scotland to earn second and Luka Modric was a beast leading them to a 3-1 victory. The Czech Republic played three close knit matches and managed a third place advancement. Scotland played their hearts out earning a scoreless draw with England but they seemed to have left so much on the field that they just didn’t have anything left come match day three. Still a solid showing for the Scots and they have plenty to build on for WC qualifying.
Prediction: Spain advances. Sweden and Poland battle closely for 2nd. Slovakia likely goes home unless they pull of an upset and steal points from at least 2 matches. The third place team has a legit shot at moving on.
Results: Not so close on this one! Sweden wins the group with two wins and a draw and Spain needed a win on matchday three to take second. But Spain did what you hope to do. Finish strong headed into the knockout rounds. And finish strong they did drubbing Slovakia 5-0. Poland was quite disappointing managing but a single point in their three matches.
Prediction: France, Portugal, and Germany are going to battle it out for the top 2 spots and any of them could win the group. The sad part is that they may also end up not getting a third slot to the Round of 16 if they all beat up on each other, especially if Hungary steals some points.
Results: Well this group certainly lived up to its billing as the Group of Death. What a bunch of hard fought, exciting soccer! Four teams that all played well enough to advance had they been in a different group. Ultimately at least one of them had to go home. In this case its Hungary. Huge tournament for them though. Toughest group by far and one of the toughest groups in history and they managed to earn two draws and came close to beating Germany. And in case you missed it Ronaldo scored twice to move into a tie for first in all time international goals scored with 109. Any bets he doesn’t get the record against Belgium?
So its been a week and a half of intense soccer but now the intensity gets cranked up to another level. No more margin for error. No more room for mistakes. A bad tackle. A handball. A missed penalty. Its all or nothing the rest of the way. Win move on. Lose and go home. Lets take a look at the eight Round of 16 Matches.
Wales vs Denmark
Two teams that have been playing with a ton of emotion. How much do they have left in the tank becomes the question. The oddsmakers favor the Danes and its hard to not go with them. They were in dire straits of not advancing until matchday three and their 4-1 trouncing of Russia gives them a ton of momentum at just the right time.
Prediction: Denmark 2-1
Italy vs Austria
No matter what happens in this one Austrian fans will have felt they showed well and are happy with the state of their program. Getting their first ever Euro win and advancing is a solid result. The Italian side and their fans won’t be happy with anything less than a win here. And they should get it. They are playing terrific soccer at both ends of the field.
Prediction: Italy 2-0
Netheralnds vs Czech Republic
The good news for the Czech is that they have the defense to slow down the Dutch having only allowed two goals in their three matches. The bad news is that they only scored three of their own. With Patrik Schick scoring them all. Somebody else needs to step up. Hard to see them slowing down the high flying orange. The problem is if they play too much of a bunker it will be hard to counter effectively against the quick back line of the Dutch. And if they get in a boat race then simply can’t out score the Dutch.
Prediction: Netherlands 3-1
Belgium vs Portugal
Man the storyline in this one. The #1 ranked team in the world and they have been playing like it against the all time international goal scorer. Ronaldo scored five times in the Group Stage and is two goals ahead in the chase for the Golden Boot (most goals scored). The difference in this match might come down to the big Belgium in the middle, Romalu Lukaku. If all world midfielder Kevin DeBruyne can control the middle of the field when the defense is forced to collapse on him he has Lukaku with either his back to goal or with his head. This one is must watch stuff.
Prediction: Belgium 2-1 but history is made when Ronaldo scored international goal #110.
Croatia vs Spain
A battle of the midfields. Spain will do like they always do and pass, pass, and pass. Then they will pass some more and make Croatia chase the game. Its why they only allowed one goal in group play. BUT, if Modric can break that down they have a solid chance. But they also might be catching Spain at the wrong time. The Spaniards played ok the first two matches but only managed to score once and slide to draws both times. But in matchday three they came alive and scored five. That spells trouble for Croatia.
Prediction: Spain 2-1
France vs Switzerland
Well its a knockout match so anything can happen but on paper and the way they have played this tournament its hard to see the Swiss getting the best of Les Blues. Although France had to navigate the Group of Death and play Portugal on matchday three, the French were secure going into that match knowing they had already advanced. While they played hard there was no pressure and they certainly saved some energy for the rest of the way.
Prediction: France 3-1
England vs Germany
What a terrific matchup of two of soccer’s historically great countries. This one should be close the whole way. England hasn’t scored much at all but they haven’t allowed a goal yet either. Germany has shown they can score but their defense is only ok. The question is going to boil down to this. Couple of questions for this match. Who wants it more and how much did Germany have to expend to even get this far? In the 80th minute on matchday three they were losing to Hungary and on the cusp of going home. England has its own issues. Mason Mount and Ben Chillwell are both in isolation and will be until June 28th, the day before this match. Manager, Gareth Southgate has hinted they they will not be available for that match. The positive for England? They are at home in London’s Wembley Stadium. This one could go either way. England has looked solid defensively but not near good enough on the other end of the field. Germany has been a yo-yo but they have played up tempo the whole tournament. Both of these teams have the talent and depth to win the whole thing. Unfortunately one of them is going home after this match.
Prediction: My heart says England 1-0 but I am afraid Germany takes it 2-1. Don’t be surprised to see this one go to extra time or maybe even penalties,
Sweden vs Urkaine
Sweden scores enough to balance well with their stout defense. Ukraine is one of only two teams (the other being Switzerland) in the Round of 16 that had a negative goal differential in Group Play. The Swedes somehow managed to hold Spain scoreless even though Spain had 75% of the possession. The Ukranians don’t have that kind of ball control ability. Expect a low scoring affair with the Swedes doing just enough.
Prediction: Sweden 1-0
Its been a really fun bunch of matches so far and now the stakes are even higher. There are no easy matches in the Round of 16. Any one of these 16 teams is capable of winning on a given day. The fun all starts back up on Saturday. Enjoy!
If I had to pick one team to win it all right now? Italy.
Steve is an avid fan of all things soccer and the O’s. Originally from the west, he grew up in the Baltimore area. He returned to the west for college where he earned a BS degree in Chemical Engineering from Montana State University and spent 36 years working at the Idaho National Laboratory prior to retiring in 2013. It was during his school years in Baltimore where he learned to play soccer and that developed into a life long passion. He played competitively for over 40 years and was a four year starting goalkeeper at MSU. He also coached and refereed in the Idaho premier soccer and High School programs for many years.