It will indeed be a happy Friday at the 2020 Euros. Groups D and E are both in action with teams playing their second of three matches during the Group Stage. Let’s take a close look at the three matches that will help to kick off another exciting weekend.
Fresh off a surprising win over Poland in their tournament opener, Slovakia can clinch a spot in the Knockout Stage if they can get a win over Sweden. Of course, the Swedes are considerable favorites in this match and will be emboldened by their scoreless draw with Spain in their opener and will also feel like they are well-positioned to reach the Knockout Stage.
The Swedes will feel good just to touch the ball in this match. Against the Spaniards, Sweden had just 25% possession and had no shots on goal despite occasionally catching Spain in a precarious position on the counterattack. Young striker Alexander Isak looked dangerous at times. Keep in mind the 21-year-old does have six international goals in just 23 matches. Veteran striker Marcus Berg should not be overlooked as a potential goalscorer either, especially if Sweden sees more of the ball in this game. Also, Emil Forsberg is a player to watch when Sweden is in possession, as he has the skills to unlock the defense.
Of course, even with Sweden favored in this match, the Slovakians are by no means an easy opponent. They looked well organized defensively against Poland while also creating a fair amount of scoring chances going forward. The likes of Ondrej Duda, Robert Man, and captain Marek Hamšík help to form a rather underrated attack for Slovakia. On the other hand, Slovakia did play with an extra player for the last 30 minutes against Poland and was a man-up when they scored the game-winner, so it’s important not to overreact too much to their win.
Both teams look solid defensively, which should limit the number of serious goal-scoring opportunities in this match. Look for Sweden to get on the ball more than Slovakia, although breaking down the Slovakian defense will be easier said than done. In the end, look for this match to end in a stalemate that leaves Slovakia happy and Sweden a little disappointed heading into their final match.
Just one match into the tournament, the Croatians find themselves in a little bit of trouble after coming away empty-handed against England. The reigning World Cup runners-up and now in need of a result against a confident Czech Republic team that picked up three big points in a 2-0 win over Scotland. However, Croatia is still a slight favorite to get a win over the Czech Republic and get themselves on track.
Despite the loss, it’s tough to be too critical of the Croatians in their loss to England. They did well to absorb a lot of pressure early in the match without conceding a goal and did get on the front foot for large stretches. However, they are struggling to create scoring chances without a traditional striker. In fact, if you take away a 3-0 win over lowly Malta, the Croatians have scored just two goals in their last five matches with those goals coming against Cyprus and Armenia. It’s becoming fair to wonder if midfielder Luka Modrić still has the same play-making ability at the international level.
On the other hand, the Czech Republic wasn’t overly impressive in its 2-0 win over Scotland. The Czechs dominated the match. Rather, they happened to get two world-class goals from Patrik Schick. The Bayer Leverkusen forward now had 13 goals in 27 matches for his country, but he remains one of the few goal-scoring threats the Czechs have during open play. Defensively, the Czech Republic had to withstand 19 shots against Scotland and could be under even more pressure against Croatia.
While Croatia is the favorite, confidence heading into this game is on the side of the Czechs. Schick might have a little more magic in him after two great goals against Scotland. At the same time, look for Modrić to show that he still has something in the tank. This match should open up in the second half with the Croatians desperate for a win and the Czechs playing with house money, ultimately leading to a draw.
The battle of Great Britain is surely the highlight of Friday’s schedule. Of course, the betting odds are overwhelmingly in England’s favor, especially after Scotland suffered a disappointing loss in its opener. The Scots are under a ton of pressure to come away with at least a draw against their frenemies from England, who have much higher aspirations than simply knocking off Scotland.
The England lineup in the opening match surprised many but got the job done. With so much depth, it’ll be fascinating to see if Gareth Southgate makes any more changes for the second match of the tournament. After all, the Three Lions could have been more clinical in the attacking third. They also failed to capitalize early in the match after pressing high for the first 15 to 20 minutes. Look for Southgate to mix up his lineup again but once again set up England to press the issue early and try to find an early lead.
Meanwhile, Scotland will be disappointed with the result but satisfied with the effort in the team’s opener. They were undone by a pair of exceptional goals that shouldn’t reflect poorly on the team’s defensive effort. The caveat is that England’s attack will ask far more questions of the Scottish backline than the Czech Republic did. Scotland’s bigger problem is that they were able to generate a few decent chances against the Czechs but had no final product. The lack of a high-level striker could plague the Scots, especially they could struggle to win the time-of-possession battle against England the way they did in their first match.
There’s no question that Scotland will be excited to play this game and have something to prove. But there’s no denying the talent gap between these two sides, especially in the attacking third. England has too many players who are capable of finishing their chances, which is not something that can be said of Scotland. That should lead to a competitive game but one that England will win comfortably in the end.
Prediction: 2-0 England