Well, it’s not the eight teams anybody would have predicted in the quarterfinals of the 2020 Euros, but it’s the eight teams we have. If you thought the Round of 16 was wild, the quarterfinals promise to be even better. Let’s take a look at the first two quarterfinal games that are being played on Friday.
“Wow!” might be the only way to describe how both Switzerland and Spain advanced to the quarterfinals. Both teams had to endure an extra 30 minutes on Monday with the Swiss also having to endure the stress of penalty kicks. On top of that, both have to deal with a quick turnaround, getting just three full days of rest to add an extra wrinkle to this match. Of course, the surprising Swiss are considerable underdogs at +450 while Spain’s moneyline is listed at -150.
This is not your father’s Switzerland team. The Swiss are no longer the neutral team that will sit back, stay organized, and be happy to spend most of the game defending. In fact, they’ve conceded eight goals in four matches during this tournament, so they’ve not been particularly stout defensively. That will surely be a concern against Spain, especially with captain and holding midfielder Granit Xhaka suspended for the match after picking up his second yellow card of the tournament during the win over France.
But with three goals in back-to-back matches, the Swiss look like a serious threat on the attack, especially after they struggled to finish their chances during the first two games of the tournament. In the past, Sheridan Shaqiri has been Switzerland’s most dangerous playmaker. But Steven Zuber has been the team’s biggest threat coming out of the midfield, amassing four assists in three matches. Meanwhile, Shaqiri is still a threat to create moments of magic while Haris Seferovic is growing in confidence with three goals in his last two matches.
The Spaniards are breathing a sigh of relief after letting a two-goal lead slip away against Croatia, only to respond in added time with two goals to secure passage to the quarterfinals. Thanks to that extra 30 minutes, La Roja has scored five goals in back-to-back matches, coming alive offensively after failing to capitalize on all of their possession during the team’s first two matches of the tournament. Pablo Sarabia has looked like a threat going forward while Ferran Torres had a great performance against Croatia. Perhaps most importantly, Alvaro Morata has gotten the monkey off his back with two goals in his last three matches.
Of course, it’s impossible to ignore some of the red flags that Spain showed during the win over Croatia. They failed to manage the game during the final 10 minutes, conceding two quick goals that allowed the Croatians to send the match to extra time. Even before that, the Spaniards looked vulnerable defensively when Croatia was proactive and aggressive going forward. Despite owning 64% of the possession, Spain still gave up 12 shots, six of which were on target, which shouldn’t happen when a team controls the ball for two-thirds of the game.
The short turnaround after both teams played 120 minutes on Monday might be the most important factor in this game. Spain will have a distinct advantage in that sense because the Spaniards have used more players in this tournament than Switzerland and should be a little fresher. They are also more likely to control the possession and take some of the wind out of Switzerland’s sails. Of course, the Swiss are not going to go down without a fight after the spirit they showed against France. But in the end, look for Spain to outlast the Swiss and advance with a close win.
Pick: Spain 3-2
Without question, the most anticipated match of the quarterfinals will be Friday’s nightcap between Belgium and Italy. Both teams are a perfect 4-0 during the tournament and the winner of this match is likely to become the betting favorite to win the whole thing. As for this match, the Italians come in as favorites with a +130 moneyline compared to Belgium, which has a moneyline of +240.
The Red Devils survived a difficult Round of 16 match against reigning European champions Portugal. But the victory came at a cost for Belgium. Both Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard were subbed off with injuries during the match and are now doubtful to play against Italy. That will put even more pressure on Romelu Lukaku to win his one-on-one battles with Italy’s defenders, who he will know well from playing against them with his club team Inter Milan. It’s also worth noting that Belgium has plenty of depth to help replace Hazard and De Bruyne with Hazard’s younger brother Thorgan scoring twice in this tournament.
Meanwhile, Belgium’s defense has looked strong during the tournament, conceding just once in four matches. While the Belgian defense is lacking pace, the Red Devils have a veteran backline that just kept Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal off the scoreboard. They could have a similar challenge against Italy, especially if De Bruyne and Hazard are missing and Belgium can’t control possession the way they might under normal conditions. But given their experience, the Belgium defense is less likely to make the types of mistakes that have plagued some teams during this tournament.
The Italians cruised through the Group Stage but didn’t find things so easy in the Round of 16 against Austria. The Austrians were the first team in the tournament to come out of the gate swinging against the Italians. Austria didn’t just sit back and defend at the start of the match, which made Italy look a little uncomfortable. That will surely be the case against Belgium, as the Red Devils will not sit in a shell and just play defense. With the Italians only earning 52% of the possession, it took them until the 95th minute to finally get on the scoreboard against Austria.
Of course, it also took the Azzurri until the 114th minute of their fourth match to concede a goal for the first time in this tournament. While the style of play is a little different than Italian teams of the past, Italy is still a strong defensive team. With Marco Verratti back in action, the Italian midfield is also looking strong, which should help Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne can themselves into advanced positions and create goal-scoring opportunities.
Needless to say, De Bruyne and Hazard likely missing this game changes the equation considerably, which is why the Italians are the betting favorites. But the Red Devils started the tournament without those two players fully fit and they have the depth to survive without them. This is the last call for Belgium’s golden generation and this group of players has been to the semifinals in the last two major tournaments while Italy has been absent from this stage in recent years. In the end, Belgium is more prepared for the moment and will find a way to survive and advance.
Pick: Belgium 2-1