After an enticing opening round and brief two-day hiatus, it’s full steam ahead once again at Euro 2020. Below, we break down the first batch of last-16 matchups on tap in the coming days, highlighting some key factors that will determine who advances, along with predictions for the weekend’s games.
Saturday, June 26
Wales vs. Denmark (12:00 p.m. ET)
Denmark has been adopted as the fan favorite at Euro 2020 in light of the traumatic Christian Eriksen incident, and even though the team is no longer playing its matches at Parken Stadium in Copenhagen, expect boisterous support to follow the Danes around for the remainder of the tournament. That injection of enthusiasm should prove useful against an industrious Wales side on Saturday, especially considering the physical and mental energy Denmark has had to expel just to reach this point.
From a tactical standpoint, this may be the most intriguing last-16 clash that doesn’t involve two of the proverbial heavyweights. Can Thomas Delaney and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg shackle Gareth Bale when he drops deeper to facilitate play? Will speed demon Daniel James get out on the break and isolate Denmark’s slower center-backs? Can Mikkel Damsgaard and Joakim Maehle keep making magic happen? Wales will be an extremely tough out, but Denmark, adept at creating shooting opportunities in the group stage – if not finishing them – has the pieces to eke out a slim win.
Prediction: Denmark advances on penalties
Italy vs. Austria (3:00 p.m. ET)
Now the real work starts for Italy. Arguably the most impressive team in the tournament thus far, the Azzurri will look to make good on their newfound status as one of the favorites when they take on David Alaba and a stubborn Austria team that should provide far more resistance than the sides in Group A. Italy hasn’t conceded a goal in 10 matches, so if Austria can find the net at Wembley – especially first – then we may get to see what Roberto Mancini’s men are really made of.
The individual battles are aplenty. Can Ciro Immobile’s movement pull experienced pair Aleksandar Dragovic and Martin Hinteregger out of position, creating space for Italy’s inverted wingers and onrushing central midfielders inside the penalty area? At the other end, Marcel Sabitzer and Christoph Baumgartner are probably more dangerous attacking threats than the unpredictable Marko Arnautovic, and will need to be accounted for. Where, exactly, Alaba lines up will be interesting, too. Italy may not dominate like they did in their first three games, but should get the job done.
Prediction: Italy advances
Sunday, June 27
Netherlands vs. Czech Republic (12:00 p.m. ET)
For all the concerns about the Netherlands coming in – the formation, defensive frailty, a questionable manager – the Dutch looked outstanding in the group stage, racking up the best Expected Goal total (7.6) and Expected Goal Difference (5.7) of the tournament so far. Playing all their games in Amsterdam certainly didn’t hurt, but the Oranje, spurred on by Georginio Wijnaldum, looked genuinely good, even if the competition level was a little suspect. The Czech Republic should offer a sterner test in the round of 16.
It’s easy to discount the Czechs as a one-man team – Patrik Schick did score all three of their group-stage goals, after all – but Tomas Soucek will offer a threat inside the area, especially from set pieces; we saw the Dutch fall asleep and concede a set-piece header against Ukraine, and Soucek isn’t someone who needs an invitation to attack aerial balls in the box. Matthijs de Ligt, recovered from injury, should help alleviate some of the concerns, though. This will be the most resolute opposition the Oranje have faced yet, but their explosiveness in attack figures to overwhelm a sturdy Czech outfit.
Prediction: Netherlands advances
Belgium vs. Portugal (3:00 p.m. ET)
The big one? Probably. England vs. Germany has greater historical gravitas, but this clash of European titans figures to be a more entertaining affair, even if Fernando Santos will do his damnedest to avoid a wide-open contest. Powered by prolific forwards Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku, both sides found the net seven times in the group stage, making good on the attacking firepower at their disposal. How the two defenses handle the aforementioned stars will go a very long way to determining which of the fancied pre-tournament teams marches on.
There are other critical factors to watch, of course. Will Bruno Fernandes return to the starting XI, and will that impact Renato Sanches’ place if so? Does Santos opt for two defensive midfielders to help smother Kevin De Bruyne, who has been at his irrepressible best for the Red Devils? There’s an almighty battle brewing on the flanks, too, where uber-attacking “defenders” Raphael Guerreiro and Thomas Meunier could be matched up, while Belgium will look to overrun the dodgy Nelson Semedo on the other side.
Prediction: Belgium advances