Euro 2016 Quarter Finals

Match 1: Poland V Portugal

The first quarter final sees Poland take on Portugal. Poland have played well at times, but struggled at other times. Portugal have been quite subdued and qualified from their group with 3 draws and required a goal deep in stoppage time to win their Last 16 match against Croatia. This is a difficult match to call, as both attacks could cause problems for the other defence, but I think Poland have a more rounded attack, whilst Portugal appear to rely on Portugal

Winner: Poland

Match 2: Wales V Belgium

This appears to be a bit of a mis-match, but the two countries played in qualifying and Wales took 4 points from their games against Belgium. Wales have defended well and Gareth Bale has been a potent weapon for them in attack. Belgium struggled in their opening game against Italy, but have been improving since then and recorded a convincing 4-0 victory over Hungary in the last 16. The Belgium V Hungary game was open and it is difficult to imagine Wales playing an open game against such a strong Belgium attack.

Winner: Belgium

Match 3: Germany V Italy

Germany have looked excellent at times, but struggled in others, especially when pressure has been put on them (Ukraine attacked with purpose for the final 15 minutes of the first half in their group game and Germany seemed to struggle). In contrast, Italy have played well in all their matches (with the possible exception of their final group game against Republic of Ireland when they had already qualified and made plenty of changes) and qualified top from the ‘Group of Death’ (and with a game to spare) and were convincing winners against Spain in the Last 16 – quite an achievement for the worst Italian side ever! This is a difficult match to call and it could go all the way to penalties. The winners of this match will also arguably become favourites for the tournament.

Winner: Italy

Match 4: France V Iceland

Iceland surpassed all expectations in qualifying from their group, never mind beating a lacklustre England in the Last 16 to reach the quarter-finals at their first international tournament. France have impressed at times, particularly against Republic of Ireland in the Last 16 in the second half, where they looked dangerous every time they attacked. The strengths in the French midfield and attack will put a lot of pressure on Iceland’s defence, which has generally played well.

Winner: France

Predicted semi-finals:

Poland V Belgium
Italy V France

Advertisements

Euro 2016: Last 16

With the European Championships having expanded to 24 teams, there is a round of 16 teams.

Game 1: Switzerland V Poland

Switzerland take on Poland in the first knockout game of the tournament. I tipped Poland to be dark horses before the tournament and from what I’ve seen so far, I think Poland will have enough to beat Switzerland and take their place in the quarter finals.

Winner: Poland

Game 2: Wales V Northern Ireland

A local derby in Last 16 is the second knockout match of the tournament. This match is quite a surprise as Wales topped their group (whilst I thought they had a good chance of qualifying, I was surprised that they topped the group) and Northern Ireland qualified from a tough group that included world champions Germany. Both teams seem to have an abundance of team spirit, but I think that the class of Gareth Bale will be enough to separate two quite similar sides.

Winner: Wales

Game 3: Croatia V Portugal

Another surprising match as a result of Croatia beating Spain and topping Group D, whilst Portugal could only manage three draws and finish third in what looked like a reasonably easy group to win. Portugal have an outstanding talent in Cristiano Ronaldo, but he has largely been frustrated in the tournament so far. In contrast, Croatia have an outstanding midfield that can boast Modric and Rakitic and they also have a player who has been one of the best in the tournament so far in my opinion – Perisic. This has the potential to be a close game and I would not be surprised if it went to extra time and possibly even penalties.

Winner: Croatia

Game 4: France V Republic of Ireland

France topped their group as expected, although they required late goals to record their two wins of the tournament so far. Republic of Ireland qualified from ‘The Group of Death’ as one of the best third placed teams following a late goal against Italy. If France do have a weakness, it is their defending of set pieces and if Ireland are to have a chance of progressing, they will need excellent delivery from Brady. Even with excellent set piece delivery, I don’t think it will be enough.

Winner: France

Game 5: Germany V Slovakia

An easy Last 16 tie for Germany? In a Euro 2016 warm-up game, Slovakia beat Germany (in Germany) 3-1 and Germany have only looked good in patches. The German team that will play this match is likely to be stronger than the one fielded in the friendly (Neuer will surely start), but Slovakia have shown they are tough to break down and possess danger when breaking with Hamsik in the side. However, Germany nearly always find a way to progress and I would expect them to do so again.

Winner: Germany

Game 6: Hungary V Belgium

Hungary’s group appeared to be a relatively weak one, but Portugal were expected to top it with Austria in second place, leaving Hungary battling it out with Iceland for third place. However, Hungary were having none of it and not only qualified, but topped the group. This match looks as though it will be a united team in Hungary that is better than the sum of its parts against a team of excellent individual players in Belgium who don’t quite seem to gel as a group. I think a moment of individual brilliance from one of the Belgian forwards will be just enough to see them through.

Winner: Belgium

Game 7: Italy V Spain

The worst Italian team ever (as they were branded before the start of the tournament) qualified top of the ‘Group of Death’ after two games and their reward? Spain, who surprisingly came second in their group after losing their final group game against Croatia. This is a repeat of the Euro 2012 final, which Spain won convincingly (4-0). This Spanish team is not as good as that Spanish team, but they will still have plenty of the ball. However, if there is one team who will not be concerned by this, it is Italy and I think that the Italians will use all of their guile in a game when they will play a counter-attacking style. It will be a tight game, but the Spanish defence has looked weak at times and I think Italy will exploit this with incisive counter attacks.

Winner: Italy

Group 8: England V Iceland

Two surprising runners-up meet in the final knockout match as England surprisingly only came second of their group (despite being unbeaten), whilst Iceland surprisingly qualified automatically from their group (remaining unbeaten in the process). Iceland’s game plan has involved defending resolutely with plenty of men behind the ball, which England have found difficult to play against (as evidenced in the 0-0 draw with Slovakia). England’s pressure is likely to tell in the end, but they will have to ensure that they don’t get careless at the back.

Winner: England

Predicted quarter-finals:

Poland V Croatia
Wales V Belgium
Germany V Italy
France V England

Euro 2016: Group E

Group E contains Belgium, Italy, Republic of Ireland and Italy and is being referred to as the ‘Group of Death’. The Belgians are highly ranked in the FIFA standings, as they were for the last World Cup; however, they struggled there as it was shown again that lots of good players do not necessarily make for a good team. That theory will certainly be put to the test in Group E, with three tough matches. In contrast, the Italians will have a good team, although not necessarily players with the same star quality of Belgium. Whilst speaking of star quality, Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Sweden is arguably the biggest star in Group E (and the tournament) and the Swedish plan is going to be set to getting the best out of him. If they achieve this and Ibrahimovic plays well, Sweden will be very competitive, but if not, they could struggle. The Republic of Ireland are likely to give all three a good game (they took four points off Germany in qualifying), but whether this will be enough in a tough group is difficult to gauge.

Predicted final table:

1. Italy
2. Belgium
3. Sweden
4. Republic of Ireland

Italy 32-22 Romania

Italy established enough of a lead to withstand a late flourish from Romania and claim a second victory and third spot in Pool D, guaranteeing automatic qualification for the 2019 World Cup. Italy took a good lead into half time, playing little, but scoring when they did. With time running out, Romania were able to create and score some chances, but had left themselves too much a deficit to make up.

Large parts of the game were forgettable, with Italy seemingly happy to sit back on a comfortable lead they had established. Romania battled on throughout, but didn’t have the creativity to consistently carve open the Italian defence and score points. Italy have recorded 2 losses against Six Nations opponents in the group, whilst gaining 2 unconvincing victories against tier 2 opposition. Although a Six Nations side, Italy are showing few signs of developing as a rugby nation and it is easy to see why the likes of Romania and Georgia are calling for promotion and relegation within the premier European tournament.

Italy 23-18 Canada

Italy scraped a victory they didn’t really deserve against Canada in Pool D of the World Cup. Canada opened the scoring with a penalty, claimed the kick off from the restart and then scored a try from just inside their 22. Italy soon responded with an excellent try of their own from around the halfway line. The scores remained close, with a Canadian penalty with 10 minutes left narrowing the score to 20-18, but Italy managed the clock and territory well in the final 10 minutes; they didn’t give Canada a chance to score, kicked penalties for lineouts to use up the time and scored a penalty with the last kick of the game.

Italy were quite poor today, but had enough experience to hold on at the end. It is difficult to see how they will progress from Pool D as I would expect Ireland to beat them quite comfortably based on that performance. Canada battled well, made several great line breaks and were full of exciting rugby from their backline. The game against France will be tough for them, but they must stand an excellent chance against Romania.

Rugby World Cup: Pool D preview

Countries competing in Pool D (IRB ranking in brackets):

Canada (18)
France (7)
Ireland (6)
Italy (14)
Romania (17)

Pool D (on paper at least) appears to have two clear favourites in Ireland who should qualify reasonably comfortably. However, I think that this will be quite a tight group, as Ireland seem to have had difficulties at the World Cup in the past and then there is the favoured cliche of which French side will turn up. Italy will certainly be waiting in the wings waiting to take full advantage of any slip from them and qualify; they played well against Wales in a recent World Cup warm-up, showing strong defence and out-scored the hosts in tries. I expect France V Italy to be the key match for qualification, with the winners joining Ireland in progressing from the group. For Canada and Romania, the game between them will be important and will decide who will finish fourth.

Predicted final table:

1. Ireland
2. France
3. Italy
4. Romania
5. Canada

England U21s 1-3 Italy U21s

A poor performance from England saw them finish bottom of Group B at the U21 European Championships. England started well and had a great chance following a through-ball from Harry Kane to Danny Ings, but Ings could only find the side-netting. However, Italy came into the game and scored through Belotti in the 25th minute, who volleyed home a ball at full stretch. Things rapidly got worse for England 2 minutes later when Criestig ran unopposed and gave the ball to Benassi; his shot deflected off Gibson and went in.

The second half continued with England struggling to consistently find players with passes or put sustained pressure on the Italian defence. Italy furthered their lead in the 72nd minute, when a throw-in was hooked on and Benassi scored his second of the game with a free header from 10 yards out that crept in at the far post. Redmond grabbed a consolation goal through Nathan Redmond in stoppage time with a fierce drive from the edge of the area.

England started well, but once Italy came into the game, they were by far the better team and the result was fully deserved. England’s policy of not selecting some players to go the U21 Championships is once again being debated. In my opinion, England should pick their strongest available squad for the Championships and give the players exposure to tournament football; the aim of U21 football is to prepare players for international football and act as a pathway, so it is important that players get selected where possible.