28 JUNE 2021 | Angelo Ziovas

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Croatia v Spain

Two nations that were expected to do more than they have shown so far now face each other in the last 16. Spain and Croatia have had a bit of a mixed run so far in the group stage. Spain struggled to beat Sweden and Poland, only achieving a 0-0 draw and a 1-1 draw respectively, only to absolutely dominate Slovakia by putting 5 past them in an encouraging 5-0 victory. It would not be a stretch to say that Spain have been disappointing thus far, they have shown their quality but in the two draws they suffered their finishing and overall quality in front of goal was very lacking.

While Spain do not have the amazing calibre of team that won them three major tournaments in a row between 2008 and 2012. They have a squad that is more than capable of ending up in the latter stages. While not having the brilliant Puyol and Pique pairing at the back, Spain have only conceded the one goal so far, and with Aymeric Laporte finally getting the chance to play at international level, he will be looking to make sure the defence holds up along with Pau Torres who has played in two of the three group games, with Eric Garcia playing they other game. Their midfield is a strong unit with the likes of Koke, Thiago, Rodri, Sergio Busquets looking to fashion chances for the attack. Alvaro Morata who while has not been on scoring form for the Spaniards, works hard on the pitch, but with Ferran Torres scoring against Slovakia he may start for them.

Croatia, like Spain have been slightly below expectations, their opening game ended in a 1-0 defeat to England, then drawing against a determined Czech Republic 1-1, then they finished off needing a win against Scotland and that is what they did coming out as 3-1 winners to get to the knockouts in second.

The Croats have a number of great players among the squad, with the biggest name being Luka Modric, but even with him comes several quality players to potentially make a difference. Mateo Kovacic, Ivan Perisic, Marcelo Brozovic and up front with Ante Rebic and Andrej Kramaric. They certainly have enough quality to challenge the Spanish, especially through the midfield which is easily Croatia’s strong point.

The last time these two sides met in the Euros was in the last Euros in 2016 in the group stage, Croatia came out 2-1 winners on that day, and even in more recent encounters, Spain came away with a 6-0 rampage win in September of 2018, but Croatia have won their last meeting which came in November of 2018 where the Croats won 3-2. France or Switzerland awaits in the quarter finals.

France v Switzerland

Probably a game where France expects to win on paper, but the Swiss are never an easy opponent. The world champions will be keen to win this game and progress, but France have not been as impressive as maybe they were expected to be. Switzerland knows however, that knocking out France would be a huge statement and really put questions on this French team. Especially considering France have a lot of expectations after their disappointment losing in the final of Euro 2016.

The French squad shows just why they are favourites for the Euros once again, the world champions boast an incredible side. Quality up and down the pitch, with names such as Lucas Hernandez and Raphael Varane keeping out attacks, N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba running the show through the center of the park, and a front trio of Karim Benzema, Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann.

However even with an incredible team, they were a little underwhelming in the group stages. A 1-0 win over Germany which started things off well but they didn’t look at their best, a 1-1 draw against a highly spirited Hungary, who France struggled to break down, and a 2-2 draw against Portugal where they gave away two penalties. While group stage games are not an indicator of how well a team plays in the knockout stages, there are signs for France that they need to step it up starting in this game against the Swiss.

Switzerland have been good so far in the tournament, playing out a 1-1 draw against Wales, then were beaten by Italy 3-0, but bounced back with a 3-1 over Turkey. They have looked good and will show no fear against France, and Austria and Czech Republic’s performances will definitely give them the belief that they can go on and bet France.

Breel Embolo, Xherdan Shaqiri, Haris Seferovic and Granit Xhaka will all be key for Switzerland as they attempt to pull off the win against France and make their way to the quarter finals. Shaqiri who has been there for Switzerland, scoring 2 goals and assisting 1 goal, but the whole team will need to be a well maintained unit if they want to progress.

The last time these two played each other at a Euros tournament was back in 2016, and it ended in a draw, and was in the group stage. This time it is knockout football, and there can only be one winner. The winner will go on to face either Croatia or Spain.

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