Sixteen have become eight as we enter the decisive stages of Euro 2016.
The first knockout round produced plenty of memorable matches. Hosts France survived a scare, Italy got revenge on holders Spain, while England had a clear-out of coaching staff after their worst defeat in years – although few can begrudge Iceland the continuation of their journey.
The quarter-finals may involve a few surprise packages, but it remains far from simple to predict the last four, such have been the upsets to date. Below, Omnisport does its level best…
Poland v Portugal (Thursday June 30, Stade Velodrome, Marseille)
The manner of Poland’s progress to the last eight has come as something of a surprise, even though they were expected to progress from Group C at least.
A defence that let in 10 goals in 10 qualifying games has conceded only once in these finals – and that was a Xherdan Shaqiri wonderstrike. Meanwhile, despite scoring 33 times in preliminaries – 13 of which came from Robert Lewandowski – they have yet to score more than once in a game in France, and the Bayern Munich star has begun to misfire, and is without a goal in the competition.
Portugal limped into the last 16 with three draws but showed a much more solid platform in knockout action, keeping Croatia frustrated before Ricardo Quaresma’s extra-time sucker-punch. The histrionics of captain Cristiano Ronaldo have drawn plenty of scrutiny, but his two goals against Hungary kept them alive, and his one and only shot against Croatia led to the winner.
It is difficult to see goals galore in this one, even with Ronaldo and Lewandowski on the same pitch, but the Real Madrid star’s unrelenting quest for glory might just tip the balance.
Prediction: Poland 0-1 Portugal
Wales v Belgium (Friday July 1, Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille)
Defeat to England in the group stage seems only to have spurred Wales on even more. A 3-0 hammering of Russia set up another ‘Battle of Britain’ against Northern Ireland in the last 16, and they deserved their 1-0 win, even if it took an own goal to get it.
Belgium were the first to fall victim to Antonio Conte’s imperious Italy, but they are one of the few sides who appear to be peaking at the right moment in France. Clinical wins over the Republic of Ireland and Sweden preceded a ruthless 4-0 dispatching of Hungary in the last 16, in which Eden Hazard offered glimpses of something at least close to his very best form.
Gareth Bale has been Wales’ inspiration in these finals, and it was he who hit the winner when these teams met in qualifying last June. Chris Coleman’s side kept two clean sheets in those two meetings, but even if Bale makes his mark again, Belgium look unlikely to break this time.
Prediction: Wales 1-2 Belgium
Germany v Italy (Saturday July 2, Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux)
It says a lot that Germany fans will have preferred to meet holders Spain at this stage. In eight past tournament meetings, including the Euro 2012 semi-finals, they have never managed to beat Italy.
Joachim Low insisted after a highly impressive 3-0 win over Slovakia that he would not lose any sleep over their quarter-final opponents, but pondering a way to breach the magnificent ‘BBC’ defence is enough to haunt anybody’s dreams.
Italy were composed and clinical in their 2-0 win over Spain and look supremely confident in their set-up, though exploiting counter-attacks against a side yet to concede a goal here represents their toughest challenge yet.
Germany looked as strong as anyone else in the last round, but an Italy team written off by almost the entire population back home is starting to believe in their chances. Whatever the result, the winner in Bordeaux will almost certainly be favourites for the trophy.
Prediction: Germany 0-1 Italy (after extra time)
France v Iceland (Sunday Jule 3, Stade de France, Saint-Denis)
Doubts persist over Didier Deschamps’ France but, so far, the host nation have got the job done.
Unbeaten as winners of Group A, they faced a real threat of a shock against the Republic of Ireland in the second round before Antoine Griezmann turned the game on its head and Shane Duffy’s red card made the closing stages a little more comfortable.
On paper, France have the easiest quarter-final, but anyone who has followed a minute of Iceland’s remarkable campaign knows how perilously short-sighted such a view might be.
If a draw with Portugal and victory over Austria sent shockwaves through the tournament, a fully deserved 2-1 win over England caused the kind of seismic tremors last felt when Eyjafjallajokull grounded the continent in 2010.
France, at least, are unlikely to underestimate Lars Lagerback’s side. If they can finally hit their stride in Saint-Denis, they should have the firepower to end Iceland’s fairytale.
Prediction: France 2-0 Iceland