After a two day break, Euro 2016 is back, and with it the knockout stage; the round of 16. It begins with Switzerland facing Poland, Wales playing against Northern Ireland in a British derby, with Croatia and Portugal rounding up the day’s action.
Switzerland vs Poland: Switzerland have gotten better as the tournament has progressed, going through thanks to a 1-0 win over Albania in the opening match. Like Poland, they rely a lot on their wing backs, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Ricardo Rodriguez, although they probably have an advantage when it comes to creative talent up front, in the form of Xherdan Shaqiri, and having Granit Xhaka push from the behind during their better moments. Having a problem with their strikers has kept them from turning quality advantage into more goals. The Poles haven’t been scorching as well, but their overall play, and overall record, has been better than the Swiss. With a relentless approach (unless they’re facing Germany) and a constant push from the wings, they’re hoping that this time, Robert Lewandowski finds the net. Both teams will share moments of dominance. It might be the focus during these minutes that makes the difference. Poland, up until now, seem like the more capable team of taking advantage of these minutes.
Wales vs Northern Ireland: Every time the Northern Irish step on the field, they’re huge underdogs. But it worked for them, just because they got the one win against a bad Swedish team, and haven’t been easy to beat for Poland and Germany. Against Wales it’ll be more of the same. Defense, defense, and hoping some set piece goes their way. Wales, who looked clinical against Russia and Slovakia, will look to score early, relying on Gareth Bale to be their bunker-buster with his long range ability, which opens up opportunities for Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey with their passing ability, and Ramsey’s knack for finding space in front of him.
Croatia vs Portugal: If it wasn’t for their fans trying to get revenge against corrupting in Croatian football, Croatia would have made it a perfect 9 for 9 in the group stage. Their fantastic foursome of Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic, even without scoring, have been a handful and responsible for possibly the best football in the tournament. Portugal have played poorly on defense and except for one goal gluttony moment, have looked a bit too predictable on offense. But if Cristiano Ronaldo has finally broken whatever it was holding him back, and Portugal realize the way to score is not stranding him in the middle to congest their entire game, their awful start to the tournament can turn into something better, despite the more difficult opponent.