Switzerland vs. Poland
Defensively, Poland has looked stout this Euros, being 1 of 3 teams to not concede a goal, and although Ukraine and Northern Ireland are not offensive juggernauts, Germany is and they relegated that potent offense. 270 minutes without concession is no joke. Oh the flip side, they haven’t looked dynamic on offense, relying mostly on their star, Robert Lewandowski, to create something special. Fortunately, Switzerland hasn’t looked up to it this Euros offensively either. I expect a tight defensive performance from both sides, with each squad apprehensive to go forward. Although the Swiss have more talent, with the likes of Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shiqiri roaming the midfield, I am going to go with Poland to come out on top. They look the more cohesive side at the moment.
Wales vs. Northern Ireland
Wow. What a crazy matchup. Wales improbably winning their group and Northern Ireland improbably doing anything. Let’s start with Wales, or “Gareth Wales,” as the internet has coined. They have impressed me. Defensively, they have looked rock solid, and with Bale on the counterattack, they are deadly. Did you see how they ripped Russia apart? I mean, Russia looked abysmal, but still, it was clinical counterattack football. I don’t think Northern Ireland stand much of a chance. They have only scored twice, with both goals coming against a Ukraine team that forget to show up. They have had very little possession, which actually might bode well. Wales has looked best when the other team has the ball, so it will be interesting to see what kind of offense Wales produces as the favorites, playing against a team that will limit their counterattack. Bale has the ability to score from almost anywhere, so that should help. In the end, I expect Wales to pull through.
Croatia vs. Portugal
I love the midfield of Croatia. Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic are a dynamic duo. Modric’s on the ball skills are impeccable. He is able to spray the ball across the pitch with ease, commanding a lot of attention from his opponents in attempts to limit his space. This extra attention could give Rakitic some extra room to maneuver and feed balls into the still very capable feet of Mario Mandzukic. For Portugal, it has been a struggle to score. They did net 3 goals against a Hungary B-team, so that’s something, but generated very little against Austria, which even saw Modric’s Real Madrid teammate, the great Cristiano Ronaldo, miss a penalty kick late in the match. The inconsistencies of Portugal are nothing new. They could look menacing against Croatia, or their final third balls could be off the mark like they’ve been much of this tournament. I’ll take Croatia in what should be the best match of the Saturday games.
France vs. Ireland
France has looked less than stellar in their quest to win on home soil. They were bailed out by an astounding Dimitri Payet goal in their opener and were held scoreless for much of their match against Albania. Then actually held scoreless against Switzerland. For a team that has such a deep and creative midfield, their have looked out of sorts. Ireland hasn’t been convincing, either. They were able to go through due to beating a half-hearted and full of back-ups Italy squad. They were trounced thoroughly by Belgium. Although France has been mediocre, I expect them to rise to the occasion. Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann are two of the most exciting players in world football. I hope manager Didier Deschamps unleashes them a bit more as the stakes get elevated. You win or lose on the form of your best players.