Germany vs. Slovakia
Germany has not looked up to it thus far, but they know it’s not how you start . . . it’s how you finish. As winner’s of the 2014 World Cup, this team oozes talent and confidence. They are a strong possession team with the ability to score a number of ways. Just ask Brazil. Or don’t. They might fight you. But alongside their deep core of midfielders and forwards, Germany also has a dynamic back line, with Jerome Boateng’s controlling presence suffocating the opposition. And if someone does falter down the line, Manuel Neuer is there, arguably the world’s best keeper. Slovakia will be up against it. They have relied heavily on their defense to stand tall and Martin Skrtel will have to be a menace. I see this as an easy win for Germany.
Hungary vs. Belgium
In this matchup, you’d think that Belgium was the high scoring side, with talents such as Hazard, De Bruyne, and Lukaku, but they have only scored 4 times this tournament, compared to 6 for Hungary. Belgium has been mired by inconsistent play. They haven’t done much to impress me, yet, the way the bracket unfolded, they have such an easy route to the final. It’s better to be lucky than good! They were simply outclassed by Italy in their opener. A team couldn’t look for feeble or disjointed. Based on that performance alone, they don’t deserve anything. They smashed Ireland the next game, but it’s just Ireland, and then struggled against Sweden in their final match, a team that didn’t even register a shot on goal in their first two games. Zlatan scored what looked like a good goal, but was called back for a “high boot.” An egregious call, if you ask me. Zlatan also had a ball cleared off the line. So yeah, excuse me if I’m not high on this Belgium team. Though, I still see them advancing past a Hungary team that is solid. However, if this game opens up, Hungary has shown the ability to move down the field.
Italy vs. Spain
This is easily the best matchup of the eight knockout round games. But on the flip side, this is the worst. Who wants to waste this match-up here? Well, this is what UEFA gets for its silly expansion of the Euros. I had this pegged for a semifinal matchup. I loved how both these squads played in their first two games. They both played the exact way they wanted to and looked totally in command. Both slipped their 3rd game and lost, but that doesn’t worry me. Come game time, both sides will be in form and ready to go. It pains me to see one of these countries go home at this early stage, but I am going to lean slightly to Italy. I think their commanding defensive tone, set by Giorgio Chiellini will limit the possession style defense Spain likes to play. And Leonardo Bonucci’s service of the ball to stretch the midfield has been unbelievable. And how can I pick against Buffon, who is probably playing in his final major tournament for Italy.
England vs. Iceland
Iceland only has a population of 330,000 people, yet they found their way into this knockout round, albeit expanded. This is exactly what UEFA wanted when they opened it up. They wanted to give little teams like Iceland the chance to play on a bigger stage. Well, it worked. And they drew England, who according to most have disappointed, but I want to take the other side. They have perhaps played a lithe too cautiously against Slovakia in their final match, but were super dynamic against Russia and had their chances against a very stingy Wales side that played very tight defensively. They might be a dark horse to make a run, if you ask me. Eric Dier is a force in that midfield, and they have a copious amount of attacking players. As long as Raheem Sterling doesn’t play, England should be able to finish off at least one chance to seal victory.