EURO 2020 SUNDAY PREVIEW: NETHERLANDS VS CZECH REPUBLIC & PORTUGAL VS BELGIUM
Sunday 27th June – 5:00pm – Netherlands vs Czech Republic
After losing Van Djik, Netherlands seemed to go from outsiders, to just an average team with a few top stars playing in top clubs. However, the latter have stepped and so have the youngsters who were not expected to do so well. The stars include De Jong, De Ligt, Memphis Depay and Gini Wijnaldum, with all four contributing to a rather successful campaign for the Dutch. On the younger side, Dumfries has really impressed at right back, contributing two goals and offering a lot of width to this team. The Dutch are not perfect, far from that, but they are very efficient and seem to be tactically very well organised. While the public was asking for a classic 4-3-3, even flying a plane over training to ask for it, Frank De Boer seems to persist with his 3-5-2 and it is clearly working out. A crazy first game against Ukraine which ended 3-2, before two comfortable victories against Austria and Macedonia (2-0 and 3-0), with Wijnaldum and Depay scoring 6 of the 8 goals scored by the Dutch. A hard working yet creative midfield, combined with a solid defence and a large batch of young and exciting attacking talent means the Dutch have truly surprised the continent, and probably even the fans back home. While there are little expectations for this team to go really far, they can certainly back themselves in this game against another surprise of the tournament.
Nobody expected Czech Republic; some very optimistic Scottish fans and media even placed them favourites to finish bottom of their group. Yet, here they are, with 4 points and a second spot in a group topped by England, followed by Croatia and Scotland. Their first game in Scotland was particularly impressive, with notably a top performance from Patrick Schick, who created a sensation online with a halfway line goal. His three goals in the tournament enabled his team to beat Scotland and draw against Croatia. They hit the glass roof against a more talented English team, but they qualify from this group with certainties, a strong defensive set up and some really interesting attacking talent. While at times disappointing, particularly in Wembley, they can also pull some surprises out of the bag and could certainly hope to qualify against the Dutch. It is a very open game on paper, with both teams failing and succeeding in different areas, but this is absolutely a fixture to look out for.
Prediction: Netherlands 2-1 Czech Republic
Sunday 27th June – 8:00pm – Belgium vs Portugal
Two of the favourites for the final win come head-to-head in the last 16. Semi-finalist of the last World Cup and number 1 in the FIFA rankings, Belgium will travel to Sevilla with high expectations and a goal set on a win in the final. An exit this early in the competition would be disastrous, especially taking into account the fact that this might be the last chance for this golden generation to win something, with many retiring from international football after this tournament or the 2022 World Cup. De Bruyne and Hazard seemed to have fully come back from injury, while Castagne was ruled out of the tournament after an injury picked up in the first game. Other than a difficult first half against Denmark, the Belgians have globally been in control of their games, winning 2-0 and 3-0 against Finland and Russia respectively. When their talented players are on their day, there is no stopping them. Not having the best tactical organisation is less of an issue when the raw talent of this team is so good. One of the stars of the tournament has been Lukaku: after an incredible season in Italy, the Inter player has continued his form into the tournament, scoring 3 in as many games. While the new generation of Tielemans starts settling in, sometimes they have to rely on the experience of their stars and it is certainly working for them. Portugal will however be a whole different piece of cake, notably when Ronaldo and co will come up against a pretty shaky defence.
Speaking of which, the Portuguese have not quite impressed so far. Really struggling to break the deadlock against a solid Hungarian backline, they eventually smashed 3 home in the last ten minutes of the game. They were impressive in the first half against Germany, before crumbling under the pressure, conceding 4, including 2 own goals. Width is probably the biggest issue for the Portuguese, with their wingers always going inside and their full back struggling to keep up with opposition overloads. This was the case with Gosens, who had a field day in Munich, but also when Benzema wanted to squeeze through the lines to score his second in the final game. They were lucky to draw the game with 2 penalties against France, but they will need to be a lot brighter against a very good Belgian team. Their strength undoubtedly relies on their past experience of 2016. Pretty poor throughout the tournament, they scraped through to a win in the final against all odds. Having Ronaldo still scoring as many goals will be an advantage, but they need to find other ways to score as well as containing the brilliant Belgian wingers, or it could end in tears.
Prediction: Belgium 2-1 Portugal