Euro 2020 has reached the knock-out stages. They will begin in a few minutes with a match between Wales and Denmark.
All of the eight teams we identified as the elite of the tournament have advanced. Denmark, a popular choice for “dark horse,” also made it. The Danes overcame the near death of their best player Christian Eriksen.
Of the six teams we identified as “minnows,” only Wales has made the final 16. However, Hungary, playing in the tournament’s toughest group, nearly made it.
The most mouth-watering match in the round of 16 is probably the one between England and Germany (with Portugal-Belgium not far behind). It’s bad news for both teams to be playing one another this early in the tournament.
The good news is that the winner of the match will have a good path to the Finals. Holland might be the main obstacle. It won all three of its group stage matches by a combined score of 8-2. However, this seemingly was one of the tournament’s weaker groups. I don’t yet have a good read on the quality of the Dutch team.
The other side of the bracket is quite formidable. It features the two teams I thought played best in the group stages — Italy and Belgium — along with the pre-tournament favorite — France. Spain and Portugal are also are in that mix.
Belgium and Italy have the toughest path. If form holds, they will meet in the quarterfinals with France probably awaiting the winner in the semis. But Belgium must first defeat a good team from Portugal, the defending champions.
France and Italy are two teams with no obvious weaknesses. Belgium might be shaky at the back.
The duo of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld has served Belgium very well over the years, and the two combined to lead Tottenham Hotspur to a string of very successful seasons in the last decade. However, they are now 34 and 32 respectively, and their best football seems to be behind them.
Belgium’s coach Robert Martinez wisely added a third center back to the mix, sometimes Dedryck Boyata, sometimes Jason Denayer. Boyata looks like the better of the two. Perhaps a Vertonghen-Alderweireld-Boyata back line will get the job done, especially now that defensive midfielder Axel Witsel has recovered from injury and is providing a shield.
At the other end, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard are back from their injuries, and former Everton striker Romulu Lukuku is playing great. Maybe Belgium can afford to leak a goal here or there.
Denmark is still worth keeping an eye on. The Danes played quite well in the two matches since Eriksen, their best player, went down. Yes, they lost 2-1 to Belgium, but they weren’t outplayed.
This looks like a team on a mission and it has been aided by the emergence of Mikkel Damsgaard, who looks a bit like a young Christian Eriksen. If the Danes get by Wales, they will probably face Holland next — an intriguing matchup. After that, it will probably be England or Germany.
Unlike the World Cup, the Euros are known for surprise runs and surprise winners. Denmark surprised Europe by winning the tournament in 1992. Greece shocked it by winning Euro 2004.
In the last tournament, Wales made it all the way to the semis, and Portugal upset France, the home team, in the finals.
Thus, we really shouldn’t count out any of the top eight teams or Denmark. Sometimes, all it takes is a little bit of luck and maybe an in-form striker.