-Syed Suboor Abbas
Netherlands vs Czech Republic
Just like Italy, the Netherlands have drawn a “favorable” tie on paper. The Dutch have seen some tough times in the last few years, not qualifying for a major tournament final since 2014. However, Frank de Boer’s side have been shutting down their critics so far at Euro 2020. They coasted through their group with three wins in three, scoring eight goals on their way.
While the Czechs, despite finishing third in their group, were first to secure qualification from Group D. Patrik Schick has been their talisman so far, scoring all of their three goals in the group stage and that could be a point of concern for Jeroslav Silhavy. Outside of Schick, their attack hasn’t been as potent, but Schick’s ability in the penalty area (even outside of it) could be enough to get a result against the Netherlands
Key Players: While much of the limelight would be on Memphis Depay, Frank de Boer has enough quality and match-winners in his squad to turn to. Captain Georginio Wijnaldum is the one who makes the Dutch tick. He’s been central to most things good for his team and we could expect him to be heavily involved in this one as well. Denzel Dumfries, outside of his defending duties, is also an unlikely outlet in the attack. Dumfries has been important going forward and has bagged two goals for himself, and could be the difference here.
It’s pretty evident that Schick has been the outstanding player for the Czech Republic and would be key for his team if they’re to progress from this round. While defenders Tomas Kalas and Vladimir Coufal have been solid at the back, the latter also provides a creative opening and his crosses coupled with Schick’s, not to forget Tomas Soucek’s, ability in the air could prove to be lethal.
Prediction: Having already faced England and Croatia, two of the strongest sides at the competition, the Czech could be more than a match for the Netherlands. They are a well-drilled outfit, but they also have match-winners in the likes of Schick and Soucek and 18-year-old, Adam Hlozek. In spite of all the positives for Silhavy’s team, it’s clear that the momentum is with the Dutch. Virgil van Dijk’s absence hasn’t caused many problems yet, with Daley Blind, Matthijs de Ligt and Stefan de Vrij forming a three-man defense. Going forward, the Oranje have more than enough options and could be too much to handle for the Czechs. Our pick is the Netherlands.
Belgium vs Portugal
One of the two marquee round-of-16 clashes, Belgium vs Portugal, promises to be an epic showdown. The entire weekend has been a build-up to this game. Either the World №1 or the reigning European Champions will bow out of the tournament by tonight.
Belgium come into this fixture being tipped as slight favorites. Except for the first half against Denmark, the Red Devils found it quite comfortable in Group B and they sailed through it with a perfect record, finishing top and scoring seven goals in three games.
Portugal, on the other hand, have had a tempestuous run so far, winning one, losing one and drawing one. They got off to a flying start against Hungary, although, they had to wait for the first goal up until the 84th minute. Their path then became complicated after they were hammered by Germany in the second game, but managed to get a draw against the World Champions, France, thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo (yet again) and eventually finished in third place to sneak through to the last sixteen.
Key Players: Both sides are stacked with world-class talents, but it’s difficult to look past two certain individuals, Kevin De Bruyne for Belgium and Cristiano Ronaldo for Portugal (no points for guessing here). De Bruyne’s link-up play and his ability to create something out of the ordinary are second to none. To put this into perspective, De Bruyne came on in the second half against Denmark and turned the tables for his side as he inspired them to come from behind and win the game 2–1 where he assisted the equalizer before scoring the winner himself.
While Ronaldo, spearheading Portugal’s attack, has already scored 5 goals and assisted one in three matches so far and is on course to win the Golden Boot. The evergreen CR7 has been the talisman for his nation on so many occasions and has once again proved himself on one of the biggest stages, performing for his side against the likes of the last two World Champions, France & Germany, and the irrepressible Hungary, in the group stage. Fernando Santos’ men couldn’t have drawn a tougher match than Belgium, but it could be Ronaldo’s theme park, as it has been so often. And with the record of most international goals in men’s football history in sight now, the Juventus man has a personal motive as well.
Prediction: Both Belgium & Portugal prefer to attack than defend, but this is inarguably their most demanding test (at least for Belgium), so we can expect a bit of hesitance from both sides. The question will be who’s more willing to take a risk. With the plethora of talent that both teams possess, we know they can play a possession-based game or a counter-attacking one, depending on the opposition. So, it will be interesting to see how the two sides would stack up against each other. With the likes of De Bruyne, Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva on the pitch, fans worldwide will expect plenty of chances, but it could be the defense for each team that proves to be the difference.
Belgium haven’t won a game against Portugal since 1989, but with this golden generation, fans and critics alike think that could change. However, Portugal also boast a squad that’s much better and talented than the one that won Euro 2016. So, contrary to popular belief, we pick Portugal to win on penalties.
Who do you think will come out on top tonight? Let us know in the comments and do share your feedback.