POLAND vs PORTUGAL
Poland have played some scintillating stuff so far this summer but they will face a stern examination from Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal on Thursday night. Adam Nawalka’s men cruised through the group stages and came within a whisker of topping Germany; although their second-placed finish has actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
On his day, Robert Lewandowski remains an instrumental and central figure to Poland’s attack. While it hasn’t been his tournament so far, the Bayern Munich striker could step up to the plate and help his side reach the semi-finals here. He hasn’t scored a single goal as of yet but the big-name players usually save their best form for the big moments.
Meanwhile, Portugal have been disappointing and Fernando Santos’ men are yet to win a game inside the scheduled 90 minutes. Their defence has been shaky at best and they have looked short of ideas in attack at times. However, they have Ronaldo – and that is enough to put the fear of God into the Polish defence.
Poland have defended admirably so far and if they can keep Ronaldo quiet, they can win this game. However, both sides may cancel each other out for long periods and that is why I fancy this game to go the distance. Poland to qualify (win in 90 minutes, extra-time or on penalties) looks well priced at 29/20.
WALES vs BELGIUM
It’s been a dream few weeks for Welsh football but unfortunately, their Euro 2016 campaign will end on Friday night. Belgium are just too strong... aren’t they? On paper, Marc Wilmots’ side dwarfs that of Wales but could Chris Coleman’s men find inspiration from somewhere and shock the second best international team on the planet?
In a word: no. Belgium have found their gear and are looking incredibly strong. Buoyed by their relatively easy route to the final, Wilmots’ “golden generation” may be about to step up to the plate and take their rightful place at the summit of European football. Belgium lost to Wales during the qualifying campaign but they will be looking to make amends...
If Belgium are going to win, they have to stop Gareth Bale. The Real Madrid man is and has been Wales’ talisman throughout qualifying, the group stages and now the knockout rounds. Bale is a game-changer and a match winner and he has a unique ability to inspire an entire nation. While it isn’t all about Bale, he is integral to their chances.
Wales will need Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Ashley Williams and Joe Allen all to be at their very best to stand any chance of toppling Belgium. Wilmots’ men are in full stride and they already have one eye on the ultimate prize of glory. And for that reason, I fancy Belgium to win inside 90 minutes at 8/11.
GERMANY vs ITALY
An intriguing battle. Germany have never beaten Italy at a major championship but records like this are always there to be broken. Antonio Conte has done incredibly well with a below-par Italian side so far and it honestly wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see the soon-to-be Chelsea man mastermind the Azzurri to another immense shock.
Germany have been imperious and dominant so far this summer, winning three of their four fixtures without conceding a goal. In their other encounter, they kept another clean sheet and Joachim Loew’s defence has been impermeable throughout the competition. In the battle of two fantastic defences, Germany must remain solid and durable – or else...
Italy will get opportunities on Saturday night. That much is obvious. Graziano Pelle has been simply sublime for Conte’s men throughout the tournament and the Southampton man could make all the difference in this clash. While Germany’s defence has been solid, Pelle could find that half-yard of space to exploit Loew’s usually reliable back four.
In theory, this contest could be a stalemate of epic proportions. Defences may be on top and it will be up to a creative genius like Mesut Ozil or Toni Kroos to break down the Italian back line. And although it will be tough, I reckon Germany (5/9 to qualify) will get through eventually – they usually do.
FRANCE vs ICELAND
The hosts will fancy their chances of reaching the semi-finals here. France have talent all over the field and it would take a brave man to back against Didier Deschamps’ men. Iceland earned one of THE European Championship shocks as they knocked Roy Hodgson’s England out in the last-16 stage but this is a different kettle of fish; especially on French soil.
France will be without N’Golo Kante and Adil Rami – both ruled out through suspension – for Sunday’s clash and Deschamps may have to tweak his formation slightly to compensate for this. Paul Pogba could play slightly deeper whilst Manchester City defender Eliaquim Mangala could slot in at the heart of the back four.
Iceland are living the dream. Securing qualification for this summer’s competition was an incredible achievement but reaching the quarter-finals is nothing short of miraculous. And with their unique and quirky set-pieces, Iceland could cause France plenty of problems – just as the Republic of Ireland did to Les Bleus in their last-16 clash.
If truth be told, Iceland probably aren’t going to do to France what they did to England; Deschamps’ men are too strong. If France are at their brilliant best, this could get very one-sided but knockout football isn’t usually like that. I still think the French will do enough to win inside 90 minutes but it might be wise to back them to win by 2 goals or less at 9/10 for additional value.