Agencies (Qasioun) - And so we have reached the Euro 2016 quarterfinals. The tournament began slowly, thanks largely to the new enlarged format which meant that after a week of barely any jeopardy, there have suddenly been major eliminations almost every day. Of the sides that looked as though they had a clear chance of success, Spain has gone, and of the teams in the next tier, that of possible outsiders, so too have Croatia and England.
The draw, meanwhile, has left the competition weirdly imbalanced, so that Italy or Germany’s route to the final, for instance, is far trickier than that of, say Belgium or Portugal.
So, taking all that into account, here is the ranking of the eight remaining sides in the tournament, in order of likelihood of winning:
Quarterfinal Opponent: Iceland
The host has sputtered along without ever looking fluent or being anywhere near its best, but it could hardly have dreamt of a more straightforward path to the latter stages. Iceland will be a significant challenge in the quarterfinal, but still, to face tournament debutants ranked 34th in the world in the last eight, having had to play nobody more testing than Switzerland in the group or the last 16, is about as good as it gets. And while the defense looked surprisingly shaky against simple long balls against Ireland, France regrouped at halftime and was much the better side in the second half. Vitally, at every stage in the tournament when it has really needed a goal, it has found one.
Quarterfinal Opponent: Italy
As at the 2014 World Cup, the doubts have begun to melt away now that Jogi Low has re-implemented an orthodox central striker (Mario Gomez) and found a right back (Joshua Kimmich). The win over Slovakia was utterly comprehensive, a clinical demonstration of how rapid passes in the final third can unpick massed defenses. The question, though, is whether Germany can do that against better sides and whether the issue of reconciling a functioning defense with a fluid attack has been achieved. Italy in the quarterfinal will be the sternest of tests.
Quarterfinal Opponent: Germany
There is no side at the tournament that feels quite so much like a club side. Antonio Conte has his team finely drilled, a super counterattacking unit that has brushed aside both Belgium and Spain. The sense is that Italy is rather better against teams that try to dominate it, the best counterattacking side in the tournament, and so the tough route to the final may not be such an issue. And it’s worth remembering before the quarterfinal that Italy has never lost to Germany in a competitive game.
Quarterfinal Opponent: Wales
It may seem strange to be critical of a side that has won its last three games by a combined scored of 8-0, but there is still a feeling about this Belgium that it is less than the sum of its parts, a collection of individuals rather than a team. It was well-beaten by Italy in its opening game and the ability to dismiss Ireland, Sweden and Hungary says little about its capacity to compete with a top side. That said, the draw has been kind.
Quarterfinal Opponent: Poland
It’s vaguely mystifying that Portugal is still in the tournament. It is yet to win a game inside 90 minutes, and while it hasn’t lost, it looked extremely shaky defensively in the group stage. Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t quite firing, and there is a general lack of fluency. But it’s advanced this far, has had a good draw and the potential is there for everything suddenly to click.
Quarterfinal Opponent: Portugal
Everything had seemed to be going so well for Poland until halftime in the game against Switzerland. It had been defensively sound in the group, tactically intelligent in getting the draw against Germany, and in Robert Lewandowski and Arkadiusz Milik it seemed to have a strike tandem that was just waiting to take off. But after halftime in that last-16 game, it suddenly looked weary and flat and was a little fortunate to hold out to go through on penalties. Which one will show vs. Ronaldo & Co.?
Quarterfinal Opponent: Belgium
Wales has surpassed all expectations to get this far. Its back three has created the perfect platform for Gareth Bale, who has responded with a series of key interventions. Belgium struggled against a counterattacking side operating with a back three in Italy, and that should offer Wales hope.
Quarterfinal Opponent: France
How long can the fairy tale go on? Iceland has been well-organized, made the best use of its strengths and is fired by a ferocious camaraderie, but surely playing the host in the Stade de France will be one step too far. Not all sides will be as compliant and dull-witted as England.
Source: Sports Illustrated