Friday, July 2, 2021

European Championship

The quarterfinals begin Friday with Spain, extra time winners over Croatia, facing a Switzerland team which eliminated heavily favored France in penalty kicks. Spain becomes one of the tournament favorites, though they would face a difficult semi-final battle with the winner of Belgium and Italy if defeating the Swiss. Switzerland, playing with house money at this stage, will be without Granit Xhaka who is suspended for red card accumulation. The Arsenal man delivered a man of the match performance against the French and will be sorely missed.

The Spanish have scored five goals in each of their last two games, the first team to do so in the European Championship. Manchester City player Ferran Torres has become a critical element of the Spanish attack, scoring seven times in his last nine appearances for Spain. Switzerland’s Haris Seferovic, meanwhile, has three goals in his last two matches.

Friday’s marquee game is Italy versus Belgium. Italy breezed through the group stage before being pushed to extra time by Austria in the round of sixteen. Belgium entered the tournament ranked number one in the world and swept through their group stage undefeated, as did Italy. Belgium emerged battered, however, from a bruising victory over Portugal in the round of sixteen and could be without both Manchester City ace Kevin De Bruyne and former Chelsea star Eden Hazard. Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku features for Inter Milan in Serie A and will be familiar with many of his Italian opponents on Friday.

Czech Republic, which eliminated a Netherlands team which had been undefeated though group play, will face a Denmark side which survived two losses in their group before embarrassing Wales 4-0 in the round of sixteen.

Quarterfinal play concludes with England facing Ukraine. Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling has been the most dynamic figure in attack for an England squad focused on defense, a strategy which has worked to near perfection with no goals conceded by the English after four matches. Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish has been providing some spark for the Three Lions off the bench as an impact player. Everton’s Jordan Pickford has been outstanding between the sticks. There is speculation as to whether England Manager Gareth Southgate might reach to his bench for Jadon Sancho, reportedly being acquired by Manchester United, should more offensive dynamism be required. Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko and West Ham’s Andrij Yarmolenko are key players on a Ukraine side which eliminated Sweden in extra time in their round of sixteen match.


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