LONDON, UK – With the knockout round of EURO 2020 officially set and ready to start tomorrow, there are a lot of good teams and players. However, thanks to being unbeaten and unscored upon, it is looking clear that the Azzuri are the team to beat.
Below are my top five teams to watch in the next round.
1.) Italy: Unbeaten and unscored upon, the Azurri have the look and confidence of a side that no one wants to see at EURO 20. What’s scary is that they are beginning to hit their stride and the right team, which could bode well for the Italians.
2.) Portugal: Any team that has the tournament’s all-time leader in goals, appearances and games played is going to be a problem. Any team that has Ronaldo playing for them is going to be a tough out. Those are two things that the defending EURO champs have going for them. Watch out for them!
3.) France: After looking rather blasé and mediocre for much of the group stage, things looked like they finally began to click with Karim Benzema back up front paired with World Cup hero, Kylian Mbappe for Les Bleus following an exciting 2-2 draw with the defending EURO champion Portugal. Can the defending World Cup champions put it together and take things to a higher level?
4.) Belgium: A personal dark horse sleeper pick of mine back in 2018, Roberto Martinez’s Belgium squad goes into the knockout round with arguably both the best striker in Romelu Lukaku and midfielder in Kevin De Bruyne. Such a 1-2 combo makes the Red Devils a tough matchup for anyone.
5.) Netherlands: Just when things couldn’t get more interesting at EURO 20, the Netherlands appear to be peaking and playing some of the best football of any team. Memphis Depay, along with fellow wingers Gini Wijnaldum and Denzel Dumfries, look at home in Frank De Boer’s 4-3-3 as the main triggermen for a Dutch side that looks more like modern-day, attacking football instead of chasing the ghosts of Johan Cruyff past.
6.) England: God Save The Queen! How a side that looked and played as miserable as the Three Lions snuck into the knockout round, is a sign that the soccer gods still smile—and that the sun never sets—on the British Empire.
With big names such as Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling, while Gareth Southgate’s side is still a hard team to figure out. If all three of the forementioned lads can all get on the same page, opposing teams will run into that same problem.
7.) Wales: Enter The Dragons! Not many are noticing them now, but Wales got some talent in Aaron Ramsey—former Gunner, so I gotta give him so love!—Real Madrid champion, Gareth Bale, Kieffer Moore and Daniel James, former Manchester United great in Ryan Giggs has built and solid and steady side that can cause some damage in the knockout round, if not taken seriously.
8.) Croatia: As dangerously and underrated as always, the 2018 World Cup runners-up still boast arguably the best midfielder in the world today in Luka Modric, along with quality players such as Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic, forwards in Andrej Kramaric, Bruno Petkovic and defender Domagoj Vida. While Croatia is a bit older don’t have the services of the very dangerous Mario Mandzukic, they still have the heart of a champion and are as tough as nails.
9.) Denmark: If there is a sentimental favorite in the knockout round, it is the Danes, as they are driven and inspired by their fallen comrade, Christian Eriksen.
Danish head coach Kasper Hjulmand—along with captain Simon Kjaer and Martin Braithwaite have done a brilliant job in galvanizing their squad—and a whole country—in getting into the knockout stage. If they can pull of a upset, or two, they will be this year’s Iceland.
10.) Sweden: No Zlatan, no problem! While the self-absorbed AC Milan forward didn’t make the team, Janne Andersson’s Swedish squad are still a team to watch thanks to the play of Andreas Granqvist. If the Blagult have any hope of making their first semifinal since 1992, Sweden will need to continue their compact and solid style of play.
Semifinals: France vs. Italy and Netherlands vs. Germany
Prediction: France vs. Netherlands.