Euro 2020 really starts heating up now.
The group stages have already delivered more own goals than the previous five editions of the tournament COMBINED, and there have been numerous other thrills and spills in a two week period that feels more like two months.
Here's how we think things will go down in the last 16.
🌊 Saturday 26th
Denmark's footballers have been through the full spectrum of emotions at Euro 2020, and Simon Kjær's leadership has been an outstanding theme running through it all. But don't discount Wales - Gareth Bale assumed a central role against Turkey last time out with two assists and a missed penalty Bale and Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey provide the genuine star quality in this Welsh side.
The Amsterdam Arena plays host to this, the first match of the Euro 2020 knockout stages, and it shouldn't disappoint.
🔮 Prediction: Denmark to progress
The Azzurri are looking rock-solid, currently on an 11-match winning streak, a sequence in which they've not conceded a single goal. Defensive stalwart Giorgio Chiellini is back in training although it's thought that Roberto Mancini will stick with Leo Bonucci and Lazio man Francesco Acerbi in the heart of the defence.
Mancini must choose how to deploy midfield kingpin Marco Verratti because the PSG man is now fully fit. Manuel Locatelli's brace against Switzerland showed that he's got goals to offer from the base of the engine room, while the metronomic passing ability of Chelsea's Jorginho makes him indispensable.
One of Locatelli or the excellent and energetic Inter Milan star Nicoló Barella will have to make way for queen bee Verratti. There is a serious over-supply of elite quality in Italy's midfield, and that's before we even mention Ciro immobile's goal-scoring prowess in their attack.
🔮 Prediction: Italy to win and keep another clean sheet
🌞 Sunday 27th
Holland's performances have been almost as eye-catching as their beautiful black & orange away strip for the tournament. Gini Wijnaldum's energetic box-to-box skills, garnished by three goals so far, mean that the Netherlands midfield looks like one of the most balanced units this summer.
Czech striker Patrik Schick scored arguably the goal of the tournament against Scotland and his side isn't to be underestimated. Like Wijnaldum, Schick also has three goals and is bang in form. On paper, this could very well be the most open and entertaining of the last 16 clashes for neutrals.
🔮 Prediction: The Netherlands to win and both sides to score
Don't write off the defending champions. Although they've been far from convincing, it's worth remembering that A Seleção only won ONCE inside 90 minutes en route to winning the trophy five years ago. When Cristiano Ronaldo's in your team, you always have a chance.
🏆 Portugal’s Euro 2016:— Futaa.com (@Futaacom) June 24, 2021
🤝 Portugal 1-1 Iceland
🤝 Portugal 0-0 Austria
🤝 Hungary 3-3 Portugal
🇵🇹 Croatia 0-1 Portugal
🇵🇹 Poland 1-1 Portugal (3-5 pens)
🇵🇹 Portugal 2-0 Wales
🇵🇹 Portugal 1-0 France
😯 They won just ONCE (vs Wales) inside 90 minutes en route to the title. #tbt pic.twitter.com/u7kdcUYuEA
That being said, Belgium has scored 2+ goals in 25 of their last 27 matches and they've looked potent in attack this tournament despite nursing key man Kevin De Bruyne back to fitness.
Inter striker Romelu Lukaku is on a roll too, scoring 23 goals in 21 appearances in all competitions for his country since the end of the 2018 World Cup. He's scored three so far at Euro 2020, taking his total for the season for club and country to 41. The big man is flying, and his Red Devils side is certainly favourites.
🔮 Prediction: Portugal to take this to extra time
🌚 Monday 28th
The 2018 World Cup runners-up haven't looked like their dynamic and competitive selves in the last 18 months or so, but a spirited win against Scotland reminded us all of the sheer class that evergreen skipper Luka Modrić still possesses. Ironically, it's in midfield where Croatia might feel as though they can gain an edge, considering the embarrassment of riches that Spain has enjoyed in the centre of the park in the past decade and more.
The latest midfield maestro from the Spanish production line, Pedri, is 17 years Modrić's junior and the way he copes with the occasion will be fascinating. La Roja hit five past Slovakia in their final group game and, in truth, it could have been more. The 2010 World Champions might actually be clicking into gear and starting to resemble something of a dark horse and they're doing it just at the right time.
🔮 Prediction: Spain to advance
Two consecutive draws for the world champions means that they are far from invincible. Injuries to Lucas Hernandez and his deputy Lucas Digne mean that Didier Deschamps has a full-blown crisis in the left-back position. Presnel Kimpembe could slot in there although left-footed central midfielder Adrien Rabiot is also an option. This will provide a glimmer of hope for Switzerland and especially Xherdan Shaqiri.
Still, the dynamic and technical quality of Premier League-based midfield duo N'Golo Kanté and Paul Pogba should be able to outrun Switzerland skipper Granit Xhaka, a man who's rumoured to be leaving the Premier League soon.
France should make progress to the quarterfinals but it won't be smooth sailing, nor will it be pretty.
🔮 Prediction: France to advance
🍿 Tuesday 29th
A last 16 showdown that's heavy with historical significance. Much of the pre-match focus will be placed on Gareth Southgate's team selection - will he stick with Bukayo Saka? The Arsenal man was man of the match against the Czech Republic and the talented teenager would consider himself unlucky if he lost his place. That's over and above a rising clamour for Borussia Dortmund sensation Jadon Sancho to get minutes.
In defence, the Three Lions have been impressive, not conceding a single goal so far. Although Germany is bristling with young attacking talent, Joachim Löw's team has yet to keep a clean sheet and England has the quality to expose those defensive frailties.
Gareth Southgate missed a decisive semifinal spot-kick against Germany all the way back at Euro 96. Fortunately, most of the current England crop weren't even born by that time, but it's a memory he'll still have in the back of his head. On the other side of that coin, perhaps he might be richer and wiser for that experience.
England vs Germany at Wembley is the tightest game to call in the entire round. If this one goes the ultimate distance, Southgate might fear the worst.
🔮 Prediction: England vs Germany to go to penalties
Much has been said about Sweden's defensive excellence and organization, but don't forget that they also boast some fine young attacking stars. Against Poland, Dejan Kulusevski (21y 59d) became the youngest player to assist two goals in a single game at the European Championships since Cesc Fàbregas (21y 53d) vs Russia in 2008.
Left-footed Juventus man Kulusevski can lean on the experienced RB Leipzig star Emil Forsberg, who scored the second-fastest goal in Euros history last time out. Forsberg has three goals at Euro 2020 from a wide midfield role and is the creative fulcrum of the team. 21-year-old Real Sociedad striker Alexander Isak is being watched by a host of elite clubs this summer and you should be watching him too. With Ukraine skipper Andriy Yarmolenko also in fine form, there are plenty of eye-catching players to light up the occasion.
🔮 Prediction: Sweden to win inside 90 minutes
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🧠 Refresh your memory with the best facts & figures from the final group stage match before the fun begins this Saturday!