September 23, 2017

Euro 2016 Quarterfinals Arrive as Four-Day Football Feast

While the football world is using Euro 2016’s rest days to continue to discuss the international retirement of Lionel Messi and to celebrate Iceland’s historic victory over England, the quarterfinal round is ready to begin on Thursday, bringing four matches in four days for a full weekend of sporting dramatics.

Poland versus Portugal (Thursday 21.00 CET)

Three draws in group stage and some petulance from mega-star Cristiano Ronaldo had many thinking it would be yet another disappointing appearance in an international tournament for Portugal.

The three draws turned out to be just enough for the CR7-led squad to slip into the knockout stages as one of the four best third-place finishers, allowing them to land a redeeming 1-0 win over Group D winners Croatia.

Awaiting the Portuguese in the quarterfinal round is upstart Poland, which was tied with Germany and Croatia for most points in group stage with seven. Despite having impressed thus far, the best Australian tipster and many others say that Poland will be the underdog Thursday night in Marseille.

Whatever odds-makers may think, Poland will not be intimidated by Portugal’s high-profile talent, as they have an accomplished goal-scorer of their own. Robert Lewandowski may not (yet) be an annual candidate for FIFA’s Ballon d’Or, but at the rate the Bayern München forward delivers, don’t be surprised to start seeing his name creep into such conversations.

Wales versus Belgium (Friday 21.00 CET)

Were it not for the remarkable run of Iceland, Wales would likely be the current darlings of this tournament’s neutrals, based on the size of the nation and underdog-packed squad.

Though the Welsh have a few recognizable names on their roster, one stands out from the rest. Gareth Bale has been decisive in having put Wales on the contemporary footballing map and now he is helping lead his squad to new levels of success in international play, as Wales had never before qualified for the European championship final round. Now the final remaining team from the British Isles, the Welsh look to spring an upset to get to the semifinals.

The Red Devils of Belgium, however, provide a dangerous opponent for the Welsh. Considered a strong candidate to surprise in Brazil, many were disappointed when Mark Wilmots’ squad was bounced in the quarterfinals.

With attacking midfielder Kevin de Bruyne having delivered two strong seasons at VfL Wolfsburg and Manchester City since the 2014 World Cup, expectations for the Red Devils attack in France were again elevated. A 0-2 loss to Italy in the group-stage opener had observers muttering “overrated” about the Belgian squad, but the Devils have responded with three consecutive wins since the loss, scoring eight goals and allowing none.

Germany versus Italy (Saturday 21.00 CET)

A rich history makes this one easily the top fixture of the quarterfinal round.

Only the Italians know the taste of victory in this rivalry during European Championship competition. Two early Mario Balotelli goals early in their 2012 semifinal meeting was enough to reach the title match, outlasting the Germans in a 2-1 win.

The reigning world champion, though, have the edge in recent competition. Just three months ago, Germany bolted to a 4-1 test-match win over their rival.

As the saying goes, though, “throw out all the records when these two meet.”

France versus Iceland (Sunday 21.00 CET)

While France has been gracious in hosting the Euro 2016 tournament, it seems unlikely the hospitality will extend to standing aside for the summer’s Cinderella story to continue.

The French entered the tournament as a favorite and have performed accordingly, securing advancement from the group stage with victories in their first two matches. The FFF reached the quarterfinal by dispatching another fan favorite, dousing the Will Grigg’s on Fire party that followed Northern Ireland.

But will the hosts have enough to deal with the Icelanders of destiny? The team dismissed by Cristiano Ronaldo as too “small-minded” to achieve anything in France has already gone beyond all expectations, having achieved a win over England that is being touted as one of the greatest upsets in football history.

An extension of this historic run will only intensify the legendary conquest of this group of Icelanders.

The world will be watching.

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Maximilian Jones

Maximilian is a Berlin native with a German mother and English father. Raised in Germany and studied in London, Maximilian grew up to love football from an early age but his early exposure to the Bundesliga honed his passion for all things German football.