Top Euro 2020 storylines: Everyone is chasing England

Profile Picture: Jason Ence

June 30th, 2021

With just seven matches remaining in what has proved to be an exciting tournament, the Euro 2020 quarterfinals loom with four matches this Friday and Saturday. Let’s break down the main storylines, and preview what to look for this weekend.

Euro 2020 Finishing Position Odds

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Czech Republic

Italy and Belgium headline the round

Without question, the marquee matchup of the quarter-finals is the meeting between Italy and Belgium, the top-ranked team in the world. The Belgians defeated Portugal 1-0 but lost star midfielder Kevin de Bruyne and forward Eden Hazard to injury, dealing a massive blow to their hopes. The injuries turned Belgium from the co-favorites to win the tournament, to a large underdog.

Meanwhile, Italy needed extra time to outlast Austria 2-1 as they conceded for the first time in the tournament. They will look to extend their unbeaten streak to 32 matches and reach the semi-finals just three years after missing the World Cup, as their fans hope to see the Azzurri claim their first international trophy since 2006.

Nobody survived the Group of Death

When the tournament draw was announced, all eyes were on the fact that Group F featured reigning World Cup 2018 champions France, the 2014 World Cup champions in Germany, and the winner of the 2016 European Championships in Portugal. While all expected each of the three teams to advance, the question was who would be the favorite to win it all after group play ended?

Instead, all three will be watching the rest of the tournament after facing defeat in the Round of 16. While Portugal has nothing to be ashamed of by losing to the top-ranked nation, the French are facing numerous questions in how they capitulated a 3-1 lead in the final minutes of regulation to Switzerland, losing in a penalty shootout. As for Germany, despite losing to a strong English side, many will be frustrated with the end of the Joachim Low era, and wonder if he wasted a golden opportunity for another run.

Who are you calling an underdog?

Few expected either Ukraine or Switzerland to make it out of their groups unless it was as a third place team, and neither were given any hopes of advancing past the Round of 16 when they were drawn against Sweden or France, respectively. The Czech Republic was also given little chance of advancing from their group, but were able to sneak through. All three nations finished third in their group, and would not have advanced in previous tournaments.

Instead, Ukraine stunned the Swedes with a winning goal late in extra time, while the Swiss pulled off the upset of the tournament against France. Meanwhile, the Czechs defeated a Netherlands side that won all three matches in their group stage, holding them scoreless in the process.

Now all three nations find themselves again matched up with teams that are expected to move past them. The Swiss face off with a Spanish side that has scored five goals in each of their last two matches, while Ukraine goes up against England, who have yet to concede a goal this tournament. Finally, the Czechs take on Denmark, who have the most neutral fans in their corner. While it will yet again be high odds of any advancing, their opponents know they cannot take them lightly.

England finally have to travel

Viewed as a wholly unfair advantage by many nations in the tournament, England hosted all three of their group stage matches at Wembley Stadium while some teams traveled upwards of 6,000 miles in 10 days. To add to it, their Round of 16 match was scheduled at Wembley, meaning their game against Ukraine on Saturday in Rome will be their first match away from their home fans in the tournament.

This is not something to scoff at, with the Three Lions having by far the youngest squad in the tournament. They have yet to have any of their daily routines disrupted, so the travel and lack of a stadium packed with their fans could have a negative impact on a team struggling to score goals. With all of the pressure on them from English fans, it will be interesting to see how they handle adversity if Ukraine is able to break down an England defense yet to score a goal in the tournament.

Denmark seeks to turn tragedy into triumph

After star midfielder Christian Eriksen went down with a heart issue and they fell 1-0 to Finland, many expected the Danes to collapse and be eliminated during the group stage. Instead, Denmark advanced to the Round of 16 following a 4-1 thrashing of Russia on Matchday 3. Now, following a 4-0 beating of Wales that saw them control most of the match, Denmark faces the Czechs with many rooting for their feel-good story to continue.

The Czechs have won both of their previous meetings in the European Championships, but the Danes feature a strong defense and much more speed than a Czech side that did not look like a scoring threat until the Netherlands went down to 10 men. If Denmark can continue to ride the emotional high, they will be eyeing a possible matchup with England in the semi-finals.

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