The Euro Cup Knockout stage is upon us, and the buzz around the tournament continues to deafen. The Group stage went through some high highs and some unfortunately tragic lows, but the product couldn't be better when the focus was on the soccer we watched.
Setting player fatigue and matchup density aside, the tournament has been an excellent taste of competitive national-level football fans clamored for during the pandemic. Few things in the world beat the excitement a national-level tournament provides.
Before getting too deep into Euro Cup knockout predictions, it's worth quickly seeing how my group stage predictions faired versus reality. Props to me for Group C. I nailed the standings and even the number of points each team would score. With groups A, B, D, and F, I got the winners of each group and one other team precisely in the correct position. I swapped two teams' placements in both groups.
The only group I got drastically wrong was group E. Poland disappointed in this tournament. Even with Robert Lewandowski going full Thanos, it wasn't enough for them to even sniff a knockout stage victory. Props to Sweden for winning that group as well. I did not see them being that much of a threat, but Emil Forsberg was lights out, and the defense played spectacularly.
Left Side - Strong Side
The draw for this bracket makes no sense. The left side of this bracket could be the second round, and no one would bat an eye. Belgium, Portugal, Italy, France, Croatia, and Spain all land on the left side of this monstrous bracket. Within these six teams are three of the top four favorites to win the whole tournament. The Draws for these tournaments can be a wild ride, and this one was no exception. Both sides of the bracket have matchups that could realistically be semi-finals or even finals.
The first game on the left half is Italy versus Austria. Austria played very well in their group, only losing to the winners, the Netherlands. However, Austria lacks the firepower to hang with Italy for an entire game. The Italian defense conceded precisely zero goals during the group stage. Their defense was suffocating, and without one of the top three or four attacks in the world, Austria will struggle to breakthrough. Italy wins by a score of 3-0.
Belgium squares off against Portugal in the first round, and I am torn. Portugal was one of my early favorites to win the whole tournament alongside England. They have talent and experience, as far as the eye can see on their roster. Cristiano Ronaldo knows how to do two things: score goals and break records. The group stage was a bit rocky for them, but they got the points they needed to advance. Their reward for the group of death is going toe-to-toe with arguably the world's top striker at the moment. Romelu Lukaku is playing out of his gourd currently, and nothing anyone does can even slow him. Belgium take this game 4-2
France draws Switzerland in the first round, which is just truly tragic for the Swiss team. They ground to get to the knockouts only to draw the team that came out on top in the group of death. Unfortunately, the French squad overpowers their less premier opponents. There will likely be little difference here. France takes this game easily 4-0.
Lastly, Spain will knot up against Croatia. This game drips with intrigue. Croatia looked good in the group stage, but not like the World Cup Finalists they once were. Spain's most successful days lie well in the past, and it looked that way throughout their three games. Picking a winner between these clubs is near impossible. The determining factor will be Spain's defense. Croatia struggled to score goals at times, and Spain kept two clean sheets. Spain wins this match 2-1.
The Other Side
The right side of the bracket is far less attractive. There will be outstanding football played across every game in this tournament. The issue comes from the teams that can emerge as genuine contenders and what one random upset would do to that whole side of the bracket.
The first matchup on that side is the Euro Cup Knockout kickoff game. Wales takes on Denmark as Denmark pulled out a massive win in their third game to launch them into the two seed and be the second-place team out of Group B. The Denmark story is a fantastic one that deserves telling. Christian Eriksen will seemingly make a full recovery, but the toll that took on the team was evident. The Welsh squad looked fantastic in every one of their matchups and surprised a few people, myself included. I like Wales to continue with their momentum and take this game 1-0.
The Netherlands plays the Czech Republic in the next game of the knockouts, and this feels like an open and shut case. The Czech Republic played well in the group stage and got a massive win over Scotland that propelled them to this round. Their tie against England hugely impressed, and the squad will want to carry that momentum forward. Unfortunately for them, The Netherlands swept through their group like a tornado. After months of the orange-clad crew being doubted and told to be past their prime, they came out like a bat out of Hell. The Netherlands takes this game with ease by a score of 4-1.
England versus Germany is not the last game being played, and that is a crime. This game is crucial because the winner emerges as the favorite to win their whole side of the bracket. England looked like the team we wanted them to be throughout the group. They played intelligent, not too aggressive, utilized various lineups based on the matchup, and relied on supreme talent to save them from tricky situations. The team looks strong. Germany, their not-so-famous rival, had an up and down group stage showing, but they finished second and looked decent doing it. Germany might be the betting favorites going into this game, but I like England to win. England takes the game by a score of 3-1.
Lastly, Sweden takes on Ukraine in a terrible matchup for Ukraine. Sweden is playing some lights-out football right now, and they deserve all the credit in the world. Ukraine making it to this round was not something I would have predicted, but props to the club for making it. Sweden takes the game, though, as Forsberg and the defense are just too much to overcome. Sweden wins 2-0.
Quarterfinals and On
I will not predict all of the Euro Cup Knockout games correctly. If a single team upsets one of my picks, the whole second half of this article gets rendered invalidated. That is how prediction articles work. If I do nail the winners and go eight for eight, the follow-up article for the next round will mostly be me gloating about being omnipotent and a clairvoyant. For the readers' sake, and frankly, my editor's sake, let's hope I go 7-1. I say all of that to give myself an excuse for not predicting the quarterfinals yet.
What I will do is update my Finals prediction, though. In the group stage article, I had Portugal versus England. While that matchup is still possible, the probability is not on my side. I still think England makes it to the final; however, Belgium is my new pick to face them. The performances Lukaku continues to give us daily are otherworldly. This Belgium team possesses depth and talent across the field, but with a competitor playing at the level of Lukaku, the sky is the limit for this Belgium side.