Euro Daily: July 2nd, 2021
The opening round of European Championship Last-8 fixtures will feature a pair of games, as the likes of Spain and Belgium eye up semi-final berths.
Below, check out five things you need to know about Friday’s action.
1) Record incoming
This evening’s more high-profile fixture, and potentially the most highly anticipated of the round as a whole, will of course see Italy and Belgium go head to head at the Allianz Arena.
The clash is one not to miss for a whole host of reasons, including the fact that it will see the most in-form nation in world football go head to head with the no.1 ranked outfit on the planet.
Adding ever further to the spice of the Munich showdown, though, is the fact that the eventual winner will secure for themselves a new piece of history. Ahead of Friday’s action, both Italy and Belgium boast 14-game Euro 2020 winning streaks. This of course includes the qualification phase for the tournament, comprising a total of ten qualifiers, three group stage fixtures and one Last-16 clash.
No nation has ever managed more than 14 successive victories at the European Championships, with Germany the only other side to have ever reached such a mark.
A new record, in turn, will be forthcoming following the final whistle later today.
2) Bet on red-hot Spain
Ahead of Italy and Belgium facing off, however, it will first be the turn of Spain and Switzerland to do battle.
The Swiss will head into the matchup brimming with confidence, having of course sprung the surprise of the Euros thus far earlier this week, in sending world champions France packing.
Everything else, though, points very much in the direction of a Spanish victory in Saint Petersburg. First of all, La Roja have gone head to head with Switzerland on 22 occasions throughout the country’s storied history. And, across these outings, the former have fallen to defeat on just a solitary occasion.
Not only that, but Luis Enrique’s men are hitting form at just the right time. After managing just a solitary goal in their first two group stage outings this summer, Spain have since, remarkably, found the back of the net five times in each of their last two fixtures, setting European Championship history in the process:
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 28, 2021
3) Euros’ finest & KDB’s woes
The two top-performing players, statistically, of the Euros thus far, could well be set to clash in the middle of the park in Italy’s showdown with Belgium this evening.
The stars in question? Kevin De Bruyne and Marco Verratti.
As per the statistics compiled by the reliable SofaScore, Manchester City midfielder De Bruyne’s average match rating of 8.13 makes him the standout performer still active in this summer’s competition. Close behind him, though, is Paris Saint-Germain counterpart Verratti. The Italy man was forced to sit out the Azzurri’s first two games of the tournament, after picking up an injury. Since stepping back into Roberto Mancini’s starting XI in place of the equally impressive Manuel Locatelli, though, Verratti has quickly gone about reminding viewers of his unquestionable class.
One potential stumbling block when it comes to Euro 2020’s two star performers battling it out in 12 hours’ time, however, comes in the form of the former’s fitness.
De Bruyne was of course forced to limp out of Belgium’s Last-16 downing of Portugal, after picking up an ankle injury. In turn, as things stand, both he and Eden Hazard remain serious doubts to feature versus Italy:
Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard have both flown out to Munich – but so has the injured Timothy Castagne.
— Kristof Terreur (@HLNinEngeland) July 1, 2021
4) Switzerland’s missing man
One star player certain to miss out on Friday’s quarter-final action, meanwhile, is Granit Xhaka.
Arsenal star Xhaka was in absolutely inspired form earlier this week, running proceedings from his deep-lying midfield berth as Switzerland sent tournament favourites France packing from the Last-16.
The 28-year-old was even rewarded for his efforts with the Man of the Match award, beating out a host of stiff competition on the back of a memorable evening in Bucharest.
Unfortunately for Vladimir Petkovic, however, he will be unable to call on captain and leader Xhaka for this evening’s showdown with Spain. This comes with the midfielder having picked up a suspension, after being booked during his standout display versus the French.
Denis Zakaria looks primed to start in Xhaka’s place later today, but the Borussia Monchengladbach man, despite himself being highly regarded, simply does not possess the kind of passing range and ability to dictate the flow of a game boasted by his nation’s skipper.
5) Mancini’s selection headache
Our final talking point worth keeping an eye on when it comes to Friday’s fixtures surrounds the selection headache facing Italy boss Roberto Mancini.
The Azzurri, as outlined above, will be aiming to make it five wins on the trot this summer, and twelve in total across all competitions, when they go toe to toe with the might of Belgium at the Allianz Arena.
And, ahead of the clash, which could prove, from a technical standpoint at least, one of the finest of the Euros to date, a host of key decisions remain to be made on the personnel front.
The first comes at the back. Giorgio Chiellini was of course forced to sit out Italy’s last two fixtures, after picking up an injury early in the action versus Switzerland two weeks ago. Francesco Acerbi has since done a fine job in his stead, but Juventus’ veteran stopper confirmed on Thursday that he is now fit and available for selection.
Chiellini could return to partner Bonucci: “I’m happy to be available, today’s training will be a good test. The coach will have many selection doubts in his head, this group has shown him that many players are desperate to play.”#EURO2020 #ITA
— Ben Dinnery (@BenDinnery) July 1, 2021
Moving into midfield, could Mancini opt to reward Matteo Pessina for his goalscoring heroics with a start over Nicolo Barella, who looked uncharacteristically leggy versus Austria last time out? The option of Manuel Locatelli, one of the star performers of the entire group stage, also remains in reserve, after the Sassuolo man was ousted from his starting berth by the returning Verratti.
Elsewhere, changes also look imminent out wide, amid widespread reports in the Italian media that Federico Chiesa – on the back of a crucial extra-time strike against Austria – is primed to replace Domenico Berardi on the Italians’ right flank.
Decisions galore for Mancini, and ones which could well prove decisive in determining who emerges from Munich victorious later this evening.
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