Euro 2020 quarterfinal preview: Keys to victory, X factors, predictions – ESPN

After a thrilling round of 16, eight countries retain hope of winning Euro 2020. The quarterfinals begin on Friday, with Switzerland meeting Spain and Belgium taking on Italy. The following day, Czech Republic and Denmark clash, before Ukraine face England.

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ESPN sets out what you need to know about the four ties, all of which stream LIVE on ESPN networks and ESPN+, while our experts also predict what the semifinals will look like.

Jump to: Switzerland vs. Spain | Belgium vs. Italy | Czech Republic vs. Denmark | Ukraine vs. England | SF picks

Switzerland vs. Spain

Friday: Noon ET / 6 p.m. CET (ESPN, ESPN+)

Switzerland keys to victory: It is all about belief. They are treading new ground by reaching a quarterfinal but, having defeated world champions France in the round of 16, Vladimir Petkovic’s team should not fear Spain. Since being overrun 3-0 by Italy in their second group game, Switzerland have clicked into gear and they look a strong, confident and experienced team. They are well-organised and have the attacking talent of Breel Embolo, Xherdan Shaqiri and Haris Seferovic to hurt Spain. Spain have the bigger reputation, but Switzerland have already accounted for France, so they should back themselves to win this tie.

Spain keys to victory: Spain are a contradiction of a team. They have scored 10 goals in their last two games, but continue to miss clear chances, with Alvaro Morata often the biggest culprit. Luis Enrique’s team have somehow rode their luck to win despite those missed opportunities, but they can’t rely on that to continue, so they need Morata and the other attacking players to be more clinical in front of goal. Spain’s hopes of victory may come down to one chance in 90 minutes, so they have to take it. Morata’s goal in the round-of-16 win against Croatia may yet prove crucial in boosting his confidence.

This game’s X factor: The absence of Switzerland midfielder Granit Xhaka due to suspension could prove decisive in tipping the balance in Spain’s favour. Xhaka has been outstanding for the Swiss at Euro 2020 and left many Arsenal supporters wondering why he has not been quite so dominant and impressive for the Gunners in recent seasons. Without his drive and tenacity, Switzerland need to somebody else to step up and ensure that Sergio Busquets does not win the midfield battle for Spain.

Who goes through and why? I’m backing Switzerland, despite the loss of Xhaka in midfield, because they look a stronger team than Spain, both collectively and physically. This is arguably Spain’s weakest team for 20 years and Switzerland will never have a better opportunity to reach the semifinals (and final) of a major tournament. — Mark Ogden.

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Alessandro Del Piero is not confident about Italy’s chances if they play like they did against Austria again.

Belgium vs. Italy

Friday: 3 p.m. ET / 9 p.m. CET (ESPN, ESPN+)

Belgium keys to victory: The back three — Jan Vertonghen (34), Toby Alderweireld (32) and Thomas Vermaelen (35) — has a combined age of over 100 and needs to hold up against an Italy attack with players who can beat you one-on-one. Obviously, replacing Kevin De Bruyne will be critical; there is nobody like him, so Belgium may be best simply playing a bit differently, perhaps with more playmaking duties coming from deeper. Whoever comes in, he will need to be effective in pressing the JorginhoMarco Verratti partnership, just as Austria did to good effect. Then there’s Romelu Lukaku: In a game like this, perhaps it is best to service him front-to-goal.

Italy keys to victory: The second half against Austria was disappointing, and it is important that Roberto Mancini makes the right calls in terms of how to address what happened: Are we talking tweak or overhaul? Giorgio Chiellini looks to be fit again, but both Francesco Acerbi and Alessandro Bastoni might be a better fit to contain Lukaku. And stopping him will be key, as well as containing the many tricky dribblers (Yannick Carrasco, Jeremy Doku, Dries Mertens and, especially, Eden Hazard) Belgium can call upon. The other key is using Federico Chiesa correctly, whether as a starter or off the bench as an impact substitute.

This game’s X factor: Eden Hazard is the wild card. If he is fit and on top of his game, he can cause serious problems running at opponents, as well as compensate — in part — for De Bruyne’s missing creativity. He looked as if he had left his Madrid woes behind him, but doubts remain after he appeared to pick up a muscular injury late against Portugal.

Who goes through and why? I picked Belgium to win the tournament and feel I need to stick with that. Without De Bruyne, though, this game is a toss-up. Both teams have shutdown keepers — Thibaut Courtois for Belgium and Gianluigi Donnarumma for Italy — and it could come down to tiny details. Belgium have more experience and that could sway it, regardless of Hazard. But it’s close. Very close. — Gab Marcotti

Czech Republic vs. Denmark

Saturday: Noon ET / 6 p.m. CET (ESPN, ESPN+)

Czech Republic keys to victory: The focus ahead of the game will be on striker Patrik Schick, after he scored four goals in four games, but Czech Republic have been solid at the back, too. They’ve only conceded twice all tournament and kept Netherlands scoreless in their round-of-16 tie after Frank de Boer’s side had netted eight goals in the group stage. Denmark blew away Russia and Wales, scoring four goals in each game, but if the Czechs can stay disciplined and organised in their defensive shape, they will also have a chance of scoring with a striker like Schick in the side. It’s likely that most of the crowd in Baku will be behind Denmark, but the Czechs should be used to that after facing England at Wembley and Scotland at Hampden Park.

Denmark keys to victory: Denmark manager Kasper Hjulmand has won a lot of fans for the way he conducted himself following the near-tragic incident involving Christian Eriksen, but he has also shown he is a top coach. Under pressure against Wales, he switched from his favourite 3-4-3 formation to 4-3-3 and it allowed his players to get a grip of the game. That kind of management from the touchline can be vital in high-pressure games, particularly when it’s highly unlikely that it will all go your way for 90 minutes. Hjulmand’s ability to adapt to spells of Czech dominance could be key.

This game’s X factor: Denmark have momentum after two big wins against Russia and Wales, but they are also being pushed forward by something more than that. The way the squad has recovered after seeing what happened to Eriksen in their first game is remarkable and they seem to be riding a tidal wave of emotion and goodwill. It’s something that can’t be measured but these things play a part when you get to the business end of a major tournament.

Who goes through and why? Denmark. Forget for a moment what’s happening around the team off the pitch; on it they have been impressive against Russia and Wales, scoring eight goals and conceding one. They also had a huge test in their second game against Belgium and were the better team for 45 minutes. Eriksen is a big miss but there is a lot of quality throughout the team, particularly their spine of Kasper Schmeichel, Simon Kjaer, Andreas Christensen and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. — Rob Dawson.

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Stewart Robson addresses if football pundits and fans are right to want Gareth Southgate to take Harry Kane out of the starting XI.

Ukraine vs. England

Saturday: 3 p.m. ET / 9 p.m. CET (ABC, ESPN+)

Ukraine keys to victory: Ukraine aren’t a one-man team, but their chances of success rely heavily on captain Andriy Yarmolenko. Only four players have registered more dribbles at Euro 2020 than the West Ham winger (14) and he is so often the catalyst for his country, cutting in off the flank or driving Ukraine forward from a more central position. With 42 goals to his name, the 31-year-old is second in Ukraine’s all-time goal-scorers list — behind manager Andriy Shevchenko — and he will look to dovetail with Roman Yaremchuk, a powerful centre-forward with the physique to cause England problems. If he’s fit, that is. Yarmolenko came off during the first period of extra time in their round-of-16 win over Sweden, but even if he’s only remotely capable of playing, he will. After all, Ukraine have never been this far at a European Championship.

England keys to victory: Nobody saw it coming, but England’s run has been based on a defence so robust that they are yet to concede a goal. The only other time they kept clean sheets in their opening four matches was 1966, when England went on to secure their sole World Cup triumph. Gareth Southgate’s side have ridden their luck on occasion — most obviously when Germany‘s Thomas Muller fired wide when clean through at Wembley — but John Stones, goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and the returning Harry Maguire have given England a solid foundation to build on. Harry Kane has finally ended his drought, while Raheem Sterling‘s energy has been vital in injecting dynamism into the more sterile passages of England’s play. Expect more safety-first football: Ukraine have kept one clean sheet in their last 16 competitive games so Southgate will feel another outing in which England concentrate on nullifying their opponents while creating a handful of chances of their own should be the blueprint for success.

This game’s X factor: The heat. The game kicks off at 9 p.m. local time, but the forecast suggests the temperature could still be as high as 27 degrees Celsius. England habitually struggle in such temperatures, although it should be pointed out they beat Croatia in similar heat at Wembley to kick off their Group D campaign. Southgate has previous spoken about tiredness in the camp but they should still have a fitness edge over Ukraine, who were taken to extra time just hours after England beat Germany, and fatigue is an obvious concern now exacerbated by the likely conditions.

Who goes through and why? England can make their individual superiority tell in a tight game. Having to travel to Rome means they will miss the home comforts of Wembley but their strong defensive platform should provide the foundation for another victory. Ukraine may find this a game too far after their exertions against Sweden. — James Olley.

Predictions

What will be the semifinal match-ups? Our experts make their picks.

Ogden: Switzerland vs. Belgium; Czech Republic vs. England

Marcotti: Spain vs. Belgium; Denmark vs. England

Dawson: Spain vs. Belgium; Denmark vs. England

Olley: Spain vs. Belgium; Denmark vs. England

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