CRAIGE: Euro Cup Quarterfinals Preview
The Beautiful Game

In a span of just three days, the European Championship has been whittled down from 16 teams to eight. The strong teams have come out and reasserted their dominance, while the smaller teams have struggled. There have been surprises along the way, notably when Croatia — widely considered a dark horse team —was knocked out by Portugal. Everyone’s favorite surprise team, Hungary, has also been ousted, although the Magyars did put up a valiant effort.

With only a handful of games left, it’s time to look at which teams really have a chance of winning this year’s Euro Cup.

Belgium is a team that has really come alive. I admit that I was underwhelmed at first, especially with its match against Italy. Up until its game against Hungary, captain Eden Hazard was practically invisible on the field. Midfielder Kevin De Bruyne was the one really carrying the team, while goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was also flying under the radar.

Everything changed though in the game against the Mighty Magyars. In the first half alone, the Red Devils managed to have 13 shots on goal. Once the scoring floodgates opened up, it became much easier to see why Belgium has a very decent shot at making it all to the finals of the tournament. It is true that the Belgians have the benefit of being in the weaker bracket, but if they keep playing like this, there is a very good chance that Belgium could end up winning the championship itself.

Wales is set to take on Belgium in one of the quarterfinals of this bracket, the other being Poland against Portugal. I was more excited by Wales during the group stages, but maybe that’s just because Northern Ireland put up a good fight during the Round of 16 matchup between the two. It goes without saying that superstar Gareth Bale will be instrumental for a Welsh side that hopes to keep its dream alive — even if his man bun remains questionable. With underdogs like Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Hungary out of the way, I think many people — myself included — will be looking to Wales to pull off an upset.

I found it very vexing that Portugal managed to beat Croatia, simply because I still am not impressed by the Portuguese side. It was an incredibly dull game that looked like it was on its way toward penalties when Ricardo Quaresma managed to find the back of the net in the 118th minute of play. Portugal is very lucky to have made it through the group stages at all, and it will now face Poland.

Admittedly, Poland did not put on a dominating display against Switzerland. Star striker Robert Lewandowski was practically invisible for much of the game. While Jakub Blaszczykowski managed to score a nice goal, he was upstaged by Swiss midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri’s stunning bicycle kick goal in what surely will end up being the goal of the tournament. I felt heartbroken for Switzerland when the Swiss lost 5-4 in penalties, but this close call should energize Poland going forward.

On the other side of the tournament, France will take on the best Cinderella team ever (Iceland) and Germany will take on Italy, who completely dominated against Spain. It is now time to hop aboard the Italy train because this is a team that is capable of winning it all.

In its thumping 3-0 victory over Slovakia, Germany finally showed itself to be the team that won the World Cup back in 2014. Up until this point, Germany had been very lackluster compared to previous years. Despite this, Germany still has yet to concede a goal in this entire tournament. Jérôme Boateng opened up the scoring early on in the Round of 16 match and Slovakia never recovered. In fact, the highlight for the Slovakian team was the player who played the entire game with a bright blue bandage across his nose. Germany is now in a very fine form, and I see no reason why it will not continue to dominate and eventually find its way to the final.

For me, France versus Republic of Ireland was one of the most exciting games thus far. The Irish took the lead after France shockingly conceded a penalty in the second minute. For the rest of the first half, Ireland completely dominated the French side. It was beautiful, and I had started to hold out hope that the Irish could pull off a massive upset. However, Antoine Griezmann dashed those hopes, scoring two goals in quick succession to put France up 2-1.

What did in the Irish was a very questionable red card that resulted in Shane Duffy getting sent off with more than 30 minutes left in the game. Still, the French played splendidly during the second half and deserved to win the game. It will be interesting to see if France can make it all the way to the final, but based off how resilient the team was against Ireland, there is absolutely a greater chance of that happening.

When I said that England would pull an England, I had no idea that it would actually happen. Iceland defeated the Lions 2-1 in a glorious match. You read that correctly: Iceland, a nation of roughly 330,000 people defeated England. This is the highlight of the tournament for me, and I can only hope that Iceland will continue its improbable march onwards against France. This will surely have ramifications for the English, who are once again left to wonder how it slipped away. Manager Roy Hodgson resigned immediately after the game, and England is once again left with a harrowing identity crisis. It will take a long while for the sting of this defeat to wear off for them, but for now let us celebrate Iceland’s victory.

VanessaCraige-150x150Vanessa Craige is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. The Beautiful Game appears every Tuesday and Friday.

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