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‘International tournament Shaqiri’ time with eyes on Mbappe and Coman

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We’re very quickly halfway through the round of 16 ties and the shocks and big nation exits have started to roll around – before you know it, it’ll be the opening day of the Premier League season again!

From being only at the start of the knockouts, it’s just a few short days to whittle the remaining nations down by half – and quickly the feeling will switch from either cautious optimism to either full-blown expectation or bitter disappointment among players and fans.

And that perhaps goes double for nations in one particular half of the draw.

Two more games today, one more Red involved, on the penultimate day of last-16 action.

 

Round of 16 talking points

  • Matthijs de Ligt has accepted blame for Netherlands’ defeat, saying the team “lost because of what I did” after his red card led to a subsequent 2-0 loss to Czech Republic
  • Belgium beat reigning champions Portugal by a single goal to set up a quarters clash with Italy
  • Injuries to Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard, however, meant the win came at quite the cost

 

Today’s fixtures

  • Croatia vs Spain, Round of 16, 5pm on ITV
  • France vs Switzerland, Round of 16, 8pm on ITV

 

Expectations on…

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JUNE 19: Kylian Mbappe of France reacts after missing a chance during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Group F match between Hungary and France at Puskas Arena on June 19, 2021 in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Angel Martinez - UEFA)

Kylian Mbappe. It’s probably fair to say he hasn’t quite sparked into life at Euro 2020 yet; France have been good without being entirely convincing, shown quality without being electric, scored goals without looking relentless.

The in-demand PSG striker has been similar, having some flashes of brilliance but mainly playing a team role by filling in defensively and trying to be an outlet.

It’s a tough route to the final for the world champions and they could do with Mbappe bringing his penalty box prowess to the party – starting today against a Swiss side which has already conceded five times in the groups.

 

Key battle to watch

LaLiga’s past and future clash in midfield, where the experience, creativity and enduring quality of Luka Modric will go up against the beyond-his-years vision and dominance of the ball of Barcelona’s teenager Pedri.

Spain will have long spells of possession again in this game, but perhaps not as much as they did in the groups – Croatia will look to their midfield more than ever in this clash due to Ivan Perisic’s enforced absence.

Modric will get forward as often as he’s able to, but he also can’t afford to let Pedri and Co get the wrong side of him on the break, as he will struggle to cover the ground as relentlessly as he once did.

 

Fans are talking about…

The abomination of a tournament which Portugal and Man City‘s Ruben Dias managed to have himself.







 

Reds in action

Xherdan Shaqiri will carry most of the Swiss hopes in the night fixture against France. He’s the only probable starter from Anfield – unless we’ve secretly signed Mbappe and are just waiting until the end of the Euros to announce it, obviously – but Thiago Alcantara will also hope for more involvement for Spain.

He’s been sub so far, but regularly called upon to help change the flow of the game from midfield by Luis Enrique.

Jokes about Mbappe aside, the Reds have been heavily linked with Kingsley Coman over the past couple of days, so while we don’t have any more actual current stars featuring, the France squad is packed with those we’re rumoured to hold significant interest in.

 

Predictions

Without Perisic it could be Croatia lack the speed and scoring options to really trouble Spain, so a narrow win for the 2008 and 2012 champions there.

France to beat Switzerland unless Shaqiri does an ‘international tournament Shaqiri’ and lands two absolute belters.

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