Switzerland v Poland, Saturday 2pm BST, BBC
Kicking off the round of 16 at the Stade Geoffroy Guichard in Saint-Étienne, Switzerland and Poland are in uncharted territory as far as their European Championship histories are concerned, with both progressing past the group stage for the first time.
Adam Nawalka’s side are the more fancied of the two teams given their firepower, though star striker Robert Lewandowski failed to register a single shot on target in the group stages. Switzerland have goalscoring problems of their own though, with both sides having scored just twice en route to the knockout phase. Haris Seferovic has been the guiltiest culprit for Vladimir Petkovic’s men.
The sides adopt different approaches, with Switzerland favouring a patient style – ranking among the top five sides for both possession (57.9%) and pass accuracy (86.2%) – with new Arsenal signing Granit Xhaka attempting the second most passes per game in the group stages (105.7). Poland, by contrast, have been content to soak up possession, averaging just 45.8%, and were one of only two teams to progress without conceding a goal. They’ll be confident of keeping another clean sheet on Saturday, and with Lewandowski determined to prove a point and the impressive Arkadiusz Milik in support, their status as narrow favourites is justified.
Wales v Northern Ireland, Saturday 5pm, BBC
The meeting between Wales and Northern Ireland on Saturday evening will ensure that at least one of the home nations reaches the quarter-finals. Both of these teams were always going to need some stellar individual performances on top of their exceptional team spirit and organisation, and that has been the case – they both have players in our team of the group stages: Michael McGovern and Jonny Evans for Northern Ireland, and Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and James Chester for Wales.
Chris Coleman’s back three have all played their part, with Chester standing out – no player made more interceptions in the group stage than his 13. Ramsey’s tireless running has kept Bale from becoming isolated and helped the team get up the pitch. Ramsey and Eden Hazard are the only players with more than one assist so far and Bale shares the lead in the scoring charts with Álvaro Morata (three), having fired off five more shots on target than any other player. His tally of 12 was more than 14 teams in total, including France (11), Italy (10) and Northern Ireland (eight).
Northern Ireland will need to continue working as hard, with Jonny Evans and Oliver Norwood – who produced the joint most tackles in the group stages (12) – both standout performers, but Michael McGovern may need to replicate his heroics from the game against Germany. With Northern Ireland progressing by virtue of goal difference, their goalkeeper was the key, producing the second most saves in the group stages (15) to take his place in the team of the group stages (7.38 rating). He will be called upon once more this weekend without question, though Wales could struggle to break Northern Ireland down if they are starved of the space they enjoyed against Russia.
Croatia v Portugal, Saturday 8pm, ITV
Croatia have emerged as favourites to reach the final given their favourable position in the draw. The winners of this match will be strongly tipped to go all the way, with Belgium the only other big name who could hold them back from a trip to the Stade de France on 10 July.
While Croatia have been very entertaining, Portugal are the only team in the last 16 who didn’t win a group game – but it hasn’t been for a lack of effort. They have fired off more shots than any other team (70), with Cristiano Ronaldo responsible for 30 of them. His return of two goals is fairly modest, but his tail will be up after scoring twice in the final group game to become the first player to score in four different European Championship finals.
Despite the obvious threat of Ronaldo and Nani, Croatia go into the game as favourites. Their captain Darijo Srna (7.43) and winger Ivan Perisic (8.16) made it into our team of the tournament so far. Perisic has been particularly impressive – with two goals and one assist – even though more attention has been focused on the enviable midfield pairing of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. Portugal dominated possession (61.2%) in their group but will have to adapt against a Croatia team that are incredibly dangerous on the break.
France v Republic of Ireland, Sunday 2pm, ITV
France will be aiming to improve on an underwhelming group stage campaign. They have not been at their best but Martin O’Neill will be aware that the odds are stacked against his side once more. The Republic of Ireland were underdogs in their group but a last-gasp winner against Italy in their third match ensured that no side went into the round of 16 with a perfect record.
France also fell short in their last group game against Switzerland but they came close to embarrassing results against both Albania and Romania. Indeed the hosts are among almost half the teams in the tournament that failed to score in the first half of matches. With the Republic of Ireland another, we can perhaps expect a cagey affair early on, which would suit the underdogs. Tense atmospheres have proven conducive to late drama at this tournament, but the strain has not aided France’s composure, particularly in front of goal, where only Poland fired off a lower proportion of shots on target (22%) of the teams to reach the knockout phase.
Ireland will hope the hosts’ frustrations continue, but will need to keep one of the stars of the tournament quiet. Dimitri Payet emerged from the shadows of Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann to earn the second highest rating – behind Gareth Bale – in the group stages (8.21), so the role of Ireland’s industrious midfield will be key. James McCarthy will need to improve on an underwhelming showing so far then, with Jeff Hendrick far more impressive. Wes Hoolahan will be asked to alleviate the pressure on the defence along with Shane Long, who gave France’s Laurent Koscielny the runaround to score twice in a 4-0 win when the two went head-to-head in the Premier League at the end of last year.
Germany v Slovakia, Sunday 5pm, ITV
World champions Germany have been semi-finalists in the last five major tournaments, while debutants Slovakia are yet to go past the round of 16 – a stage they also reached at the 2010 World Cup. Jan Kozak’s men ensured their place in the knockout phase by drawing with England and they will probably deploy similarly defensive tactics again on Sunday. Slovakia ended their final group game with seven defenders and not a single forward on the pitch but they will need to spring a counter at some point against Germany.
Picking their opportunities to break wisely will be key, with Germany proving just how devastating they can be on counterattacks, though in truth this match is likely to be played in one half. Germany had the highest possession share (66.5%) of all 24 teams in the group stage, while Slovakia had the lowest proportion of their touches in the opposition’s final third (19%).
Hungary v Belgium, Sunday 8pm, BBC
While their achievements have been slightly overshadowed by the progression of Iceland from their own group, Hungary must surely be considered the surprise package so far. Iceland were impressive en route to France but Bernd Storck’s side qualified for the tournament after finishing third in their group, behind Northern Ireland and Romania.
Nevertheless, Hungary topped Group F in front of Iceland and Portugal and, despite lacking star quality in attack, were one of only four sides to score in all three of their group games. Indeed, no side scored more goals en route to the round of 16 (six). Belgium bounced back from an opening defeat to Italy to score four times, making this the last-16 tie with the most goals scored by the two teams combined thus far (10).
That said, Marc Wilmots’ team only really impressed against an Ireland side that afforded them far too much space to counter. Hungary will need to be wary of the same, with Belgium having had more shots as a result of fast breaks than any other side in the group stages. Regardless, with only three sides having had more shots on target than Belgium thus far (18), and Hungary just behind in fifth (16), this should be an entertaining game.
Italy v Spain, Monday 5pm, BBC
Italy have every right to feel hard done by. They topped a difficult group and have been rewarded with a game against holders Spain, who fell to second place in their group after losing to Croatia. The Azzurri were doubted before the tournament, having suffered injuries to key players and seemingly being bereft of world class talent up front, but their defence has helped to see them through.
The Juventus quartet at the back will need to be in top form once more if they are to deny Vicente del Bosque’s Spain, who had more than twice as many shots in the group stages (51) as their opponents (25). Only Sweden, Iceland and Northern Ireland have had fewer shots than Italy, although a repeat of the Euro 2012 final between these sides, with La Roja running out 4-0 winners, seems unlikely this time around.
Antonio Conte made wholesale changes in their final group game, against Ireland, whereas Spain are the only side to have used the same starting XI in every match. Indeed, this tie pitches the team that has used the fewest players from the start (Spain: 11) against the team that has used the most (Italy: 20), with Conte still seemingly undecided on his favoured line-up in attack. The new Chelsea boss is likely to err on the side of caution and try to frustrate Spain, which should set up an intriguing tactical battle.
England v Iceland, Monday 8pm, ITV
Completing the round of 16 fixtures, England face major tournament debutants Iceland, whose fairytale finish against Austria ensured that they, rather than Portugal, would be facing England. It’s a dream draw for the fans, not because they see Roy Hodgson’s side as particularly beatable opposition, but because the English game is by far the most popular in Iceland. England fans, meanwhile, celebrated Iceland’s late winner on Wednesday as if it were one of their own, but must now be wary of the same old story from the group stage.
At no stage did any of England’s three opponents in the group look to sustain any real pressure on their backline and that will be the case again on Monday night. Indeed, Iceland ranked second last in the group stages for possession (34.3%), pass accuracy (60.9%) and shots per game (7.7) – and they have had the highest proportion of touches in their own third so far (34%), with England having the lowest (20%).
England’s inability to break down Slovakia was widely criticised, though it was arguably their failure to hold out against Russia that ultimately cost them a spot on the more favourable side of the draw. Only Portugal mustered more shots per game than Roy Hodgson’s side (21.3) in the group stages, but they hit the target with just 15 of 64 efforts (23.5%) and will need to be far more clinical against Iceland to find a way past Hannes Thor Halldorsson, who has made the most saves at the tournament (17).