14.00 BST Switzerland v Poland
We’re now down to the business end of things, no more losses allowed. Switzerland, incidentally, have yet to lose. They have also yet to really impress. Relatively fortunate in their opening win against ten man Albania, they concluded their group with two draws, enough to see them finish second in the group.
Poland, too, finished second in their group (although level on points with first placed Germany) but they performed to a higher level than anything the Swiss team managed and will be very confident going into this tie. As has been noted on these pages recently, Robert Lewandowski has yet to score in this tournament but surely, it is only a matter of time.
It’s difficult to say the same thing about Switzerland’s no. 9, Stefan Seferovic. The forward is surely a candidate for one of the worst forwards on display this summer. Switzerland will have perform to levels not yet hinted at to progress but realistically, Poland have the skills to pay the bills and should triumph here. The best price for that outcome is 31/8 and comes from 888Sport.
17.00 BST Wales v Northern Ireland
This is a dream tie insofar as the wildest of imaginations could hardly have concocted this match. Wales topping their group, Northern Ireland not only qualifying for the tournament but getting through to the knock-out stages – these things are not supposed to happen! We are at the point where this column must tip its hat to UEFA as without this extended format, ties such as this would remain the preserve of dreamland.
Wales, having stuttered in their loss to England, rediscovered their mojo with a stonking 3-0 win over the abysmal Russia. Coupled with Slovakia/England draw, this result saw Wales top their group and look ahead to the knockout stages with real confidence in their abilities.
Much the same can be said of Northern Ireland’s heroic win loss to Germany. By holding the mighty world champions to 0-1 score line, the Northerner’s made sure of their qualification as one of the best third placed teams. Hats off to them. Although plainly lacking the quality that Wales have, they can boast of remarkable team spirit and communal resolve.
Although impossible to predict, the assumption is that this match will be a blood & thunder affair, tactical discipline being eschewed in favour of fashion, hunger and desire. Both these teams have those traits in abundance but Wales have that bit more talent and skill, qualities that should see them win this tie. They are strong favourites with the bookies and a price of 21/10 for their win is spread across the board.
20.00 BST Croatia v Portugal
In terms of potential, this is undoubtedly the best of the three matches on show today. Croatia are one of the best teams in the tournament and but for the concentration-shattering effects of their fans’ disruptive action in their game against Czech Republic, they might have taken full points from their three games. Their final game was a Modric-less 2-1 win over reigning champions, Spain, and they were well worth their victory. This team means business.
That was worth the wait, wasn’t it? Portugal finally kicked into gear and started scoring goals (two for Ronaldo) in their 3-3 draw with Hungary, a result which saw them them qualify for the next round. Just as importantly, from their perspective, the back of the net has been located and this is a team that poses a serious threat to anyone should they click into scoring gear. They’ll have to shore up that defense, though.
This column has definitely taken a shine to Croatia over the duration of this tournament and would be surprised if we don’t see them play again after Saturday. Given Portugal’s performance in their last match, Croatia’s task has become much harder and although they don’t have a goal scorer close to Ronaldo’s ability (who does?), they are definitely the better and more considered team. The bookies have them as favourites and a price of 17/10 from BetVictor amongst others is the best price about for them to win.