17.00 Italy v Spain
Ding, ding, ding – we start Monday with a real humdinger. Whereas the potential in the Croatia v Portugal tie failed to shine through, this match up between two of the international heavyweights has the (that word again) potential to be a cracker. Two of the three last world champions will face off in a match few saw coming this early as the expectation was that Spain would finish top of their group. But they didn’t so here we are.
Italy sent out their second string side to face Ireland in their last group game and duly lost but that didn’t concern them so much. They have a clean bill of health coming into this tie and now that they’re in the business end of things, will look to trigger that peculiarly Italian DNA that comes to the fore as tournament pressure begins to ratchet up. It’s just as well that they can draw from this well as this is not a classic Italian team and lacks standout players in some key positions.
Spain come into this tie with some doubts rattling around in their head – how the hell did we lose to Croatia, why the hell did Sergio Ramos take the ball from Iniesta before his unsuccessful attempt at a spot kick? The only problem with having a lot of questions is if you don’t have a lot of answers. There hasn’t been much time for management to address these questions in the days between matches so Spain will have to trust in their incredible skills and draw from the success of recent past to see them through here.
Whilst we’re not surprised to see that Spain are favourites with the bookies, the gap between the prices is noteworthy. In this column’s humble opinion, there’s not much to choose between the pair but the fact that you can get an Italian win for 7/2 from Ladbrokes seals the decision for us.
20.00 England v Iceland
In the grandest of English tradition and with a nod to their recent political exploits, things are all set up for an early exit on their part. Most teams that had won 100% of their qualifying games coming into this tournament would have a fair degree of confidence in their abilities but England’s ability to self-loath and self-immolate is nearly unparalleled in the international stage. The pressure on them is massive.
Iceland continue their unlikely journey on the international football stage. Few expected them to get this far but they haven’t fluked their way to this point. Their match-winning goal at the end of regulation time against Austria was one of the great moments of the tournament so far and was soundtracked by an Icelandic commentator to such a wonderful extent that it will be replayed for many years to come.
Very few are giving Iceland a chance in this game but they have yet to lose in this tournament and have defended well throughout without being overly conservative in thought and deed. They will do the same against an England side that don’t look to be at the races and will be confident that they can notch up another historic win.
England have a host of well-known names scattered through the squad and reams of quality to boot. What they don’t have, however, is a surety or confidence in themselves which is likely down to a history of error and heartache and a press that that relishes blood and anguish over hope and support. Can they cope?
The bookies think so and have them installed as heavy favourites. Reality suggests that the market is right but the power of dreams has been strong this summer so this column will play fast and loose with its money and back Iceland to win at 31/4 from 888Sport.