14.00 France v Republic of Ireland
The hosts take on the best little country in the world. Well, one of them. In a game that lurks beneath the shadow of Thierry Henry’s infamous handball (an act that destroyed Ireland’s hopes of reaching WC 2010), can the Irish exact a revenge that has been seven years in the cooking? Home fans will hope not but the rest of the world….
It should go without saying that France are firm favourites going into this tie. They topped their group with two wins and a draw, respectively, but without ever fully convincing observers that they have gelled as a coherent unit. In Dimitri Payet, they have one of the tournaments outstanding players and all of France will be hoping that he can pull another trick or two out of his hat.
Ireland did the improbable midweek and beat the mighty Italians. It should be pointed out that Italy were not at full strength and were secure in the knowledge that they were top of the group. All that being said, Ireland were outstanding, drove at Italy from the off and fully deserved their win. If they can replicate that intensity and spirit in this match, it’s game on.
As previously noted, France are odds on in this tie with MarathonBet having the best price for a home win at 10/21. If you fancy Ireland to do it, StanJames have a tempting 10/1. Whatever the outcome might be in the end, a price of 10/3 from BetFred for a draw at the end of regulation time might offer the best value.
17.00 Germany v Slovakia
Germany are still giving the impression that they are slightly adrift on some choppy seas of uncertainty. Should their attack be founded upon the ghostly runs of attacking midfielders or should they anchor their attack around a more stationary but misfiring no. 9? Up until they find or happen upon the answer, their tournament journey will end sooner rather than later.
Slovakia will be hoping that they can affect a massive upset and topple the world champions (what else would they hope for?!). Having set themselves up in a very defensive manner in their draw against England, they will probably have to do a repeat job but with more emphasis given to clever use of the ball when they have it because if they do nothing other than sit back, the Germans will roll them.
Germany’s need for a performance full of danger and completed chances is great as, shorn of many of their previous leaders, they seem unsure of themselves and lacking in the certainty which generally permeates their game. Slovakia will need to put in the performance of a lifetime with Marek Hamsik at the top of his game. They have a chance but, sloppy though they’ve been, Germany should still go through. The best price for that is 5/11 from MarathonBet.
20.00 Hungary v Belgium
Hungary have been one of the surprise packages of this tournament, finishing top of a group containing fancied teams, Portugal and Austria. It has been a long time since Hungary were the standard-bearers for innovation and quality in world football but the current crop of players are still true to their technical, tactical roots.
They’ve shown that they can impose themselves on games with little fuss and excellent efficiency of movement and thought. They have few well-known names but as a team, they are operating at close to capacity in terms of skill and endeavor, traits that are essential in tournament football.
Belgium had the rockiest of starts by way of a loss to Italy but have followed that match up with two consecutive wins – have the clouds parted in the troubled Belgian camp? It is difficult to say. They beat Ireland well in the end even if they got lucky with a refereeing decision in the lead up to their first goal. Their final game against Sweden was drifting toward a nil all draw until they scored a late goal by way of deflection. Still, if you can’t be good, you’d better be lucky and things seem to be falling nicely for them at the moment.
Unsurprisingly, Belgium are favourites to win this tie and heavily so. This column, however, will turn its back on consensus/common sense and back the Hungarians to prevail here at a very tasty price of 25/4 from 888Sport.