EURO 2016 has reached the knockout stages. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over Saturday’s opening last-16 tie between Switzerland and Poland in Saint-Etienne.
Switzerland v Poland | Saturday 14.00 | BBC1
Poland play Switzerland in Saint-Etienne on Saturday afternoon, with a place in the last eight of Euro 2016 the reward for the winners.
Both sides find themselves in unchartered territory, for neither nation has previously progressed to the knockout stages of this competition and the nerves are certain to be jangling at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.
Poland have been chalked up as narrow favourites to progress to the quarter-finals of the competition, but Adam Nawalka’s men will be acutely aware that they must be more punitive if they are to progress at the expense of the Swiss.
The White Eagles dominated all three of their Group C but Nawalka’s side struggled to turn their superiority into goals; indeed, the Poles notched just two goals from their three fixtures and only nine nations fired in fewer attempts on goal.
The struggle to score is a far cry from the free-scoring style that earned Poland a place in France this summer with the White Eagles racking up a hugely impressive 33 goals in 10 matches in securing qualification for Euro 2016 – the top scoring team on the continent.
Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, who hit a record-equalling tally of 13 goals during the qualifying campaign, has looked woefully out-of-sorts in France and, remarkably, the 27-year-old forward has yet to register a single shot-on-target in the tournament.
It seems likely, though, that it is only a matter of time before Lewandowski discovers the form that makes him one of the most feared strikers in world football today and, when Poland’s star striker finally finds his feet, Nawalka’s men will certainly be a force to be reckoned with.
Poland have kept six clean sheets in seven games now – including shutouts in all three of their pool matches – and they will fancy their chances of keeping things tight once more against Switzerland on Saturday afternoon.
Mercurial midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri will hope to provide the creative spark for Vladimir Petkovic’s squad once again, but the lack of an in-form front man is a major concern for Die Nati.
Haris Seferovic may be restored to Switzerland’s starting line-up after being dropped to the bench against France last time out, but the 24-year-old striker has managed just one goal for club and country since the end of November.
Breel Embolo, who led the line against Les Bleus, is vastly inexperienced at this level and there must be genuine concern as to whether Switzerland’s squad has enough strength in depth to pose problems for Poland on Saturday afternoon.
Switzerland’s two goals in the competition have both been scored from corners – no other side in the knockout stages has failed to net from open play – and Die Nati have managed to beat their opponents just once in 10 head-to-heads (W1-D5-L4). And that was a friendly fixture 40 years ago!
Petkovic’s side can take comfort, though, from their own impressive defensive record, for the Swiss conceded just a single goal in Group A – a penalty kick in a 1-1 draw against Romania.
Their goal, though, lived a charmed life against France last weekend and only a markedly improved performance would surely be enough to see Petkovic’s men march on in this competition.
Poland have been solid throughout the campaign. Nawalka’s side could and should have topped Group C with nine points and only their profligacy against Die Mannschaft prevented them from doing so.
Should they rediscover their scoring touch in Saint-Etienne, Poland are likely to prove to be too hot to handle for the Swiss.
Only world champions Germany and Holland have beaten the White Eagles in 23 games and so punters are encouraged to snap up the juicy 7/4 (Netbet) quote for Poland to progress to the last eight of the competition inside 90 minutes here.
All six of these teams’ games so far have featured fewer than three goals, with five seeing fewer than two. And with the first round of European Championship knockout matches producing 14/20 (70%) Under 2.5 Goals winners since 1996 so backing Poland to win and Under 2.5 Goals at 16/5 (Netbet) is the preferred option to take.
Switzerland v Poland – Poland to win and Under 2.5 Goals (16/5 Netbet)