The Football Lab’s Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) gives WeLoveBetting readers his verdict on the Euro 2016 knockout stages.
Euro 2016: The Knockout Stage
So far, it has been a tournament not dissimilar to the last Premier League season, in that underdogs are thriving while our so-called ‘elite’ teams have questions to answer.
Hosts France appear reliant on late moments of individual magic. The tactical nous of England and Belgium managers has been doubted. Germany might have been punished by better opposition finishing while Italy have only scored three goals.
At the last two Euros, Spain were the stand-out team in the group stage but this time, their defence looked shaky in its first major test against Croatia.
This leads me to suspect we may see a tournament akin to Euro 2004, when underdogs Greece won it on account of being strong, well-organised and proficient at set pieces.
Hungary have scored more goals from set-plays (3) than any other team at the tournament thus far. While this blog humbly retracts its earlier dismissal of Hungarian credentials, it won’t be backing Bernd Storck’s men to win outright at 100/1 (Coral) – but what instead?
We saw against Spain that Croatia have high energy levels. They press high up the pitch and this could be tactically advantageous against last-16 opponents Portugal, who did little to impress in the group-stage.
The Croats have an excellent midfield. Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric represent the two Spanish giants at club level, as the latter hopes to recover from injury, while Ivan Perisic has impressed with his dynamism and movement.
The obvious option up top is Mario Mandzukic, who has scored goals throughout his career, but the Spain victory proved Ante Cacic has an alternative option. With Manzukic out injured, Nikola Kalinic led the line with an industrious display and took his goal well.
This writer was sceptical of Croatia before the tournament, questioning the harmony within the camp but pool-stage performances have put those doubts to rest.
The team combines a communistic work ethic, perhaps lacking in some of our more glamorous outfits, with the quality required to threaten in the final third.
The odds for Croatia to win the tournament (10/1 Coral) or reach the final (7/2 Ladbrokes) seem a touch too short for this writer to bank on them winning three or four straight games. Instead, we’ll take a more simplistic 2/1 (William Hill) shot on the Blazers winning two to reach the semi-finals.
Payet To Be France’s Headline-Grabber
Last Sunday night, France were drawing 0-0 with a Switzerland side who had started to gain control in the second half as home fans grew restless. Enter Dimitri Payet.
Immediately, supporters sprang to their feet and sung passionately for the West Ham wizard, who subsequently changed the course of the game with his speed and flair.
Payet came close twice, once with a free-kick and once with a firm volley that hit the crossbar, nearly inspiring France to victory in a third game running.
All of the play goes through the 29-year-old, who is bound not only to start in the knockout rounds, but also to be given the ball consistently, looked upon as the man to make things happen.
France have not always clicked into gear as a team, but that only increases Les Bleus’ reliance on Payet to produce a moment of brilliance and transform a game. If this is going to be their tournament, it is going to be his tournament – take 888’s 14/1 on Payet to be the competition’s top scorer.
Slovakia To Upset Germany
Germany qualified from their group with relative ease but The Football Lab remains unconvinced by their credentials.
Possession-based play saw them create a lot of chances against Northern Ireland but that was not the case in their first two games. Toni Kroos stole the show against Ukraine with his passing range, meaning that other aspects of that match is all too easily forgotten.
In the first half, Ukraine had good chances, only excellent saves from Manuel Neuer and a goal-line clearance from Jerome Boateng preserving Germany’s lead. Against Poland, Die Mannshaft created next to nothing, whereas Arkadiusz Milik missed two presentable chances to give his side the lead.
Teams have opened up Joachim Lowe’s side by attacking quickly in wide areas and Slovakia have a player to do that.
Only Gareth Bale (13) has completed more successful take-ons at Euro 2016 than Vladimir Weiss (10), who provides pace and movement on the left hand side.
Right-back has been a problematic area for the Germans as Benedikt Howedes, a tall centre-back by trade, was dropped after two games in favour of Joshua Kimmich. The 21-year-old fared well against Northern Ireland but remains inexperienced.
Slovakia qualified from a reasonable group, finishing top of the third place league. Jan Kozak’s side looked well-organized for long spells and fans were treated to a Marek Hamsik wondershow against Russia.
The playmaker’s firm strike, which followed his sumptuous assist for Weiss’ opener, suggests he will add brain to Repre’s undoubted brawn. In fact, Hamsik netted twice when Slovakia beat Germany 3-1 in a friendly as recently as 29 May.
Do we expect them to repeat that win when they meet again in Lille? No, but Bet365’s 10/1 on them do so is perhaps dismissive of the nature of this tournament.
In a tight competition in which no team has truly convinced, there will be shocks in the last 16 and Slovakia can upset the odds. Brace yourselves – it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Croatia to reach the semi-finals (2/1 William Hill)
Dimitri Payet to be Euro 2016 top goalscorer (14/1 888)
Slovakia to beat Germany (10/1 Bet365)
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