Euro 2020: Profiling the quarter-finalists
We are now down to the last eight teams with a number of nations believing they have a realistic chance to win the tournament. There is no question that there is a good and bad side of the draw to be on with England, Czech Republic, Denmark and Ukraine on one and Italy, Belgium, Spain and Switzerland on the other.
If we take the FIFA rankings as a rough guide of the quality of each side, we can see that on England’s side of the draw we have 4th, 10th, 24th and 40th ranked sides and the other 1st, 6th, 7th and 13th. The sides that find themselves two wins from the final deserve to be here, but I want to explore their underlying performance and see if they look likely winners.
Portugal won Euro 2016 and it was a generally viewed as a defensive display nicking games with the quality of Cristiano Ronaldo up front leading the way, but they were 7th for shots per 90 minutes and 9th for shots on target per 90 minutes with a xG of 1.44 and xGA of 0.96.
England averaged more shots per game than any other side in the tournament and they went out to Iceland in the Round of 16. Wales, Germany and France who all made the Semi Finals were in the top five for shots on target per 90 minutes where Germany, France and Portugal were in the top six for fewest shots on target conceded per 90 mins.
Winners Portugal along with Semifinalist Germany and France left the tournament with three of the four best xG goal differences per 90 minutes.
Whilst none of these metrics should be considered an exact science, we can easily conclude that the best sides based on underlying performance in shot creation, defensives that conceded the fewest shots and sides who had strong expected goal difference tended to reach the latter stages of the tournament. Portugal didn’t top any of the individual metrics but were consistently strong across them all.
So where does this leave the eight remaining sides left in this summer’s competition?
Czech Republic: W2-D1-L1. F5-A2
They were good against the Netherlands and deservedly won the game xG 0.95 vs 0.57. There is no question that the sending off changed the game in the favour of the Czechs, but they still needed to be good enough to capitalise on the man advantage.
They are struggling to score goals with a non-penalty xG of just 0.88, the lowest output left in the competition and the 19th lowest across all sides. Out of the eight sides left only one side has scored fewer, had fewer shots, shots on target or shots in the box than the Czechs and at the other end only the Swiss have a higher non penalty xGA and have conceded more shots.
The Czechs set up well and make it awkward for the opposition and looking at challenge intensity (which is duel, tackles, inceptions per minute of opposition possession) they are ranked very highly, and no side left in the competition have had as much pressure applied to the opposition than Czech Republic.
You know what you are going to get here. My rankings make them the 5th in the eight the nations left. They face the Danes next who appear to have momentum and as we will see later look a great side.
Belgium: W4-D0-L0. F7-A1
Belgium have made good progress conceding just once in the game against Denmark. They beat a good Portugal side in the last round, but they generated just 0.18 xG and so far, have a negative xG difference with xG 1.09 and xGA 1.22. They have been out shot in two of their four games so far, having more shots on target against Finland and Russia whilst Denmark and Portugal hit more.
They have injury concerns over Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard and without these two you do worry about their creativity. My rankings have Belgium as the worst side left in the competition given their low attacking statistics and poor defensive metrics.
Defensively I think they can be got at. They have conceded an average of 14 shots a game, with only the Swiss conceding more and 2.75 shots on target and with the back three that faced Portugal they have an average age of 33.6 and have played in St Petersburg, Copenhagen, St Petersburg then Sevilla and now off to Munich.
They do look a little more stable at the back with the introduction of Alex Witsel, but how fit he really is after a long layoff will be interesting. Allowing 2.75 shots on target per game, the 3rd worse from the teams left in the competition and when facing Italy may lead to an early exit. You can get odds of 7/1 for them to win the tournament, which for me in the value play but I can’t back them with this underlying data to even beat Italy.
Denmark: W2-D0-L2. F9-A4
Denmark have overcome the odds and the horror of their opening to face the Czechs in the quarter final and in my view, they deserve to be in this round having played very well in all four games to far.
They would have beaten Finland has the game not been stopped for the upsetting scenes we saw with Christian Eriksen. They won the xG 2.34 vs 0.39 with the Finnish scoring with their only effort at goal with the Danes hitting 18 shots and five shots on target.
They were then the better team when losing 2-1 to Belgium winning the xG 2.61 vs 1.15 before finding their form in front of goal beating Russia 4-1 and Wales 4-0. I am not sure enough praise has been given to Denmark given that their best player is out of the tournament.
They have the 3rd highest non penalty xG with 1.78, the 2nd most shots with 18.75 per game and no side has had more shots on target and the 3rd highest shots in the box. Its very impressive. Not only do they attack well but they are strong at the back with the 3rd lowest non penalty xGA with 0.63, 2nd fewest shots and 2nd fewest shots on target conceded. This is a good team.
My rankings have this side as the 2nd best team left in the competition. I think that the Czech will be similar opposition to Wales and Russia, who are big strong teams who like to mix it up and the Danes will love that type of game. Over the last two games the Danes have hit 30 shots and 17 shots on target. Before the tournament started they had a record of P30-W17-D11-L2 both defeats were to Belgium.
England W4-D0-L0. F4-A0
England have done what has been asked of them to far. Topped the group and beaten Germany in a knockout game for the first time since 1966. It’s coming home……let’s not get carried away just yet.
Southgate set up with nine defensive players against Germany and their underlying metrics have been worryingly poor. North Macedonia have still had more shots than England and the Three Lions have played one game more than them. I know what I am about to write well upset a number of people, but England haven’t been that impressive so far.
Southgate is a safety-first manager who isn’t getting the best out of the forward-thinking players he has. 0.93 non penalty xG is the 8th lowest in the tournament with Scotland, Ukraine, Austria and Poland all creating more chances and you would worry what happens if England go behind.
Only Finland and Hungary have had fewer shots per 90 minutes and no side left in the competition has had fewer shots on target, with England averaging just 2.5 every game with just 4.97 shots in the box which sees just Russia, Finland, Slovakia and Hungary having fewer per 90 minutes.
I have read that Southgate has been asking his data scientists to review previous major tournaments and work out what is needed to win a major trophy and the answer has been to keep clean sheets, but you need more than just that as Portugal found out last time in 2016.
England have some impressive defensive numbers with just 0.73 non penalty xGA, the 4th lowest per 90 minutes, yet this is bettered by Italy and Denmark, both who stand in the way of England and glory.
Whilst England do allow 8.75 shots per match, their record of shots on target conceded is excellent with just 1.5 per game but is that really surprising when they have played Croatia, Scotland and Czech Republic in the group stage and these all finished well into the bottom half of sides for shots on target attempted.
Despite my reservations about England, they should have too much for Ukraine and that’s set up a semifinal against the Danes or Czechs.
Italy W3-D1-L0. F7-A0
For me the team of the tournament so far, although were very lucky with the offside goals against Austria and had it not been for VAR would already be home. Yet, the Italians found a way and, in the end, deserved the win.
I have them as the best team left in my rankings with some strong underlying metrics – 1.78 non penalty xG and 0.49 xGA, which is the best in the tournament. No side has had more shots or conceded fewer. Yet we have to be mindful of who they have played so far with Austria, Turkey and Wales proving to be easy opponents with Wales being 20th and Turkey 18th in my rankings.
The Italians look after the ball well and have plenty of options from the bench to turn the game should they need it. They average 23.7 touches of the ball in the opposition box, whereas their opponents, Belgium average just 14.19, that’s less than sides such as Russia, Poland and Turkey.
They haven’t conceded a goal in 90 minutes for 12 games, haven’t lost since September 2018, including friendlies and since Mancini took over its W26-D8-L2 conceded just 14. I think they will overcome Belgium and make the final and although at the best odds of 37/5 the value may have gone, I’d rather be backing them than England at 19/10.
Spain W2-D2-L0. F9-A4
Spain probably should have won the group with dominate displays against Sweden and Poland, but they struggled in front of goal. Over those two games they generated 4.1 xG and had 29 shots with 10 shots on target. It’s no surprise to see that Spain have the best non penalty xG with 2.25 per game and the 2nd highest shots on target per game and the most shots in the box.
No player in the tournament has had more shots or shots on target than Alvaro Morata and only Ronaldo has a better non penalty xG.
Defensively its very interesting. Spain have faced the fewest shots in the whole competition with just 5.31 per game and only three sides have faced fewer shots on target and no side fewer shots in the box.
Unai Simon in goal have made the 2nd fewest saves and the non-penalty xGA is 0.96 but the xGA per shots concede is 0.199 which is the highest from any team. For context Turkey conceded the most goals yet have a xGA per shot at 0.131.
What this tells us is that the shots that Spain are conceding are big chances and the opposition are likely to score. I like Spain and think they will make the semifinal, but their centre backs struggle and can be bullied and up against the Swiss I think they will be uncomfortable. It’s a game where I think we will see goals.
Spain should play Italy in the semi final and with the Spanish struggling to defend against stronger opposition I think the Italians will make the final from this side of the group.
Switzerland W1-D2-L1. F7-A8
The Swiss finished 3rd in their group with their only win over Turkey who were the worst dark horses in any major competition ever. Despite playing well against France, they lost the xG 3.9 vs 2.6 and scored three goals from four shots on target.
The Swiss are one of two sides left the competition that have a negative non penalty xG, which means they should be conceding more goals than they score, the other side is Czech. Defensively the Swiss look poor.
From the 24 teams that entered the tournament, the Swiss sit 20th for shots conceded, 16th for shots on target conceded and 21st for shots in the box conceded with a non-penalty xGA of 1.49 per game, which is 17th from 24 teams.
Not only that they have travelled 13,418 km for their games, that’s 2,810km more than any other side and 9,818km more than Spain. You have to wonder how much the game against France took out of the Swiss team.
They are facing a side that has averaged 72.2% possession over their four games, attempted and completed more passes than any other side and I think unfortunately that this might be a game too far for the Swiss. Although given the Spanish defensive I would anticipate both teams finding the net, but with the Spanish coming out on top.
Ukraine W1-D1-L2. F5-A6
I think it is quite possible that Ukraine were happy to lose their last group game and take a chance on who they might face in the last 16 by finishing 3rd. It worked out for them as that played Sweden and won and in the quarter finals where they face England.
I actually thought there were better in their opening game against the Dutch then a lot of people gave them credit for despite creating just 0.6 xG, they often made poor decisions in the final 3rd, didn’t get a shot off or took too long and was disposed by the Dutch defenders.
Anyway, here they are with their only win in 90 minutes being over North Macedonia and they haven’t kept a clean sheet in the tournament and just four clean sheets in their last 20 matches, although one of these was in the Nations League against Spain, the others have been against Estonia, Northern Ireland and Cyprus in friendlies.
Ukraine are unspectacular at best. Looking at their underlying performance data none of its impressive. 1.35 non penalty xG and 1.05 xGA. They have generated the 6th most shots on target, but defensively it’s not that clever with 13.38 shots conceded and 4.15 shots on target and a massive 14.1 shots in the box conceded. Even England that struggle to create chances should be able to muster some shots and chances here.
The Ukrainians have looked shattered in their previous games against Austria and then again with extra time against the Swedes. Their game against England is in Rome where the temperature will be 27 degrees, this again won’t help the Ukrainian players if they are struggling with fatigue.
So where does this leave us?
I am happy to get on board with Italy to get past Belgium especially if De Bruyne doesn’t start. Belgium only managed six shots against Portugal creating just 0.18 xG. The Italian defenders will know actually what to expect from Lukaku and I worry about the squad depth that the Belgium’s have should they have a few injuries or need to change the game.
It will be a low scoring game in my view and if we combined Under 4 Goals and Italy to qualify, we can get 21/20 with Bet365.
Spain against the Swiss should see goals, in my view. As I mentioned Spain when they do concede chances, they tend have a high probability of a chance being scored and their central defenders look uncomfortable with balls in the box. I think the Swiss will score and therefore Both Teams To Score looks a great bet at 19/20 with Sport Nation.
England vs Ukraine should see the Three Lions progress, but in a low-scoring game. Southgate should make some changes with a few players on the tightrope of yellow cards, but he won’t take the shackles off and let England attack. England win and Under 3.5 Goals is the best way to go for me at 19/20 with Betway.
Denmark will be more than happy to take on the physical and stubborn Czech, but I don’t see that troubling them. Full of momentum and playing for each other they will get forward and overload the Czechs. I really fancy the Danes to win this match and they can be backed at 6/5 with Matchbook.
That means that I think Italy, England, Spain and Denmark will all qualify for the semi-finals, and this can be back at almost 4/1 with Bet365. Given what I have written above, these look the best sides from their quarter-final fixtures.
This means that it will be Spain vs Italy and England vs Denmark in the semi-finals. I have already said that I fancy Italy to reach the final and unless England can show more attacking intent, I think they might come undone against the Danes. So I am backing an Italy vs Denmark final at 13/1 with SBK.
Switzerland vs Spain – Both Teams To Score (19/20 Sport Nation)
Belgium vs Italy – Under 4 Goals and Italy to qualify (21/20 Bet365)
Czech Republic vs Denmark – Denmark to win (6/5 Matchbook)
Ukraine vs England – England to win and Under 3.5 Goals (19/20 Betway)
Euro 2020 – Spain, Italy, Denmark and England to qualify for the semi-finals (4/1 Bet365)
Euro 2020 – Italy vs Denmark to meet in the final (13/1 SBK)