The 2021 summer full of international football is definitely underway! After last year’s global pandemic forced the entire world to a halt, football followed suit. This summer, we finally get witness the international tournaments we have all been waiting a year for: Copa America 2021 and Euro 2020 (called so for marketing reasons, despite being played in 2021). Both tournaments have made it through their first -round over the past few weeks, and we now look ahead to the quarterfinals.
After a rather eventful group stage full of goals (uncharacteristic for European football), the round of 16 was no different, if not even more exciting and expansive.
The first match of the round of 16 was an interesting matchup between Wales and Denmark. Overall, Wales aren’t world-beaters or anything, but they are a decent team and they earned their spot in the knockout stages. Denmark are a classic case of a “dark horse” team given their talented but relatively unknown squad of players.
Denmark’s tournament had taken a turn for the worse earlier when their star player, Christian Eriksen, collapsed due to cardiac arrest in Denmark’s opening match. Eriksen’s life was saved by the Danish medical team, but the mental stress put on the squad was immense. Denmark consequently lost that match to Finland and their next one to Belgium.
But in their final match against Russia, Denmark finally clicked into form, smashing Russia in a 4-1 route. The Danes carried this monstrous form over into their round of 16 match, torching Wales 4-0 along with a masterful performance from Kasper Dolberg.
Elsewhere, the Netherlands lined up against the Czech Republic. After the departure of manager Ronald Koeman, the Netherlands have not looked anywhere near the world class team they had been over the past two years. Even still, they were able to top their group with three wins out of three, playing some great football at times.
The Czech Republic were a team that few expected much from, yet they surprised the masses by beating Scotland and tying Croatia, sending them to the next round. While most anticipated the Dutch to blow away the Czechs, the complete opposite occurred. The Czech Republic dominated the entirety of the match and were allowed even more freedom going forward after Matthijs de Ligt was sent off. Yet another goal from Patrik Schick saw the Czechs win 2-0 and progress to the quarterfinals in Euro 2020’s first shock result.
With these results, Denmark will face the Czech Republic in the Quarterfinals.
Italy’s round of 16 match was against Austria in a game where the Italians were heavily favored. Italy cleaned house in the group stage and went undefeated, scoring seven goals and conceding none. Prior to the knockout stages, they have easily been the best team at Euro 2020. Compare that to Austria, who played well at times but were exposed as painfully average in their 2-0 loss to the Netherlands.
But against all odds, Austria gave Italy a run for their money, frustrating and disrupting the Italian team’s style on multiple occasions. Austria even nearly took the lead with a header from Marko Arnautovic, but the goal was disallowed as replays showed he was offside.
The match eventually went to extra-time, where a beautiful half-volley from Federico Chiesa broke the deadlock. Italy’s superior player quality came through and they eventually won the match 2-1. Although the Austrians lost, they exited Euro 2020 with their heads held high.
In the opposite match, we were treated to a clash of titans as reigning European champions Portugal faced off against the best team in the world (according to FIFA rankings), Belgium.
Both teams went into this match in a contrasting manner. Belgium arrived after three straight wins and lots of goals. Meanwhile, Portugal had won one game, tied another and lost the last, looking defensively weak occasionally and far from the team that won this competition last time around. There is nuance to that, though, as Belgium, played Denmark, Finland and Russia — one good team and two not-so-good teams. Portugal on the other hand, was drawn into the group of death against Germany, France and Hungary — two world-class teams and one good team.
Ultimately, this match between Portugal and Belgium was up in the air as either side could’ve won. Portugal dominated the first half, but Belgium bossed the second. In the end, the Belgian defense did just enough to nullify Cristiano Ronaldo, and the match was decided by a moment of brilliance: a curling longshot from Thorgan Hazard that won it 1-0 for Belgium.
With these results, Italy and Belgium are set to play each other in the quarterfinals. Judging by their performances, I predict that whoever goes through in this match will be the champions of Euro 2020.
Later on, Croatia played a familiar foe, Spain, in their round of 16 draw. Croatia are far from the team that reached the World Cup final three years ago; while they still have quality, they faltered in the group stage, losing to England and tying the Czech Republic before professionally seeing off Scotland.
Spain had some major problems themselves, including a small COVID outbreak in the squad just before the tournament started. They started off firing blanks in attack, unable to finish their chances leading to draws with both Sweden and Poland, although they did finally find their feet and demolish Slovakia 5-0.
Most people expected Spain to top Croatia, but it was actually Croatia who took the lead after a truly shocking goalkeeping error from Unai Simon. Spain’s daunting offensive strength prevailed, however, and they raced to a 3-1 comeback afterwards.
Then, with less than five minutes left in the match, Croatia kicked into third gear and scored, then scored again, tying the match 3-3 and sending it into extra-time. Both teams had chances to score the winner, but despite their bravery, the Croats eventually tired themselves out. The much-maligned Spanish striker, Alvaro Morata, silenced the haters and scored a magnificent half-volley for his country. Spain scored another and won 5-3 as the match concluded.
In an equally insane match, the reigning world-champions France competed against Switzerland. France headed into this match coming out of the group of death, winning one match and drawing the other two. While they weren’t playing the best football, that is excusable given the quality of opposition. And in all honesty, France didn’t play all that well at the 2018 World Cup either and still ended up as champions.
Switzerland, the perennially-mediocre team, were living up to the stereotype. As a result, one must be a rather daring individual to bet on a Swiss victory. To the surprise of all, the Swiss actually scored first with Haris Seferovic’s header and were outplaying the world-champions. It wasn’t until 60 minutes into the match that France scored an equalizer after the Swiss’ morale dropped due to a missed penalty. The France that we all expected finally showed up, and in the span of 20 minutes, they scored three wonderful goals.
But just when all was said and done, the French lost control of the match again, and Switzerland scored two goals within the last 10 minutes to equalize 3-3. In extra-time, both teams were deathly exhausted, and neither side could gain an edge. After going to a penalty shootout, the scores were all equal again, until the French superstar, Kylian Mbappe, had his penalty saved by Yann Sommer, eliminating France from Euro 2020, the same team that most expected to win the whole thing.
With these results, Spain have a meeting with Switzerland in the quarterfinals.
From there, the age-old rivalry in football, dating back to WWII, was to grace the pitch of the Euros yet again: England played Germany in probably the most anticipated match of this round. Both teams had very different tournaments so far as England topped their group, conceding zero goals. However, in those three matches, they only scored two, meaning England look very solid defensively but also uncreative in front of goal.
Emerging from the group of death, Germany actually almost did not qualify after Hungary came close to beating them on the final matchday of the group stage. Overall, Germany had been abnormally poor defensively, but at the same time, they seemed overtly powerful going forward.
As the match went on between the two rivals, it became very evident that England was the worst possible team Germany could’ve faced, as England’s defense completely nullified the German attack, their biggest strength. As the match went on, England grinded down their opponents and eventually scored twice in the second half, winning 2-0 after goals from Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane. This gave England their first victory over Germany in a knockout round match at a major tournament since the 1966 World Cup Final.
In the final match of the round of 16, Sweden were set to play Ukraine in a matchup that realistically could’ve gone either way. Sweden surprisingly topped their group, mostly due to Spain’s two draws; while they aren’t a world-class team, they definitely are deserving of a spot in the knockout stages.
Ukraine had a very tough group stage, losing to the Netherlands despite playing well, just doing enough to beat a hard-fought North Macedonia and narrowly losing to Austria. While Ukraine don’t offer much going forward, they are a very tough team to break down, setting up their match against Sweden to be a fascinating one.
Ukraine took the lead after a fierce volley from Oleksandr Zinchenko before a deflected longshot from Emil Forsberg tied the match at 1-1. In a very open match, both teams had chances to grab the winner but neither were able to, sending yet another match to extra-time. Just as the momentum was swinging in Sweden’s favor due to their superior attacking quality, an absolutely horrific spikes-up tackle from Marcus Danielson saw him red-carded and Sweden reduced to 10 men. With the man advantage, Ukraine pushed for the winner, and a header from Artem Dovbyk in the 121st minute sealed the victory.
With these results, England are scheduled to play Ukraine in their quarterfinal matchup.
Copa America 2021
Given that CONMEBOL, the South American governing body of football, only has 10 member-nations, the format for the Copa America is very different than the Euros. There is no Round of 16, and the conclusion of the group stage leads right into the quarterfinals.
The first quarterfinal matchup of the Copa America will be between Peru and Paraguay. Peru started off their Copa America in awful fashion, getting crushed 4-0 by Brazil. Given that Peru went into this tournament without veterans like Paolo Guerrero and Jefferson Farfan, predictions that this overachieving Peruvian team had finally reached its end were looking to be reality after the Brazil game.
However, Peru proved to the world that they are the ultimate tournament team. Despite not having the most talented squad, or not even playing that great football, they still grinded out results, shocking Colombia, drawing Ecuador and scraping a win against Venezuela. They finished second in their group.
Peru in the Copa America is a whole different animal; in fact, they have made the semifinals in three of the last four editions. Paraguay on the other hand, are really two teams in one. Some days they look like they can beat anyone in South America (like when they thoroughly outplayed Chile), but on other days, they look like the worst team in the region (like when they were abysmal against Uruguay).
Between Peru and Paraguay, the Paraguayans seem to have the higher ceiling. That being said, it looks likely that their best player, Miguel Almiron, will miss the match through injury, and the odds seem to be in Peru’s favor to pull off yet another unexpected victory.
The next quarterfinals matchup will see host nation and reigning champions Brazil face previous back-to-back champions Chile in a matchup that has seen several historic games in recent years. Brazil come into this game head-and-shoulders above everyone else in the Copa America. They have won three of their four matches, drawing the other, scoring 10 goals and only conceding 2. Their squad are totally stacked, with a world-class player in virtually every position. Brazil looked like champions before the tournament started and so far no one seems to be standing in their way. In fact, Brazil has won the Copa America every single time they have hosted it.
Meanwhile, Chile are a team still holding on to the remnants of that golden generation that won consecutive Copas in 2015 and 2016. While Edu Vargas, Arturo Vidal, Claudio Bravo and Alexis Sanchez (technically) are still there, they all are on the wrong side of 30 — and it really shows. In all of their game, Chile are only able to dominate and play well for portions of the match before fatigue sets in and they lose their composure. So far, they have tied two matches, lost one and won only one, a narrow 1-0 over Bolivia. While crazier things have happened in the Copa America in the past, one realistically can’t see anything else besides Brazil easily winning this match.
Next up, we will see Colombia play Uruguay in a very interesting matchup, which could either be a multi-goal thriller, or a completely goalless snooze-fest. Both these teams come into this match playing slightly below expectations.
Uruguay, who, as of late, have been the second-best team in South America behind Brazil, look very weak in front of goal, often lacking the clinical touch despite creating numerous chances. Meanwhile, their defense has not been as strong as normal. In the group stage, they won two games, drew Chile and lost to Argentina. Not a bad record, but they have not been reaching their potential.
Colombia are in a very similar boat. Despite having an attacking lineup with players like Duvan Zapata, Luis Muriel, Rafael Santos Borre and Miguel Borja, they have often looked lost up-front, scoring few goals and sometimes even playing negative defensive football. Maybe leaving home the star midfielder, James Rodriguez — the one guy who could properly link the midfield and forwards — despite him pleading that he wasn’t injured, was not the best decision coach, Reinaldo Rueda made.
In the group stage, Colombia scuffed a win against Ecuador, drew Venezuela while losing to Brazil and Peru. Both teams do have a realistic chance to beat each other, but Uruguay are slightly more favored in my opinion, simply due to their stronger defense and more experience.
In the final match of the Copa America Quarterfinals, we have Argentina against Ecuador in probably the most straightforward game of the round. Ecuador were the surprise team of South America last year in the World Cup qualifiers, putting four goals past Uruguay before utterly obliterating Colombia 6-1 last November, forcing them to sack their coach. Relying upon a mixture of a few veterans and a plethora of new attacking talent, Ecuador had looked to be building a serious team for the future.
Unfortunately for Ecuadorian fans, we have only seen small glimpses of that team in Copa America 2021. In their group, they lost to Colombia and blew consecutive two-goal leads against Peru and Venezuela, drawing each match 2-2. Then, they tied a heavily rotated Brazil side 1-1 to just do enough to qualify. History is not on their side either, as Ecuador usually perform very poorly at the Copa America. In fact, they are only one of two teams in South America to have never won it, and last tournament they were arguably the worst team in the whole lineup.
Conversely, Argentina are in flying form, looking like the best version of themselves for the first time since at least 2016. With a very talented yet balanced squad, they have a stable system, consistent lineup and the results that they need underway. Despite drawing Chile in their opening match, they won all of their other games, finishing their most recent match with a 4-1 drubbing of Bolivia. As always, Lionel Messi is the key to everything, and he is in great form with three goals and two assists so far as he looks to win his first-ever senior trophy with the Argentine National Team. It hasn’t been perfect from Argentina, but it has been pretty good so far and that is why it looks extremely likely they will go through at the expense of Ecuador.