England expects as thrilling Euro 2020 approaches crunch stage - is it really 'coming home'?
And then there were eight. One of the most engaging and dramatic European Championship tournament finals since the competition’s inception 61 years ago is approaching a conclusion.
There is a brief hiatus following the thrilling round of 16 fixtures before an intriguing set of quarter-finals begins on Friday evening. England are now the bookmakers’ firm favourites to lift the Henri Delaunay Trophy at Wembley on July 11. Can Gareth Southgate’s side validate those odds and meet the growing hype and expectation which again surrounds their quest to win a major trophy?
Here, The Scotsman takes a look at the eight remaining contenders and assesses their prospects ...
What a difference 11 days makes for England manager Southgate and his squad. The objects of derision from their media and supporters alike after drawing 0-0 with Scotland at Wembley on June 18, they left their national stadium on a wave of euphoria and renewed belief on Tuesday evening after beating Germany 2-0.
England are the only team yet to concede a goal in the tournament and with captain Harry Kane breaking his duck to join in-form Raheem Sterling on the scoresheet, they certainly have the firepower to go all the way. Assuming they overcome rank outsiders Ukraine in their quarter-final in Rome on Saturday night, England will have a glorious opportunity to “bring it home” with the semi-finals and final on their own turf.
Bookies’ odds: 15-8 favourites. Scotsman verdict: Runners-up.
After a stuttering start to their group stage campaign, La Roja kicked into gear with the 5-0 demolition of Slovakia which secured their progress to the last 16.
Now, after the pulsating 5-3 extra-time triumph over Croatia in Copenhagen on Monday, Luis Enrique’s men may be finding the kind of form which could earn their nation a record-breaking fourth European Championship crown.
With much-maligned striker Alvaro Morata having regained his mojo, they should overcome Switzerland in Saint Petersburg on Friday.
Bookies’ odds: 3-1. Scotsman verdict: Semi-finalists.
A faultless group stage campaign underlined why Roberto Mancini’s squad were fancied by many pundits ahead of the tournament.
The former Manchester City boss has combined creativity and attacking flair with his nation’s traditional defensive solidity to create a formidable outfit. But they were not without vulnerability in their edgy extra-time 2-1 win over Austria in the last 16, weaknesses which can be exploited by Belgium in a blockbuster last eight clash in Munich on Friday night.
Bookies’ odds: 4-1. Scotsman verdict: Quarter-finalists.
Having wreaked havoc on Italian defences as a title-winner in Serie A with Inter Milan last season, Romelu Lukaku will hope to repeat the trick for Belgium in their quarter-final against the nation where he plays his club football.
The striker is the focal point of a well-balanced Belgian side who ousted reigning champions Portugal in the last 16 and have an outstanding opportunity to grab silverware for their ‘golden generation’ of players. If playmaker Kevin de Bruyne can recover full fitness, Roberto Martinez’s squad can truly fulfil their potential.
Bookies’ odds: 13-2. Scotsman verdict: Winners.
There would be no more popular winners than the Danes, following their traumatic start to the tournament with the on-pitch collapse of star man Christian Eriksen, if they could repeat their fairytale triumph of 1992.
They have performed like a team possessed to reach the last eight, bolstered by the attacking threat of impressive duo Kasper Dolberg and Yussuf Poulsen. That momentum may well carry them beyond the challenge posed by Czech Republic in Baku on Saturday evening but this particular story is likely to go no further than the semi-final stage.
Bookies’ odds: 10-1. Scotsman verdict: Semi-finalists.
After their relatively laboured progress through the group stage, where their only victory came against a dismal Turkish side, few would have given the Swiss even the remotest hope of extending their stay in the tournament any further.
Yet Vladimir Petkovic’s side delivered one of the most memorable comebacks in European Championship history on Monday night in Bucharest, knocking out world champions France on penalties after trailing 3-1 with just nine minutes of regulation time remaining.
In Benfica striker Haris Seferovic, they have a player capable of unsettling any defence. But while they can certainly ask questions of Spain in Saint Petersburg on Friday evening, Switzerland’s unlikely journey may have reached its zenith.
Bookies’ odds: 25-1. Scotsman verdict: Quarter-finalists.
Inspired by the consistent brilliance of goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik and the predatory instincts of Golden Boot contender Patrik Schick, the Czechs have built impressively on the 2-0 win over Scotland at Hampden which began their campaign.
Although aided by the dismissal of defender Matthijs de Ligt in their last 16 victory over Netherlands in Budapest last Sunday, Jaroslav Silhavy’s team were worthy winners and will go into their well matched quarter-final against Denmark in buoyant mood.
Bookies’ odds: 25-1. Scotsman verdict: Quarter-finalists.
The lesson of Greece’s triumph at Euro 2004 is that, sometimes, even long shots do make it. But it would perhaps trump even that shock outcome if Ukraine were to add their name to the tournament’s roll of honour this year.
Andriy Shevchenko’s side squeezed into the last 16 as the lowest-ranked of the four third-placed nations in the group stage, but showed real resilience to overcome Sweden in extra-time at Hampden on Tuesday night.
But while they have fine performers in Manchester City defender Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gent striker Roman Yaremchuk, they are likely to find England have too much for them in Rome on Saturday night.
Bookies’ odds: 33-1. Scotsman verdict: Quarter-finalists.
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