By Antony Jordan
The last 16 stage of the 2016 European Championships in France comes to a close this evening with two eagerly anticipated clashes. The first sees a repeat of the 2012 final as Italy and Spain clash at the Stade de France while England look to progress to face the French as they take on Iceland in Nice. Spain triumphed 4-0 in the final four years ago but they’ll need to be much better than they have been so far if they’re to defeat one of the surprise packages of the tournament while England and Iceland have never met in a competitive fixture previously.
Who’ll progress and who’ll be going home? We preview both of these Monday matches with online sportsbook Bet365.com to provide our top Euro 2016 picks from the last 16 stage.
Both of these two sides arrive at this vital clash having won two and lost one of their three group matches in France so far this summer as the Italians topped Group and, following their injury time loss to Croatia, Spain finished runners up in Group D. The difference between the two sides is that Italy were only beaten by Ireland in their final group game after they’d already secured top spot and had rested the majority of their players for that match while Spain laboured to defeat the Czech Republic in their opening match before losing 2-1 to Croatia in their last group game despite not resting any players throughout the first phase of Euro 2016.
On top their inability to defeat Croatia, who then failed to muster a shot on target in two hours of football against an almost equally poor Portugal in the last 16 stage, Spain showed their lack of leadership as it fell to Sergio Ramos to take a penalty against Croatia and the defender failed to convert the spot kick. They appear to lack a goalscoring threat whenever Alvaro Morata, who has netted three times so far, is not on the field and they will need him to be at his best for this match as the Italian defence has conceded just a single goal, including shutting out the lethal Belgian attack in their opening match.
Spain’s only easy victory came against a poor Turkey and Italy are, by far, a superior side and we can see Spain struggling to breakdown the Italian defence in this match. However, they have drawn three and won two of their last five meetings over the last five years and these two sides are certainly familiar with each other at the European Championships as they have met on five previous occasions at this tournament, including three times in the last three tournaments, so both sides will feel that they have the edge over the other, with Spain the more confident after their 4-0 win in Poland-Ukraine in 2012.
We feel that like the Poland v Switzerland and Croatia v Portugal games at this stage of the competition we are unlikely to see one of these two sides run away with this match and cruise into the Quarter Finals. We would not be surprised to see this game go to extra time, but if one side was to edge the match we see it being the Italians who will be the fresher of the two and are, arguably, the more technical and talented off the two teams.
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Roy Hodgson took a hammering in the press this week as his decision to rest players against Slovakia saw his English side fail to take all three points and qualify from Group B in second place, thus falling into the difficult side of the draw for the knockout stages of the competition and with a the winner of this clash facing the host nation in the Quarter Finals the lack of quality in killing off games could come back to haunt England very quickly. They have been far from ruthless in France this summer with them dominating all three of their matches but only drawing 1-1 with Russia, 0-0 with Slovakia and just edging out Wales to win 2-1 with almost the last kick of the game and with Iceland having reached this stage of the competition with low possession and shooting stats while defending resolutely will England be able to get past the tournament debutants?
England have completed 1,315 passes and had 64 shots in their three group games and while Iceland have just 485 passes and 23 shots in their trio of matches it was the Nordic nation that scored more goals than their more illustrious opposition for this clash in Nice. They know how to defend deeply and close off gaps, and with England having had issue in breaking down sides like this so far in the tournament we can see Iceland being no pushovers in the final last 16 stage match.
However, England will welcome back a number of players for this game, including Wayne Rooney and Tottenham quartet Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose so they are sure to be fresher than the Icelandic side who have not rotated their starting XI in any of their three matches so far. The minnows, whose population is just over 330,000 people, will still coming into this match full of confidence after upsetting the odds to progress from their group and they also bring a record of four wins and four draws in their last nine matches so they know that they can frustrate the Three Lions and perhaps even snatch a winner too!
England have not done well in the knockout stages of major international competitions over the last 50 years since lifting the World Cup with just six wins after the group stages. Their last four knockout stage matches at the Euros have all gone to penalties over the last 20 years and they have suffered defeats in the last three of these. Many of the games in the last 16 stage have been close and tight affairs – the Germany v Slovakia game and Hungary v Belgium result are the games saw some space between the sides – and with Iceland defending so well we can see England huffing and puffing in this match. We would not be surprised to see this one go to extra time.