Euro 2016 last-16 preview: Part three

Date published: Monday 27th June 2016 8:21

England

Italy vs Spain

When is it?
Monday, 5pm

Why so interesting?
The tie of the round, and the extreme disappointment of Croatia vs Portugal means that we have high hopes of Spain and Italy putting on a proper display. After all, this is a repeat of the final in 2012. Also, both teams provide plenty of intrigue, having produced the two most impressive performances of the group stage against Belgium and Turkey, yet both lost their last match. The valid question is whether those defeats were blips, or indicative of a team that has weaknesses that will be exploited against elite opposition?

Thing to look out for?
Alvaro Morata’s ability to cause Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini problems. Romelu Lukaku failed to ruffle the greatest central defenders in the competition in Italy’s first game, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic hardly laid a finger on either. Chiellini was rested for the game against Ireland, but will come back to form part of Italy’s magnificent back four of Buffon, Chiellini, Bonucci and Barzagli. Morata may have scored twice against Turkey, but this will be a sterner test of his movement and close control, and the ability of Nolito to support him from a wide left position.

Which player to watch?
Andres Iniesta, because time spent focusing on anyone else would be foolish. Now 32, it is not outside the realms of possibility that this could be the last time we see Iniesta in a major tournament. By the start of World Cup 2018, Iniesta will be the same age as Xavi when he retired from international football, and will be acutely aware of the sad manner in which the great man left the international stage, dropped after the shambolic defeat to Netherlands. So, to paraphrase Martin Tyler, watch him, drink him in.

What will happen?
Spain will have all the ball and the territory, with Italy happy to defend for long periods and hit their opponents on the counter. Yet there is an art to Italy’s defending that makes it absorbing, and Spain will be so, so much more inventive and probing than Croatia or Portugal, I promise. An early Spain goal, like David Silva’s in the 2012 final, will open the game up significantly.

 

England vs Iceland

When is it?
Monday 8pm

Why so interesting?
I’ll assume this is some sort of joke question (Ed – You wrote it, pal). England is need of a pick-me-up, an escapism from the rigours of a fractured and uncertain cultural and political landscape. We need our football team, even if only for two hours, to make us feel good again. We need not just a victory, but a performance. We need some hope of beating France in the quarter-finals. We need some hope full stop.

Thing to look out for?
The consistent message is that England will turn up to give someone a pumping soon, with even the mild-mannered Roy Hodgson imploring that “someone will pay” for this England dominance in the near future. The counter to that argument is that England’s high number of shots has stemmed principally not from dominance but an inability to break teams down, thus shooting from distance. Hodgson must find a way to break down an Iceland team that will use Slovakia’s performance as a blueprint and take advantage of our defensive uncertainty from crosses into the box. It is up to England to make clearer chances, and take them.

Which player to watch?
The rumours are that Harry Kane will start in favour of Jamie Vardy, with Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling on either side in a 4-3-3 formation. That makes this a monumental game for Kane, who simply has to become more involved in play than in his recent England starts. Having Sturridge close to him may help, but Kane must be more effective at holding up the ball and then moving into dangerous positions. So far, we’ve simply not seen enough.

What will happen?
All depends on the first 20 minutes. If England start as they did against Russia and Slovakia but also score early, it’s easy to predict a surge of confidence rushing through the team against what is an inferior opponent. Yet if Iceland dig in and again make things tough for England in the final third, frustration will quickly spill over. If so, this could be the end of Hodgson.

 

Daniel Storey

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