The knock-out stages of Euro 2016 kick off on Saturday and what a few days we’ve got in store, both as an England fan and a neutral.
Granit Xhaka’s Switzerland kick it off against Robert Lewandowski’s Poland in a game where the Poles are favourites but the Swiss should not be underestimated.
That’s swiftly followed by a huge home nations clash between Wales and Northern Ireland. Michael O’Neill’s men have already performed miracles to reach this part of the tournament but Gareth Bale and Wales stand in between them and what would be a dream spot in the quarter-final.
Then Croatia play against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in a game which is sure to be hotly contested given that both teams are even and, who knows, there may well be penalties on the cards. Of course, Ronaldo has already missed one in this tournament so far and if one of the world’s best players can miss one it does beg the question – how do you win a penalty shoot-out?
All eyes on Monday will be on Spain against Italy before England face off against Iceland and from Manchester United’s perspective we’ll all be watching David de Gea in goal. We all remember his penalty save at Old Trafford from Leighton Baines in what was one of his best performances in a Man United shirt but will he able to hold his nerve on the biggest stage of all if a shoot-out comes around?
Thankfully, the guys over at Betway have made a cracking video which Roy Hodgson can easily implement at the end of an England training session. We’d be sure to win one then, right?
Penalties. It’s the stuff of nightmares as far as England fans go and heading into the knock-out rounds it’s a possibility which looms large once again. Southgate, Batty, Waddle; they all bring back bad memories and while Hodgson’s men might be practicing you’ll be hard struck to find any England fan who’d be confident of winning a shoot-out if one came around.
So far, this tournament hasn’t exactly been a shining example for penalties (unless you’re Romanian of course, then it’s two out of two in the opening two games). Ronaldo, Ramos and Dragovic have all missed spot-kicks and while that might not have had a catastrophic impact on those games themselves, it all changes when the knock-outs come around.
I’m already getting squeaky bum time thinking about Jamie Vardy stepping up for a crunch penalty but it’s what tournament football is all about – the highs and the lows, it’s just that England’s been on the wrong side of that fence for too often when it comes to penalty shoot-outs. Hopefully this year will be different if we find ourselves in one, we can only hope.
Euro 2016 was really kicked into life by Iceland’s dramatic win over Austria in the final minute to finish second to play England and Portugal’s blockbuster 3-3 draw with Hungary, both of which set everything up nicely for the beginning of the knock-outs.
So, while there is so much uncertainty surrounding these games, one thing is for sure – if we do get a penalty shoot-out, every team will be looking to find their inner Czechslovakia and bury every penalty to replicate their success back in 1976.