June 24, 2016
It is a tale of two vastly different brackets in the UEFA Euro 2016 knockout stage. One side is stacked with historic European soccer powers, and the other side has a mix of powers who haven’t broken through and upstart teams.
The bottom half of the bracket features teams that have won 21 major titles. It features nations with 11 World Cups and 10 European Championships. The other half of the bracket features teams with zero major titles.
That would be like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots being on one side of the playoffs and the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans being on the other side.
If you are a neutral fan, there are plenty of underdogs to root for left in the tournament.
The biggest underdog will be Iceland against England. The smallest nation to ever qualify for this tournament is the feel-good story.
Iceland’s last-second goal against Austria has thus far been one of memorable moments of the tournament. About 8 percent of the 330,000 population of Iceland has bought tickets for this event.
Just making the second round is a major accomplishment, but beating England would be even bigger. While England will be rooting for the Three Lions, the rest of them will be backing the Ice Men.
Host nation France also plays an underdog as it takes on Ireland in the next round. The Irish beat Italy on a late goal, sending them into the second round.
Italy also sat several important players, having advanced to the next stage. Ireland’s win over Italy reminded fans of their upset win over the Azzurri in the 1994 World Cup.
Last time these two teams played in a non-friendly saw France advance to the World Cup after a handball goal in Dublin from Thierry Henry gave Les Bleus a 2-1 in a playoff. Ireland would love revenge on French soil.
Slovakia was the top third-place team to advance, and for their accomplishment, they get Germany. It would be a great win for Slovakia to beat World Champion Germany. Both teams have struggled at times, but the Germans are the stronger side.
The last matchup in the bottom of the bracket is between two soccer heavyweights. Italy against Spain will be like getting a championship game-caliber match in the second round. These two teams have met 34 previous times with both sides earning 10 wins and 14 draws. One team will get the upper hand after this match.
One underdog is going to advance. That is because Northern Ireland plays Wales in the second round.
Gareth Bale provides Wales with the star power, but Northern Ireland has defended well and advanced as a third-place team with 1-0 losses to Poland and Germany. Wales won a group that also included England, Russia and Slovakia.
Croatia against Portugal is an interesting match in the second round. Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo has more shots than the eight countries in this tournament. Croatia shocked Spain in the final game of group play, winning the group.
The Croatian fans have behaved badly as well with their antics. It cost them a win over the Czech Republic when they threw flares on the pitch. Will they be well-behaved against Portugal?
Don’t expect a ton of scoring between Poland and Switzerland. Both teams combined to score just four goals during group play. The Swiss goals have come off corner kicks, and Poland didn’t allow a goal. Betting experts have the Polish as the favorites. Both teams reached the knockout stage in the Euros for the first time.
Hungary and Belgium could get an exciting game. Belgium was one of the favorites in the tournament and is looking to have a breakthrough in a major tournament. Hungary surprisingly won their group, which Portugal was favored to win.
A Hungarian win over Belgium would be shocking. Which team will show up for the team: the one that got smacked around by Italy in a 2-0 loss or the one that smacked around Ireland in a 3-0 win? Hungry is tied with Wales for most goals scored with six, but the Hungarians have also given up four goals.
No matter what, stay until any close games end. There have been 30 goals scored past the 60-minute mark in this tournament.
Hopefully, the late game excitement carries over in the knockout stage.