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Thursday, 30 June 2016

Euro 2016 Quarter Final Picks (June 30-July 3)

Euro 2016 Quarter Final Picks
That image above sums up the England performance at the Euro 2016 Finals where they return home having won one of four matches and being defeated by Iceland in the Second Round.

How many would have picked England to be beaten by Iceland?

I'd hazard a guess at not many outside of that nation and it is easily the most disappointing defeat England have suffered in my lifetime. I can't argue with the suggestion it is the worst result in a major international tournament for England since beating beaten by the part-timers of the United States in the 1950 World Cup and once again they return home from a major international tournament with plenty more questions than answers.

Roy Hodgson had to go- he simply didn't have the guts to follow through with his convictions in terms of system or personnel and ultimately he has to take the blame for the failure at the World Cup in Brazil and now these European Championships in France. A manager to have the guts to tell the media where to go and not have them dictate the squad or starting eleven is the first thing England need, while it would also be wise of them to perhaps go into a tournament not believing their own hype, but be willing to work hard as a unit to grind their way to positive results.

While the Hodgson departure was inevitable, I think Wayne Rooney should be next in line to accept that international football has now passed him by. I can't imagine he will do that, but he was shoehorned into a spot in the starting eleven because he can no longer lead the line effectively and has lost the pace to be played in one of the wide positions in a front three.

His midfield performance against Iceland was embarrassing and came perhaps a step earlier than even I had called for. I have been very clear that Rooney is not a midfielder because his passing is vastly over-rated, his positioning is poor and he again doesn't really have the pace to challenge the best players in those positions, although those issues were exposed by anything but 'World Class' players.

It might also be time for the likes of Gary Cahill to move on from international football while Joe Hart should be dropped in favour of Jack Butland in time for the World Cup Qualifiers.

Hart is another player I have heavily criticised for being over-rated by the media for some time. How anyone thinks Hart is a better goalkeeper than David De Gea is beyond me and I think any pundit or journalist who makes that suggestion again should be banned from speaking about football again.

In fact he probably won't be Pep Guardiola's chose Number 1 soon enough and Hart might find a more acceptable level lower down the English Premier League and Jack Butland certainly looks a much better goalkeeper.

So who will England turn to to guide them to the next World Cup in Russia? The suggestion has been Arsene Wenger by the media, but I think England would do worse than to pick a manager like Sam Allardyce who has shown he can motivate players to perform above their abilities and is someone who isn't afraid to set his teams up in the manner he wants even if that upsets his fans.

He looks a manager who will believe in what he wants to do and I think it is definitely something England should be looking for in their next manager.

Iceland might not have received the plaudits they deserved, but it has to be said they are fully worthy of their place in the last eight. The stand out tie of the Quarter Finals looks to be the one between Germany and Italy on Saturday, while France might feel they have the best draw as they face Iceland on Sunday.

Portugal and Belgium are favourites to meet in the other Semi Final, but both Poland and Wales will feel they can upset the odds and the next four days will be very intriguing.

Thursday 30th June
Poland v Portugal PickYou have to think both Poland and Portugal are looking at this as being a big opportunity to get into the Semi Final of Euro 2016 with both likely to be fancying their chances of beating the other. Will that mean we get a tight game between two teams who are scared to make a mistake which will cost them, or will both teams take the game to the other in a bid to move through to what would be a winnable Semi Final regardless of whether it is Wales or Belgium in their way.

There is also a fatigue issue in play which may help contribute to how these teams can play this game. Both Poland and Portugal played 120 minutes in their wins on Saturday and Poland also had to battle through the mental baggage of a penalty shoot out and both physical and mental fatigue could be an issue making it harder to play a conservative style of play.

I have been impressed with Poland in the tournament, although disappointed with the lack of composure in front of goal. This looks a team that will create chances, but they have only scored three goals in their four games despite the opportunities that they have fashioned in all four games.

And I do have to say that Switzerland had Poland on the back foot for the second half and extra time and I am wondering if this team might have left something out on the field in that game. They might create some problems for Portugal, but I also expect the latter to be a lot better than they were for much of the game against Croatia.

Portugal have been a hard team to really get a feel for- they have looked very good at times and created chances that have been wasted, while also being a little hit and miss when it comes to the defensive shape they produce. Against Croatia they looked very solid, but this is a team that somehow conceded three times against Hungary even if those goals conceded were all a touch fortuitous.

The teams have had ample time to rest since their Saturday Second Round clashes which should help restore some energy, but both also had to be at their best mentally which can take its toll. I have a feeling we will see goals in this game as both defences have shown strength but also have allowed chances to be created and both have an attacking figure in Robert Lewandowski and Cristiano Ronaldo who have proven they can score goals at every level.

Out of the two teams, I do think Portugal are the slightly stronger even if they have yet to show that in this tournament. I wouldn't be surprised if this is one of the Quarter Finals that does produce a few goals, but my gut feeling is that Poland might not have the same energy levels that Portugal could potentially call upon going into this Quarter Final. Portugal also have the better tournament experience and that can't be underestimated at this stage of an event and I will back Cristiano Ronaldo's nation to get through in ninety minutes.

Friday 1st July
Wales v Belgium PickThe familiarity that Chris Coleman and his Wales team have with a talented Belgium team would have given them an edge in knowing what to expect in this Quarter Final regardless. But the fact that Wales took four points out of six and kept two clean sheets against Belgium during the Euro 2016 Qualifiers has to only make the Welsh team believe they have every chance of moving into the Semi Final here and becoming the most successful national team in their history.

These teams have met four times in the last couple of Qualifying campaigns and the only times Wales were beaten was when they had James Collins sent off early in a game. That was the first of the four matches and the red card after 26 minutes came with the game poised at 0-0 and it took a late goal from Belgium to really wrap up the 0-2 win on that day.

Draws in back to back games before a Gareth Bale goal helped Wales beat Belgium in their home Qualifier should mean Wales go into this Quarter Final without any intimidation factor of a 'golden generation' for Belgium.

That despite Belgium producing a really strong performance in their 4-0 win over Hungary in the Second Round. Coming off a 3-0 win over the Republic of Ireland and a 1-0 win over Sweden has added to the belief that Belgium can win this tournament and turn potential into actual success.

However they will need to be careful as Belgium missed a few opportunities against Hungary while at 1-0 up and their opponents created a few really good chances to score goals. This time they face a team with Gareth Bale in their starting line up who is unlikely to pass up on the chances that Hungary did and my feeling is that this will be different to when they met in the Qualifiers.

Both of those games were tight affairs but the hard work being put in over the last few weeks has come in a short span of time and we have seen some spaces opening up in defence. Belgium certainly will produce chances, but also look a little suspect at the back, while Wales were not rock solid against Northern Ireland and conceded in their first two games against Slovakia and England.

I do think Chris Coleman will want his team to contain Belgium by making them play in front of the defence, but both Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard looked in sparkling form. Wales will offer a threat going forward, but they have to be better than they were in the win over Northern Ireland and I think this is an intriguing Quarter Final that both teams will think they can win.

Picking a winner looks like a far from easy task- I can make a real case for both teams, but my feeling is leaning towards Belgium to finally get the better of Wales after recent failures against them. However I have more of a feeling that we will see goals between these teams considering how well they have performed in attacking spots, but also the chances teams have created against them.

With Bale, Hazard, De Bruyne on the field, I have to think chances will be created and backing at least three goals to be shared out is my overriding feeling.

Saturday 2nd July
Germany v Italy PickAll of the talk prior to this game is whether Germany can break the curse and finally beat Italy in a tournament match. It is a strange statistic considering how successful Germany have been, but Italy seem to hold the mental cards and will know they have won the last two Semi Final matches these nations have competed in in 2006 and 2012.

If you look a little further, Italy also beat Germany (well West Germany) in the 1970 World Cup Semi Final and the 1982 World Cup Final, but these past results are mainly irrelevant.

The 2012 European Championship Semi Final defeat is the bigger mental obstacle for this German team to overcome. Seven of their starting eleven at this tournament also played in that match, while Thomas Muller came on as a substitute and Germany will have a lot of respect for this Italy team who have exceeded expectations significantly to this point.

Even the 4-1 Germany win in March won't have much of a bearing on the Italian team knowing half of their vaunted Juventus defence were missing. It is that Juventus defence which has helped Italy be so successful at this tournament so far, but that would also be harsh on the speed in which they have attacked teams and caused plenty of problems.

Italy will need to bring in a little more composure in front of goal as they allowed Spain to stick around in the Second Round thanks to some decent goalkeeping from David De Gea. It doesn't get easier when you face Manuel Neuer but Italy will feel they can give this Germany defence more problems than most of the teams they have faced so far in Euro 2016.

I also think this is the best attack that the Italians have faced with Joachim Low ditching the 'false nine' system and using Mario Gomez as his number nine. That allows the midfielders to make more runs off a front man, while also giving the Germany attack another avenue in which to try and break down Italy and Gomez has responded with two goals in two games.

I am really looking forward to this match which looks likely to be one of the best in Euro 2016 between two teams in form. Germany's lack of success against Italy when it matters is a concern, but they are the World Champions and I can see an attacking game with both teams having their chances.

Neither has conceded in Euro 2016 but I believe they are facing the best opponents they have to this point and I think there will be chances. In the 2012 Semi Final the same four Juventus players that have formed the impenetrable defence kept Germany out until the 90th minute while defending a 0-2 lead and I think both teams are going to concede their first goal at the tournament here.

There have been at least three goals in three of the four games in Bordeaux (two in the other) and both Germany and Italy have shown enough in front of goal to think they can match that. My lean is towards Italy finding another way to get past another one of the favourites for the tournament, but I will simply look for this game to produce the goods and the goals.

Sunday 3rd July
France v Iceland PickHistorically France have been far too strong for Iceland but those holding to history will not be giving the latter the respect they now deserve. Coming out of a weak Group was one thing, but Iceland showed resolve and determination to come from a goal down to beat England in the Second Round, although there is no doubting this is a significant step up.

That is not to say that Iceland won't fancy their chances against a French backline that has looked a little vulnerable at set pieces, an area Iceland will look to exploit with their long throw ins too. Adil Rami is suspended so France are down another centre half which will mean they have to be fully focused if they don't want to be the latest nation to be surprised by 'little' Iceland.

Truth be told, I think anything other than a France win will be a big surprise especially with home advantage and Iceland will look to play their part in this Quarter Final. I would have been interested to see how Iceland would have reacted to going behind as early as they did against England if they hadn't equalised within seconds of the restart, and France look to be rounding into form.

Unlike England, France also have enough creative talent and players capable of producing a moment of magic to turn this game in their favour if they need to unlock this Iceland rearguard. England might not have threatened them, but all three of Iceland's Group opponents created enough chances to win their game against them and France are not likely to be as generous in front of goal as those teams.

You have to respect Iceland for the unity and trust they have in one another and I do think they can create some very awkward moments for France, especially in defence. However I think France will succeed where England failed and set up a huge Semi Final, regardless of who they face, for next Thursday.

After getting in front, I see France perhaps putting this game away late on in a manner they should have done against the Republic of Ireland so I will back them on the Asian Handicap.

MY PICKS: Portugal @ 2.40 Coral (2 Units)
Wales-Belgium Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.50 William Hill (2 Units)
Germany-Italy Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.75 Paddy Power (2 Units)
France - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)

Quarter Final Update: 2-2, + 1.10 Unit
Second Round Final: 3-3-2, + 1.80 Units
Group Stage Final: 16-21, - 5.30 Units

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