Euro 2020 will not have the scope for second chances anymore. After 13 days of rigorous group stage clashes, teams are now limbering up for the round of 16. And the thrill takes centre stage tonight, with Wales going up against Denmark at the Amsterdam Arena. This will be the first time the two sides will meet at a major football tournament.
The following clash involves the invincible Italy and Austria, who’ve made it to the knockout stage for the first time in European Championship history. Under Roberto Mancini, the Azzurri are enjoying a 30-game unbeaten streak, while Austria will look to keep their Group C tempo going.
Here’s what’s in store tonight:
Wales vs Denmark (9:30pm IST)
Venue: Amsterdam Arena
Wales and Denmark have met a total of ten times on the football pitch. But this is their first ever clash at a major tournament. Both the teams finished second in their respective groups, with the Danes reaching the group stage for the first time in 17 years. Gareth Bale and company have made it to the European Championship knockouts for the second time. In their last ten meetings, the Danes have won six and Wales four times.
Euro 2020 hasn’t been easy for Denmark. Their tournament opener versus Finland was struck with a tragedy as Christian Eriksen collapsed on the field. Wales have had a mixed bag of a group stage, which comprised a win versus Turkey, a stalemate versus Switzerland and a loss against heavyweights Italy. The winner of this game will take on either Netherlands or Czech Republic in the quarters in Baku on July 3.
Manager Robert Page is already putting his money on Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Daniel James, and has already sounded out Denmark not to take the 2016 Euro semi-finalists lightly, according to BBC Sport. “It’s going to be an extremely tough game against Denmark, who are nothing short of impressive. They went toe-to-toe with Belgium for 90 minutes. But like I said to the players, they’ll have to show us respect. If I saw our team sheet as an opposing manager, I’d be very respectful of what we’ve got on paper as well,” said the Wales caretaker manager.
Denmark manager Kasper Hjulmand is not falling short on confidence either, especially after his side fought back in the final group stage match versus Russia. “The motivation, the team spirit, the friendship among the players was amazing. We played three games on a very high level and if someone deserves this it’s our players. I can’t imagine how they managed to come back from what they went through, so a big credit to the boys, and thanks a lot for the support we’ve got from the whole of Denmark,” he said.
Missing the valuable presence of Christian Eriksen, he said, “I’m thinking a lot about Christian and how much I have hoped that he could experience this. He has been looking forward to this summer so much, it’s a big, big dream for Christian, and just to know that he’s not here hurts.”
Players to watch out for:
With the way Aaron Ramsey is going in the tournament, one wouldn’t be surprised if he ups the ante against the Danes. Gareth Bale should also put his best foot forward. Denmark will majorly rely on Mikkel Damsgaard, who is reportedly on Barcelona's radar, and Yussuf Poulsen for the goals.
Italy vs Austria (12:30 am IST, Sunday)
Venue: Wembley Stadium
Italy's unbeaten streak won't last forever, and Austria coach Franco Foda is plotting to be the one to stop it. The Italians have become one of the favorites at the European Championship after winning all three of their games in the group stage, scoring seven goals and conceding none. Those three victories at Euro 2020 extended the team's unbeaten streak under coach Roberto Mancini to 30 games, matching the previous record set in the 1930s.
“Initially it seemed to be an insurmountable and impossible challenge for us, because they haven't lost for an eternity,” Foda said. “But sooner or later even Mancini's team will lose.” Austria, who have reached the round of 16 at the tournament for the first time, will get their chance on Saturday at Wembley Stadium.
Besides the unbeaten streak, Italy will also be trying to set another record. They have not conceded a goal in 11 matches, a total of 1,055 minutes. If Austria fail to score, Italy will surpass the record of 1,143 minutes set between 1972 and 1974.
For a team that failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Italy's recent results are quite remarkable. “It's something that makes us proud, especially considering what they thought of us before the tournament started,” Italy forward Lorenzo Insigne said. “But we have to stay focused, calm and think about ourselves. We haven't done anything yet. Our objective is to go all the way, it wasn't just to get through the group stage.”
The 30-year-old Insigne embodies Italy’s transformation under Mancini. The previous coach, Gian Piero Ventura, lost the squad’s support during a World Cup playoff loss to Sweden when he left Insigne considered the team’s most talented player on the bench. Insigne has formed a strong partnership with Ciro Immobile, who has finally been able to translate his scoring success in Serie A to the international stage. “It's the first time that I've played in such an important event at this level, in such an important role,” Insigne said.
Insigne already has experience scoring at Wembley, in a 1-1 draw against England in a friendly in 2018. “It was only a friendly but it was incredible,” Insigne said. “I think it’s everyone's dream to score in such a stadium. We will try to go to London and give a great performance, as we have always done until now. Our strength is that we don't change our nature ever. Austria run a lot and create pressure, we'll study our opponents but we will prepare for the match thinking about what we have to do.”
Italy are playing with such spirit that the buzzword among the Azzurri players is fairytale.
Players to watch out for:
For Italy, Ciro Immobile has scored two goals till now, and will be the Azzurri’s best bet up front. The return of Marco Verratti will also give them a spring in their step. Austria will again rely heavily on Marko Arnautovic for the goals, and captain David Alaba to keep the Italian attack at bay.