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It’s almost the final group matchday at the Euros. Who’s looking good for the knockouts?

This UEFA European Championship is turning into some tournament, and it’s absolutely flying by. Already, each of the teams has been through two games and now faces their final task before the 24 teams are reduced to 16 for the knockout stages.

Matchday two saw some big surprises and plenty of drama that puts each and every group in a very interesting position – only one group has a winner already decided, and top spot is up for grabs in the other five!

So, without further ado, let’s break down where each group stands as we head into matchday three.

 

Group A – Italians tournament favourites?

After the opening game against Turkey, many commented that Italy look like tournament favourites. It seems an unusual thing to be saying just years after they failed to qualify for a World Cup in what was dubbed the greatest embarrassment in Italian footballing history, but it suddenly seems very feasible that Italy could be on their way to a serious challenge to be European champions.

The Italians have already secured progress to the Round of 16 after another crushing victory, 3-0 over Switzerland. They will do battle with a rather impressive Wales side for top spot in the group.

Italy never looked threatened, even against a side with the sort of quality that Switzerland has. They play a fast and aggressive brand of football, and they look unbreakable defensively. Any doubts about the aging Italian back four have been put to rest. However, the defence is where Italy’s major concern lies going into the next few games, as captain and talisman Giorgio Chiellini left the pitch early with hamstring concerns during the game against the Swiss.

Their opponents for the final group stage match are a Welsh side that look like they are finding their stride in this tournament after a 2-0 win over Turkey in front of a hostile crowd in Baku. Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey were stellar creative players going forward in a performance that shows Wales have the credentials for another foray into the knockout stage. Italy vs Wales will be a game to watch.

Predictions: Italy will top the group with a much narrower win over Wales, who will advance in second place. Switzerland will rebound against a dejected Turkey side to grab third place and hopefully win by enough to advance.

 

Group B – Belgium dominant, fingers crossed for Denmark

It’s the outcome that nobody wanted, but it seems that Christian Eriksen’s collapse in the opening game against Finland may be responsible for an early exit from the Euros for the Danish. Denmark’s 1-0 loss to Finland under terrible circumstances was compounded by a 2-1 loss to a very impressive Belgium in Copenhagen.

To be fair, Denmark played with an immense amount of spirit, scoring within 2 minutes to put themselves ahead. The tears in Yussuf Poulsen’s eyes after netting a wonderful team goal to a thunderous roar from the home crowd in Copenhagen… it was a beautiful moment. However, this Belgian side is an entirely different prospect to any other in this group.

After feeling their way into the match and bringing arguably the best midfielder in the world, Kevin De Bruyne, onto the pitch, the Belgians found their rhythm and looked much the better side, scoring two wonderful goals to snatch victory. It leaves Belgium already assured of progression and battling Finland for top spot, while Denmark are in desperate need of an impressive result against Russia to have any hope of sneaking through.

In the other game in St Petersburg, Finland battled hard, but couldn’t repeat their upset against Russia, losing 1-0 to a measured goal from Aleksei Miranchuk. It leaves the second spot in the group up for grabs for either the Finnish or the Russians, and also a very real chance for the Danish to advance as a third-placed team.

Predictions: I’m going with my heart over my head on this one. Denmark to produce a spirited win over Russia, stealing third place and advancing  – and sending Finland into the knockouts in their first major tournament.

 

Group C – Netherlands on top, fascinating battle for second

Group C is the only group to already have a winner decided, after the Netherlands secured top spot with a 2-0 win over Austria. However, if you ask this football fan, Oranje have a big wake-up call awaiting them in the knockout stages, which they will begin in Budapest after their now-irrelevant final clash against North Macedonia.

The Dutch have looked far from their best in their two wins so far, lacking defensive shape against Ukraine and almost letting them steal the points before looking toothless against Austria in their second game. While Austria never looked like winning, it was in doubt for some time that the Dutch would have enough going forward to put the game to bed. They will suffer against stronger defences.

But, with the Dutch already confirmed, it’s now the game between Ukraine and Austria that becomes the centre of attention, as two sides that have proven impressive so far do battle for the second place in the knockouts. Ukraine didn’t quite carry their form from the Netherlands game into their 2-1 win over North Macedonia, but still got the three points, and I fancy them, with Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk looking to be in stellar form.

North Macedonia, meanwhile, put in another performance that will make their country proud against Ukraine, managing yet another goal in their debut tournament after unfortunately letting in two to the firing Yarmolenko and Yaremchuk.

Predictions: The Netherlands will rest players and still wipe the floor with North Macedonia. But that game is irrelevant anyway. I’m predicting Ukraine to go through with a win and Austria to be praying in third place.

 

Group D – It’s not coming home

Well, well, well. As an Aussie sports fan, I love giving it to the Poms. And I have been looking forward to writing this paragraph since this week’s game for the Three Lions. England looked sluggish, toothless and frankly boring in their goalless draw with fierce rivals Scotland.

English fans have been talking up their chances all summer, and on paper, they’re not wrong to be excited. But something about Gareth Southgate’s side is yet to click. We were willing to let them off the hook after a lucky 1-0 win over Croatia, but failing to beat Scotland confirms that there’s a long way to go before the European Championship is “coming home”.

All English eyes now turn to the Czech Republic, who are absolutely firing on all cylinders, riding on the impressive form of striker Patrik Schick. It will be a crucial battle for top spot in London, as second place in the group places either team on a collision course with the winners of Group F in the Quarter Finals – either Germany, Portugal or France.

Schick was on target again, this time from the penalty spot, as the Czechs picked up another point against Croatia in Glasgow. That 1-1 draw means this group is pretty much open, with any of the four teams capable of sneaking through if results go their way on the last day.

Predictions: England will draw with the Czechs and sneak through in top spot in the group. Croatia will fully rebound with a win over the Scots, which won’t be enough to secure top two, but may give them a chance of a good third-place ranking.

 

Group E – Don’t gamble on this group

Group E is just impossible. Seriously, exactly none of the games so far have gone the way you’d expect. The big guns are looking shaky, the underdogs are firing, and any game could go any way. One thing is for sure, it’ll be interesting to see how the teams from this group match up in the knockouts against some of the giants of European football.

Spain, after dominating possession against Sweden but somehow failing to score, managed to finally put the ball in the net against Poland, but still couldn’t manage a win, as that game finished 1-1. It leaves arguably the two most fancied teams in the group as the bottom two leading into the final matchday.

Spain have looked absolutely superb on the ball, but are missing a finishing touch. A lot of that is down to their front three, including Alvaro Morata, who, despite picking up a goal against Poland, also missed a number of chances to put an end to his rotten form. Others, including Villarreal’s Gerard Moreno, have failed to make an impact for the Spanish. A header from Robert Lewandowski saw Spain fail to register their first win of the tournament yet again.

In the other game, Slovakia couldn’t back up their upset win over Poland, losing 1-0 to Sweden thanks to a penalty converted by Emil Forsberg. It’s not the ideal result for Slovakia, as their final game against Spain looks to be the most challenging on paper. After those results, the group is wide open, with just three points separating top from bottom of the group. It all hinges on the final games, and all four teams are still in with a chance.

Predictions: This one is a lot of pressure to predict. I certainly wouldn’t risk any money on it. But I’m leaning towards Sweden to get the better of Poland, and I still think Spain should have too much in the locker for Slovakia, despite their woes in the attacking third. What that means for the group table is beyond my powers of calculation, but I suspect it means Spain and Sweden will go through, with Slovakia in third and likely one of the teams to advance.

 

Group F – The Group of Death doesn’t disappoint

It seems like there’s a group at every football tournament called the “Group of Death”, but not since the Socceroos’ tragic group at the 2014 World Cup have I seen one quite like this. Group F promised so much before the tournament, featuring the reigning World champions France, reigning European champions Portugal, and supergiants Germany alongside minnows Hungary. And it hasn’t disappointed.

The clash between Germany and Portugal was the game of the tournament so far, as the Germans rebounded from their opening defeat against France to win a 4-2 thriller. It seemed like Germany might already be fighting for their European campaign when Cristiano Ronaldo put the Portuguese in front, but two own goals (yes, TWO own goals) and two wonderfully worked goals for Kai Havertz and Robin Gosens saw the Germans take a massive win on home soil that puts them in good stead going into their final game against Hungary.

Hungary, however, won’t be easybeats for the Germans. After pushing Portugal all the way in game one, Hungary pulled off a huge draw against the world champions this week in Budapest. In a first half dominated by the French, Les Bleus couldn’t find a way through, and Hungarian Attila Fiola sent the Puskas Arena into pandemonium when he scored in stoppage time just before the break. Unfortunately, Antoine Griezmann pulled one back, but the Hungarians managed to hold on for a crucial draw.

The mix and match of results in this group means it’s anyone’s game going into the final day, although Germany will definitely fancy their chances after an impressive win over Portugal and with underdogs Hungary on the final day. France vs Portugal is set to be one of the biggest games of the tournament, and it could well play a crucial role in deciding who goes through and whether a giant nation could spectacularly fail to make it past the group stage.

Predictions: I’ll be real with you. Buggered if I know. Both France and Portugal have shown strengths and weaknesses in their two games, and neither is playing their best – but neither is playing badly either. Whoever wins that game has to be a team to watch. I do think Germany will beat Hungary, narrowly, and that should send them through and Hungary out. Sorry, Hungary.

 

Matchday two results

Group A:
Turkey 0, Wales 2 (Ramsey 42′, Roberts 90+5′).
Italy 3 (Locatelli 26′ 52′, Immobile 89′), Switzerland 0.

Group B:
Finland 0, Russia 1 (Miranchuk 45+2′).
Denmark 1 (Poulsen 2′), Belgium 2 (T. Hazard 54′, De Bruyne 70′).

Group C:
Ukraine 2 (Yarmolenko 29′, Yaremchuk 34′), North Macedonia 1 (Alioski 57′).
Netherlands 2 (Depay 11′, Dumfries 67′), Austria 0.

Group D:
Croatia 1 (Perisic 47′), Czech Republic 1 (Schick 37′).
England 0, Scotland 0.

Group E:
Sweden 1 (Forsberg 77′), Slovakia 0.
Spain 1 (Morata 25′), Poland 1 (Lewandowski 54′).

Group F:
Hungary 1 (Fiola 45+2′), France 1 (Griezmann 66′).
Portugal 2 (Ronaldo 15′, Jota 67′), Germany 4 (Dias [og] 35′, Guerreiro [og] 39′, Havertz 51′, Gosens 60′).

 

Matchday three fixtures

Group A: (both games Monday 2am AEST)
Italy vs Wales in Rome
Switzerland vs Turkey in Baku

Group B: (both games Tuesday 5am AEST)
Russia vs Denmark in Copenhagen
Finland vs Belgium in St Petersburg

Group C: (both games Tuesday 2am AEST)
Ukraine vs Austria in Bucharest
North Macedonia vs Netherlands in Amsterdam

Group D: (both games Wednesday 5am AEST)
Croatia vs Scotland in Glasgow
Czech Republic vs England in London

Group E: (both games Thursday 2am AEST)
Sweden vs Poland in St Petersburg
Slovakia vs Spain in Seville

Group F: (both games Thursday 5am AEST)
Portugal vs France in Budapest
Germany vs Hungary in Munich

All games are live on Optus Sport.