The Jerusalem Post
Spain on the rise, but Swiss could stifle
Other Euro quarterfinals feature Belgium-vs-Italy, Czech Republic-vs-Denmark, Ukraine-vs-England
After shedding its early tournament jitters, free-scoring Spain looks ready to emulate its serial-winning predecessors, although Euro 2020 quarterfinal opponent Switzerland is exactly the type of team the Spaniards hate to face.
Spain won its first knockout tie since lifting Euro 2012 to beat Croatia 5-3 and become the top scoring side in the tournament with 11 goals after netting only once in the first two games.
There was even more excitement among Spanish fans when unfancied Switzerland stunned world champion France after coming back from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 and prevail on penalties.
Yet even though the Swiss lack world stars like France’s Antoine Griezmann, Karim Benzema or Kylian Mbappe, Spain must be prepared for a long evening finding its way through Vladimir Petkovic’s disciplined side on Friday in St. Petersburg.
After Spain’s frustrating opening draws with Sweden and Poland, coach Luis Enrique said that facing a side sitting deep and defending was “the hardest thing in football.”
Switzerland hardly has the most resilient defense after conceding eight goals in four games but Petkovic, who has been using a 3-4-1-2 formation, is likely to set his side up to deprive Spain of space in the final third.
In Friday’s other match, doubters over Italy’s chances of going all the way at Euro 2020 have pointed to its comfortable path to the quarterfinals, but that will all change against a Belgium side whose leading marksman knows the Italians all too well.
Romelu Lukaku enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career in 2020/21, voted
player of the year in Italy’s Serie A as the Belgium forward fired Inter Milan to its first top-flight title in 11 years.
Next in his sights are club teammates and players used to trying to stop him on a weekly basis in Serie A as Belgium and Italy, which have won four out of four games each at Euro 2020, go head to head in Munich in the last-eight.
Italy is on a record unbeaten run of 31 matches, last losing back in September 2018 against Portugal. However, such a run has not convinced everyone, given Roberto Mancini’s side has beaten lower-ranked opposition in Switzerland, Turkey, Wales and Austria so far.
With Lukaku in town, spearheading the attack for the world’s top-ranked team according to FIFA, Italy will have no such easy ride.
“We know Lukaku well because we also face him in Serie A,” Italy and Napoli defender Giovanni Di Lorenzo told UEFA. com. “We know he is a great striker, he had a wonderful season with Inter.
“He is to be kept under observation, but Belgium have many strong players and it will be a great match.
“The further you go, the stronger teams you face, but the approach is always the same.”
Lukaku’s 24 league goals last season for Inter represents his second-best career return for a domestic campaign, but his
chances of adding to his three Euro 2020 strikes so far could be affected by key injuries to two of his chief providers.
Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, who made the joint-second most assists in the English Premier League last season, suffered an ankle injury in Belgium’s 1-0 last-16 win over Portugal, while captain Eden Hazard limped off with a leg muscle problem.
Both could be fit for Friday’s clash, but should either not make it, facing a defense which conceded its first goal in 19 hours and 28 minutes against Austria last Saturday, Lukaku could be in for a tough afternoon.
But those resolute Azzurri defenders know from experience that he should be underestimated at their peril.
On Saturday, Denmark and the Czech Republic will both welcome back injured players for their clash in Baku after an extended rest since their last-16 victories over Wales and the Netherlands, respectively.
The Danes, who won the Euros in 1992 after a last-minute inclusion instead of Yugoslavia, are back in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2004.
The Czechs, who won in 1976 and were runners-up in 1996, made their last appearance in the quarters in 2012.
Striker Yussuf Poulsen returns after missing the Danes’ 4-0 drubbing of Wales in Amsterdam last Saturday in a game that saw his replacement Kasper Dolberg score two goals, giving coach Kasper Hjulmand a pleasant selection headache.
“I feel ready to play on Saturday, but it’s Kasper’s decision,” said Poulsen, who netted in the group stage games against Belgium and Russia.
Having missed playmaker Christian Eriksen since his cardiac arrest in their opener against Finland, Hjulmand’s other attacking players have stepped up, with Mikkel Damsgaard a revelation as the replacement for Eriksen, who is at home recovering.
The Czech Republic booked its berth in the last-eight with a 2-0 win over Netherlands on Sunday, and it too has been making the most of the days off.
Czech team captain Vladimir Darida and left-back Jan Boril trained this week after injury issues and will fly with the team to Baku. Darida missed the last-16 match against the Netherlands with an unspecified leg injury while Boril missed out due to two bookings. However, the Slavia defender also had not trained in recent days due to minor injuries.
The winners of Saturday’s tie will face a much quicker turnaround as they meet either England or Ukraine in a semifinal at Wembley on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, fans traveling from the UK to Italy for England’s duel with Ukraine on Saturday will not be allowed to enter the stadium in Rome, even if they have a ticket, due to coronavirus curbs, the Italian Embassy in London said on Thursday.
England’s victory over Germany on Tuesday set up the last-eight clash at the Stadio Olimpico, but fans looking to make the journey to Italy from the UK cannot attend the match.
“Anybody who has been in the UK in the previous 14 days, irrespective of their nationality or residency, will not be admitted to the stadium, even if they have a ticket,” a statement read.
“Only those who can prove that they have arrived in Italy at least six days previously, have observed five days of quarantine, and have taken a post-quarantine COVID-19 test with a negative result will be allowed into the Stadio Olimpico. Fans based in the UK should therefore not travel to Italy to attend the match on Saturday at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.” (Reuters) On TV: Euro 2020 quarterfinals: Friday: Switzerland vs Spain (live on Channel 13 at 7 p.m.); Belgium vs Italy (live on Channel 13 at 10 p.m.). Saturday: Czech Republic vs Denmark (live on Sport 1 at 7 p.m.); Ukraine vs England (live on Sport 1 at 10 p.m.).