Spain and France to prevail in the heavyweight quarterfinals?

Euro 2024 Quarterfinal (Image: Euro 2024)

The quarterfinals at Euro 2024 kick off with two contests on Friday that would have been worthy of the final itself. Spain and Germany have won the tournament thrice apiece – a record – and are the two highest-scoring teams in the competition. In the second game, unbeaten but listless France take on a Portuguese side that have looked formidable in patches, even as the mulish insistence on starting Cristiano Ronaldo hurts their chances. RevSportz looks ahead to both games.

Kroos and Gundogan must wrest control from the Spanish Armada

This is a match-up that would have been worthy of a final, which is what it was back in 2008, when Fernando Torres’ dinked goal gave Spain their first European title in 44 years. Since then, both sides have won a World Cup apiece, while Spain backed up that Euro 2008 victory with an encore in Poland and the Ukraine four years later. 

The last decade has been a lean one for both, though Spain’s crushing 6-0 win in a Nations League game in November 2020 suggested that Germany’s problems ran far deeper. So it proved too, when Hansi Flick, who had led Bayern Munich to Champions League glory in 2020, became the first German coach to be sacked after his team were embarrassingly outplayed by a vibrant Japan side.

Julian Nagelsmann also started his tenure poorly, but the upturn in results recently has seen genuine optimism ahead of a daunting quarterfinal against the competition’s form team. Spain’s attackers have earned rave reviews, but in the likes of Jamal Musiala, Florian Wirtz and Leroy Sane, Germany have high-calibre weapons of their own.

Perhaps, the biggest transformation for Germany has come from Toni Kroos’s decision to reverse his international retirement for one last fling with Die Mannschaft. Kroos, who won five Champions Leagues with Real Madrid to add to the one he earned at Bayern, controlled the tempo of a game like few others can. So far, Rodri and Fabian Ruiz have utterly eclipsed whoever they have come up against in midfield. Kroos and Ilkay Gundogan, Rodri’s old teammate at Manchester City, could be a very different proposition.

Musiala has three goals in four matches, but his brilliance on the left flank has been matched by Spain’s Nico Williams, who is even more intimidating once he starts running at defenders. On the opposite flank, Lamine Yamal has belied his (16) years with performances of great maturity and class.

In goal, Manuel Neuer has pulled off some top-class saves, while Unai Simon has generally been far less busy. Spain start favourites, but it really is too close to call. “It speaks for both teams when you say we are the best teams in the tournament,” said Gundogan on the eve of the match. “That is why the excitement is so high.”


Prediction: Spain 2 Germany 1

Can Mbappe and France turn it on against Ronaldo-obsessed Portugal?

France have limped into the quarterfinals on the back of some extremely insipid performances. They were better against Belgium, with Aurilien Tchouameni catching the eye in midfield, but the moves often floundered in the final third. Kylian Mbappe, face mask and all, has yet to set the tournament alight, while the likes of Marcus Thuram and Ousmane Dembele have been frustratingly toothless in front of goal. Didier Deschamps is unlikely to start Warren Zaire-Emery or Bradley Barcola in a knockout game, so the onus is very much on Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann to come up with some magic.

Not too much should be made of Portugal’s group-stage defeat to Georgia – Roberto Martinez did make 10 changes, after all – but what is concerning is the coach’s insistence on starting with Cristiano Ronaldo when he has a wealth of sharper attacking options sitting on the bench. Even mainstream media outlets like The Guardian in the UK have started trolling Ronaldo and the free kicks that inevitably sail into Row Z, while the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva look on.

Ronaldo adds nothing to the team in terms of pace and movement, and it would be fascinating to see how effective Portugal would be if he was replaced by Diogo Jota with Silva and Rafael Leao cutting in off the flanks. Martinez will not make that change though, and Jota, Joao Felix, Pedro Neto and Goncalo Ramos will stay on the bench waiting to make a second-half impact. Against a defence as robust as the one the French have, chances will be at a premium. By continuing to repose faith in a player years past his best, Martinez could end up sabotaging Portuguese hopes of a second Euro crown.

Historically, this match-up has produced some classics, notably France’s semi-final wins at Euro 1984 (3-2 after extra time) and Euro 2000 (2-1, settled by Zinedine Zidane’s 117th-minute penalty). Will France be able to lift their games to those levels, or will a Portuguese side that looks to have each base covered finally see Ronaldo open his account at the tournament?

Prediction: France 3 Portugal 1