After a group stage of plenty of thrills and spills, the knockout matches at Euro 2020 begin from Saturday with Denmark taking on Wales first up, followed by red-hot Italy taking on Australia.
Here’s a preview of the two ties and everything you need to know about the match-ups:
Match 1: Denmark vs Wales
Gareth Bale and Wales may have been the neutrals’ favourites during their rousing run to the semi-finals of the last European Championship, but as they prepare to face Denmark in the last 16 at Euro 2020 in Amsterdam on Saturday the goodwill is likely to all be for their opponents.
The Danes managed to qualify for the knockout phase in second place in their group despite the enormous emotional impact of Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest during their opening game against Finland in Copenhagen.
After the trauma of seeing their star player require CPR on the pitch, Kasper Hjulmand’s team lost 1-0 to their Nordic neighbours and then went down 2-1 to Belgium, but a thrilling 4-1 win over Russia was enough for them to advance.
And so they come to the Netherlands with the aim of winning a knockout tie at the European Championship for the first time since they stunned the continent to win the trophy itself in 1992, defeating Germany in the final in Gothenburg having famously only qualified because war-torn Yugoslavia disintegrated.
Saturday marks exactly 29 years since that game, and this time the Danes, now ranked as the 10th-best side in the world, should be favourites against Wales as they look to go as far as possible for Eriksen, who spent six days in hospital after his collapse, undergoing surgery to have a defibrillator implanted.
Hjulmand hoped the strong links between Ajax and Danish football would give his team an extra advantage against Wales while Gareth Bale is blocking out Denmark’s new status as neutrals’ favourites.
Three players in the current Denmark squad have honed their craft with the Dutch giants, most notably Eriksen who joined as a 16-year-old in 2008 before leaving for Tottenham Hotspur five years later.
Who’s saying what
Gareth Bale, Wales captain:
“We understand the situation that happened with them, we’ve sent all our best wishes to Christian and what a great job the Denmark team did with that. I didn’t know that (the support now for Denmark from around the world) until someone said just now, I’m not on social media.
“We’ve been in situations where teams are favourites or have more support, against Turkey (in Baku) they had 18,000 in the stadium so it makes no difference. When it comes to kick-off it is just us players on the pitch.”
Kasper Hjulmand, Denmark Coach:
“We’re here at the Johan Cruyff Arena and if there’s a club that means something for Danish football and has meant something for Denmark, it’s Ajax.
“They’ve been developing and improving Danish players so of course there is a huge connection between Ajax and Denmark.
“The philosophy they have behind football is something I respect a lot. We can feel a lot of support. We know a lot of people have come to Amsterdam to support us, and all that support and love we received is something we will try and channel into a good performance.”
Wales vs Denmark H2H
Stats and trivia
- Wales and Denmark go head to head at a major tournament for the first time as they meet at the Johan Cruijff ArenA in Amsterdam.
- While Wales have extended their second EURO finals campaign in a row, and overall, into the knockout stages, Denmark have progressed beyond the group stage for the first time in 17 years.
- Both sides finished second in their section on goal difference, Wales taking the runners-up spot in Group A on four points behind Italy while Denmark became the first team ever to reach the EURO knockout stages after losing their first two games thanks to a memorable Matchday 3 win against Russia that secured Group B’s runners-up spot behind Belgium.
- The winners of this tie will take on the Netherlands or the Czech Republic in the quarter-finals in Baku on 3 July.
- All ten of the teams’ previous fixtures have produced a winner, Denmark recording six victories and Wales four.
- Denmark won the two most recent, beating Wales twice in the UEFA Nations League in autumn 2018. Christian Eriksen scored both goals in a 2-0 win in Aarhus on 9 September before Nicolai Jørgensen (42) and Martin Braithwaite (88) – with his first competitive international goal – found the net in Cardiff on 16 November, Gareth Bale’s 89th-minute strike coming too late for Wales.
- Their only other meeting this century was a Brøndby friendly in November 2008, Craig Bellamy scoring the only goal to give Wales their only win in the last four fixtures between the teams
- The countries have crossed paths in four UEFA European Championship qualifying matches, each winning 1-0 at home in the 1988 preliminaries – although it was the Danes who went on to reach the finals in West Germany – before two away wins were recorded in the run-up to UEFA EURO 2000. Wales triumphed 2-1 in Copenhagen in October 1998, with another Bellamy winner, but lost 2-0 in Liverpool the following June, the Danes finishing second behind group winners Italy and again going on to the final tournament, on that occasion via the play-offs.
Match 2: Italy vs Austria
Marco Verratti’s return from injury has given new impetus to an Italy side looking increasingly like title contenders at Euro 2020. The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder returned after a six-week knee injury layoff to help the Azzurri make it three wins out of three in the group stage against Wales last weekend.
Next up for Italy is a last-16 game against Austria in Wembley on Saturday.
It was a free-kick from Verratti, known as the ‘Little owl’, that set up Matteo Pessina for the only goal against Wales. The 28-year-old took the captain’s armband when defender Leonardo Bonucci was substituted in the second half, with regular skipper Giorgio Chiellini sitting out the game with a muscular problem.
A delighted Roberto Mancini hugged Verratti as he left the pitch at the Stadio Olimpico, having surpassed expectations by playing the entire match in midfield alongside Jorginho.
Verratti and Jorginho are Mancini’s first-choice midfield pairing, and having the duo in the driving seat again is a boost to Italy’s hopes of lifting a trophy they have won once, back in 1968.
Both are experienced on the European stage, with Verratti a runner-up in the 2020 Champions League with PSG, while Brazil-born Jorginho, 29, lifted the trophy with Chelsea last month.
Mancini took over after Italy’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
And they have lost just twice in 35 games under the former Manchester City manager – with 26 wins and seven draws.
Verratti and Jorginho were absent in both those defeats – by France in a friendly in June 2018 before they won the World Cup, and European champions Portugal in the Nations League the following September.
Since then they are unbeaten and a 31st game without defeat against Austria would see Mancini’s men overtake two-time World Cup winning coach Vittoro Pozzo’s side’s all-time Italian record in the 1930s, which was matched against Wales.
A 12th straight win would match the run of the team under Ferruccio Valcareggi, who led Italy to their only European title in 1968, and a runners-up spot in the World Cup two years later.
The last goal scored against Italy was in October 2020 against the Netherlands.
Austria coach Franco Foda said Friday that despite being “underdogs” his side were hopeful of making history with a win against Italy in their Euro 2020 last 16 clash at Wembley.
Austria advanced from the opening round at a major tournament for the first time since the 1982 World Cup, reaching the knockout phase of the European Championship.
Who’s saying what
Roberto Mancini, Italy coach:
“Austria have quality, they are aggressive. We will need to play a great match. It is the part of the competition where you can’t afford to make a mistake, that’s the beauty of these tournaments. You have to win by force; you can’t do anything else.”
Franco Foda, Austria coach:
“The team has achieved something spectacular. We are in the round of 16 and now we want to do everything we can to take the next step and reach the quarter-finals in Munich. We are full of confidence and focus on Italy. Italy have been the team that have impressed me the most. They attack well, their positioning is good and they are also strong in transition. Even in the third match they looked strong despite making a lot of changes. They are a dangerous squad.”
Italy vs Austria H2H
Stats and trivia
- While Italy recorded three victories and three clean sheets to claim first place in Group A, a Matchday 3 defeat of Ukraine gave Austria second place in Group C behind the Netherlands, the first time in their three EURO finals appearance they have progressed beyond the initial group stage.
- The winners of this game at Wembley will face Belgium or holders Portugal in the quarter-finals at the Football Arena Munich on 2 July.
- Austria have won 12 of their 36 previous games against Italy, although they have not beaten them since a 2-1 friendly win in Naples in December 1960; their subsequent record against the Azzurri is D3 L10.
- The sides’ most recent fixture, an August 2008 friendly in Nice, ended in a 2-2 draw. First-half goals from Austria’s Emanuel Pogatetz (14) and Marc Janko (39) were cancelled out by Alberto Gilardino (45+1) and a Ramazan Özcan own goal (67).
- This is only the sides’ third EURO meeting; holders Italy won 2-1 in Vienna before a 2-2 draw in Rome in the 1972 UEFA European Championship qualifying competition. Italy progressed from the group with runners-up Austria eliminated, but lost to Belgium in the two-legged quarter-finals.
- The teams have, however, met in four FIFA World Cups. Italy were 1-0 winners in the 1934 semi-finals en route to lifting the trophy, and also triumphed in the group stage in 1978, 1990 – both 1-0 – and, in the most recent competitive fixture between the countries, 2-1 at France ‘98.
- Having never scored three goals in a EURO finals game before this tournament, Italy managed it in both their first two matches, beating Switzerland and Turkey 3-0 at the Olimpico in Rome, where they secured first place in Group A with a 1-0 defeat of Wales last time out.
Last-16 fixtures (local times listed, 2130 and 0030 in IST):
Saturday, June 26
Amsterdam: Wales v Denmark (1600)
London: Italy v Austria (1900)
Sunday, June 27
Budapest: Netherlands v Czech Republic (1600)
Seville: Belgium v Portugal (1900)
Monday, June 28
Copenhagen: Croatia v Spain (1600)
Bucharest: France v Switzerland (1900)
Tuesday, June 29
London: England v Germany (1600)
Glasgow: Sweden v Ukraine (1900)— Matches are broadcast in India on the Sony Sports Network and Sony LIV app
With AFP and Uefa media inputs
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