The World Cup finalists will be in Round of 16 action at Euro 2020 as Croatia face resurgent Spain in Copenhagen before France take on Switzerland in Bucharest. After coming through a tricky group stage campaign all four teams will be keen to kick on as there is no margin for error in the knockout stages.
Here’s a preview of the two ties and everything you need to know about the match-ups:
Match 1: Croatia vs Spain
The good news for Spain came all at once, their five-goal rout of Slovakia on Wednesday steering them clear of an early exit and restoring hope they could even win Euro 2020.
Luis Enrique said he would have taken any position in Group E as long as Spain got through and yet from desperation came elation, a goal-fest in Seville transforming expectations after a whirlwind 60 minutes.
Whether optimism proves brief or longer-lasting will depend on the outcome on Monday against Croatia, the World Cup finalists who appear to be growing into this competition themselves.
Croatia also qualified in second place and will certainly offer a sterner examination than Slovakia, who put up surely the worst performance of any team in all 36 matches of the group stage.
They might have profited from Spain’s goal-scoring angst had the floodgates not been so generously opened by their own goalkeeper Martin Dubravka.
After Alvaro Morata’s missed penalty, Dubravka flapping the ball into his own net was the perfect way to calm Spanish nerves and why doubts still linger around Spain being able to navigate tougher tests to come.
Their route to the final could be perilous. France are a potential foe in the quarter-finals and perhaps Italy, Belgium or Portugal in the semis.
Croatia may be a class below any of the above mentioned teams but are still a class above what Spain have faced so far, with their midfield of Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic possessing the guile to dominate the very best.
But Spain do have a spring in their step again, no matter how fortuitously they found it, and a victory in Copenhagen on Monday would give them genuine momentum too.
It would represent the country’s first quarter-final at a major tournament since they were last Euro champions in 2012.
Luis Enrique’s hope the bottle of cava will be “uncorked” by Spain’s latest goal frenzy has not always bore fruit in recent months.
Spain beat Lithuania 4-0 in June before the goalless draw with Sweden. They thrashed Germany 6-0 in November only then to draw 1-1 at home to Greece.
Croatia will be counting on a similar regression towards the meanwhile Spain have to prove Slovakia really was a release, rather than a one-off.
Who’s saying what
Luis Enrique, Spain head coach
“The 5-0 win was obviously a relief, not only for me, but what it means when you keep insisting on the same football ideas and you see you can get results with them. The result comes at the best moment and it prepares us for what is to come.”
Sergio Busquets, Spain captain
“We have confidence after the big win. This has to be the start.”
Zlatko Dalic, Croatia head coach
“We expect that Luka will go down, lose his strength, but he is the force that pulls the whole team. He never gives up.”
Luka Modric, Croatia captain
“When we play like we did against Scotland, we are dangerous to everyone. We were not happy with performances in the first two matches and we knew we could be better.”
Croatia vs Spain H2H
Stats and trivia
• Croatia and Spain will meet at the third consecutive EURO finals when the two sides face-off in Copenhagen. Croatia won their last meeting in France at Euro 2016 2-1 after Spain had won the contest 1-0 in 2012.
• This is Croatia’s sixth EURO; they have missed out just once since independence, at UEFA EURO 2000, meaning this is their fifth successive finals. They have twice reached the last eight and twice bowed out at the group stage.
• This is Spain’s seventh consecutive EURO. Champions in 1964, they were also victorious in 2008 and 2012 to become the first side to retain the Henri Delaunay trophy.
• Having been eliminated by Portugal after extra-time four years ago, the Matchday 1 defeat by England is only Croatia’s second loss over 90 minutes in 17 EURO matches (W10 D5).
• Spain are one of five sides who did not lose a game in the UEFA EURO 2020 preliminaries, along with Belgium, Italy – who both won all their fixtures, and also recorded three victories in the group stage – Denmark and Ukraine.
Match 2: France vs Switzerland
World Cup holders France have injury problems for their Euro 2020 last-16 clash with Switzerland in Bucharest on Monday with Lucas Digne and Marcus Thuram the latest players in Didier Deschamps’ squad in the treatment room.
Everton left-back Digne suffered a thigh muscle injury in the last group game against Portugal while forward Marcus Thuram has a similar problem.
France have already lost Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele to an injury that ended his tournament prematurely, while defender Jules Kounde will “probably” not be available against the Swiss, Deschamps said on Sunday.
Kounde, of Sevilla, made his first start for France in the 2-2 draw with Portugal in Budapest in midweek.
Midfielder Thomas Lemar has also been struggling but Bayern Munich defender Lucas Hernandez is nevertheless expected to be fit in time to play after a knee problem.
Deschamps has hinted he could start with a three-man defence in a change to his normal playing set-up.
France have not completely convinced yet at the Euro but will be expected to get the better of a Swiss team who made it to the last 16 as one of the best third-placed teams.
Switzerland have not won a knockout tie at a major tournament since the 1930s.
Close to 27,000 fans will be allowed to watch Monday’s tie inside the National Arena in the Romanian capital after local authorities relaxed Covid-19 restrictions, allowing the stadium to be filled to up to half its capacity.
Who’s saying what
Didier Deschamps, France head coach
“We mustn’t under-estimate them and it’s a knockout game so we’ll have to do everything we can to ensure we have smiles on our faces at the end of the match.”
“They’re a well-structured team and they have good attacking potential with Seferovic, Embolo and Shaqiri.”
Vladimir Petkovic, Switzerland head coach
“In the past couple of years we had great performances against great sides. We need to play to our strengths. Against a side like France, if we both give 100%, it won’t be enough. They’ll have to give 80% and we need to make the most of it.”
France vs Switzerland H2H
Stats and trivia
• Switzerland’s record in 38 games against France is W12 D10 L16, but they have yet to win a competitive encounter with Les Bleus (D4 L2).
• Having won consecutive world (1998) and European (2000) titles with France as a player, Deschamps can repeat the feat as a coach; France aside, only West Germany (1972 EURO, 1974 World Cup) and Spain (2008 and 2012 EURO, 2010 World Cup) have held both titles at the same time.
• This is Switzerland’s fourth successive appearance in a major tournament having also qualified for the 2014 and 2018 FIFA World Cups, reaching the last 16 at both. They have not reached the quarter-final of a major tournament since the 1954 World Cup, a tournament they hosted, losing all five of their round of 16 encounters since then.
• The 2-0 loss in Turkey on 8 June 2019 is France’s only defeat in 90 minutes in their last 20 EURO games (W15 D4).
• Switzerland’s record in 16 EURO finals games is now W3 D6 L7.
• France have won all six of their round of 16 matches at major tournaments – five in the World Cup (against Italy in 1986, Paraguay in 1998, Spain in 2006, Nigeria in 2014 and Argentina in 2018) in addition to that UEFA EURO 2016 victory against Ireland.
With AFP and Uefa inputs