And then there were 16. On Saturday, the knockout phase of Euro 2020 will begin. Which of the eight games is the most intriguing? Who’s been the player of the tournament so far? And which team will lift the trophy in July? The Ringer staff has answers to those questions and more.
What is your biggest takeaway from the group stage?
Isaiah Blakely: That any team can be beat. Almost all of the favorites had a game or two in the group stage that was a lot tougher than anticipated. It resulted in a lot of good teams dropping points.
Michael Baumann: Spain’s gonna get speed-bagged once it faces an opponent that knows what it’s doing, and it’s not going to be Álvaro Morata’s fault.
Brian Phillips: The so-called top teams haven’t looked consistently impressive, which is a nice way of saying that the so-called top teams have looked mildly constipated for long stretches of the tournament. If I’m Italy or Belgium or the Netherlands, I’m feeling less alarmed by France and Germany and England than I was a week ago (while also hoping they keep prunes out of their diet).
Musa Okwonga: Never, ever underestimate Italy. A team with that much technique and tournament pedigree is always going to come for you.
Jomi Adeniran: Teams with the best players tend to do well at these tournaments. Who knew?
Steve Ceruti: This isn’t your grandfather’s Italy. We’re used to the Azzurri being a rock at the back, but what we aren’t used to is the exciting Guardiola-like attacking play that we’ve seen from the Italians. I still don’t think they can win the whole thing, and I’d pick either Belgium or Portugal to beat them in the next round if they get past Austria, but for a team that hit maybe its lowest point ever by missing the 2018 World Cup, they appear to be back, folks [Joe Tessitore voice].
Which round of 16 match are you most excited to watch?
Okwonga: Belgium-Portugal. The partnership between Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku is approaching full strength and Portugal will be forced to chase the game. Can’t wait.
Ceruti: Belgium-Portugal is probably the sexiest matchup in the round of 16, but I’m going to go with England-Germany. Both teams have incredible talent, showed some flashes in the group stage, but also left a lot to be desired. Both teams will feel they have something to prove, and based on that side of the bracket, the winner will likely be the favorite to reach the final.
Adeniran: England vs. Germany. A whole bunch of Chelsea players on both sides, plus it’s on the weak end of the bracket, which means the winner could cruise to the semifinals? That’s a matchup for the ages, even if the rivalry is pretty one-sided.
Phillips: Weirdly, I think Croatia-Spain? I want to see if Spain’s 5-0 win over Slovakia is a sign that they’re finding an edge or just a sign that Slovakia imploded after conceding an own goal so outrageous that 237 people texted me “MATCH-FIXING” in all caps. And I want to see if Luka Modric can go on looking like Luka Modric, because every chance to see Luka Modric being Luka Modric is a gift.
Blakely: Belgium vs. Portugal, because it has two of the best goal scorers in the world. Both these teams looked pretty good in the group stage. Belgium went through their group fairly comfortably, and Portugal put out a pretty good showing in the group of death. This game is prime to have a few goals and be a really intense fixture.
Baumann: England vs. Germany. Two teams with huge expectations and massive insecurities, both unsure of their best lineups, with rabid local media heaping unbearable pressure on the manager? All that, combined with the knowledge that a loss will be viewed as a crushing failure but a win secures a comically easy run to the final? Yes, please.
Jones: Belgium vs. Portugal. Would’ve been nice to see this matchup later on, but this is the biggest heavyweight battle.
What’s been the game of the tournament so far?
Phillips: Netherlands-Ukraine and Germany-Hungary might have been more exciting, but no game has made me want to run through the television and dance on the pitch more than Denmark’s 4-1 win over Russia.
Ceruti: It’s tough not to go with Scotland’s 0-0 “win” over England, but from a sheer entertainment standpoint, Germany’s 4-2 win over Portugal was the sport at its best. Stars, goals, and a jersey swap revenge game from Robin Gosens.
Adeniran: Germany vs. Hungary on the last group-stage day was stunning. Hungary took the lead TWICE, only for Die Mannschaft to battle back TWICE, all while both teams faced the possibility of going home. Momentous.
Jones: Denmark vs. Russia. The Danes managed to sneak into the knockout stage while scoring thrilling goals despite the emotional burden weighing on them since Christian Eriksen’s collapse in the opening match.
Blakely: I think Germany played in two of the best games of the group stage, but I’ll go with Germany-Hungary. Hungary was really up for it and for a moment I actually thought they might go through. But as most good teams do, Germany found a way to get a result late.
Baumann: Personally, I was quite fond of the Netherlands-Ukraine game. Five goals, a surprising comeback, and the unexpected early-tournament peril of a rickety-looking group favorite. Put that Yarmolenko goal right in the end-of-tournament highlight reel.
Okwonga: Germany 4, Portugal 2. As so often, big teams truly come alive when threatened, and Germany got provoked by going a goal down. A majestic comeback by them.
Who’s been the player of the tournament so far?
Adeniran: Own goals.
Baumann: Kylian Mbappé keeps running onto chances to claim this title and keeps getting flagged for offside. Right now, I’d probably give it to Romelu Lukaku, who doesn’t get credited as Belgium’s playmaking or creative linchpin—not that many of Kevin De Bruyne’s teammates would—but has dragged opposing defenses around at will, like a Bale or Shevchenko for a team with a world-class striker and few other good players.
Phillips: I’d say pretty obviously Lukaku, with a special shout-out to young Italian star and Murder, She Wrote fan Manuel Locatelli.
Blakely: Either Lukaku or Penaldo.
Okwonga: Romelu Lukaku. Stellar in all three games he played in, in very challenging personal and professional conditions.
Ceruti: Twitter trolls will scream “Penaldo,” but ignore that. Cristiano Ronaldo leading the tournament in goals at age 36 and tying the all-time record for international goals in the process gets him the nod.
Jones: Romelu Lukaku (shout-out Gini Wijnaldum, though).
Pick your favorite goal scored thus far:
Phillips: Schick vs. Scotland. Always love it when a player scores from directly outside my house, 4,623 miles from the stadium.
Jones: Champions League–winning Chelsea center back Andreas Christensen’s rocket vs. Russia.
Okwonga: Three equal favorites here. The narrowly disallowed one for France against Germany, when Pogba, Griezmann, Mbappé, and Benzema combined for the tap-in. Perfect attacking chemistry. Robert Lewandowski’s first for Poland against Sweden when he cut inside and unleashed a drive into the top corner. He’d missed a great chance earlier, his team was two down, and he got fed up. And Leon Goretzka’s late equalizer against Hungary, given the surrounding political context, Goretzka’s outspoken support for progressive causes, and his iconic celebration.
Adeniran: The Patrik Schick worldie will live in my heart forever, but I cannot forget the Denmark goal that saw them through to the round of 16. The emotions, the moment, all of it is beautiful and incredible.
Baumann: This is a tough question, because between all the missed penalties, defensive screwups, and own goals, this has been a sneaky good tournament for pretty goals. Patrik Schick’s Jason Elam job against Scotland will go down as the goal of the tournament, but it doesn’t move me like Andreas Christensen’s screamer against Russia or Lewandowski’s futile first goal against Sweden. I’ll say this: If Robin Gosens’s acrobatic opener against Portugal hadn’t been called back for offside, that would’ve been no. 1 for me.
Ceruti: Patrik Schick’s goal against Scotland from midfield was wild, but I think you could argue the penalty he scored against Croatia with blood pouring out of his nose after being elbowed in the face was even more badass.
Blakely: Luka Modric’s goal against Scotland was absolutely beautiful.
Which eliminated team are you most disappointed in?
Adeniran: Poland. Robert Lewandowski tried his best, but there’s no use trying to carry MLS players to the knockout stages.
Jones: Poland, I think? That ultimately felt like a waste of Robert Lewandowski’s powers.
Okwonga: Turkey. They had so many great tools but just didn’t really turn up.
Blakely: Going into the tournament, I thought Turkey had a solid chance of getting out of the group. To get eliminated with no points is pretty shocking.
Phillips: I can’t see how anyone could pick anyone other than Turkey here, unless you were just really, really bullish on North Macedonia.
Ceruti: Probably Poland, because they have a decent squad led by the best no. 9 in the world, yet they didn’t really put up much of a fight in a group that wasn’t super intimidating.
Baumann: Over and over and over, Poland comes to a major tournament with big expectations and just throws it all away. I’m disappointed for a feistier-than-expected Scotland and Hungary and a Slovakia team that woke up a somnambulant Spain when their goalie volleyball-spiked the ball into his own net, but I’m disappointed in Poland.
Now that you’ve seen the opening three games, which remaining team is scariest going into the knockouts?
Okwonga: No one in this tournament should have any fear now that Hungary have made France look human.
Jones: Belgium. Kevin De Bruyne and Lukaku are playing out of their minds. Surely, this pick won’t immediately backfire.
Ceruti: Based on the talent in their squad and what they showed in the group stage, I’m going with Belgium. They’re really firing on all cylinders and Romelu Lukaku might be the most physically terrifying attacking player to match up with right now. What Lukaku is to soccer is what Giannis would be to the NBA if he had a consistent jump shot. There’s just not much you can do with him.
Blakely: I still think Germany. At the moment, they’re clearly not the best team in the tournament, but we’ve seen glimpses of how good they can be. If they get by England, there’s a good shot they can get to the final.
Adeniran: France is still the team to beat. They can beat teams in a multitude of ways. No team is as deep or as lethal at finishing as they are.
Phillips: Still France, because we don’t see anyone’s full potential in a group stage in which two-thirds of the participants make the knockout rounds. But also based on those games, I would want no part of Italy or Belgium right now.
Baumann: I still think it’s France. They topped the toughest group despite their forwards never quite putting it all together, and I think they’ve got another gear to shift into once the knockout rounds start.
If you were Cristiano Ronaldo and could remove any product from view in a press conference, which product would you pick?
Ceruti: Anything mint-chocolate related. Absolute trash combo.
Jones: Cover up all the UEFA logos. We already knew they were corrupt, but they’ve proved during this tournament that they’re cowards, too!
Adeniran: Raising Cane’s. I would remove their subpar chicken strips and overrated sauce by punting them directly into the sun.
Baumann: Is Cristiano Ronaldo a product? Can I remove Baby Oil Graham Alexander from the press conference?
Phillips: Man, Coca-Cola’s market value sank $4 billion after Ronaldo did that. Don’t make me tank the economy!
Blakely: This was a great message from Ronaldo and I agree with it. I think I’d remove any energy drink: Red Bull, Monster, etc.
England is one of the buzziest teams in the tournament with a young and dynamic attacking core, yet they struggle for creativity. What’s your advice to manager Gareth Southgate?
Jones: Just play Sancho, man.
Baumann: Keep the vibes going, man. Maybe play Jadon Sancho a little more, but I think they’re in good shape. France spoiled us by swashbuckling its way to a title in 2018’s bonkers World Cup, but major tournaments get won by teams that field young and dynamic attacking cores and then string together a series of 1-0 wins.
Okwonga: Try to give Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Jadon Sancho, and Jude Bellingham at least 20 minutes in the next game, and if you get through, then try the same again.
Ceruti: England remind me of the 2007 Mavs team who were the no. 1 seed in the West but got upset by the 8-seeded Warriors in the first round. In that series, the Mavs were so concerned with matchups and lineup adjustments that they just forgot they were the better team. With England, and specifically Southgate, it seems like they set up not to lose instead of trying to win. You’ve got some of the best attackers in the world in your squad ... stop playing with two holding midfielders, assert your dominance, and attack! I’d put Declan Rice in front of the back four and play Mason Mount and Phil Foden as hybrid 8/10’s in the midfield with some combination of Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho, and Harry Kane up top. Unfortunately, I think Southgate will go super conservative against Germany and they’ll likely lose 1-0.
Adeniran: *Goes to the highest mountain in all the land.*
*Pulls out a bullhorn.*
*Takes a deep breath.*
PLAY JADON SANCHO AND JUDE BELLINGHAM!
Blakely: I would tell him that he has a deep squad, so he should use it. I don’t need the Dortmund boys to start, but I think they deserve more play than what they’ve gotten.
Phillips: Don’t worry, Gareth! If you beat Germany, they probably won’t rescind your knighthood!
Now that the bracket is set, let’s take another crack at picking the two finalists and the Euro 2020 winner:
Phillips: Belgium beats Netherlands 5-4 in the best match of the tournament (i.e. only four of the goals are own goals).
Ceruti: Well, my original pick of France over Portugal is now impossible with both teams on the same side of the bracket. As I said before, it’s likely the winner of England-Germany plays in the final, so I’ll say Germany gets there and loses to France.
Okwonga: France-Netherlands final; France victory.
Adeniran: France is the popular pick, but I’m sticking with my pre-tournament prediction and rocking with Germany to send Jogi Low out with a bang … even though he doesn’t really deserve it.
Blakely: Germany-France. France wins.
Jones: France vs. Netherlands; France wins. The Netherlands looks legit, and I’d pick them to upset one of England-Germany should they make it that far. France’s side of the bracket is a gauntlet, but I’ll pick them to survive before winning it all.
Baumann: I picked France over England before the tournament, and I’m sticking with it.