World Cup holders France are in Euro 2020 action on Monday as they face Switzerland in Bucharest looking to secure a place in the quarter-finals, while Luka Modric leads Croatia into battle against Spain.
The pre-tournament favourites, France have so far struggled to find their best form in this competition after following a narrow opening win over Germany with draws against Hungary and Portugal.
Kylian Mbappe has not yet found the net and coach Didier Deschamps has been hit by injuries to a number of fringe members of his team, but Les Bleus are still expected to have too much for their Swiss neighbours in the Romanian capital.
“We have turned the page now on the group phase, which required a lot of effort from us, and now we are moving on to a new competition,” France captain Hugo Lloris said on Sunday.
“The approach now needs to be completely different and we know we have no margin for error.”
Switzerland, who qualified for the last 16 as one of the best third-placed sides, have not won a knockout tie at a major tournament since the 1930s and it would be an enormous shock if they ousted the defending world champions.
France played their last two group games in Budapest, which is the only Euro 2020 venue without restrictions on capacity related to Covid-19, and now local authorities in Bucharest have increased the number of fans allowed in to the game at the National Arena.
Around 25,000 supporters will be permitted in the stands, amounting to half the overall capacity as coronavirus restrictions are relaxed.
By the time the match kicks off at 1900 GMT France and Switzerland will know the identity of their potential quarter-final opponents, with Croatia and Spain meeting in Monday’s other game in Copenhagen.
‘A great battle’ –
The match pits the 2008 and 2012 European champions against the 2018 World Cup runners-up who are led by Luka Modric.
The 35-year-old midfielder is a well-known figure in Spain having spent the last nine years at Real Madrid and starred in the 3-1 win over Scotland that took Croatia through to the knockout phase.
“Modric has done great things with Real Madrid, he has won the Ballon d’Or, he has done great things with Croatia, so it’s going to be a great battle in midfield,” said Spain’s Atletico Madrid star Koke.
Spain are fresh from a 5-0 win over Slovakia that saw them advance to the last 16. They have not won a tournament knockout tie since beating Italy in the final in Kiev in 2012.
While Modric will be there, Croatia will be without another key player in Ivan Perisic, who scored twice during the group phase but is now isolating after testing positive for Covid-19.
The winners of Monday’s ties will progress to a last-eight showdown on Friday that is set to be played in Saint Petersburg despite concerns about increasing coronavirus cases in Russia.
Belgium oust holders Portugal –
On Sunday Belgium dumped out the holders Portugal as Thorgan Hazard’s strike secured a 1-0 win for the world’s top-ranked team in Seville.
Cristiano Ronaldo was unable to break the all-time international scoring record after equalling Ali Daei’s mark of 109 during the group stage, and Portugal’s hopes of defending the title they won in 2016 are over.
“There are players in tears,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos after the match.
Belgium can now look forward to a tie against Italy in Munich on Friday but they have concerns surrounding the fitness of creative stars Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard.
Both players are due to have scans on Monday after coming off hurt in Seville.
“We need 48 hours to find out the extent of the injuries,” said Belgium coach Roberto Martinez.
The Czech Republic will face Denmark in the quarter-finals in Baku next weekend after ending the Netherlands’ dreams with a 2-0 victory in Budapest.
Tomas Holes and Patrik Schick scored second-half goals for the Czechs after Matthijs de ligt was sent off for the Dutch for a deliberate handball.
The last-16 ties will continue on Tuesday with a huge showdown between England and Germany in London and a clash between Sweden and Ukraine in Glasgow.