What a wonderful tournament it has been so far. The new 24-team format, which many pundits claimed would mess up the tournament, has been nothing short of brilliant in its first true test. That's been so much so that the right half of the bracket has a combined 10 titles and 16 final appearances. The left half has not as many (no titles, 2 final appearances).
Nobody could have predicted the crazy outcomes we saw during the group stage. In my eyes, two late goals flipped the entire tournament on its head and made the path to the finals a lot easier for one team than the rest of bracket. Croatia's 87th-minute goal against Spain was good enough to secure top spot and push Spain into a match with Italy on Monday. It also allowed Croatia the "easiest" path to the finals should they play up to their capabilities. In my opinion, they've been one of, if not the most impressive team thus far. The other goal that changed the landscape of the tournament was the Iceland winner in the 94th minute to knock Portugal from runners up and a date with England to third place and a date with the aforementioned Croatia.
When betting these knockout games, I feel that you must always be wary of the draw as underdogs will often sit back and play for extra-time and/or penalty kicks. With that said, the best game on Saturday is Croatia/Portugal. This game will have a winner, and I can almost guarantee extra-time will not be need. The other two games earlier in the day should be good to watch, but they are just an appetizer. There are a couple of opportunities that I came across when looking into these games that I feel are the best way to get a return on our investment.
Poland vs. Switzerland
This will be a good game. Both Switzerland and Poland seemingly underwhelmed at points during the group stage, but both teams will be coming into this matchup in the right frame of mind. Both these teams think this is a winnable game, and judging by the odds, Las Vegas thinks Poland has the better chance of victory. Poland is currently +155 to win the game without extra time, while the draw option is the next choice at +200. Switzerland, who will have the weight of my money on their backs, come into this game at +220.
Switzerland comes into this game having conceded only one goal in three group stage games. That goal was a penalty kick against Romania, who is on the flight back home. They were able to hold the high-powered French team to a nil-nil draw despite France playing the majority of their regular players. Offensively, Switzerland hasn't done much to brag about, but I like the way they play the game. They get their fullbacks forward through Stephan Lichtsteiner and Fabian Schar, which in turn forces the other team to move more bodies behind the ball than they would like. In the midfield and upfront, we've yet to see the best from Xherdan Shaqiri and striker Haris Seferovic, but it's not for a lack of trying. I get the feeling that these two players are sitting on a big performance and are going to shine when their countries need them the most.
Poland comes into this game on the heels of getting dominated, with their full squad, against an already-eliminated Ukraine team. Poland was almost guaranteed a knockout stage birth heading into that game, and, yes, they did ultimately win 1-0, but boy did they labour. Ukraine was able to get forward on several occasions and should have been up at least 2-0 within the first half hour. Defensively, Poland has some questions to be answered should they want to keep their historic run in this year's Euro tournament going. Up front, striker Robert Lewandowski has been M.I.A and hasn't created many chances for himself to duplicate his club form. His partner Arkadiusz Milik has missed several golden chances in close, and one of these missed chances is going to haunt him and his country moving forward.
For me, the "X-Factor" is between the sticks. Yan Sommer has been tested in every game he has played, and on each occasion he has come out on top. To me, he is the keeper of the tournament so far amongst teams that have progressed through to the knockout round. His counterpart, Lukasz Fabianski, is not someone I want protecting my net. I've seen one too many Arsenal games to trust him with anything important.
Pick: If your gung-ho - Switzerland -Moneyline (+220)
Pick: If you want to play it safer - Switzerland to Qualify (+110)
Wales vs. Northern Ireland
This game is going to be historic regardless of who wins. In one corner we have Wales, winner of Group B. Top scorers. Top goal scorer (Gareth Bale). In the other corner we have Northern Ireland in their first major international tournament. Third place in Group C. Fan favorites.
If this game seems like a mismatch to you, it's probably because it is. The only other game in the Round of 16 that has this much disparity is the Belgium/Hungary game. Wales are the public choice in this game at -105, while the draw is next in line at +210. If you're feeling the luck of the Irish then you can take a shot with them at +360.
Northern Ireland has been a great story so far this tournament. They are debutants and recorded an amazing win against a not-so-good Ukraine team. Other then that, they have only shown their ability to play defense. I am pretty sure Germany just recorded another shot on net. Against Poland and Germany, they surrendered a combined 46 shot attempts, with 13 getting on target. While they surrendered only two goals, the law of averages says the dam is going to break at some point. Cue Wales.
Wales have been one of the most attacking teams so far this tournament. Right from their opening game against Slovakia, the game has been open, and Wales seem to thrive off these styles of games. They will have the best players on the pitch, and Gareth Bale is playing out of his mind right now. His partner in crime, Aaron Ramsey, is playing well for someone who is often injured.
Wales should be on the front foot for much of the game, and I think they will be able to break down the Irish defense on more then one occasion. Northern Ireland's excursion into the Wales half of the pitch with the ball will be a rare sight, and I just can't see them getting anything out of this game.
Pick: Wales - Moneyline (-105)
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