EURO 2016: Knockout stage begins with exciting matches lined up

The European Championship in France enters its knockout stage tomorrow with exciting matches line-up in an action-packed weekend for football lover across the world.

Group A runners-up Switzerland take on fellow runners-up from Group C Poland at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard Stadium in Saint Etienne is the first of the round of 16 matches at 4pm East Africa Time before Wales, who won Group B face Group C third-placed side Northern Ireland at the Parc des Princes in Paris three hours later.

Wales and Northern Ireland both have the belief they can win Euro 2016, according to their respective forwards Gareth Bale and Kyle Lafferty.

Real Madrid’s Bale, 26, and 28-year-old Lafferty, who plays for Norwich, both scored seven goals in qualifying.

Bale who has already scored three goals in France, said Wales’ “ultimate goal” is to win the Euros, while Lafferty said he believed Northern Ireland “can go all the way” in France.

Later tomorrow, Croatia will face-off with Portugal in the other last 16 tie. While Luka Modric’s sides has shone in the championship so far, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal has struggled.

The Portuguese scraped through to the last sixteen among the third best sides after finishing behind Hungary and minnows Iceland in Group F while Croatia shocked many when they stunned defending Champions Spain 2-1 and topped Group D.

They are already being tipped to reach the final in Paris on July 10 after landing themselves in the second half of the draw.

If they see off Portugal tomorrow, then they will face either Switzerland or Poland with a potential tie against either of Belgium, Hungary, Northern Ireland or Wales in the semi-finals.

Hungary face Belgium on Sunday night in Toulouse.

In the other half of the draw, hosts France will take on the Republic of Ireland in Lyon on Sunday at 4pm.

While coach Didier Deschamps has appeared to have no definite starters in his line-ups, midfield workaholic Ng’olo Kante and the defensive pair of Laurent Koscienly and Adil Rami and forward Dmitri Payet (pictured) are all expected to start. Payet has so far lightened the football showpiece with masterclass displays scoring two match-winning goals for France in the group stage.

Higly rated Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba is also tipped to start alongside PSG’s Blaise Matuidi in a three-man midfield to help Ng’olo Kante ahead of the defenders.

Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud could be given the nod upfront with either Kingsley Coman or Antoine Griezmann on the wing with playmaker Payet.

The Republic of Ireland are coming into the match after a famous win over favourites Italy on Wednesday night.

Robbie Brady’s dramatic late winner sank the Azzuri and sent Martin O’Neill’s side into the last 16, sparking off a huge party in Lille.

On the same day, World Champions Germany take to the pitch at the Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille to face Slovakia, another third placed side remaining in the tournament.

With captain Martin Skrtel standing tall at the back, the Germans will have to sharpen their attack, otherwise the well-oil machine might fail to grind.

Short of finishers, coach Joachim Low was forced to recall 30-year-old Besiktas striker Mario Gomez to his starting line-up against Northern Ireland in their last Group C match on Tuesday. And the former Bayern Munich man returned the favour from his boss in fashion, slotting home the winner after just 29 minutes.

The two sides last met some three weeks ago on May 29 in a friendly match ahead of the tournament in France and the Slovaks triumphed 3-1. Six starters in Germany’s Tuesday match featured in that friendly tie at the WWK Arena in Augsburg.

On Monday, Spain return to the pitch against Italy in a rematch of the last edition’s final match in which Vincente del Bosque’s side triumphed 4-0.

While Italy will be with just four survivors from that match, Spain have eight with only Xabi Alonso and Xavi having retired while Arbeloa did not make the squad currently in France. Iker Casillas will be overlooked in favour of David de Gea in goal.

Italy gave an impressive account of themselves in their opening match when they beat highly fancied Belgium 2-0 in their first match. But the defending champions are seeking to make a statement of their old-self particularly after coming from a painful defeat in the hands of Croatia in their last match.

England will play the last match of the round of 16 against Iceland late Monday night with Roy Hodgson’s side tipped to overcome the history makers in Nice.

Captain Wayne Rooney should return alongside Dele Alli to partner Eric Dier in midfield after both Jordan Henderson and Wilshere failed to grab their chances in their last match against Slovakia.












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