We finally made it through the group stages of the European Championships and it was certainly enjoyable. From us all wondering when Ronaldo was finally going to find the back of the net, Ireland making last-gasp lurch towards qualification, Spain stumbling at the final hurdle, England bumbling into the knockouts, Bale scoring free-kicks at will, and the hosts establishing themselves as legitimate contenders, the days have been filled with quite a buffet for soccer fans. Now, we find ourselves in the round of 16 with some fantastic fixtures on offer and a few teams looking at a clear path to the top. Who’s in, who’s out, and who lucked out.

While we can discuss the ridiculous nature of how the bracket ended up some other time, one side has definitely gotten an easier route to the Final. Switzerland will face Poland, Croatia will go up against Portugal, Northern Ireland will battle Wales, and Hungary has to go up against Belgium. In the fixture involving Poland, despite Lewandowski not quite hitting his stride yet, they should emerge victories. Switzerland has the possibility of being an impressive squad, but their first three fixtures show a team that’s struggling to find their identity. The knockout stage does not have the time necessary to find your groove (that’s what the group stage is for), so Poland should take this one. The key will definitely be whichever team can finally start to find their goal-scoring touch, but Poland still feels a bit more proven (and hasn’t allowed a goal yet).

OUR CHOICE: Poland 2 – Switzerland 1

In the second fixture in this side of the bracket, Ronaldo will lead Portugal up against Croatia. While Ronaldo and Portugal finally got their scoring going against Hungary, their defense seems to be one of the worst at the tournament. Allowing a goal against Iceland and then three against Hungary…it’s not a great situation when you’re going into one of the best scoring teams of the group stage. Croatia is getting contributions from a number of players not named “Modric,” and they are being fairly impressive at the back. Add in that Modric will be back for the Portugal game, how quickly the attack swarms into the opposition box, and the momentum that comes with beating Spain? We’re going with Croatia in this one (although, it’s tough to bet against Ronaldo).

OUR CHOICE: Croatia 2 – Portugal 0

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Perhaps the easiest game to call on this side of the bracket is Wales and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland hasn’t scored since their second fixture against Ukraine and, while keeping Germany and Poland to only one goal a piece, they totally took advantage of the 3rd place qualifying rules in place for this tournament. On the other side of the coin is heavy scoring Wales. It seems to be a requirement that Bale scores a free-kick per game, and 6 goals in the group stage should have Northern Ireland fairly worried. One thing is certain, and that is that the fan support at this game will be absolutely off the charts. Wales and, to a much greater extent, Northern Ireland will see their entrance into the knockout rounds as a win on its own, so it will be a loud 90 minutes. Never count out a big-time underdog, but Wales is one of the only teams entering the knockouts with serious momentum…

OUR CHOICE: Wales 3 – Northern Ireland 1

There will be goals. Both Belgium and Hungary have notched some serious goals in their route to the knockout stages, and that doesn’t feel like it will stop in their upcoming game. For Belgium, this game will be looked at as the team’s moment to lock down a claim as a legitimate favorite. For Hungary, this game will be looked at as a chance for the squad to make people see them as actual contenders. Belgium entered the tournament with one of the best claims to the label of “favorite,” but a loss against Italy had many wondering about the future of the Red Devils of Belgium. Despite a thrashing of Ireland, those questions still remain. If the Belgians can convincingly move into the last eight, it would be a tough bet to NOT have them making it to the final. Hungary did stumble against Iceland, but exposing Austria as a pretender and pushing Portugal to the brink has shown some serious fight from the Hungarians. Each team hoping to define their future, but we’re anxious to watch it go down.

OUR CHOICE: Belgium 2 – Hungary 2 (Belgium goes through after penalties)

With a large portion of American fans turning away from Copa disappointment, there’s no doubt that the Euros will wrap them in a warm, goal-filled embrace over the next few weeks. As far as our predictions go, we’re fairly confident…but that’s coming from a guy that picked Romania and Slovakia as his dark horse teams (Romania did terribly…and Slovakia barely survived). Make sure you tune in to see the teams that will inevitably be considered favorites for the World Cup crown in 2018 in Russia.


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