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Low's new Germany comes at a price


Euro 2016 heats up as France and co. prepare for round of 16 showdowns

We have reached the business end of Euro 2016 -- the knockout stage. 

Our ESPN FC bloggers for the tournament have had their say on how their match will go. Do you agree? You can predict the outcome of each match by voting in our polls. 

Saturday, June 25

SWITZERLAND: Switzerland have slowly got better as the tournament has gone on, but their main problem remains in front of goal. Coach Vladimir Petkovic will have to decide whether to give Haris Seferovic another try or to stick with Breel Embolo as their lone striker.

Seferovic played in the first two games and had plenty of chances, but his shooting was wayward. Embolo started the 0-0 draw against France but did not get into as many scoring positions. Whoever plays, Switzerland can be expected to dominate possession.

Switzerland 2-1 Poland -- Brian Homewood

POLAND: Having been able to name a weakened squad against Ukraine, there will be no such luxury afforded to coach Adam Nawalka this time out. Lukasz Piszczek, Krzysztof Maczynski and Kamil Grosicki will all return to the fold, giving the Biale Orly a boost as they look to step up a gear. Jakub Blaszczykowski will also start, having shown his capabilities during a 45-minute match-winning appearance in Marseille.

However, Poland's biggest problems come up front, where they look to return confidence to the misfiring Robert Lewandowski and Arkadiusz Milik. Ultimately, their ability to get on the scoresheet could be the difference between a trip to the quarterfinals and a journey home.

Switzerland 1-1 Poland (Poland win on penalties) -- Ryan Hubbard

WALES: Chris Coleman's men have already aligned their performances with their nation's hopes rather than their expectations, so you could be forgiven for viewing any match beyond the group stages as a welcome bonus.

But Wales are not in the knockout rounds by luck or fortune, but through professionalism and cohesion.

If they play with the confidence and freedom they delivered against Russia, they shouldn't fear anyone. If the key players stay fit and the careful planning remains adhered to, this delightful collective of footballers shouldn't be going home any time soon.

Wales 2-1 Northern Ireland -- Glen Wilson

NORTHERN IRELAND: Michael O'Neill's side are enjoying their finest hour, surfing the feel-good factor with both qualification and industrious performances at Euro 2016.

Nevertheless, there is a comparative lack of genuine flair allied to the struggles of opening up well-organised defences, with many of Northern Ireland's goals coming from set pieces. Unlike Wales, who possess the world-class, pincer movements of Gareth Bale, the approach will again be a cautious 4-5-1.

Kyle Lafferty, benched following the Poland defeat, could well be given another opportunity. O'Neill, meanwhile, must conjure up special containment plans for Bale -- but the Real Madrid star will be unstoppable.

Wales 2-1 Northern Ireland -- Julian Taylor

CROATIA: The game against Portugal should be exciting and fun to watch, because both teams like to attack and both create plenty of chances. Both have very attacking full-backs and are dangerous on the counter, while having certain weaknesses in defence.

We are likely to see goals on both sides. Croatia have also looked physically well-prepared, so they could have an edge if it comes to extra time.

Croatia 2-2 Portugal (Croatia win on penalties) -- Alex Holiga

PORTUGAL: This round of 16 match pits one of the group phase's underachievers, Portugal, against arguably the tournament's most impressive team to date, Croatia.

Nobody would have thought Portugal would still be searching for their first win after matches against Iceland, Austria and Hungary. But it could all click into place; the squad is certainly talented enough to do far better, but a narrow defeat in a tight encounter is the more likely outcome.

Portugal 1-2 Croatia -- Tom Kundert

Sunday, June 26

FRANCE: Almost seven years on from Thierry Henry's infamous handball in Paris to help France qualify ahead of Republic of Ireland for their ill-fated 2010 World Cup campaign in South Africa, the Boys in Green have the chance to take their long-awaited revenge against Les Bleus in Lyon.

Didier Deschamps' men have been unconvincing so far, and despite looking reasonably sound defensively, there are significant question marks hanging over the midfield and attack as we enter the latter stages.

With the Irish sure to be roared on by vociferous support at Parc OL, the hosts could be in for an upset if they fail to raise their game immediately. 

France 2-1 Republic of Ireland -- Jonathan Johnson

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: And breathe. After the 1-0 victory over Italy, it's a difficult journey back to a brutal and overmatched reality. Ex-internationals like David Connolly and Richard Dunne may have spoken about how conceding just one in the round of 16 gives Ireland a chance, but that's delusion after the delirium.

The truth is, Martin O'Neill doesn't have the players to attempt a controlled game or to win, so more manic aggression and pressing in a passionate defeat is at the positive end of the prediction spectrum.

France 2-0 Ireland -- Ewan MacKenna

GERMANY: Back in late May, Germany went down 3-1 to Slovakia on a water-soaked pitch in Augsburg. Things are different now -- the Nationalmannschaft have been together for a number of weeks and coach Joachim Low is slowly adjusting his team.

He has already shut the defence and now, always a work in progress, he is turning towards the attack. The Turniermannschaft will use this last match against a smaller team to get into gear for the quarterfinals and what might follow after.

Germany 2-0 Slovakia -- Stephan Uersfeld

SLOVAKIA: Hardly anyone expected an attractive and exciting display by Slovakia in Monday's goalless draw with England, and coach Jan Kozak relied on such heavy defending that it sometimes reminded fans of Greece's style of play at Euro 2004. Nevertheless, it was enough to secure qualification for the round of 16, which is a fine achievement.

Kozak's men did not take any risks as they went in search for the point they needed. Now that it's knockout football, they will need to be more courageous but will face a Germany side who are widely expected to reach at least the semifinals. More defending is a given, but Kozak needs to find a balance.

Germany 2-2 Slovakia (Slovakia win on penalties) -- Lukas Vrablik

HUNGARY: It feels like a dream for Hungary to be this far. The tournament has been sensational, and no matter whether they win or lose in the next round, they have done their country immensely proud.

Belgium will be tough, but it's winnable, and if Hungary can perform to their best, then why not? Why can't they make it through? Hopefully the dream can continue past Sunday night, but realistically, beating one of the favourites may be a step too far. But you never know ...

Hungary 1-2 Belgium -- Tomasz Mortimer

BELGIUM: With the surprising results in the group games, the competition has opened up for Belgium. With the big boys in the other half of the draw, many Belgians will be thinking of a long weekend in Paris in early July.

The next game is in Toulouse against Hungary, who were virtually no-hopers two weeks ago. Zoltan Gera and Adam Nagy will cause problems for Belgium, and the midfield battle will be crucial. Marc Wilmots' defence looks solid, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard are talking; there just remains the issue of a clinical striker. Despite the question marks, Belgium should advance.

Hungary 1-2 Belgium -- John Chapman

Monday, June 27

ITALY: Spain and Italy are two teams that prioritise organisation and play with intelligence, which is why their upcoming clash will delight lovers of football. Considering the lack of quality in Antonio Conte's squad, it's inevitable Italy will struggle. With the Azzurri sloppy in possession and lacking creativity, Spain will be able to dictate play and launch multiple offensive attacks.

However, Italy boast both defensive stability and a workmanlike attitude, which makes them an opportunistic side that will exploit any errors. The question is, can they produce the incisive runs required to hurt Spain?

Spain 2-1 Italy -- Mina Rzouki

SPAIN: The unexpected 2-1 defeat at the hands of Croatia took Spain to the toughest side of the bracket but has brought the squad back to reality. The excessive hype after the first two wins has disappeared, and the Spaniards now know that no more mistakes are allowed.

Coach Vicente del Bosque will very likely start the same lineup, and with six days of rest, they should recover their energy. Italy, a mighty rival with great tactical nous, represents enough of a challenge that Spain will play their best version of tiki-taka. In a nail-bitter, the Spanish midfield should prevail.

Spain 1-0 Italy -- Ed Alvarez

ENGLAND: There's a theory among some England observers that Roy Hodgson's men might be better off when they face a slightly better team, as the opposition could play a more expansive game rather than the massed defensive ranks England have largely faced thus far.

Will they face another wall of defenders against Iceland? If that is the case, Hodgson could be in for another frustrating evening, but if not England should have the skill, speed and talent to defeat the Icelanders.

England 2-1 Iceland -- Nick Miller

ICELAND: Iceland have upset the odds by reaching the round of 16 after the dramatic 2-1 victory against Austria at Stade de France. Now they are preparing for a historic match against England in Nice on Monday, and once more Iceland will be the underdogs.

We are surely going to see a chess game where England dictate the play and Iceland, with their tight defence, wait patiently for their chance to score. English football is immensely popular in Iceland, where the leading Premier League clubs have more followers than their Icelandic counterparts. 

England 1-1 Iceland (Iceland win on penalties) -- Vidir Sigurdsson

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