Best bets for Sunday’s Round of 16 games

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Sunday’s Round of 16 fixtures at the Euros will be followed closely with two favourites, England and Spain in action. Both topped their respective groups, yet their performances showcased contrasting form, styles and strengths as they head into the knockout stage.

The Sunday matches will feature the Group C toppers, England, against Slovakia, who managed to finish third in Group E, at the Arena Aufschalke. The second match will see Spain, who are unbeaten in the tournament and won all three games in the group stage, face Georgia, who stunned Portugal in the last game of the group stage to make it to the knockout stages in their first-ever Euro appearance.

Slovakian test for the Three Lions

Despite the perceived gap in quality between the two sides. Slovakia will aim to shock England in Gelsenkirchen after the Three Lions looked off colour in their group matches. 

England secured their place in the Round of 16 with just five points from their three Group C matches. They started their Euro 2024 campaign with a 1-0 victory over Serbia but struggled subsequently, managing only draws against Denmark and Slovenia. They have scored just two goals, falling short of the high expectations set for them as tournament favourites under Gareth Southgate.  

In contrast, Slovakia, considered underdogs, made a strong statement by defeating Belgium 1-0 in their opening match. Despite a hard-fought 2-1 loss to Ukraine and a draw against Romania, they earned four points in Group E, qualifying for the knockout rounds as one of the top third-place teams. Group E made history as all four teams finished with four points, but Slovakia’s goal difference placed them third.

The contrast in attacking talent between the England team, that’s rich in talent, and Slovakia, who have struggled to pose a significant offensive threat in the tournament, sets the stage for two potential scenarios.

The match could unfold as a high goal-scoring spectacle, with England dictating play and creating numerous scoring opportunities, or it might become a tense, cautious affair where England dominates possession but finds breaking down Slovakia’s defence challenging, resulting in few chances on goal.

The outcome of this match could be heavily influenced by the strikers of both teams. Slovakia’s leading scorer, Ivan Schranz, has found the net twice in three games and his physical and aerial presence will pose a challenge for England’s defence. In contrast, Harry Kane has only scored once for England in this tournament but he has a remarkable track record in high-pressure games. The all-time leading scorer for England has scored six goals in his last six knockout stage appearances in major tournaments for the Three Lions, including the 2022 World Cup and Euro 2020.

Spain could prove too strong for Georgia

When Georgia face Spain in the Round of 16, the tournament’s surprise package will attempt to achieve what could be considered one of the greatest upsets in European football history. Willy Sagnol’s side already have made history by defeating Portugal to advance to the knockout stages in their inaugural major tournament appearance. This victory, their first of the tournament, combined with draws against Czech Republic and a defeat by Turkey, saw them qualify as one of the top four third-placed teams.

On the other hand, Spain, regarded as strong contenders entering the tournament, displayed their prowess by winning all their Group B matches without conceding a single goal. They topped their group of death, securing impressive victories over defending champions Italy and Croatia along the way.

Despite making 10 changes for their final group match, Spain will reintroduce key players like Lamine Yamal and Alvaro Morata, who started the first two games and posed a significant threat. The midfield trio of Pedri, Fabián Ruiz and Rodri will play crucial roles in controlling the tempo for Spain. Marc Cucurella has excelled in the tournament and will be expected to utilise his overlapping abilities to create scoring opportunities for their forwards.

Despite Spain’s impeccable defensive record so far, having not conceded a goal, they must remain cautious of Georgia’s Georges Mikautadze, the tournament’s leading scorer with three goals in the group stage. Napoli star Khvicha Kvaratskhelia will also be pivotal for Georgia, contributing both defensively and in driving their attacks forward.

It was quite remarkable for Georgia to overcome Group F toppers Portugal. However, replicating such a feat against Spain in the Round of 16 will pose a different challenge, as Spain enter the match with a perfect record. Spain will be expected not only to dominate possession but also control the game, leaving Georgia few opportunities for counter-attacks. Set-pieces will be crucial for Georgia, who may not have many chances during the game. 

With a flawless record and impressive performances throughout the group stage, Spain are clear favourites to advance to the quarter-finals.

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