PARIS, France, Jul 2 – Switzerland are hoping to take another major scalp at Euro 2020 when they face Spain in the quarter-finals on Friday as Belgium sweat over the fitness of star duo Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne for their heavyweight clash with Italy in Munich.
The Swiss qualified for their first major tournament quarter-final since 1954 with a stunning penalty shootout victory over defending world champions France on Monday in Bucharest, and Vladimir Petkovic’s side are now hoping to gain the upper hand. on another European power in Spain.
“We have to be hungry to move on to the next round,” said Petkovic, who is without captain Granit Xhaka, so impressive against France but suspended here.
Spain arrived in St Petersburg after a remarkable 5-3 overtime victory over Croatia in the round of 16, a result that followed Slovakia’s 5-0 defeat in their last group game.
The 2008 and 2012 European champions are gaining momentum as they seek to win a record-breaking fourth continental title, but Spain coach Luis Enrique knows all about the Swiss threat.
The two sides met twice in the UEFA Nations League at the end of last year, most notably in a 1-1 draw in which Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer, the Swiss penalty shoot-out hero against France, saved two shots on goal from Sergio Ramos.
“The luck we have, or the misfortune, is that we know each other very well,” Luis Enrique said on Thursday. “They are one of the best collectives in the tournament.”
– Virus problems –
The match is taking place at the Krestovsky Stadium in St. Petersburg despite major concerns over an increase in coronavirus cases in the Russian city, which is powered by the Delta variant.
Russia reported 672 coronavirus deaths in the past 24 hours on Thursday, setting a pandemic death record for the third day in a row.
St. Petersburg recorded 115 of those deaths, but thousands of fans will watch the game at a stadium that has so far hosted some of the largest crowds allowed at this pandemic-stricken European Championship.
The winners of Friday’s first quarterfinal will advance to the quarterfinals in London next Tuesday against Belgium or Italy.
Friday’s second game is a meeting between the world’s top-ranked team in Belgium and a side from Italy who set a national record of 31 unbeaten matches.
They are the only teams to win all 10 qualifying matches and the only teams with the Netherlands to win each group stage match.
Something will have to give to the Allianz Arena in Munich.
“You see the two best teams statistically in this competition,” said Belgium manager Roberto Martinez, whose team beat defending champions Portugal in the final round.
“We had to face Portugal very early on and now Italy and I think it’s a shame for the two national teams that we face each other at this stage.”
Belgium beat Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in Sevilla thanks to Thorgan Hazard’s goal and held on despite De Bruyne and Eden Hazard losing to injury in the second half.
– Last minute decision –
All week long in Belgium, the preparation for the quarter-finals was dominated by the fitness news of their star creative duo.
âWe all know we are fighting against time and we will wait until the last minute to make the decision,â Martinez said.
Italy were arguably the most impressive team of all in the group stage as they scored a total of seven unanswered goals ahead of Turkey, Switzerland and Wales in Rome.
They worked to get the upper hand over Austria in overtime at Wembley in the round of 16, but their coach, Roberto Mancini, is eager to face Belgium and is hopeful that Italy’s opponents will be full.
âBelgium is a brilliant team. They have been at the top of the FIFA World Ranking for three years. We’re playing well and I think for a spectator, a neutral, it would be great to see them all, âMancini told reporters.
âSo we hope that everyone can be fit and shoot. Of course, they would cause us more problems because of that, but that’s what’s great about football.
The remaining quarter-finals will be played on Saturday, when the Czech Republic face Denmark in Baku before England – fresh off a resounding victory over Germany – travel to Rome to face Ukraine.