Saturday, June 18th:
Ireland v. Belgium (Group E)
Ireland was actually pretty impressive in their first game, as they outplayed Sweden despite just coming away with one point. Sweden didn’t have a single shot on goal, with their only goal coming on an own goal. Fullback Robby Brady had a great game, threatening in attack up the left-side throughout the game, and the “Irish Messi”, Wes Hoolahan, had a beautiful goal and some other good chances.
The Belgians, meanwhile, turned in a performance that would’ve been surprising if we weren’t getting used to their underachieving. One of the questions of the first group of matches was: are the Belgians actually this inept in attack or are the Italians actually that good defensively? We’ll start to get some answers here.
The Belgian coach, Marc Wilmots, has taken a lot of criticism for that aforementioned underachieving, and it’s not hard to see why. The game announcer questioned his line-up decisions, both defensively and in attack. He suggested that Dries Mertens should probably be starting and I have to agree with that. Marouane Fellaini, with the big fro, is a good player who can play in different roles. His size, strength, and skill mean he can play as a striker or as a defensive midfielder. Wilmots played him in the “#10” role in the middle of the attacking midfield. I don’t like him there. He doesn’t move well enough and doesn’t have the ball-control or creativity to make things happen there. They need to take him out of the line-up, move De Bruyne or Hazard into that role, and put Mertens on the wing.
Prediction: Belgium 2, Ireland 0
Iceland v. Hungary (Group F)
Two lightly-regarded teams here that turned in fairly shocking performances in their first game. Many considered Hungary to be the worst team in the tournament and now they have a real chance to take 6 points from their first two games. Both of these teams have the advantage of set rosters that played together a ton over the last two years, if not more. While some other teams have star players sitting out qualifying matches because they play so many extra games in the Champions League, domestic cups, etc, these players are all there getting used to playing together. And now either team can all but clinch a spot in the knock-out round with a win here.
Prediction: Iceland 2, Hungary 2
Portugal v. Austria (Group F)
The opposite side of the coin from the Iceland/Hungary game: the two favorites in this group that had bitterly disappointing results. Austria may have been exposed as fraudulent with their 2-0 defeat by Hungary. I also haven’t been much of a believer in this Portugal team, and their draw against Iceland didn’t change that.
Austrian attacking midfielder Zlatko Junuzovic is now out with an injury, so it will be interesting to see if they move David Alaba up into an attacking role. Maybe that change will be good thing for them, as he came closest to scoring for them in the first game, banging a shot off the post in the first minute of the game.
Prediction: Portugal 1, Austria 0