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Euros preview: England vs Slovakia, Spain vs Georgia

England vs Slovakia


Euros preview: England vs Slovakia, Spain vs Georgia

Euros preview: England vs Slovakia, Spain vs Georgia

England vs Slovakia

After being pelted by plastic cups at the end of the Slovenia game on Tuesday, kudos to Gareth Southgate for describing the post-match atmosphere as “unusual”.

It makes us wonder if the England manager would interpret other unfortunate situations in a similarly understated manner. “What was it like being caught up in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre Gareth, a maniacal Leatherface bearing down on you?” “Yeah, definitely unusual.”

No-one can pretend that England’s Euro 2024 campaign has been a triumph up to this point. For all that, the Three Lions did inexplicably finish top of their group. They’ve thus found themselves on the weaker side of the draw, avoiding the likes of Germany, Spain, France, Portugal and Belgium.

And despite obvious issues when it comes to their attack, England have only conceded one goal in three matches.

So… can England step up against Slovakia? The round of 16 clash takes place in Gelsenkirchen on Sunday, with a place in the quarter-finals up for grabs – where the winners will meet either Switzerland or Italy.

Slovakia finished third in their group, behind Romania and Belgium. The fact that they are not one of the better sides (on paper, at least) remaining in the tournament should be good news for England. Yes, there’s a “but” coming.

England have been categorised as slow starters before. But there’s slow starts and then there’s barely being able to string a pass together.

When England came up against Iceland in 2016 under Roy Hodgson, few expected the English to lose – but lose they did. At that tournament, England also drew nil-nil with, uh, Slovakia.

There’s a theory that England haven’t had the chance to shine so far in this tournament because they’ve come up against defensive-minded teams. Facing more expansive, attacking opposition will give Southgate’s side room to play a more attractive style.

If that theory is accurate, Slovakia aren’t exactly the ideal opposition; they’re likely to try and soak up any attacking intent, and look to catch Southgate’s side out with counterattacks. In the group stage, they managed to beat Belgium 1-0, too.

In the run-up to England’s last two games, there’s been plenty of talk that the Three Lions are poised to put in a statement win, score a few goals, show the watching world the real England.

It didn’t happen against Denmark or Slovenia – and it might not happen here.

With that hefty caveat, it’s also worth saying that during the Southgate era, England have tended to look better as tournaments have progressed. Three years ago, following another unspectacular group stage showing, they went on to beat Germany 2-0 and Ukraine 4-0 in this competition.

What’s the bet here then? Glass half-full or half-empty? Is this the match England catch fire – or put in a performance that sees them catching the next plane home?

If Cole Palmer gets a decent run out, we’d feel confident that the Chelsea star can impress.

He got 20 minutes against Slovenia but with more time on the pitch, and seemingly unfazed by any challenge – look how he made such a difference for a struggling Chelsea last season – Palmer could be the man to change this England team’s fortunes. If he starts, Palmer to score at 13/5 is worth a look.

Conversely, if the same England that failed to light up the group stage return here, another dreary night could await.

Which isn’t to say England can’t win – but if they do, it may not be the convincing victory England supporters are crying out for. For Southgate, another “unusual” atmosphere may await. England to win 1-0 is a 17/4 shot.

Spain vs Georgia

Georgia exceeded all expectations by making the last 16 of the Euros – so it’s rather unfortunate that they’ve immediately found themselves facing one of the best sides in the tournament.

Spain cruised through their group, winning all three games without conceding a goal. Georgia had a more tumultuous route to the round of 16. But an audacious 2-0 win over Portugal in their final game saw Willy Sagnol’s side secure progress.

After getting the better of Cristiano Ronaldo and pals, for their next trick can this team possibly outmanoeuvre the Spanish?

It’s a shame Luis de la Fuente’s side have to stop the Georgians in their tracks. But it’s tough to see Spain coming unstuck against this opposition.

Apart from anything else, the two sides crossed paths in qualifying – with Spain winning 7-1 in Georgia’s backyard, before winning 3-1 a couple of months later in Valladolid.

Georgia have risen to this occasion. But the win over Portugal did come against a team that had already qualified for the last 16.

The other group stage results were a defeat to Turkey and a draw with the Czech Republic. While this team will surely have a go, even the power combo of Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Georges Mikautadze will struggle to throw Spain off their game.

This could be a high-scoring win for La Roja; back Spain to win and Spain to score over 2.5 goals in a double at 27/25.

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