Showdowns, young guns and own goals as Euro 2024 heads into quarter-finals

Germany’s midfielder #10 Jamal Musiala (R) fights for the ball with Denmark’s defender #18 Alexander Bah during the UEFA Euro 2024 round of 16 football match between Germany and Denmark at the BVB Stadion Dortmund in Dortmund on June 29, 2024. AFP

Euro 2024’s quarter-finals kick-off on Friday with a blockbuster match between hosts Germany and Spain as the tournament heads towards its decisive final week.

Here AFP looks at the state of play with some of the Euro’s heavy hitters facing off in the least eight:

Big boys clash

Germany’s clash with Spain in Stuttgart pits the Euros’ two best performing sides against one another at least one round earlier than fans would have liked, due to an unbalanced knockout bracket which has four serious candidates for overall victory on one side.

The winner of Friday’s tie will face either Portugal or France, both former European champions and teams packed with players from the continent’s biggest clubs, in the semi-finals.

Meanwhile England face Switzerland on Saturday after having scraped past Slovakia — ranked 45th in the world — in the last 16 and find themselves in the last eight having played way below expectations in each of their four matches.

Big name flops

The Euros has brought together some of the best footballers on the planet but none of the biggest stars have shone so far as the big teams — Spain and Germany apart — have mostly been below-par.

Cristiano Ronaldo looks like he’s gone one tournament too far while Kylian Mbappe has just a group stage penalty to his name and is a long way from the phenomenal form which won him the golden boot at the last World Cup.

England pair Jude Bellingham and Harry Kane, respectively La Liga player of the year and the Bundesliga top scorer, have played way below expectations despite scoring all four of England’s goals.

Young guns & ageing icons

Records have fallen in Germany at both ends of the age spectrum. Spain winger Lamine Yamal, 16, is dazzling in Germany having become the youngest player ever to feature at a European Championship. Should he strike in the quarter-finals or beyond, he will become the youngest scorer in the tournament’s history.

By contrast Croatia’s Luka Modric set a new record for the oldest at 38 by netting against Italy and Portugal duo Ronaldo, 39, and Pepe, 41, could yet surpass the Real Madrid midfield maestro.

Pepe is now the oldest-ever Euros player and Portugal are among 12 of the 24 teams whose record for oldest Euros player record was set at this tournament.

Own goals on fire

While the continent’s star strikers have failed to fire, there have been nine own goals at this Euros and the record of 11 set at the last championships three years ago looks sure to be broken.

Prior to Euro 2020 there had just been 11 in the tournament’s history. UEFA’s looser application of what constitutes an own goal has played its part but there have been some spectacular efforts in Germany.

The most comical came in Turkey’s 3-0 thumping at the hands of Portugal, when Samet Akaydin unwittingly doubled the deficit by playing a sloppy back pass which ended with Zeki Celik and goalkeeper Altay Bayindir bundling into the net in a vain attempt to keep the ball out.

The majority, though, have come from dangerous crosses, like Riccardo Calafiori handing Spain a 1-0 win over Spain in one of the most-anticipated games of the group stage.

Spain’s Robin Le Normand, Czech defender Robin Hranac and Austria’s Maximilian Woeber all found their own net in similar fashion as attempted clearances to low crosses have gone wrong.

Underdogs light up Euro 2024

The plodding, static performances of France, Belgium, England and Portugal –- FIFA’s four highest ranked sides before the tournament — have been offset by some brilliant underdog showings.

Despite being the lowest-ranked team Georgia’s run to the last 16 lit up the tournament, particularly their 2-0 victory over Euro 2016 winners Portugal.

Romania had won just one of their 16 games at the championships heading into Euro 2024 but topped a group featuring Belgium, Ukraine and Slovakia, before going down to the Netherlands in the last 16.

Turkey have however emerged as the tournament’s true dark horses, booking a spot in the quarter finals with a brilliant 2-1 win over fellow upstarts Austria on Tuesday.

Vincenzo Montella’s Turkey and Georgia also played the best game of the group stage, a 3-1 win for the Turks in front of a pulsating crowd in Dortmund.

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