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Euro 2017

Point-by-Point: Recapping Euros group stage, predicting knockouts

Could the EUROs end in a Germany-England final? (photo copyright by EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

Could the EUROs end in a Germany-England final? We think so. (photo copyright by EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

Welp, we were wrong. Way wrong. In our point-by-point preview of the European Championship, we raved about some teams that fizzled out (ahem…Norway) and completely overlooked others that have come out with a vengeance (oh, ‘ello England). We both thought that France would be the team to beat, but a subpar group stage performance has many people (ourselves included) wondering if Les Bleues will once again “go full France.” But that’s the nature of a tournament like the EUROs. You never quite know what you’re going to get.

With that in mind, we decided to reconvene to discuss what has played out in the group stage, as well as to make some more predictions (no, we haven’t learned our lesson) for the knockout rounds.

1. What was the most surprising elimination/advancement in the EURO 2017 group stage?

Allison: I think I know what Chelsey’s going to say, so I won’t steal her thunder. Instead I’ll say that I was most surprised by Austria, not only that they went through to the quarterfinals, but that they went unbeaten to win their group to do so. This is Austria’s first ever European tournament, and most people counted the debutantes out. To me, though, they’re the reason why it was a good idea to expand this year’s tournament from 12 to 16 teams. Do I think they’ll make it to the finals? No, but it’s nice to see a team you don’t often hear about achieve success in their first ever EURO showing.

Chelsey: This is where I admit I was wrong, as my choice as dark horse, Norway, was not only eliminated in the group stage for the first time in 20 years, they went out without scoring a single goal. When you have one of the best forwards in the world in Ada Hegerberg on your roster, this is shocking. While you have to make concessions for a team in transition under a new coach, they underperformed on every level.

2. What team has impressed you the most so far this tournament?

Chelsey: I’ll return the favor and leave Allison’s answer for her, but I am absolutely loving The Netherlands. They’ve come out with confidence and intent, where sometimes host countries (such as Canada in 2015) can be tense. I picked Lieke Martens as one of my young players to watch, and she has been dynamic and threatening in every match so far. They have battles ahead, but I think they have at least one big upset in them.

Allison: I agree that the Netherlands have been extremely impressive this tournament, especially Lieke Martens and Shanice van de Sanden. However, to me, the most impressive team has been England, which makes me feel kind of dumb because we didn’t even mention them in our preview. While the Lionesses’ 6-0 blowout of Scotland has been the biggest win of the tournament, I was more impressed by their 2-0 shutout of Spain. Mark Sampson completely changed tactics, having England switch to a more defensively-minded style instead of the attack-heavy style played against Scotland. That versatility and willingness to adapt makes them very dangerous and fun to watch.

3. Which team’s group stage performance most disappointed you?

Allison: France. It’s the same old song and dance with them though. They have high-quality players, play well ahead of a tournament to show potential, but then when it comes time to actual tournament competition, it’s like they self-destruct. A team with that much skill and talent on its roster should be able to find the cohesion and chemistry needed to get results, and they haven’t. Although Austria impressed me by holding France to a draw, that was a major letdown from the French, who should have walked away from that match with no fewer than three points. If they don’t figure things out fast, they’ll once again be going home disappointed.

Chelsey: France for sure. They made it through, but they appear to be on their way to France-ing themselves again if they don’t tighten up. It’s frustrating to see a team with that much talent unable to come up when it matters, time and again. I’d also like to mention Spain. They’ve been one of the big up and comers recently, especially after winning Algarve over Canada, but although they made it out of the group stage, I’m not convinced. So far they’ve mastered the wasteful possession game, and they have to do better.

4. Which of the quarterfinal match(es) are you most excited to watch?

Chelsey: I’m going to take the obvious one this time and say it’s gotta be France and England, right? History is on France’s side, momentum on England’s. Going out in the quarterfinals would be a huge disappointment for either team, but it’s going to be one or the other. Whichever team makes it through has a very good chance of heading to the final. Not to mention, France will be without Wendie Renard due to yellow card accumulation, so if they’re ever going to shake off their mentality issues, this would be a very opportune time to come up big.

Allison: France and England is what I’d consider the marquee draw of the quarterfinal matches, which makes it only fitting that it’ll be the last one played. Not only is momentum on England’s side, but they also have the energy advantage. Mark Sampson essentially rolled out his B squad against Portugal, resting 10 out of 11 of his regular starters. Olivier Echouafni, on the other hand, has used player rotation some throughout the group stage, but not to the same extent. I also don’t think anyone was expecting Switzerland to be the challenge that it was, draining France of even more energy ahead of the knockout rounds. Between that and Renard and Eve Perisset’s suspensions, they’re already at a serious disadvantage.

5. What’s your prediction for the two semifinal rounds?

Allison: I think the Netherlands and Germany will be the teams from Group A and Group B to advance. Sweden hasn’t impressed me much at all this tournament, looking more like their 2015 selves than the 2016 squad that upset the USWNT and went on to win silver in Rio. The Netherlands completely have home field advantage, and I have no doubt they’d have another sold out crowd to spur them on over Sweden. Germany has history on their side and have capitalized on the aggressive play of their opponents: Germany has scored on three penalties so far this tournament, while their opponent, Denmark, has given up two. That doesn’t bode well for the Danes. As for the other semi, I’m going to get a little crazy and say it’ll be Austria and England.

Chelsey: You’re right on with the Netherlands and Germany. We didn’t mention being disappointed in Sweden despite subpar play, and I think that’s because we almost expect them to be underwhelming. They have the talent, but like France, sometimes they just can’t get out of their own way. Plus, Pia Sundhage has made some puzzling lineup choices, leaving players on the bench that could possibly be impactful. As far as Germany, I think they’re simply more talented and more experienced than Denmark. The other two are a little bit more ambiguous. I will agree with you on England, but hesitantly, as France has been their Waterloo for quite some time. However, they’ve never been better primed to beat Les Bleues than now. I do think Spain will take it from Austria, though. Austria has been overachieving a bit and that won’t last forever. I expect Spain to live up to their potential in this match.

6. Which two teams do you foresee playing for the title?

Chelsey: Germany and England, and this is where it gets really interesting. Germany hasn’t been as impressive as they’re capable of being, but they’re masters of peaking at the right time and getting a result when they probably shouldn’t (much like the US). The Olympics were a prime example of that. You have to wonder if England can maintain this dominance for the rest of the tournament, as knockout rounds are entirely different from group stage matches.

Allison: I agree that it’ll be Germany and England, which has the potential to be a very exciting, hard fought final. Like Chelsey said, I don’t think we’ve seen the best Germany has to offer—I think they may have been playing more conservatively during the group stage—but I’m not sure we’ve seen all that England’s capable of either. The quarterfinals should definitely be much more telling than the group stage rounds were, as I think both teams will crank it up a gear or two because then it’s do or die.

7. Of the teams remaining, we both thought France would be the team to finally unseat Germany as EURO champs. Since neither of us have them going to the finals, which team will win it all?

Allison: As much as I want to say England, Germany comes out of that match the victor. I’d like for there to be a new champion just to keep things fresh—the same team winning over and over can get boring—but the best team also deserves to win, and out of the pair, I think Germany’s got the edge.

Chelsey: This is really tough. England is on a clear mission, but on pure talent, Germany has the edge. However, it was England who was victorious in 2015, so they are capable. As Allison said, you want to change things up, but I have to agree—I think Germany will take it one more time. But all that said, my answer about the semi-finals aside, since my original dark horse crashed out in the group stage, I’m going to pick The Netherlands as my new dark horse to shock everyone.

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