Switzerland are hoping to take another major scalp at Euro 2020 when they face Spain in the quarter-finals on Friday while 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 win on penalties over reigning world champions France in Bucharest on Monday, and Vladimir Petkovic’s side are now hoping to get the better of another European powerhouse in Spain.
“We need to be hungry to make it to the next round,” said Petkovic, who is without his captain Granit Xhaka, so impressive against France but suspended here.
Spain arrived in Saint Petersburg fresh from a remarkable 5-3 extra-time win over Croatia in the last 16, a result which followed a 5-0 thumping of Slovakia in their final group game.
The 2008 and 2012 European champions are building momentum as they look to claim a record fourth continental title altogether, but Spain coach Luis Enrique knows all about the threat posed by the Swiss.
The sides met twice in the UEFA Nations League late last year, including in a dramatic 1-1 draw in which goalkeeper Yann Sommer, Switzerland’s penalty shoot-out hero against France, saved two spot-kicks from Sergio Ramos.
“The luck that 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.
The match goes ahead at Saint Petersburg’s Krestovsky Stadium despite major concerns about a surge in coronavirus cases in the Russian city, fuelled by the Delta variant.
Russia on Thursday reported 672 coronavirus deaths over the past 24 hours, setting a pandemic high of fatalities for the third day in a row.
Saint Petersburg saw 115 of those deaths but thousands of fans will attend the game at a stadium which has so far welcomed some of the largest crowds permitted at this pandemic-affected European Championship.
The winners of Friday’s first quarter-final will advance to a last-four tie in London next Tuesday against Belgium or Italy.
Friday’s second game is a meeting between the top-ranked side in the world in Belgium and an Italy team who have set a national record of 31 matches unbeaten.
These were the only sides to win all 10 games in qualifying and the only teams along with the Netherlands to win every match in the group stage.
Something will have to give at the Allianz Arena in Munich.
You are seeing the two best teams statistically in this competition,” said the Belgium coach, Roberto Martinez, whose side saw off holders Portugal in the last round.
“We had to face Portugal really early and now Italy and I think it is a shame for both national teams that we face each other at this stage.”
Belgium saw off Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in Seville thanks to Thorgan Hazard’s goal and held on despite losing both De Bruyne and Eden Hazard to injury in the second half.
– Last-minute decision –
All week in Belgium the build-up to the quarter-final has been dominated by news of the fitness of their star creative duo.
“We all know that we are fighting against time and we will wait until the last minute to make the decision,” Martinez said.
Italy were arguably the most impressive side of all during the group stage as they put a total of seven goals without reply past Turkey, Switzerland and Wales in Rome.
They laboured to get the better of Austria in extra time at Wembley in the last 16 but their coach, Roberto Mancini, is looking forward to facing Belgium and hopes Italy’s opponents can be at full strength.