The ‘easier side of the draw’ kicks-off the last-16 in Saint Etienne, as Switzerland and Poland clash knowing they have a real chance to go deep in this tournament.
Both teams have struggled for goals but they impressed against tournament favourites France and Germany.
Our men in the know Ben Lyttleton and Janusz Michallik assess the chances of each team.
Ben Lyttleton on Switzerland: Still no injuries and the mood in the camp has changed since the 0-0 draw with France. That was Switzerland’s best performance of the tournament and suddenly they have a chance of reaching the quarter-final of a major tournament for the first time since 1954. Coach Vladimir Petkovic has won over the doubters – he was never as popular as predecessors Kobi Kuhn or Ottmar Hitzfeld but is now one game away from topping any of their achievements.
Key to the France performance was the selection of Breel Embolo ahead of Haris Seferovic, the non-scoring striker. Embolo offered more movement in attack and created space for Xherdan Shaqiri and Admir Mehmedi to make dangerous runs into the box. Petkovic has also been praised for the improved performances of Granit Xhaka, Blerim Dzemaili and Fabian Schar in France. “All three have had problems in the past with the Nati, but now all three, in the most important moment, are showing their best form,” wrote Aargauer Zeitung.
Janusz Michallik on Poland: Wojciech Szczęsny has not trained since his injury and, to be fair, Lukasz Fabiański deserves to be in the starting XI anyway, after deputising for the last two games without conceding a goal.
Back come Dortmund’s Piszczek at right back, underrated Maczyński in the centre of midfield, alongside one of the best holding midfielders in the tournament, Grzegorz Krychowiak, who has just penned a deal with PSG. Kuba Błaszczykowski comes back on the right after scoring the winner against Ukraine and Kamil Grosicki is back on the other wing.
Lyttleton: After a nervous start against Albania, Switzerland have improved game by game in France, and go into the tie against Poland confident of victory. They are ranked higher in the Fifa rankings – 15 to 27 – but also believe they have a more balanced team, with players like Schar and Xhaka in form at the right time. The Swiss press has suggested Poland are a one-man team and if you stop Lewandowski you can stop them. That’s not quite the case given they have won two games without him scoring, but Switzerland see this as a great opportunity, and don't want to be eliminated because they were too cautious, as happened in the World Cup against Argentina.
Michallik: Poland are on a roll, winning two games and drawing against the World Champions Germany while being the better team. They have yet to concede but missed out on top spot in the group on goal difference. They will have a disadvantage of two days less rest than their opponents and are fully aware of the fact that they must stop the Swiss in wide areas. Scoring has not been Poland’s biggest strength, with just two registered in the group stages.
Lytlleton: Fabian Schar. The centre-back will be important at both ends of the pitch. Switzerland are the only team to have scored more than one goal from corner-kicks, with Schar heading the opener against Albania, but more important will be his job to keep Lewandowski quiet. Once linked with Arsenal, now at Hoffenheim, the 24-year-old has had an excellent tournament… so far.
Michalik: It continues to be Robert Lewandowski. The Bayern Munich striker has been shooting blanks, with no goals in three group matches. For Poland to be successful Lewy will need to do what he does best. Hard work in other areas has been appreciated but scoring goals is what’s needed at this stage. Less than that, and Poland will be going home. Big games call for big players to show up.
Lyttleton: Under 2.5 goals at 1.40. Poland has not conceded a goal yet in this competition and Switzerland has an issue scoring them. So best to expect another low-scoring encounter…
Michallik: Pile all the money on Robert Lewandowski at 2.67. With no goals and not even a strike on goal in this tournament it means that something has to give. No way that this continues for a striker of this calibre.
Lyttleton: Switzerland to win on penalties at 10.00. Who has the better chance if this game goes to spot-kicks? Switzerland lost 3-0 to Ukraine on penalties in the 2006 World Cup but might fancy their chances this time around, with goalkeeper Yann Sommer a decent penalty-saver – if it gets to it.
Michallik: Arek Milik is always a good bet to score but Grzegorz Krychowiak has been immense and has to be on cloud nine in terms of confidence. Signing with PSG ahead of this game should give him an additional boost. Look for him to score from a set piece, he’s 7.50 to find the net. Just a feeling. If not, Kuba Błaszczykowski seems to have rediscovered his best form at the right time and is a good bet to score again at 5.80. Gave you some choices.
Lyttleton: Switzerland 0-1 Poland at 6.25
Michallik: Switzerland 1-2 Poland at 11.00