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Switzerland stand in France’s way as Modric plots Spain Euro 2020 downfall

Paris (AFP) – World Cup holders France face the tricky challenge of Switzerland in Bucharest on Monday as they look to claim a place in the Euro 2020 quarter-finals, while Luka Modric leads Croatia into battle against Spain.

Pre-tournament favourites France have struggled to find their best form in the competition, producing a narrow opening win over Germany and then draws against Hungary and Portugal.

Kylian Mbappe is yet to find the net and coach Didier Deschamps has been hit by injuries to a number of fringe squad members.

He is expected to make changes to his starting lineup with Barcelona’s Clement Lenglet coming into a three-man defence as he juggles formations.

“I have a lot of respect for Switzerland, it’s not for nothing that they’re 13th in the FIFA world rankings,” Deschamps said.

The Swiss have not won a knockout tie at a major tournament since the 1930s but have lost just once to France in five meetings in tournaments.

Deschamps’ side played their last two group games in Budapest, which is the only Euro 2020 venue without restrictions on capacity related to Covid-19, and now local authorities in Bucharest have increased the number of fans allowed to attend the game at the National Arena.

Around 25,000 supporters will be permitted in the stands in the Romanian capital, amounting to half the overall capacity.

By the time the match kicks off at 1900 GMT, France and Switzerland will know the identity of their potential quarter-final opponents, with Croatia and Spain meeting in the day’s other game in Copenhagen.

The two winners will head to Saint Petersburg for Friday’s quarter-final despite the city posting a new pandemic high for daily virus deaths.

Russia’s tournament organisers told AFP on Monday the fixture will take place at the Krestovsky Stadium as planned. 

– ‘A great battle’ –

The match at Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium earlier in the day pits 2008 and 2012 European champions Spain against the 2018 World Cup runners-up who are led by Luka Modric.

The 35-year-old midfielder is a well-known figure in Spain having spent the last nine years at Real Madrid and starred in the 3-1 win over Scotland that took Croatia through to the knockout phase.

“Modric has done great things with Real Madrid, he has won the Ballon d’Or, he has done great things with Croatia, so it’s going to be a great battle in midfield,” said Spain’s Atletico Madrid star Koke. 

Spain are fresh from a 5-0 win over Slovakia that saw them advance to the last 16. They have not won a tournament knockout tie since beating Italy in the final in Kiev in 2012.

While Modric will be there, Croatia will be without another key player in Ivan Perisic, who scored twice during the group phase but is now isolating after testing positive for Covid-19.

The winners of Monday’s ties will progress to a last-eight showdown on Friday that is set to be played in Saint Petersburg despite concerns about increasing coronavirus cases in Russia.

– Belgium oust holders Portugal –

Belgium will face Italy in the last eight after Sunday’s 1-0 victory over holders Portugal thanks to Thorgan Hazard’s long-range winner. 

Cristiano Ronaldo was unable to break the all-time international scoring record after equalling Ali Daei’s mark of 109 during the group stage.

“There are players in tears,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos.

Belgium, the world’s top-ranked side, face the Azzurri on Friday but have  concerns surrounding the fitness of creative stars Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard.

“We need 48 hours to find out the extent of the injuries,” said Belgium coach Roberto Martinez.

The Czech Republic will face Denmark in the quarter-finals in Baku next weekend after ending the Netherlands’ dreams with a surprise 2-0 victory in Budapest. The Dutch were weakened by a red card for defender Matthijs de Ligt early in the second half.

The last-16 ties will be completed on Tuesday with a huge showdown between England and Germany at Wembley while Sweden and Ukraine meet at Hampden in Glasgow.

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