The 2022 Women's European Championship in England (LIVE throughout July across ESPN networks in the United States) is in full swing, following a brilliant group stage that had tons of goals -- with no 0-0 draws at all -- and plenty of talking points. Now, the field has been cut in half, and we're left with the quarterfinal qualifiers.
Can hosts England roll past a Spain side that's found form and confidence in the wake of Alexia Putellas' serious knee injury? Will red-hot France have enough to get past the Netherlands after losing Marie-Antoinette Katoto to a torn ACL? And is the tournament setting up nicely for Germany to make a deep run to the final? Sophie Lawson, Tom Hamilton and Julien Laurens preview and predict the four games.
England (Group A winner) vs. Spain (Group B runner-up): Wednesday, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN2
England had as close to a perfect group stage as possible. After a nervy 1-0 opening-round win over Austria in front of a record crowd at Old Trafford, England demolished Norway 8-0 and closed out the group with a 5-0 over Northern Ireland. Beth Mead has been in ruthless form with five goals in three games, while Georgia Stanway, Fran Kirby and Lauren Hemp also have impressed. But their tournament has been disrupted, with coach Sarina Wiegman testing positive for COVID-19.
Spain have had to battle a growing injury list, having lost Jennifer Hermoso and Putellas before their tournament began. Despite their tag as one of the tournament's favourites, they were pretty mediocre through Group B: having opened with a comfortable 4-1 win over Finland, they were outclassed by Germany 2-0 then needed a last-gasp winner from Marta Cardona to edge past Denmark. The weird thing? Four of their goals have been headers.
Why England will win/lose: The host nation are flying right now. They enjoyed a dominant performance in their second match against Norway, and they are free of significant injuries. For all the nerves they showed against Austria, they made up for it against Norway in the next match and put together this generation's greatest performance. That match displayed everything that Wiegman wants to see from England: they were ruthless, but they stayed disciplined at the back. In Mead, Hemp and Ellen White -- with Kirby behind -- they have a settled attacking lineup, and their wonderful depth means Alessia Russo and Chloe Kelly are superb impact subs whenever a goal or burst of inspiration is needed off the bench.
For all their ruthlessness against Norway, they were a little more profligate against Northern Ireland, however, and they can't afford to let those chances slide against a team with the quality of Spain. Defensively, though, they look solid with Leah Williamson's return to centre-back improving their stability. The key on Wednesday will be getting the ball off Spain and making it count.
It also remains to be seen how disruptive Wiegman's unfortunate brush with COVID-19 will be. She has been instrumental in England's impressive form running into these Euros and will be badly missed.
Why Spain will win/lose: We're still waiting for Spain to really click. For all their pre-tournament talk of them being genuine challengers, we haven't yet seen anything to concern Germany or England. And that in itself should be concerning for England: at some stage, Spain will come alive. Will it happen this Wednesday?
Having lost two key players in the buildup, Spain have rallied as a group, but they still look a little stuck in terms of their identity. Their possession-heavy tactic makes them tough to play against, as it's the ultimate test of patience, but it's the finished product that remains elusive, and they don't seem to be getting the best out of the players at Jorge Vilda's disposal. At times, they look like a group of individuals too; if England are patient and hit them on the counterattack, it'll be Wiegman's side that advances to the semifinals.
"We know that they are a good team: they are doing many good performances, we have seen their three games in the group and they did it very well, but we think we can beat them," Aitana Bonmati said after their win against Denmark. "But we have to improve our style and be better than today."
Key player for England: If England win, it's going to be about finding the edge in transitions and hitting Spain on the counterattack. It'll end up being the likes of Kirby, Mead, Hemp and White who will get the headlines, but for their game plan to succeed, Stanway and Keira Walsh must be aggressive and get Spain playing on the back foot. England's attacking prowess is the best in the tournament, and their strength in depth is frightening; but it's that midfield battle that will be so fascinating on Wednesday night, and for that, Stanway is key. She was superb against Austria and was key in their next two wins. She'll need to be at her best against the formidable Spain midfield.
Key player for Spain: If she keeps her spot up front, then Lucia Garcia is key to Spain's hopes. With Hermoso absent, it's on Garcia to disrupt England's defence. The Athletic Bilbao striker has only managed one goal in the Euros to date, and the pressure is on her to cause some mischief on Wednesday. For Garcia to succeed, she needs the rest of her team to turn all this wonderful possession into something tangible, and that's where Bonmati is indispensable. Bonmati controls the tempo for the team, and if she can create some space in the midfield, with Spain's attackers running off the shoulders of England's defenders, she can pick them out and England will be in trouble.
Prediction: There will be some nervy moments, but England will come through this, winning 3-1. This will be by far England's sternest test to date, and Spain will be quietly confident of crashing the party, but Wiegman's team are settled and you feel they haven't yet peaked. Expect the forwards to fashion several chances and for the defence to be able to keep Spain's attack at bay. If it's Spain who go through -- despite their class -- it would be a big surprise given how well England are playing and with the benefit of home support. -- Tom Hamilton
Germany (Group B winner) vs. Austria (Group A runner-up): Thursday, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Germany got their Euro 2022 campaign off to a strong start with a controlled win against Denmark, keeping the 2017 runners-up starved of the ball and their defence taking the Danes' biggest threat, Pernille Harder, out of the game. Germany then took the measured approach to sit back against Spain, denying their opposition any clear route to goal. Having already scored six goals through five different players and confirming they'd be progressing to the last eight as group winners after just two games, Germany wrapped up their group campaign with a relaxed 3-0 win over the lowest-ranked team in Group B, Finland.
Given a bumpy ride, Austria started their Euros off in the opening game against the hosts, England. Despite a good early showing, Austria fell in a 1-0 loss before digging out a 2-0 over Northern Ireland five days later. With the group hanging in the balance, Austria showed their balance against Norway, keeping the Scandinavians away from Manuela Zinsberger's goal until the 89th minute, with Nicole Billa's first-half header enough for Austria to claim a 1-0 win and set up a clash with Germany.
Why Germany will win/lose: After plenty of rocky form, Germany galvanised just before the start of the Euros, taking huge confidence from a 7-0 win over Switzerland that acted as the springboard for the eight-time European champions. That same attacking thrust was on display in their first group game, but against a fancied Spain side, coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg put out a dynamic side that looked as comfortable off the ball as on it.
Across all three group games, Germany have shown a strong team spirit as well as a clear understanding of how their coach wants them to play against different opponents. That adaptability has made them one of the strongest German national teams in recent memory, and far from just grinding their way through 90-minute increments, they seem to be enjoying every second. Add in Germany's ludicrous record of success at Euros and you have a formidable group that doesn't look likely to be stopped by any nation.
The caveat, of course, that Denmark, Spain and Finland all played as Germany expected them to and, as such, their preparation needed little tweaking. If Germany come up against a team who don't do as they expect them to -- or they're forced to react to a tactical change -- the squad heads into unknown territory, which is where their weaknesses are to be found.
Why Austria will win/lose: Austria don't care what you think about them, as Zinsberger said after their win over Norway. They have nothing to prove to anyone other than themselves. The team, like so many others, relish the underdogs tag that they'll undoubtedly be given heading into this quarterfinal clash, and they will be able to play without huge external pressure.
There is also the fact that so many of their preferred starting XI play (either now or recently) in the Frauen-Bundesliga, where the majority of the Germany national team play their club football. They are either teammates or regular sparring partners in the league and, as such, there is nothing of the unknown about their opposition, which will make Germany's better attacking threats easier to neutralise.
Although Austria have played well this summer, showing a similar adaptability, they haven't been as free scoring as their quarterfinal opponents, and when presented with opportunities to hit Germany, they could struggle to take them. In a similar vein, Germany have yet to give up a goal at the Euros, and just getting through their defence to Merle Frohms' goal could prove too difficult.
Key player for Germany: Having played so well as a squad of 11 rather than a collection of players, there is a reticence to single out any Germany player, as all have played a role in their stellar performances and progression. However, midfielder Lina Magull could be the player to be that little bit more influential than any of her teammates in Brentford on Thursday.
Having taken the mantle from injured midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsan, Magull has grown in stature for this Germany team -- as well as club side, Bayern Munich -- and her tireless work in the middle of the park is key for the success of both. Likely to be contesting balls in midfield and driving Germany on in attack, Magull is at her best when she can roam around, hunting the ball before delivering it to her teammates. Already named as player of the match once this tournament, Magull is a key component in keeping Germany balanced, and she is one (of many) Austria will need to keep quiet.
Key player for Austria: Although Austria will likely be defending for most of the match and it would be easier to highlight the work of the back line, the need to have a player who will pick up the ball and relieve pressure on her teammates will be vital. Not just a creative force in midfield, Laura Feiersinger has proved her ability to be the water carrier in Euro knockouts before, with the 29-year-old's lung-busting runs for Austria throughout their Euro 2017 semifinal against Denmark key in keeping her team in the match five years ago.
While things have changed for Austria, the midfielder still brings the same tireless energy to her national team. And when she isn't bolstering the attack and looking for teammates in the final third, she is fighting to recover the ball and it as far from the Austrian goal as possible. A player who can't just be marked out of the game, Feiersinger's impact on Thursday will be vital for Austria.
Prediction: It's easy enough to highlight how very good Germany have been in the group stages, but it's how smart the team have been in their approach to each game, and with the way they're playing, I can't see anyone beating them. Even in a cagey game, they've got more than enough firepower to find a way beyond the steely Austrian defence, and when they do, there'll only be one outcome: Germany 2-0 Austria. -- Sophie Lawson
Not off to the best start this summer, Sweden just about recovered from a mixed showing against the Netherlands (taking a point from their first outing) to post a less than comfortable 2-1 win over a defensively solid Switzerland. Going into their final group game with Group C wide open and no team eliminated or guaranteed progression, Sweden dug out their best football of the month to steam to a 5-0 win over Portugal, pipping the Netherlands to the top spot in the group on goal difference.
The surprise package of the quarterfinals, Belgium did things the hard way during the group stage. Squaring off against Iceland in the first match, Nicky Evrard made a vital penalty save to keep her team in the match, with a calmly converted penalty from Justine Vanhaevermaet good enough for a point after Iceland had taken the lead early in the second half. Conceding early to France in their second group game, the Red Flames recovered well to draw level through Janice Cayman before Griedge Mbock Bathy fired Les Bleues to victory. Having posted two strong defensive performances, Belgium finally got their win as Evrard claimed her first clean sheet as they triumphed over a sloppy Italy side.
Why Sweden will win/lose: Below par in their first match, Sweden have steadily gotten better in each game and if they continue on this upward curve, there can only be one result in Leigh. Unlike Belgium, the Scandinavians can also draw on a wealth of major tournament experience having navigated their way through knockout rounds across nearly all of the biggest tournaments in women's football.
The worry for Sweden is the slow start and lack of ideas against the Dutch, which suggest they might still be struggling with the unfamiliar "favourites" tag they picked up at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Why Belgium will win/lose: There is zero pressure on Belgium, who only made their Euros debut in 2017. The team is reaching the knockouts for the first time in their history, and that lack of expectation is why we have so often seen underdogs thrive; rather than panicking, they can go out and have fun. This is also a team that recovered from conceding penalties in back-to-back matches (against Iceland and France) and that pushed a star-studded France all the way. They've surpassed expectations at every turn this summer, they should feel confident in squaring off against anyone.
The problems for Belgium are likely to arise when they need a goal. They play in a defensive way that drags everyone back to help the cause, but leaves them short-handed on the break. If Sweden can play smartly, the Red Flames may struggle to chase the game if behind early.
Key player for Sweden: A tireless and inspirational attacking midfielder, there is little that Sweden do right in attack that doesn't somehow stem from Kosovare Asllani's hard work. Not just technically adept on the ball, usually only shaken off of it with a foul, the 32-year-old has a reckless determination in attack that has so often been key for Sweden. The most openly vocal in the team about her disappointments in only taking silver in Tokyo, there are few who would be more fired up in pursuit of a long-awaited major international title than Asllani.
Key player for Belgium: As said, the football that's helped get Belgium to their first ever knock-out game has been of the defensive variety that has kept Nicky Evrard busy, match after match, the 27-year-old already with a string of impressive saves in her locker for the tournament. If Belgium are to progress, they will need Evrard to be at her best Friday, not least if the match goes all the way to a shoot-out. Similarly, Sweden will have to be at their attacking best to find a way past her.
Prediction: Sweden 2-0 Belgium. It looks like too much of an uphill slog for a Belgium team who have struggled to score from open play this summer, with Sweden also likely to be more physically imposing at set pieces than their opponents. As long as Sweden can deal with the pressure of being called favourites -- even just for this one match -- they have more than enough to unlock the Belgian defence and once they get their first goal, they should settle into the game. -- Sophie Lawson
France (Group C winner) vs. Netherlands (Group D runner-up): Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Both teams are yet to lose in this tournament and have exactly the same results so far, too, with two wins (against Italy and Belgium for France, against Switzerland and Portugal for the Netherlands) and a draw (Iceland and Sweden), the same amount of goals scored (8) and almost same conceded (3 for the French, 4 for the Dutch).
France showed great quality in the first half against Italy and good patches against Belgium, but overall they've been too inconsistent. The Netherlands also had moments of brilliance during the group stage, like at the start of the second half against Sweden or very late against Portugal, but it's not enough and, again, not consistent enough to really challenge for the title.
Why France will win/lose: The French had won 16 games in a row before their last-minute 1-1 draw against Iceland on Monday night. (Granted, they used a rotated B team given that they'd already booked their spot in the final eight.) They fell short of their own record of 17 straight victories established in 2011-12, but the confidence and the momentum are there.
The quarterfinals have been the ceiling for this team in recent years; the last time they reached a semifinal was 10 years ago at the 2012 Olympics, but there is belief within the camp that this is their time to break the curse. They beat the Dutch 3-1 in a February friendly, and quite comfortably too. They have the firepower to cause havoc, even without their star striker Marie-Antoinette Katoto, who picked up a serious knee injury against Belgium. Losing Katoto is a huge blow to this squad, but since she returned to Paris last week, they have rallied, using this disappointment as extra motivation. They want even more to win this Euros for Katoto now.
Yet for all their positive thinking, the lingering pressure remains thanks to a decade of frustration. Regardless of form, there's always been something to halt their push, whether it's penalty shootouts, defensive errors, a lack of cutting edge or simply a better opponent on the day. They have been battling injuries and inconsistent form, and despite the Dutch being the defending champions, all the pressure still falls on the French. On top of that, Katoto's absence is a huge blow. There is no other striker like her in the squad, which could prove too much to overcome in a game of fine margins.
Why the Netherlands will win/lose: This group's strength in depth has been showcased at the Euros as the likes of Vivianne Miedema has struggled for fitness. Jill Roord has been great since day one, pretty much carrying the team on her own, but what has really inspired the holders is how Daphne van Domselaar stepped up in goal after being forced into action during their tournament opener following an injury to long-time No.1 Sari van Veenendaal. Van Domselaar, who'd made just two international appearances prior to the Euros, has been great in goal. And let's not forget that they are the holders too, and great generations like theirs always deliver in the big moments.
That said, this squad is struggling with injuries and other issues. For a start, the uncertainty around Miedema's status must be unbearable. The Arsenal striker tested positive for COVID-19 last week and missed the game against Portugal on Sunday. She still had symptoms and no one knows if she will be ready for the clash with the French on Saturday or, if she does clear protocols, what kind of fitness she'll have at her disposal.
Regardless, the Dutch will struggle to beat a top team without a 100% fit Miedema. Defensively, they have showed so many issues through the group stages, conceded goals, chances and shots (35 in three matches). They leave too much space on the wings and are not protecting their central defence enough. On top of that, their stars are not performing: Danielle van de Donk scored a screamer against Portugal, but that's more or less it, while Lieke Martens has been anonymous, with news breaking Tuesday that she's set to miss the remainder of the competition with a foot injury.
Key player for France: It was a bit surprising to see Kadidiatou Diani start against Iceland on Monday when the French had already qualified and were assured of topping their group, but it's also a sign that Diani is indispensable. Corinne Diacre can't even rest the PSG right-winger in a meaningless game given that she's been Les Bleues' best player in this tournament. Diani will be excited to take on Dutch left-back Dominique Janssen, as she's struggled against pace and direct running in this competition.
Key player for the Netherlands: Van Domselaar was not supposed to play a minute in this tournament and now she will have to be the key player for the Netherlands. The young Twente keeper has done so well since replacing Van Veenendaal after 22 minutes in the first game. She had only two international appearances prior to this Euros but has been a revelation so far. She has faced a lot of shots and has conceded eight goals in three matches, but she has saved her team too, more than once. She is expecting to be busy again against the French but she is on a roll and full of confidence.
Prediction: Miedema's presence, or not, will have a big impact on the game. The two teas have showed similar level so far in this tournament and this is an open match, but the loss of Katoto will spur France towards victory in this quarterfinal and push them into their first semifinal for a decade. -- Julien Laurens