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Euro 2020 semifinal preview: Keys to victory, X factors, predictions

After a thrilling quarterfinal stage, we’re down to the final four countries that retain hope of winning Euro 2020. The semifinals begin on Tuesday, with Spain taking on Italy and England facing Denmark the following day.

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ESPN sets out what you need to know about the two ties, all of which stream LIVE on ESPN networks and ESPN+, while our experts also predict what the semifinals will look like.

Jump to: England vs. Denmark

Italy vs. Spain

Tuesday: 3 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. CET (ESPN, ESPN+)

How they got there: Spain won arguably the best game of the tournament in the round of 16 against Croatia — a wild 5-3 victory in extra time — but they struggled against Switzerland in the next round, despite the magic of Pedri, and only went through on penalties. Against the Swiss, they didn’t show enough control or offensive sharpness, and we saw some of the problems that had dogged them in the group stage.

– Marcotti: Italy combine old and new to beat Belgium
– Ogden: Spain ride luck, Switzerland’s runs out

Italy also won one of the games of the tournament in the quarterfinals against Belgium — a match full of quality from start to finish. In their first real test so far in this Euros, Roberto Mancini’s side did great things with the ball while keeping solid defensively. Italy have impressed all through this tournament even if Austria pushed them to extra time in the round of 16.

Italy keys to victory: Italy have two keys to win this game: their midfield and defence. The midfield is their main strength and surely the best in the competition (alongside Spain’s). Marco Verratti, Jorginho and Nicolo Barella have it all: work rate, creative magic, intelligence, positioning, control and ball skills. Italy have been strong in defence all tournament and veteran centre-backs Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini have a huge advantage for this game as they know Spain striker Alvaro Morata well after playing with him at Juventus. Gianluigi Donnarumma has been great in goal, though left-back Leonardo Spinazzola‘s injury is a big blow and his replacement is the less-impressive Emerson.

Spain keys to victory: Spain’s midfield of Koke, Pedri and Sergio Busquets will have to match Italy’s and look to win the battle in central areas. The other key for them is the attack, because Spain will get chances and the likes of Morata, Gerard Moreno, Ferran Torres, Pablo Sarabia or Dani Olmo (depending on who starts) will have to be far more efficient than in previous games. Spain should also look to play down the right to take advantage of Spinazzola not being at left-back.

This game’s X factor: The substitutions. With five subs allowed (and even a sixth if it goes to extra time), Roberto Mancini and Luis Enrique will be able to change the course of the game and, so far, they have both done well in that regard. We saw Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina make the difference for Italy in the round of 16 against Austria when the team needed something different. Mikel Oyarzabal and Pau Torres also had a good impact for Spain against Croatia. It could all come down to how these two brilliant managers manage the game. — Julien Laurens.

Predictions

– Italy 2-1 Spain: Italy have been the strongest team collectively in this Euros, and that strength will prevail against Spain, even if Spinazzola’s injury is a huge blow to how the team plays and defends. — Julien Laurens.

– Italy 1-1 Spain (Italy win on penalties): A tight game, but Italy should just about edge it in the end. Both teams have been impressive, but Italy have had that extra control and quality in their performances. — Rob Dawson

– Italy 2-0 Spain: Spain have stumbled into the semifinals following a series of unconvincing performances and their meeting with Italy looks like being the end of the road for Luis Enrique’s team. Italy’s physical presence and defensive solidity should be too much for Spain, although they will be wary of the misfiring striker Morata, whose reputation remains high in Italy because of two good spells with Juventus. — Mark Ogden

– Italy 1-1 Spain (Spain win on penalties): No strong feelings here, but Luis Enrique seems to get the breaks when he needs them. — Gab Marcotti.

– Italy 2-1 Spain: Spain are a little lucky to have gotten this far. Italy will miss Spinazzola but can still finish them off. — James Olley.

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Steve McManaman and Nedum Onuoha examine how Gareth Southgate has been able to adjust his England squad throughout Euro 2020.

England vs. Denmark

Wednesday: 3 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. CET (ESPN, ESPN+)

How they got there: Denmark’s progression to the semifinals has been truly remarkable. Aside from the trauma of Christian Eriksen‘s on-field collapse during the opening game against Finland, Kasper Hjulmand’s team lost their first two group fixtures and needed a final game win against Russia to squeeze into the knockout stages. But from then on, the Danes have beaten Wales 4-0 and defeated the Czech Republic 2-1 in the quarterfinal to reach the final four.

– Olley: Confident Kane has England soaring
– Dawson: Denmark no underdogs at Euro 2020

England have been flawless, with Gareth Southgate’s team yet to concede a goal in the tournament. But while they slowly went through the gears during the group stage — scoring just twice in two wins and a draw — England have built serious momentum with a win against Germany in the round of 16 at Wembley before Saturday’s emphatic 4-0 quarterfinal victory against Ukraine in Rome.

England keys to victory: Complacency has become England’s most dangerous opponent. Southgate’s squad is packed with quality in all departments, confidence is high and they also have home advantage at Wembley. But with so many aces up their sleeve, Southgate has admitted that the danger facing his team comes from underestimating their opponents. England haven’t reached a major final since the 1966 World Cup, so the pressure and expectation will be intense on Wednesday, but if they can blank out the off-field distractions, they should be too strong for Denmark.

Denmark keys to victory: Denmark’s collective spirit has been prominent ever since captain Simon Kjaer urged his teammates to form a circle around Eriksen while he was being treated on the pitch following his collapse against Finland three weeks ago. But while it has carried Denmark a long way, they are more than a tight-knit team. They are well-organised, solid and with a strong spine, starting from goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. If they can fuse their togetherness with their quality and have big-game performances from Kasper Dolberg, Martin Braithwaite, Thomas Delaney and Yussuf Poulsen, Denmark can win.

This game’s X factor: Denmark have won on two of their three visits to England this century — winning their most recent game at Wembley with a 1-0 victory in October 2020 — so they will travel to London with the confidence of a team that knows how to beat an opponent on their own turf. Denmark fans will be heavily outnumbered on Wednesday, but their support has brought noise and colour to Euro 2020, and they will make themselves heard and seen at Wembley.

Predictions

– England 3-1 Denmark: Denmark can make this a nervy night for England if they are able to frustrate and deny them an early breakthrough. But if England score first, it is difficult to envisage anything but a comfortable victory and a place in the final at Wembley on Sunday. — Mark Ogden

– England 3-1 Denmark: Denmark will be the first team to score against England at Euro 2020, but Southgate’s side should have enough firepower to get to a first major final since 1966. –– Rob Dawson.

– England 1-2 Denmark: Upsets do happen. And if you believe in the Eriksen fairy tale, why not? — Gab Marcotti.

– England 1-0 Denmark: Expect another tight game at Wembley, but the 60,000-strong crowd can help get England over the line. — James Olley.

England 1-0 Denmark: The best defence in the tournament will be too solid defensively for the Danes, who looked tired in the second half against Czech Republic. — Julien Laurens.

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