A few surprise results have seen a last 16 draw where many of the traditional big name countries will have to go through each other to win the Euro 2016 championships. For a fantasy player it's just got more difficult.
First up let's take a look at the last 16 draw
Germany v Slovakia
France v Rep Ireland
England v Iceland
The draw means the 3 big favourites, France, Germany and Spain will not only have to go through each other but possibly also Italy and/or England just to get to the final. Whilst in the top half pre-tournament dark horses Portugal, Croatia and Belgium couldn't have dreamed for such a chance to reach the final. But then again Wales, Poland and Switzerland will not fear them and will definitely have thoughts of glory.
Whilst we once again have an unlimited transfer window we also need to plan effectively for the QF, SF and final where transfers will be limited. Planning ahead we have unlimited transfers for the round of 16, 4 more for the QF, 6 for the Semifinal and 6 more for the Final. Ideally we need to be able to foresee the likely finalists and select three from each of their squads as a starting point whilst looking to add to them as we go through the knockouts rounds. With 12 transfers available in the final two rounds it is the selection for the round of 16 and QF that may decide of success. Come semifinals and the final we may all have very similar sides.
Overall there doesn't appear to be an obvious elite level side, one that looks so strong in all areas that if they play well they cannot be beat or in our case one you can be super confident loading up with fantasy talent. From the round of 16 fixture the obvious one to me is Germany v Slovakia. It is true Slovakia are not to be underestimated having beaten Spain in qualification, Germany in a friendly and held England to a draw in the group stage. Having said that when I watched them I saw a hard working side but one lacking much of the talent of their rivals. England dominated the game but failed to create many clear chances Germany are a more ruthless side with better game changers and a win by a couple of goals looks likely to me.
A word of caution. Joachim Loew has previous for resting players in the early knockout games. 4 years ago he rested his first-choice strike trio of Mario Gomez, Thomas Mueller and Lukas Podolski for the QF against Greece. Germany ran out 4-2 winners. It wouldn't be a complete shock to see one or two of their bigger names held back for the battle with the Spain-Italy winner. Jerome Boateng trained with an injury in the build up to the Northern Ireland game and went off early making him risky. Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Boateng are on yellow cards and would miss the QF should they get booked against Slovakia. A further concern could be Germany's performance in the last 16 of the 2014 World Cup where they needed extra time to overcome Algeria where the side were very flat. We saw in the group stages once again no team in international football are better than playing to the level needed than Germany. It's just a fantasy player I would like to see them go up the gears a little more often.
Next up, Belgium look strong against Hungary and I'm sure you will be tempted with their stars after two wins back to back. Hungary however look a spirited bunch and despite my view they were team to bet against, they were unbeaten in the group stage. It's a free roll for them and the pressure is squarely on the shoulders of the Red Devils. Victory for Belgium May see them face Wales and the counter attacking ability of Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale.
Holders France have looked good in patches and has some real quality in their side. At first glance Ireland are a nice draw but Martin O Neil's side will be a banana skin game if the French are not taking them seriously. A win would see them face England/Iceland and based on what we have seen so far they would be strong favourites for the QF tie. As England fan I think the French has a much better side than we do and we always lose to the first decent side we play in a completion. Having said that, England have struggled like many before them with the expectation the on paper straightforward group gave. I do wonder if this is young England side may be better suited to the underdog role they would undoubtedly have should they face France. They of course need to beat Iceland first and that may not be as easy as many think.
So if I had to have a bash at naming the semifinalists based on the quality and depth of their squads I would go with Croatia-Belgium and Germany- France but would expect at least one of those four to go out in an upset result along the way. I don't think there is a huge amount between the sides left bar the odd exception.
The suspension concern is one to be thoughtful off. 2 yellow cards will see you suspended and they do not get wiped out until after the QF games. This should mean we no longer see star player's missing the final but for a fantasy football player it complicates our choices. The following key fantasy players are sat on a yellow card and may be best avoided in your squad selection.
Italy - Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Gianlugi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini - I
Germany - Jerome Boateng, Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira
Croatia - Marcelo Brozovic, Darijo Srna,
England - Gary Cahill
France - Olivier Giroud, Ngolo Kante, Laurent Koscielny, Adil Rami
Poland - Kamil Groscki
Belgium - Thomas Meunier, Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen
Portugal - Pepe,
Spain - Sergio Ramos,
Switzerland - Fabian Schar
There are many more but I selected those I think players may be considering. Straight away three of the competitions better defences are under threat. The entire Italy back line, Belgium and France all face losing one of more of their defence in the QF should they receive a last 16 booking. That not only effects the chance of them missing a game from suspension or risk of it but also their sides clean sheet chances.
I have yet to play with my knockout phase side. Using the wildcard after the second group fixtures has worked out very well for me and I'm up to 84th place. Not having it later in the competition may be a problem, so more than players who have their wildcard safe I need guess right on the nations that will progress.
How is your draft knockout squad looking?