Considered a chic pre-tournament pick to win it all, Belgium suddenly finds itself in need of a victory over Ireland to simply reach the knockout round of the European Championships. The Red Devils were less than the sum of their parts while being outclassed by Italy 2-0, but the Azzurri did them a favor by beating Sweden on Friday, leaving the rest of the group wide open.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal are not in such dire straits, but being held to a shocking 1-1 draw by Iceland was not an ideal start ahead of this match against Austria. The Real Madrid man cut a petulant figure post-match as Iceland celebrated (justifiably) a spectacular debut in a major tournament following a gritty performance.
Austria also has some questions to answer after its surprising 2-0 loss to Hungary, and the already-difficult task of beating Portugal is tougher still without suspended defender and captain Aleksandar Dragovic.
The Magyars can all but clinch a spot in the round of 16 if they defeat Iceland, which will try to find some sort of jump to its game and avoid the emotional letdown after putting so much into holding Portugal at bay for the final half-hour.
Ireland still has everything to play for as well, and it looked the better side in notching a deserved point versus Sweden in its opener. But The Boys in Green, even with Martin O’Neill’s tactical acumen, are going to have a difficult time against a desperate Belgian side.
These picks cover the group matches for June 18, using a 4-4-2 formation and salary cap of $90,000 as part of Fan XT’s Daily Fantasy rules for the European Championships.
Goalkeeper: Hannes Por Halldorsson, Iceland ($7,030). Off the top, it will be very unlikely Halldorsson turns in another 10-save performance like he did against Portugal since Hungary does not possess anywhere near the wealth of offensive talent Portugal does. But the FK Bodo/Glimt keeper clearly can marshal a back line and provides low-cost quality with a chance of a clean sheet.
Christian Fuchs, Austria ($7,280). In sticking with the Leicester City outside back, Fuchs should have his chances to go forward and create scoring opportunities against Portugal, though they may be limited since defense will be his primary role.
Thomas Vermaelen, Belgium ($7,250). Belgium’s defense didn’t play all that badly in losing to Italy, and remember, the second goal came near the death of the match as Belgium desperately pressed forward for an equalizer. The central defender provides good value at low cost here with a chance to pick up clean sheet bonus points.
Laurent Ciman, Belgium ($7,160). Like Vermaelen, Ciman is a pick that’s cap friendly. But the Montreal Impact outside back should have plenty of opportunities to push forward against an Ireland team expected to look for chances more on the counter than direct attack.
Midfielders: Laszlo Kleinheisler ($7,020). For a bargain price, Kleinheisler turned in a strong performance in Hungary’s midfield and notched his team’s opening goal against Austria. It will be interesting to see how Kleinheisler and the Magyars deal with prosperity when a victory will all but see them through to the round of 16.
Gylfi Sigurdsson, Iceland ($7,690). Sigurdsson turned in a yeoman’s effort against Portugal and was at his best in the air as he won countless headers to at least start Iceland’s offense near the final third. The Swansea City man also had a couple of quality chances at goal, and while he may be dealing with some heavy legs in this match, he’s still savvy enough to carve out scoring opportunities.
Ricardo Quaresma, Portugal ($7,250). Quaresma came off the bench against Iceland and instantly made an impact with his pace on the wing and his quality service on corner kicks with three crosses, three corner kicks and two shots in just 14 minutes. The Besiktas winger should be in the starting XI this time around, and expect his speed and service to give Austria fits.
Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium ($10,750). Given the Manchester City winger’s high price tag, there is definite risk selecting him given how poorly Belgium looked in losing to Italy. But succeeding against Ireland requires a little bit of grit, and while Eden Hazard showed flashes of it against Italy, De Bruyne is the player capable of having it for a full 90. And since the Red Devils have their backs against the wall, he should deliver.
Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal ($13,880). It’s easy to be disappointed when Ronaldo fails to score a goal after being selected in a DFS lineup, but given the fact he racks up points just by the sheer volume of shots he takes _ case in point, 11 against Iceland _ it’s hard to keep the Real Madrid man out of the lineup. But for all his club success, there’s still yet to be that moment for Portugal. That’s plenty of motivation for Ronaldo as he becomes the country’s all-time leader in appearances ahead of Luis Figo in this contest.
Marko Arnautovic, Austria ($7,500). Though Austria likely will not have long spells of possession, it should be able to hit on the counter. That was an area Portugal showed itself vulnerable against Iceland, which had only four shots all game _ but all four were on target. Arnautovic’s teammate Marc Janko could also be an appealing option here if Austria opt to use a target forward, but Arnautovic may be the better play since he should be able to link up with David Alaba.