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Knockout stages

Lewandowski and Coman aim for quarters

The EURO 2016 knockout stages begin this weekend. Bayern’s Germany contingent face Slovakia in the Round of 16 on Sunday, but Robert Lewandowski and Poland are already in action on Saturday against Switzerland, with Kingsley Coman and hosts France facing Ireland the following day.

Lewandowski, the top scorer in the Bundesliga last term with 30 goals, has yet to find the net in three matches at the European championship. “You can’t play 60 games a season and score in every match,” the 27-year-old said prior to the clash with the Swiss in Saint-Étienne.

Poland assistant coach Bogdan Zajac feels there is “no problem” with Lewandowski’s eight-month goal drought for his country, although the Swiss have only conceded one goal so far, a penalty converted by Romania’s Bogdan Stancu. “Switzerland are a top team and clear favourites,” Lewandowski declared.

However, the Poles are solid in defence too and kept three clean sheets in their group fixtures. Both teams have made the knockout stages at the EURO for the first time on the back of two goals scored. The Poles lead in the head-to-head comparison between the pair with four wins, five draws and a single defeat, but Lewy and Co have had two days less to recover.

Irish face France

Coman and France travel to Lyon for Sunday’s meeting with Ireland, who made the last sixteen as one of the four best third-placed teams. “It’s the Round of 16 so it’s a whole new ball game,” said defender Adil Rami of Europa League winners Sevilla. “It’s time we all shifted up a gear.”

The Irish have a score to settle from the previous meeting between the two back in November 2009. In the play-offs for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the Boys in Green were eliminated after a blatant handball by Thierry Henry allowed William Gallas to score an extra-time equaliser and seal a 2-1 aggregate victory. “Obviously we’ve talked about it but I reckon it won’t matter once we start playing,” insisted Ireland boss Martin O'Neill.

His counterpart Didier Deschamps, whose charges sealed first place in their group with a goalless draw against the Swiss last Sunday, has had three additional days to prepare his men: it was not until Wednesday that the Irish escaped the group stages for the first time with a last-gasp 1-0 triumph against Italy. French media believe Deschamps will field the same starting line-up as for the opening match two weeks ago which would mean Coman beginning on the bench.