UEFA EURO 2020 European Football Championship Preview
UEFA EURO 2020 are set to kick off Friday as Turkey takes on Italy in the introductory match of the championships, marking the return of the competition after the global pandemic forced last year’s tournament to be postponed.
France is a serious threat for the title following a successful World Cup conquest in 2018 and due to the incredible depth of their squad, capped off with the return of elite striker Karim Benzema to the national team.
France’s neighbors in Belgium will also be hoping to finally cement their “Golden Generation” with a major international victory, as the talented roster of Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and others have failed to capture any hardware while representing their country.
England is one of the odds-on favorites to walk away atop the competition, blending the youthful energy of stars Mason Mount and Declan Rice with the experience of leaders Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling. England has never finished inside the top two in this competition and will be desperately seeking to change its fortunes.
Aside from these powerhouses, there are a few teams in with a shout to conquer the competition. Portugal has the incredible attacking ability with Cristiano Ronaldo, Diogo Jota, Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, and others; Germany has recalled veterans Mats Hummels and Thomas Muller and has a trio of Champions League winners from this season in Kai Havertz, Timo Werner, and Antonio Rudiger at their disposal; Spain, Italy, and Croatia all have pragmatic squads and the Netherlands and Turkey could prove tough to defeat.
With all of that being said, here is how the groups should shake out.
UEFA EURO 2020 Group A: Italy, Turkey, Wales, Switzerland
Italy should easily find themselves on top while Turkey should find their way into the second round, mostly behind the scoring of Burak Yilmaz. Expect Wales to give both Turkey and Switzerland tough competition, though where Switzerland will fall, Turkey will get a result. The Swiss will then fall to Italy as well, meaning that they will finish in the bottom half of the group.
UEFA EURO 2020 Group B: Belgium, Denmark, Russia, Finland
Russia may have finished fourth in the 2018 World Cup, but they will meet a much less fortunate fate in this tournament as Belgium and Denmark will advance to bracket play.
Although Belgium will be without star man Kevin De Bruyne, lost to facial fractures suffered in the Champions League Final, and Eden Hazard has had a torrid time since departing from Stamford Bridge for Real Madrid, there is cause for concern if Belgium does anything other than win all of their games, as they are the most talented outfit of these four nations. Denmark has some sneakily impressive players in Andreas Christensen and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg that will protect the goal well and give them a better defensive record than the other members competing for the second spot in the group, and thus advance them through the group stage.
UEFA EURO 2020 Group C: Austria, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Ukraine
As impressive as North Macedonia’s 2-1 victory over Germany back in March was, their lack of experience will hinder them on the big stage. Watch for Austria to defy the odds and use their Bundesliga talent to guide them to the next stage by relying on solid defending and midfield pressure.
The Netherlands will squeak in as the second team from this group, but they are nowhere near the level of the squad that reached the World Cup Final in 2010. Ukraine will be uninspiring and a boring watch due to their lack of attacking talent, even though they will not be pushovers.
UEFA EURO 2020 Group D: England, Croatia, Czech Republic, Scotland
Suppose the oddsmakers know what they are talking about here and side with the Lions. England, for all of the stick they receive, has talent all over the pitch and can tinker with their tactics depending on the opponent. England’s downfall may come from lapses in attention from players such as Harry Maguire and Raheem Sterling, but with the Premier League’s top scorer and assist man in Harry Kane leading the line, they will be favored in every match of the group stage.
Croatia should finish second after reaching the World Cup Final in 2018: their midfield pivot of Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic is one of the best in the competition, and although Ante Rebic is their only certified goal-scoring threat on the frontline, they are a stout and physical bunch. Midfielder Tomas Soucek may help the Czech Republic take points off of either of the top two teams, but it will not be enough to advance.
Scotland has only made two prior appearances in the competition and has only scored four goals in six games, and will round out the group at the bottom.
UEFA EURO 2020 Group E: Spain, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden
This Spain team is not the technically superior, possession-based team that built their namesake— instead, they are explosive and creative and will use their physicality to battle against opposing sides. Poland is a shaky guess for number two, but given that Robert Lewandowski just broke Gerd Muller’s 49-year Bundesliga record for goals in a season with 41, he can single-handedly drag Poland out of the opening gambit.
Slovakia is a scrappy bunch but lacks creative ability in the attacking half of the pitch, meaning that they will struggle to hold their own against teams capable of scoring against them. Sweden’s national team has gotten so bad that they desperately needed 39-year old Zlatan Ibrahimovic to return after he vowed not to play for them again, and the direction that they have been trending in will be on full display at the Euros.
UEFA EURO 2020 Group F: France, Portugal, Germany, Hungary
In what will prove to be the toughest group, look for France to dominate while Portugal’s thrilling brand of attacking play will see them into the second spot of the group. Germany has been dealing with internal turmoil in recent years, and current coach Joachim Low is set to be replaced with former Bayern Munich boss Hansi Flick after the Euros.
Germany will only be bringing two forwards, Timo Werner and Kevin Volland, to the competition, the first of which missed more open-goal chances than any other player in Europe this season. Werner’s work rate and industry can create chances for his teammates, and he does have a good goal-scoring record in Germany, though they are still on track to be sent home early in the proceeding.
Hungary has a serious bright spot in wide-man Dominik Szoboszlai heading into the future, but they are simply not talented enough to compete with the fellow members of their group.