UEFA Euro 2020 is just around the corner. With history to be written and stars to be born. First Time Finish previews the tournament ahead of June 11th.
‘Euro 2020, will be completely different.’
That was Michel Platini’s declaration back in 2012, when he introduced his multi host nation concept.
The prophecy has become even more prevalent in the years since.
Euro 2020 will be different.
It will be the first UEFA tournament that has been postponed an entire year.
The first played during a pandemic.
And the first without full crowds.
What remains is the passion and excitement.
The opportunity for upsets and new memories.
24 teams will enter the tournament all hoping to make their mark and write themselves in the history books.
FTF’s Ninad, Ben and Tom have decided to delve into all 24 teams and profile them in this comprehensive Euro 2020 preview.
The last international tournament attended by Italy was the European Championships of 2016. Chelsea-bound Antonio Conte had modelled the national team in his image. Experience across the pitch, versatile wing backs, and a ‘little and large’ combination up front.
The outlook this time around could not be more different. Some of the seasoned names remain in Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. However there now exists a youthful core to this squad, with smatterings of experience and quality throughout.
Midfield especially looks strong. Picking three from Jorginho, Manuel Locatelli, Marco verratti, Nicolo Barella, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Stefano Sensi will be an unenviable task for Roberto Mancini.
The delayed tournament has certainly benefitted Italy. The form and development of the likes of Barella, centre back Alessandro Bastoni, Ciro Immobile and Federico Chiesa hold them in greater stead than were it to have been played last year.
Since taking over in 2018, Mancini has only lost two of his twenty eight matches, and conceded just fourteen goals. Ten wins from ten in qualifying was a mighty return for a developing team too.
There are injury concerns to consider. Verratti arrives at the tournament a doubt, Chiellini too has had an injury plagued campaign. At thirty six, not starting Chiellini might be the big call Mancini is forced to make.
It will be fascinating to see how their form, and the fusing of youth and experience transpires at the tournament. Few will back them to win it, nor make it past the quarter finals in reality. A group of Turkey, Switzerland and Wales is no easy task, but anything beyond this will be a welcome sign of progress for Mancini and Italy.
Likely starting eleven: (4-3-3) Donnarumma, Florenzi, Bonucci, Acerbi, Biraghi, Jorginho, Barella, Pellegrini, Chiesa, Immobile, Insigne.
Key player: For all the different combinations Mancini could play, Nicolo Barella is very likely to start in midfield. Barella has been masterful in Inter’s title winning team, combining attacking energy and thrust with feverish defensive work. Technically excellent too, Barella is infectious to watch.
Young player to watch: Were it not for Federico Chiesa, Juventus would not be in the Champions League next season. The twenty three year old has been used as a winger, second striker and even a wing back. Yet he has still produced eighteen goals and assists in nearly fifty games. He may only have one international goal to date, but only Bonnucci has played more under Mancini. Chiesa’s electric form could well roll into the summer.
After a terrible 2016 Euro campaign and failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, even back home in Turkey there must have been a few surprised faces at the level of ease they cruised through Euro 2020 qualification.
Finishing just two points behind France, having beaten the World Champions in the process, there would have definitely been a lot of optimism going into the tournament last year.
Even with mounting injury problems for Senol Gunes. However, a terrible Nations League performance where the Turks finished bottom of their group behind Russia, Serbia and Hungary. Plus inconsistent performances in their World Cup qualifying campaign has made Turkey an unknown entity.
At times the Turkish can produce outstanding performances. Their games against the Netherlands and Norway proved that in March.
But they also have the capability for the utterly dreadful. The draw with Latvia also in March and their terrible Nations League performance was proof of exactly that.
On paper the Turks have a really strong defence which makes them difficult to break down.
A pairing of Soyuncu and Kabak has proved themselves in the Premier League and both are regarded as some of the best up and coming defenders in the game.
Up front the Lille pairing of Burak Yılmaz and Yusuf Yazıcı made a total of 42 goal contributions for the French champions in all competitions last season and will be entering the tournament in red hot form.
Perhaps the midfield is the weakest point of the squad. With a lot of domestic based players, it will be the first time Europeans will be acquainted with the majestic talent of the likes of Ozan Tufan, İrfan Kahveci and Dorukhan Toköz.
Turkish supporters will be hoping the Nations League was just a bit of a blip. Perhaps Gunel used it as an experiment ahead of the tournament?
Only time will tell, a group of Italy, Wales and Switzerland certainly makes for an open group.
Likely starting eleven: Çakır, Celik, Meraş, Kabak, Soyuncu, Yokuslu, Tufan, Calhanoglu, Karaman, Yazici, Yilmaz.
Key player: Burak Yilmaz has been a goal machine anywhere he has went in his illustrious career and he has often been the key for Turkey at international level. His hat-trick in the 4-2 victory over the Netherlands demonstrated just how much the Turks will rely on him for goals.
Young player to watch: The obvious choice here would be Ozan Kabak, but it’s worth keeping an eye on Halil Dervişoğlu and Orkun Kökçü too. Both were born in the Netherlands but decided to represent Turkey at international level. The latter has been brilliant for Feyenoord this season. Meanwhile the former scored on his international debut in May.
Five years ago the streets of France thronged with the red, white and green colours of Welshmen who had come to witness miracles at the tournament.
Wales marched to the semi-finals of the tournament with Gareth Bale and co in a remarkable run which made for a fervent reception back home in Cardiff.
Now led by Rob Page, the Welsh are hoping for similar miracles this time around.
It was Ryan Giggs who led Wales through an impressive qualifying campaign finishing above Hungary and Slovakia and just three points behind Croatia who topped the group.
The Welsh bettered that with impressive displays in the Nation League topping their division B group and earning promotion to division A in 2020.
A 3-1 loss to Belgium was expected. Barring that and a defeat to England in a friendly, Wales have won 6 of their last 10 games beating the likes of Mexico, Finland and the Czech Republic along the way.
Their task at the tournament will not be easy, Turkey are the much fancied dark horses in the competition, Italy are always tough to beat and the Swiss pose a challenging threat too. Playing in Rome against Italy will be especially tough.
But there is some hope for optimism, Gareth Bale has finished the season in brilliant form, scoring 6 goals in his last 6 Premier League games.
Harry Wilson and Kieffer Moore have enjoyed brilliant campaigns at Cardiff which will add even more firepower to this Welsh squad. Page also has Dan James to select as well and Brennan Johnson could even be involved in the squad. David Brooks is also match fit.
Meanwhile Cabango and Rodon are exciting young centre-back options who have enjoyed relatively decent spells, especially Cabango who has been brilliant for Swansea this season.
Add to that the old-guard like Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey.
A semi-final finish will be unlikely, and while Wales will be unfancied in their group they have the potential to get through it. Turkey might have beaten the Netherlands and Norway, but they also lost to Hungary and drew with Latvia in between those convincing victories.
Likely starting eleven: Ward, Rodon, Cabango, Mepham, Williams, Roberts, Ampadu, Ramsey, Bale, Moore, James.
Key player: Bale showed he still has it in the last few months of the season during a pretty turgid spell for Tottenham. If Wales are to be successful, his firepower will be vital at the tournament considering the tough defences Wales will encounter, especially that of Italy’s but Turkey with Soyuncu and Kabak will be difficult too not to mention Elvedi and Akanji.
Young player to watch: Ben Cabango has been brilliant for Swansea this season and has rightly attracted interest from Premier League sides. Swansea just felt short of reaching England’s top flight, though Cabango might still be there next season.
On paper, Group D of the European Championship qualifiers was Switzerland and Denmark’s to lose.
In a group with Republic of Ireland, Georgia and Gibraltar, anything other than a formality qualification would have been a huge disappointment.
The Swiss would top the group by a point. Whilst Denmark finished unbeaten, their four draws from eight games and therefore lost out to Switzerland. Five wins and only one defeat in eight games is testament to the maturity of this Switzerland team.
Maturity and experience is a theme running through its spine. The reliable Yann Sommer is as dependable a goalkeeper as there is in Europe. Manuel Akanji and Nico Elvedi are a talented, yet experienced centre back pairing. Atalanta’s Remo Freuler and Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka are a midfield pairing of great quality. The attacking talents of Xherdan Shaqiri, Haris Seferovic and Mario Gavranovic mix flair and a seasoned knowhow.
A group of Turkey, Italy and Wales is a tricky if undaunting one. Especially for a team that, largely, is accustomed to arriving at international tournaments under the radar.
Switzerland’s form coming into this tournament only further this. Going back to September 2020, three wins, three draws and four defeats is a mixed jumble of form.
That said, Switzerland retain the quality and sprinkling of talent to retain their status as a dangerous tournament side. The solid base of Freuler and Xhaka will keep many at bay, and the mercurial Shaqiri will always savour the taste and smell of the biggest stage.
Likely starting eleven: (3-4-1-2) Sommer, Elvedi, Akanji, Rodriguez, Widmer, Freuler, Xhaka, Zuber, Shaqiri, Serefovic, Embolo
Key player: Shaqiri is the talisman, and comes alive in international tournaments. However the player to watch will be centre back Nico Elvedi. The Monchengladbach defender has been part of a poor defence domestically, but is a superb talent. Mauro Akanji is a defender with mental lapse within him, and it will be on Elvedi to provide that security. A strong passer and quick across the ground, Elvedi will become a revered talent in time.
Young player to watch: A twenty four year old is by no means the youngest of players. Denis Zakaria however has had an injury ruined second half to the season, so deserves inclusion. He likely will not start, but the defensive midfield is a magnificent talent. Smooth on the ball, smart off it. Zakaria catches the eye very quickly.
Denmark have won eight of their last eleven competitive games only tasting defeat to Belgium (twice) in the process.
Denmark are a sturdy and well drilled defensive side.
England found out first hand just how difficult it is to break them down, with the Danes getting the better of Harry Kane and co at Wembley back in October.
The legacy of 1992, is one that will be hard to match. But this Danish team is almost as good as the squad that marched all the way to victory almost thirty years ago.
There is strength and depth in every position. Schmeichel is a reliable and solid goalkeeper. Kjaer, Christensen and Joachim Andersen have all been solid this season in top five leagues. Meanwhile, Wass and Maehle are accomplished full-backs.
In midfield Højbjerg and Delaney’s engine could be vital, meanwhile Eriksen will be free to do his creative work.
With the pace of Poulsen, Braithwaite, Damsgaard, Skov-Olsen or Wind on the counter, Kasper Hjulmand has the recipe for success.
Denmark could surprise a few at the tournament. Sure they are unlikely to repeat the feat of 1992, but a quarter final finish is easily on the cards.
In a group of Russia, Finland and Belgium, the Danes should have enough to finish 2nd especially considering they will be playing their games in Copenhagen. They could even upset Belgium though. Having played the Belgians back in September and November and lost narrowly in close encounters, there is no doubt Hjulmand will be studying those performances and seeing where they will need to improve.
Likely starting eleven: Schmeichel, Maehle, Kjaer, Christensen, Wass, Hojbjerg, Delaney, Eriksen, Poulsen, Braithwaite, Wind.
Key Player: Christian Eriksen’s creativity and leadership will be vital. This Denmark squad has a lot of pace and workhorses, but they do lack a player of Eriksen’s ilk which is why he will play a key role.
Young Player to Watch: Denmark have a few emerging talent, Jonas Wind upfront is worth keeping an eye on. But Andreas Skov Olsen who has 3 goals and 4 assists in 5 caps (2 starts) is definitely one to watch even though he is unlikely to start.
When Jari Litmanen and, later, Sami Hyypiä hung up their boots it signalled the end of Finland’s ‘golden generation.’ Back then it was impossible to imagine that the Finns would ever make it to a coveted major tournament.
But a new generation, less flashy and more organised, have finally achieved the landmark.
The Finnish were brilliant in qualifying winning 6 of their 10 matches which was enough to secure them a 2nd place finish behind Italy, 4 points above 3rd placed Greece.
Even though the likes of Litmanen and Hyypia are no longer there, this Finnish team is relatively strong and hard to beat with the occasional capacity for the sublime. Highlighted by a remarkable 2-0 victory over France back in the autumn of 2020.
In Lukáš Hrádecký Finland had one of the best goalkeepers of the qualifying round and the ever reliable shot stopper has been in good form for Bayer Leverkusen too.
In holding midfield, former Arsenal midfielder Glen Kamara will be the key pivot of Finland’s play. On the back of a title winning season with Rangers, Kamara is one of the best players in this team and his ability to sweep up attacks could be vital at the tournament.
Upfront, there is Pukki, who has regained his fine form for Norwich City. Though with an ankle niggle side-lining him he will be touch and go for the opening game of the tournament. Even without Pukki, the likes of Marcus Forss of Brentford and Joel Pohnjapalo of Union Berlin can fill the gap for Finland’s ace. The latter scored a brace in his last outing back in March.
Coach Markku Kanerva has deployed a 5-3-2 formation during most of his tenure which has been tricky to break down.
Even though defence is probably the weak spot of the team Kanerva does like to concentrate on building a solid low block an capitalising from counter attacks and set-pieces to hurt his opponents.
Finland go into the tournament without a win in their last 4 games. However it is also on the back of a fairly successful Nations League campaign which saw the win 4 out of 6 games and finish in 2nd place behind the Welsh.
Belgium, Russia and Denmark will present a tough task, especially with the first game against Denmark taking place in Copenhagen. However, Kanerva’s men have shown before they should not be written off. Even though Finland are unlikely to advance further. You just never know.
Likely starting eleven: (5-3-2) Hradecky, Granlund, Uronen, Toivio, Raitala, Arajuuri, Sparv, Kamara, Valakari, Pukki, Lod.
Key player: If Teemu Pukki can get himself fit, a lot could depend on his ability to lead the line in attack. With 30 goals in 90 games for Finland, Pukki is only two away from totalling Litmanen’s record. The Norwich forward would love to do it at the Euros.
Young player to watch: 21 year old Valakari has been brilliant in Cyprus this season and he announced himself on the international scene with a famous goal against World Champions France. He will no doubt be on the move this summer and the Euros will be the perfect chance to grab the eye. But keep an eye on Forss of Brentford too. He started just 10 games in the Championship (32 sub appearances) and scored 8 goals.
The release of the Belgium squad before an international tournament is usually accompanied by gasps.
Since 2014, their depth of talent in all positions has been the envy of most other nations, and earmarked them as one of the favourites each time around.
This time around it feels a bit different. The star quality remains of course. Any team that possesses a spine of Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne, Youri Tielemans and Thibaut Courtois is going to be too much for most opposition.
However the squad as a whole feels aged and past its prime. Their back three contains too many players with the speed shot from their legs. The inclusions of Nacer Chadli, Michy Batshuayi and Thomas Vermaelen are confusing. Also the horribly out of form Eden Hazard will still be depended on to create the magic moments he once did.
Roberto Martinez has shown faith with a 3-4-3 system, most likely as a means to protect his older and slower centre backs. However with the personnel available, and the lack of depth in central midfield and wing-back, it can prove a jarring watch.
That said, Jérémy Doku is an exciting addition to the squad. Lukaku is in the form of his career, and with De Bruyne they will always have a chance.
It will be massive test of Martinez’ credentials to turn the last rendition of the ‘golden generation’ into tournament winners. A repeat of their 2018 World Cup third placed finish would be respectable, but ultimately signal a trophyless end to this wonderful group of players.
Likely starting eleven: (3-4-2-1) Courtois, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Denayer, Meunier, Tielemans, Witsel, Castagne, De Bruyne, Mertens, Lukaku
Key player: 38 goals and 12 assists this season have transformed Romelu Lukaku into one of Europe’s best forwards. Belgium’s all time top scorer has shown new sides to his game at club level that elevate those around him, and in this form is nigh on unstoppable.
Young player to watch: Jérémy Doku is a vibrant and exciting prospect. The eighteen year old has shown inconsistencies in his first campaign at Rennes, but is developing nicely. With Hazard’s powers on the wane, Doku represents the Red Devils’ future.
Stanislav Cherchesov’s men did their country proud on home soil. At the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, their journey was one of the defining chapters of the competition. Exiting the competition at the round of 16 at the hands of eventual finalists Croatia, was no simple feat. Russia had put themselves back on the world map with that display.
Their Euro 2020 qualifying group saw them being placed alongside World no.1 Belgium, Scotland, Kazakhstan, Cyprus and San Marino. Bar the two defeats they had at the hands of the Belgian Red Devils, Cherchesov’s men had a near perfect 100% record.
It was goals galore during the qualification phase. Dispatching Kazakhstan 4-0, San Marino 9-0, Scotland 4-0 and Cyprus 5-0, Russia were in complete control. The usual suspects excelled during this time for them, including the likes of Artem Dzyuba, Aleksandr Golovin, Denis Cheryshev. They will be expected to step up once again come Euro 2020.
Although Golovin’s year was rocked by injuries, he has still managed to garner hugely impressive numbers.
Alongside the very talented Sardar Azmoun, Dzyuba has enjoyed another fine campaign in the Russian top flight.
Denis Cheryshev has an unusual knack of always turning up for Russia during the big games even though his club form leaves much to be desired. He will hope to shine for Cherchesov once again.
With the profile of players that Russia currently possess, it is likely that they will line up in a 4-2-3-1 with Dzyuba leading the line. Behind him, Golovin and Aleksei Miranchuk will look to add creative spark and dangerous movement between opposition lines. Cheryshev will look to supplement the aging Yuri Zhirkov on the left side.
Russia will look to threaten from set-pieces when given the opportunity to do so. They have players who are more than capable in those situations. Likewise, with the likes of Golovin, Cheryshev and Miranchuk, they will have he technical quality necessary to stand up to greater opposition.
At the Euros, they will be part of Group B alongside well-known foes in Belgium, Denmark and Finland. All things considered, it is an open group and a second-place finish will be the most favorable outcome for the Cherchesov’s team.
Likely starting eleven: (4-2-3-1) Shunin, Fernandes, Dzhikiya, Semenov, Zhirkov, Miranchuk, Zobnin, Ionov, Golovin, Cheryshev, Dzyuba.
Key player: The key players are all in forward areas for Russia and Dzyuba will look to carry his excellent league form into the Euros. All eyes will be on him to deliver the goals once again.
Young player to watch out for: Denis Makarov will certainly be one to keep an eye out for, if he gets the chance to showcase his talents as a starter. In any case, he will be a potent option off the bench for Russia, as he has been for Rubin Kazan this season. Unfortunately, Arsen Zakharyan will be missing the Euros to an infection, otherwise the 18-year-old would’ve been a surefire young star for the Russian national team.
Euro 2020 marks the return to international competition of two giants of Europe. After missing out on the 2018 World Cup, Italy return with a youthful and exciting vision. Netherlands however, carry less of this positivity into the tournament.
Under previous coach Ronald Koeman it appeared the Dutch were cultivating an exciting project. His departure to Barcelona however brought in Frank De Boer. A legendary player, associated with great Dutch sides, his managerial career has left little to be excited by.
Scepticism remains towards De Boer. He won only one of his first six matches, and his reliance on older players has done little to inspire fans.
The injury of Virgil van Dijk is a huge loss. For a team in transition, losing a figurehead and leader let alone talent the size of van Dijk is damaging.
There remains an exciting, vibrant core however. Mathjis de Ligt is one of the best young centre backs around. Frenkie de Jong has enjoyed a brilliant season at Barcelona. Donyell Malen has scored nearly fifty goals in three seasons with PSV Eindhoven. Memphis Depay too, one of the more experienced heads now, is capable of magic.
The tournament has likely come too soon for the Netherlands’ young stars, and probably too late for its older heads.
Fans, and followers of De Boer’s career, will be quick to call for a managerial change should they disappoint. The question is what marks a successful tournament for this side? Group C is a tricky group, with Austria and Ukraine capable of beating them.
At this stage, fighting and showing progress and signs of a project in the making, could be the realistic demands for this competition.
Likely starting eleven: (4-3-3) Cillessen, Dumfries, De Ligt, Blind, Wijndal, De Roon, de Jong, Wijnaldum, Berghuis, Depay, Malen
Key player: This feels like Memphis Depay’s time. Thirty goals and assists in Ligue 1 has pushed his reputation up a level, coming at a rate of 0.95 goals and assists/90. He could easily start from the left wing, with a more conventional centre forward played. However he has thrived in a central role, allowing him to grab the ball deeper and spark games into life.
Young player to watch: For all the pessimism around the team’s prospects, there are numerous young players to be excited by. Our pick is AZ Alkmaar captain Teun Koopmeiners. An exquisite left footed passer in central midfield, capable of playing in defence, It is unlikely he will start, but his range of passing and intelligence are a joy to watch.
Andriy Shevchenko and the Ukrainian national side have come a long way together. Since taking over from Mykhaylo Fomenko after a dismal Euro 2016 campaign, Shevchenko has had his fair share of highs and lows. The qualification campaign for the 2018 FIFA World Cup was an unsuccessful one for his side. Finishing third in their qualifying group behind leaders Iceland and Croatia, many were dissatisfied with the way things were running under him.
Fast forward to today, Shevchenko and his staff has transformed the national team into a formidable outfit. The progress they’ve made since 2018 has been impressive to say the least.
Placed in a group containing Portugal and Serbia for the Euro 2020 qualifiers, Ukraine emerged unbeaten as the leaders of the group. Their 5-0 victory against Serbia was particularly memorable.
Ukrainian teams of old have had a reputation for being pragmatic and solely playing a style of football that relies on counter-attacking. Shevchenko is trying to change that. With the likes of Roman Yaremchuk, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Atalanta star Ruslan Malinovskyi in attack, they will certainly be a side worth keeping an eye on.
Yaremchuk will hope to add to his goalscoring feats during the qualifiers at the main stage itself. Malinovskyi will no doubt be the creative hub of this team along with Zinchenko who will look to aid in both defense and attack after a successful league campaign with Manchester City.
At the back, Ilya Zabarnyi of Dynamo Kiev has emerged as one for the present and future. The 18-year-old made his debut for Ukraine against France in a 1-1 draw during the World Cup qualifiers last year. He has been hugely impressive for Dynamo Kiev so far this year and will look to stamp his mark with the national team at the Euros.
Ukraine’s group contains Austria, the Netherlands and North Macedonia. Shevchenko and his men kick off their campaign against the Netherlands and a positive result in the opener could go a way in boosting their confidence and chances of qualifying from the group.
Likely starting eleven: (4-3-3) Buschan, Tymchyk, Kryvtsov, Matviyenko, Mykolenko, Stepanenko, Zinchenko, Malinovskyi, Zubkov, Yaremchuk, Tsygankov.
Key player: Malinovskyi is undoubtedly Ukraine’s key player heading into the Euros given his scintillating form in the Serie A recently, producing two back-to-back player of the month MVP awards for him.
Young player to watch: Viktor Tsygankov will be one to keep an eye out for in attack, the 23 year old has had 12 goals in the league this season. At the back, Zabarnyi will look to take his chances if he starts ahead of his senior counterparts.
Without UEFA’s Nations League path to the Euros, North Macedonia may never have made it to the tournament. Thanks to the new play off system, Macedonia only had to dispatch Kosovo and Georgia to make the finals.
However that does not mean that North Macedonia go into the tournament as potential whipping boys.
Igor Angelovski’s side have proved time and time again they should not be written off. They have lost just twice in eleven games and the stunning display against Germany in World Cup qualifying back in March was proof they can hold their own at the tournament.
Add to that the fact that they finished third in qualifying five points behind Austria in 2nd and only narrowly losing to them 2-1 away from home, there is definitely more to North Macedonia than it meets the eye.
Their names might not be renowned around the world. Though there are a few who will be familiar to fans of the top five leagues. Alioski has played a key role for Leeds United in the Premier League. Enis Bardhi has often been the star of Levante in La Liga. Meanwhile veteran striker Goran Pandev will be known to all Serie A enthusiasts.
Beyond them, Dinamo Zagreb’s Ademi and Ristovski played a key role in the Croatian’s march to the quarter finals of the Europa League and they are equally as important in the national team.
Angelovski plays with a deep-lying back five especially against tough opposition. Ristovski is often the heart of the defence. Meanwhile Ademi is the sweeper in midfield and the man who frees Bardhi and Elmas’ creativity going forward.
Up front Pandev still has it. He scored the winner against Germany and the goal which helped North Macedonia secure qualification to the tournament over Georgia.
At 37, his mobility is no longer the same. But Mallorca’s Trajkovski makes up for it with his energy. The 28 year old may be without a goal for his club in Spain, but in 2021 he has 3 goals in 2 matches for the national team.
The simply fact that North Macedonia have made it to the tournament is enough for some. But they won’t be mere spectators.
Sure Ukraine, Austria and the Netherlands seems like a tough draw on paper. But no one gave Iceland any chances in their inaugural Euro campaign back in 2016 and they were forced to bite their tongue.
Angelovski and co will be hoping to produce similar feats.
Likely starting eleven: (5-3-2) Dimitrievski, Nikolov, Musliu, Ristevski, Velkovski, Alioski, Ademi, Elmas, Bardhi, Pandev, Trajkovski.
Key player: Many will be looking up to Goran Pandev for inspiration, but 29 year old Arijan Ademi is also a vital player for the national team. He has been in great form for Dinamo Zagreb this season and he has the ability to control games. His defensive contribution against some strong midfields will be vital. Especially in the game against the Netherlands to nulify the threat of Wijnaldum and de Jong.
Young player to watch: Eljif Elmas may have only played a sporadic role for Napoli in Serie A making the starting eleven just three times. But the 21 year old should not be written off. He needs to find the right club. For Macedonia he has shown glimpses of his exquisite brilliance. He scored in each of his last two games in World Cup qualifying and has 6 goals and 5 assists in 25 appearances for his nation.
The Austrians have been on a barren run. They have not gotten past the group stages of any major tournament since 1982. The country’s record at the European Championships is even poorer.
Six games, two draws and four defeats.
Back in 2016 with Iceland and Hungary in the same group, the Austrians were much fancied to finish 2nd behind Portugal. There were high hopes with the competition being David Alaba’s first in Austrian colours.
A 2-0 defeat against Hungary shattered all those hopes. David Alaba simply could not inspire his nation to victory in the rest of the games either.
Five years later, Austria’s squad has strengthened ahead of Euro 2020. The emergence of young talent across the park has made the Austrians into an attractive side.
The likes of Martin Hinteregger and Marco Friedl are Bundesliga stalwarts and could play a vital role at the back.
In midfield Franco Foda has the pick of Xaver Schlager, Marcel Sabitzer, and Christoph Baumgartner who have all enjoyed solid Bundesliga campaigns.
Not to mention Sasa Kalajdzic who has 17 goals in all competitions for Stuttgart this season and 3 in 5 for Austria.
Add to the mix a fully fit Konrad Laimer and David Alaba and you have to admit Franco Foda’s side have a lot of potential.
They will open the group-stages with a game against North Macedonia who proved a tricky customer last time out against Germany, defeating Austria’s neighbours 2-1.
A recent 4-0 defeat against Denmark showed worrying sings at the back. Austria’s defence is relatively slow, and they tend to leave a lot of space for the opposition to run in behind. Foda’s side have kept just 3 cleansheets in their last 10 games.
Ukraine and the Netherlands will also be tricky ties, but with the learning curve of 2016 behind them and a youthful much better team in midfield and attack, there is potential for Austria to get their first win at the tournament.
Especially if they can provide the right service for Sasa Kalajdzic.
Likely starting eleven: Schlager, Ulmer, Hinteregger, Dragovic, Lainer, Alaba, Baumgartlinger, Laimer, Sabitzer, Schlager, Kalajdzic.
Key player: There was a lot of weight and expectation on his shoulders five years ago, this time the load is a little less but David Alaba will still be looked to as the man to inspire Austria.
Young player to watch: 24 year old Sasa Kalajdzic has been brilliant in the Bundesliga this season. Do not be fooled by his 6 foot 7 frame, Kalajdzic used to be a midfielder and played futsal back in the day so he’s extremely technical on the ground too. If the Austrians can deliver a crosses into the box, it’s almost inevitable he will get his head on it.
After the surprise and thrill of a semi-final run in Russia three years ago, this feels like England’s best shot at a tournament win since 2006.
The strong domestic showings of key players have ignited English fan fires, and belief that this group can rival France and Portugal.
In Harry Kane, they possess one of the world’s best two strikers. In Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden, two of Europe’s form players coming into the tournament. A host of Manchester City and Chelsea players to be crowned as Champions League winners.
Whilst a popular character, manager Gareth Southgate has his critics. Mostly in his tactical conservatism that often sees the substitutes bench possess more attacking flair than the starting eleven. The fact is however that international tournaments are rarely one by box office sides.
A lot hinges on the fitness of key personnel. Jordan Henderson, vice-captain and leader, has not played since February. Manchester United captain Harry Maguire too has recently suffered his own injury. Big players with big personalities that would be sorely missed.
This might be a cycle too soon for this extremely young unit. The likes of France and Portugal are more aged in their international processes, and such experience could prove pivotal for the team that goes on to win the thing.
Any squad containing the attacking riches England have however will likely go far. It could prove to be the perfect dress rehearsal for the World Cup next year, when these young guns will have developed even further.
Now that is a scary thought. For the Euros however, just sit back and enjoy. These are rare days to be an England fan and should be savoured whatever the outcome.
Likely starting eleven: (4-3-3) Pickford, Walker, Maguire, Stones, Shaw, Henderson/Philips, Rice, Mount, Foden, Kane, Rashford
Key player: Harry Kane is coming off the back of an incredible season, topping both the Premier League scoring and assist charts. After playing in such a turgid Spurs side, and potentially moving to pastures new in the coming months, this tournament could be him at his peak. Will no doubt be among the top scorers.
Young player to watch: So many to choose from. Foden has exploded at Man City this year and could add a Champions League to his trophy haul. Jadon Sancho too has kicked into life in the last few months and fired Dortmund into the Champions League. The English perception of Sancho remains bizarrely skewed, and an impactful run here will quickly arrest this ignorance.
Afters years of misery and disappointment, for the first time in two decades, Scotland will be at a major tournament. The euphoria around the nation was infectious when the Tartan Army defeated a much more fancied Serbia in the qualifying Play Offs.
Steve Clarke has a solid core at his disposal going into the tournament, from Andrew Robertson who has become a world-class left-back, to Premier League stars in McTominay, Tierney, McGinn and Adams. There should be no surprise at why this Scottish team has been the one to end the cycle of misfortune.
Under Clarke, Scotland went on a nine game unbeaten run back in 2020. It was ended by defeats to Israel and the Czech Republic which were disappointing results though it must be acknowledged, Clarke was missing a lot of important players.
Especially in the tie against the Czechs who Scotland will face again at the Euros looking for revenge.
Hampden Park will host Scotland’s important Euro group ties with Croatia and the Czech Republic. There is no doubt it will be rocking with euphoria and bagpipes.
The clash against England at Wembley is set-up to be a classic too.
Clarke has fashioned a team that is hard to beat. They do lack some firepower upfront but there is potential in this Scottish team and the power of Hampden Park could secure some famous results.
Likely starting eleven: Marshall, Tierney, Hanley, Hendry, Robertson, O’Donnell, McTominay, McGregor, McGinn, Adams, Dykes.
Key Player: Andrew Robertson has been the beating heart of the team. His deliveries and surging runs forward could play a pivotal role in Scotland’s attack. The fact that he has performed at the highest of stages will mean the rest of the group will look to him when the going gets tough too. Coming up against some strong wing players he will be tested too.
Young players to watch: Billy Gilmour got his call-up to the team in somewhat a surprise move by Clarke, but in all fairness the Chelsea midfielder has stepped up in rare cameos for the the first team and while he is unlikely to play a major role at the tournament, he is certainly one for the future who will learn a lot from the experience. Celtic’s David Turnbull is worth keeping an eye on too.
Over the years the Czech Republic have had a few famous runs at the Euros. Most will remember their famous 1996 run where they marched to the final with the likes of Poborsky, Nedved, Smicer and Berger.
In 2004, they again made it to the semi-finals with the core of the group much the same and Milan Baros finishing at the top-goalscorer.
Dreams is similar feats from this current group are far-fetched, but there are some promising signs in the current squad.
The Czechs were in some way helped by the delay of the tournament. A year later in Soucek and Coufal they now have established Premier League stars who have led West Ham into Europe this season.
Patrik Schick definitely seems a bit more in form scoring more goals in his second Bundesliga spell at Bayer Leverkusen and getting more minutes.
Meanwhile, Slavia Prague’s impressive run in Europa League has enabled the likes of David Zima, Lukas Provod and co to earn recognition and experience outside of the Czech Republic. Slavia Prague actually have 6 members in the Czech squad. Provod who has been linked with Inter Milan notably will be a big loss to the team after he suffered a late injury which rules him out of the reckoning.
This Czech team does not come close to previous eras, however Jaroslav Silhavy has performed an amicable job, and they can be explosive going forward with plenty of attacking threats.
At the same time they are hard to beat too. They have recent experience playing against England and Scotland playing them in qualifying and Nations League which could come in handy.
They might just fall of short of making it to the next round, but they will not go down without a fight.
Likely starting eleven: Vaclik, Coufal, Celustka, Zima, Boril, Soucek, Kral, Darida, Jankto, Schick, Hlozek.
Key player: Tomas Soucek is without a shadow of a doubt the star of the team, if him and Coufal can continue their excellent form in the Premier League, the Czechs could do well at the tournament.
Young player to watch: There’s a few notable young players, like David Zima, however, Adam Hlozek is probably the stand-out one here. He’s attracting Premier League attention after some stellar performances for Sparta Prague scoring 15 goals and registering 8 assists in 19 games. Scouts will no doubt keep a close eye on him at the tournament too.
The euphoric scenes back in Zagreb from 2018 are unlikely to replicated this time around. However Croatia enter a tournament, for the first time, with cumbersome expectations.
The 2018 World Cup has raised hopes back home that the country could go one better this time around.
While some of the old-guard like Corluka and Mario Mandzukic have hung up their boots from international football, there is an argument to be had that his current crop of players could be even better than the previous squad.
There is no Corluka, but Duje Caleta-Car is an astute replacement. Without Mandzukic, Croatia head-coach Dalic can still call up on the likes of Bruno Petkovic who has 6 goals in 13 caps, or 20 goal Bundesliga striker Andrej Kramaric and Ante Budimir who impressed for Osasuna in La Liga last season.
Add to that the emergence of the likes of Borna Barisic at left-back and Josip Brekalo on the wing. Plus Nikola Vlasic, Mateo Kovacic and Mario Pasalic hitting form at the right time.
Mix it with the old-guard Luka Modric, Ante Rebic, Dejan Lovren and Ivan Perisic who have still enjoyed solid seasons, and this Croatia side is looking very strong indeed.
With Dominik Livaković in between the sticks also have a very reliable pair of hands to guard the goal as he showcased against Tottenham in the Europa League.
Qualifying was relatively smooth for the Croatians to the tournament only losing one of their 8 matches against Hungary and finishing top of their group.
However, since those results, Dalic has faced some disappointments.
The Croats lost 5 of their 6 UEFA Nations League matches and only narrowly managed to stay in the A division finishing above Sweden on goal-difference.
The only positive in 2020 has been the form of Josip Brekalo who scored 3 and assisted 3 goals in 8 games for the Croats.
Dalic and his side began 2021 with a shock defeat to Slovenian but they bounced back with back to back wins over Cyprus and Malta.
Dalic has struggled to mix the old and the new guard together. With a tough group, the Croats will be hoping the tournament is where things will fall into place.
On paper this Croatian squad is still extremely strong and they should pose a threat to anyone they face. Even beyond the starting eleven there will be attacking threats who could come off the bench to make an impact.
Likely starting eleven: Livakovic, Barisic, Caleta-Car, Lovren, Vrsaljko, Modric, Kovacic, Brekalo, Vlasic, Perisic, Petkovic.
Key player: Luka Modric will still be the beating heart of this team. This is likely his last hurrah, though he will probably play a role at the World Cup in the winter of 2022 too. In the Champions League Modric has proven he can still perform at the highest level and the Croatians will be hoping he will replicate similar performances at the tournament.
Young player to watch: Croatia have not named a lot of youngsters, Gvardiol and Ivanusec are notable expectations, but the aforementioned 22 year old Brekalo is certainly the pick of the bunch. He’s been in good form for club and country this season, and his pace and creativity could be vital for Croatia in the tournament. No doubt there will be plenty of elite clubs keeping an eye on him too.
After a disastrous 2018 World Cup and an uninspiring Euro 2020 qualification despite topping their group, Poland embark on the tournament under new management.
Portuguese Paulo Sousa succeeded Jerzy Brzęczek who was accused of not being able to control the dressing room and get the best out of Robert Lewandowski who scored just 6 goals in the qualification process.
The 40 goal Bundesliga man has started life with 3 goals in 2 matches under Sousa, and is coming into the tournament in perfect condition.
Sousa’s new look Poland is fresh and rejuvenated. There are plenty of interesting young players like Kozwlowski and Piatkowski.
He has implemented a back three which utilises Poland’s pace on the flanks to deliver and create chances for Lewandowski.
Helik, Bednarek and Glik will likely form the back three. Meanwhile on the flank, Sousa can utilise the likes of Bereszyński, Rybus, Jozwiak, Moder and new Union Berlin signing Puchacz.
Zielinski who has enjoyed an excellent season at Napoli and is in a great run of form will play an integral role as the creator in midfield.
All Poland’s task will be is to get Lewandowski the ball in front of goal. He will take care of the rest.
On paper, Slovakia should be a winnable match, Spain will be a little harder as will Sweden with the likes of Larsson, Isak and Kulusewski Poland’s relatively slow back three.
Maybe the quarter final finish of 2016 is out of reach though with Lewandowski nothing is impossible and Sousa has showed good early signs of building solid team, even England at Wembley struggled at times against the Poles.
Likely starting eleven: Szczęsny, Bednarek, Helik, Glik, Rybus, Bereszyński, Krychowiak, Moder, Zielinski, Milik, Lewandowski.
Key player: Lewandowski would be the obvious choice, but his performance will hinge a lot of on the service he gets. Piotr Zielinski could play a key role in that. He’s enjoyed arguably his best campaign in a Napoli shirt with 10 goals and 13 assists in all competitions and has been excellent at breaking the lines. Poland will be hoping to see more of the same at the tournament.
Young player to watch: Keep an eye on Piatkowski and Kozlowski, the latter will be the youngest player at the tournament. However, neither will feature a lot so Jakub Moder is probably the one to watch in this Polish side. The Brighton midfielder scored against England and he looks like he will play a key role under Sousa. His versatility to be able to play wide and in central areas is a huge asset.
Slovakia have won just three of their last eleven competitive games prior to the tournament, without playing any of the top 35 nations in the world according to FIFA rankings.
Barring an impressive victory of Russia, it has been a pretty bleak spell for the national team, which included relegation to Division C in the Nations League.
An ageing side with a few young players like Bozenik, Strelec and Suslov, even in a relatively mixed group like Group E, you would not expect much from the Slovaks.
48 year old Stefan Tarkovic prefers a fairly conservative 4-2-3-1 system.
Though Slovakia are not particularly hard to break down. They were fairly fortunate to qualify for the tournament after finishing 3rd in their qualifying group and being eligible for the plays of via their previous Nations League performance.
North Ireland and Ireland provided the obstacle, and while both posed major threats, in the end somehow the Slovakians stuttered through.
If it wasn’t for key chances missed though, and a late Kyle Lafferty strike hitting the post, things could have turned out differently.
These are no longer the golden years of Skrtel, Vittek and Hamsik, the best Slovakia can hope for is a third place finish but it seems unlikely they will make it beyond the round of 16.
Milan Škriniar will play a key role in the country’s success. He’s one of the best defenders around and a lot will hinge on just how well he performs at the tournament. Marek Hamsik will be there too, and you would expect this to be his last hooray.
Sometimes, form goes out of the window at a tournament like this. A good result can galvanise a team, and that’s what Slovakia will be hoping for.
Likely starting eleven: Dubravka, Hubocan, Skriniar, Vavro, Pekarik, Lobotka, Hamsik, Kucka, Duda, Mak, Duris
Key player: Skriniar will play an important role at the back, but Marek Hamsik is still an important playmaker in this Slovakian team. If he can get himself back to top fitness at the tournament, he has the potential to inspire his nation to miracles.
Young player to watch: Bozenik and Strelec are both interesting forwards, and with Tarkovic not having a lot of options they are likely to feature a lot, keep an eye on 18 year old Tomáš Suslov though. The rapid winger broke through the ranks at Groningen this season and has already made his international debut. His energy and direct playing style could have the potential to change games from the bench. Already linked with Wolves and Ajax.
Janne Andersson’s Sweden will head into Euro 2020 with the confidence that they will do better than their predecessors. Their record at the European Championships hasn’t been satisfactory, to say the least.
Euro 2016 saw them finish bottom of a group containing Italy, Republic of Ireland and Belgium. A draw and two losses was all it took for them to exit the group stages. To their credit, their defensive solidity and stubbornness holds them in good stead on most days. They will be hoping that they can combine that resilience with some extra firepower as they march to the European Championships this summer.
Finishing second in their group in the qualifying phase behind Spain, Sweden comfortably saw out their opposition with no fuss. At the Euros, however, things will certainly be different. Having been placed alongside Poland, Slovakia and Spain in Group E, it will be a test of their mettle both defensively and offensively.
Opting to line-up in a fairly simple 4-4-2 formation, Emil Forsberg is the creative hub of the team in midfield. Alongside him, Albin Ekdal and the all-action Bologna star, Mattias Svanberg will look to take care of matters in the middle of the park.
Another player from Italian top-flight who will shoulder a lot of expectations is Juventus star Dejan Kulusevski, who has been an exciting watch for the Bianconeri this season. Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isak has been a revelation for the Spanish outfit. With 17 goals in the league, he will be one to watch out for in Sweden’s attack.
Although Zlatan Ibrahimovic was supposed to travel with his country to the Euros once again, a last minute injury has meant that he had to pull out from the squad. The legendary Swede’s absence may be a cause for concern for Sweden, however, their young guns will look to fire at every opportunity.
Victor Lindelof and Robin Olsen will be the experienced voices in the dressing room, as will Sebastian Larsson, who has been a mainstay in the squad for over a decade now.
Likely starting eleven: Olsen, Lustig, Lindelof, Danielsson, Bengtsson; Claesson, Svanberg, Ekdal, Forsberg; Kulusevski, Isak.
Key player: Dejan Kulusevski will be the main man for Sweden up front and will look to hurt opposition defences with his dynamic style of play.
Young player to watch: Isak is the obvious candidate here for Sweden. The 21-year old’s all-round contribution to attack will be crucial for Sweden to come through their difficult group. Jordan Larsson may be another wildcard player to watch out for. Son of former Sweden legend Henrik Larsson, he has scored 15 goals and made 5 assists in the Russian top flight this season.
Of all the squad announcements to have hit the headlines in recent weeks, none have shocked more than Spain’s.
Sergio Ramos, captain and talismanic warrior, ruthlessly culled. The reasoning of lack of fitness appears strange given the inclusion of Eric Garcia. The young defender has only played in six games this campaign.
If this drama wasn’t enough, Luis Enrique decided to not include a Real Madrid player in his smaller twenty four man squad. The politics in this seem inevitable, even if Los Blancos’ Spanish contingent suffered underwhelming seasons.
The leave of absence taken by Enrique in 2019 make this tournament feel like his starting point. They qualified unbeaten in a group with dangerous sides in Sweden and Norway. Spain’s top scorer in the process? Ramos.
They will face Sweden again in the full competition, as well as Slovakia and Poland. Tricky opponents, but ones Spain will be favourites to win.
Their midfield remains abundant with talent. Adding the exciting talents of Pedri to the ranks of Sergio Busquets, Thiago, Marcos Llorente, Fabian Ruiz and Koke and Rodri, shows the depth of riches in this area of the pitch.
The absence of Ramos leaves their defence bare however. Aymeric Laporte can claim to be among Europe’s best on his day, but having only naturalised as Spanish in the last month, his starting berth is by no means guaranteed. With Pau Torres almost guaranteed to start, it is unlikely they will field two left footed centre backs together.
Forwards areas too are light of elite talent, save for the remarkable form of Gerard Moreno. This will not be a Spanish team to blow opposition away in a flurry of goals.
Not among the favourites, this might be the chance for Spain to slip under the radar and recapture some international credibility. Expectations have not been lower in decades.
Likely starting eleven: (4-3-3) De Gea, Azpilicueta, Garcia, Torres, Alba, Busquets, Thiago, Koke, Moreno, Morata, Olmo
Key player: For a man with only ten senior caps, Gerard Moreno can claim to being Spain’s key man this summer. Five goals in these ten appearances, plus 30 for Villarreal this season is a mighty return. He may be blooming late, but Moreno is a finisher and all round forward of extreme quality. Do not sleep on him.
Young player to watch: Were Ansu Fati part of this squad, then he would have a strong claim to this moniker. However his Barcelona Pedri has enjoyed a terrific breakout season. Still only eighteen, Pedri offers energy, pressing and final third creativity that few in this squad possess. Expect him to grow into the tournament after beginning on the bench.
The streets of Budapest descended into chaos five years ago when the Mighty Magyars topped their Euro Championship group. Even a 4-0 drubbing by Belgium did nothing to diminish the euphoria back home.
This time around the party will be in Budapest with Hungary one of the hosts.
Dreams of topping the group are even more far fetched than before. With France, Germany and Portugal most pundits expect Hungary to be the whipping boys of the group.
However, with a full home crowd roaring them on from the sidelines and a nine match unbeaten record, a giant killing or a surprise is not off the cards in Euro 2020.
Marco Rossi has made Hungary into an extremely well-drilled and hard to beat side.
Hungary’s best players are at the back. Willi Orban and Peter Gulacsi are partners at club level. The former was voted into the Bundesliga team of the season by Whoscored, meanwhile the latter is one of the best goalkeepers in the world and kept the most clean sheets in the Bundesliga for the second time in two seasons. Meanwhile Attila Szalai of Fenerbahce has played an integral part of Rossi’s rebuilding process and has only lost one game out of ten that he started for Hungary.
The years since 2016, have not always been pretty, an infamous defeat to Andorra in 2017 sent Hungarian football into disarray. Rossi who worked with Marcelo Bielsa in the past has changed all of that.
He is a smart defensive coach, but he has made Hungary a dangerous side on the counter too which paid dividends in a 3-3 draw against Poland. The Magyars will be dangerous from set-pieces too. Orban and both Attila and Adam Szalai will provide major threats in the box.
Attila Szalai has 6 goals from set-pieces this season, meanwhile Orban has scored 5 in 20 for Hungary’s national team.
If Dominik Szoboszlai is fit, his deliveries could hold the key to securing a famous upset.
Likely starting eleven: Gulacsi, Bolla, Botka, Orban, Szalai, Holender, Nagy, Kleinheisler, Szoboszlai, Sallai, Szalai.
Key player: Willi Orban’s experience will be crucial at the back to deal with the mercurial attacking threats Hungary are set to face.
Young player to watch: Dominik Szoboszlai would be the obvious choice, but keep an eye on Attila Szalai. He’s been linked with Leicester City and AC Milan in the past and he’s an excellent progressive ball-playing centre-half who can play as a left-back too.
For those not draped in royal blue and red, the announcement of the French squad was pretty ominous.
Which of their ten incredible centre backs would they select? Jules Koundé deservedly made the cut as the younger of the five centre backs. Just the small matter of leaving Dayot Upamecano and Wesley Fofana behind then.
Would Anthony Martial make the cut at left wing? No! Ah, must be because Marcus Thuram is there. Makes sense. What about Christopher Nkunku, with 19 league assists in the last two season? Didn’t make it either.
The squad size extension to twenty six players has only exacerbated how ludicrously talented France are.
That Deschamps has thrown Karim Benzema back into the fold shows how seriously they take this era of domination. Out of sight for six years, recalling the Real Madrid striker is ruthless, and demonstrative of a team with extreme resources.
There is some concern however. Central midfield looks relatively thin, with the injury ravaged Corentin Tolisso once again called up. Moussa Sissoko too retains Deschamps faith despite a wretched 2020/21, and N’Golo Kante is the squads only recognised defensive midfielder.
This is nit picking of course. France remain the strong favourites for the tournament, mixing a depth of riches with players performing at their peak abilities.
Likely starting eleven: (4-2-3-1) Lloris, Pavard, Varane, Kimpembe, Hernandez, Kante, Pogba, Coman, Griezmann, Mbappe, Giroud
Key player: Kylian Mbappe. Already at such a tender age, Mbappe embodies a merciless winning mentality. Having lost his and PSG’s domestic crown, he will be starving for the chance to feed this appetite. On his day, he is the best player in Europe.
Young player to watch: There is little room in France’s machine for young try outs, so minutes for the younger squad players might be scarce. Expect Marcus Thuram to appear at left wing however. Explosively quick and a strong eye for goal, Thuram is an intriguing option to call upon from the bench.
Portuguese striker Eder was the focus of the world on the 10th of July, 2016. It was as if fate and all the powers in the universe had brought him there to be in the right place at the right time to take the one leap of faith that would win it all. The one leap which would end years of unfulfillment for his countrymen. The one goal that would change it all.
The ghosts of Euro 2004 were all forgotten on that fateful day at the Stade de France. The blow of an early exit in Russia at the FIFA World Cup in 2018 was softened by their triumph in the UEFA Nations League as the inaugural winners in 2019.
Fernando Santos’ men are certainly up there as one of the favourites heading into the 2020 edition of the European Championships. This is a much more mature squad than it was in 2016 and 2019 and many of the key players are seemingly at the peak of their powers.
The aging Cristiano Ronaldo will once again be the center-piece of a team now renewed with some very exciting talent in their ranks. Pedro Goncalves of Sporting Club, Andre Silva from Eintracht Frankfurt are two in form attackers heading into the tournament. Liverpool’s Diogo Jota has had his fair share of injury problems this season, and he will hope to contribute to Portugal’s attempts in retaining their European title.
Whilst attacking flair is not what Santos’ men are known for, their ability to absorb anything that comes at them and execute the basics of football well has taken them far in tournaments. They may not be the most attractive team on the field or the team with the most fluid style of play, which is exactly why they are one of the EURO 2020’s favourites. They know how to win, they’ve proven that before and will look to do so again.
Likely starting eleven: Rui Patricio, Joao Cancelo, Fonte, Ruben Dias, Guerreiro, Danilo Pereira, Renato Sanches, Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diogo Jota
Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo’s pedigree has come to the fore in recent tournaments for Portugal. His knack of being able to win games even on off days shows that he might just be their key player once again.
Young players to watch: Without particularly naming any younger players in the final squad, it will be interesting to see how Pedro Goncalves fares. The Sporting CP attacker has the eyes of Europe’s elite on him and a good showing at the Euros may well see teams further their interest in him.
It seems cruel that a manager of Joachim Löw’s accomplishments and prestige enters the final tournament of his reign, with his reputation on the line.
The 2014 World Cup win will of course define his career. The succession of talent to that brilliant team however has flattered to deceive in continuing that success into a dynasty. The 2016 Euros and a semi final finish were the closest Löw’s side have come to recapturing that tournament winning sparkle.
The 2018 World Cup was a shambles for the reigning champions. Defeats to Mexico and South Korea knocked them out at the group stages, and marked the end for the remnants of that winning squad four years earlier.
Events have taken a somewhat unexpected turn. Thomas Müller and Mats Hummels were axed from the squad following that debacle, yet have been recalled three years on. Manuel Neuer, caught miles from the safety of his penalty area as Son Heung-min finished into an empty net in that 2-0 defeat to South Korea, still captains the side. Neuer’s form in the intervening years more than warrants this faith.
The discourse surrounding this team remains uncertain. There is a nice mix of young talent with experience, and the domestic form of many will make them a nasty opponent to overcome.
Being Löw’s last dance however makes it hard to anticipate where they will go. Will it inspire this group to restore the pride lost in the last World Cup, and give Löw the send off he deserves? Or will the impending arrival of Hansi Flick give the outcome of this tournament little serious consequence? It is a hard question to answer.
The old adage remains that Germany find a way. They finished top of their qualifying group, and the core of Bayern Munich players are bred to win, and only win. However recent years have shown that they are not the mentality monsters many assumed them to be.
Thrown into a group with France, Portugal and Hungary, Germany find themselves as the third favourites to even get out the group. France stand at the same point they themselves did three years ago. Germany could not build on their success to curate an era of dominance. These are the embers of that success, from which the next generation must now grow.
Likely starting eleven: (4-3-3) Neuer, Klostermann, Rüdiger, Süle, Gosens, Kimmich, Kroos, Goretzka, Sane, Werner, Gnabry
Key player: Joshua Kimmich is this squad’s shining light. The defensive midfielder is exceptional in protecting his defence, and in creating and distributing from deep. Would walk into any other international or club side.
Young player to watch: Jamal Musiala is among the tournament’s youngest players, and only made his Germany debut in March. Keeping out Florian Wirtz from this squad is testament to the regard Musiala is held in. Unlikely to feature heavily, but the teenager is a joy to watch, and will bring creativity from the bench. A future star of this team.
Winner: It is so tough to call between France, England and Portugal. It feels a tournament too early for England, and France’s midfield looks markedly lightweight for me. Portugal have the tournament knowhow to go all the way, and an embarrassment of riches in forward areas. Providing their centre backs remain fit, they will go a long way. (Tom)
Top goalscorer: Romelu Lukaku has enjoyed the best season of his career, and Belgium’s group might not tax them too greatly. Could top the charts even if Belgium fail to trouble the final four. (Tom)
Dark horses: Italy’s form has been very impressive in qualifying. Barella, Chiesa, Bastoni and Locatelli are a very exciting young core, with the experience of Immobile, Bonucci and Jorginho too. Will be very hard to beat. (Tom)
Biggest flop: They might have an easier group than other top sides, but Belgium’s squad is very underwhelming. Their top players have endured taxing seasons, a very slow and ageing defence, and little to inspire at wing back. Sense that their time has been and gone to win something. (Tom)
Winner: For me, it’s a tight contest between Portugal and France. Both teams have experienced success on the international stage in recent years and will come into the tournament with most of their players at the peak of their powers. If both teams make it to the final, I’m expected France to edge it given that they will now be able to call upon the talents of Karim Benzema in attack. (Ninad)
Top goalscorer: It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Romelu Lukaku does not end up topping the scoring charts this time around as well. He has had a trailblazing season in Italy and will look to carry his excellent form into the Euros. (Ninad)
Dark horses: It’s difficult to not consider Italy when it comes to thinking of dark horses for the tournament. With a blend of experience and players like Federico Chiesa, Nicolo Barrella and Manuel Locatelli in form, they would be a good bet to go far in the tournament. (Ninad)
Biggest flop: A lot of people are expecting England to do well in this tournament and they may very well do so, however, I don’t expect them to do too well. Fatigue will play a part for all teams, but it may have a greater effect on the players in the England camp. Once they get out of the group stage, the competition will start to get much tougher and they may face an early exit at the round of 16. (Ninad)
Winner: It might be Cristiano Ronaldo’s last hurrah, the riches up front for Portugal with Jota, Fernandes, Andre Silva and Joao Felix means this time could easily go all the way again. Don’t write off France either. The two could easily meet each other in the final. A group stage game will be the precursor. (Ben)
Top goalscorer: Kylian Mbappe has been in good for PSG, him and Benzema will cause plenty of defenders trouble and with France likely to go all the way, the pair of them can’t be written off. Don’t look past Diogo Jota either though, he has a phenomenal recent goal-scoring record for Portugal. (Ben)
Dark Horses: I fancy Italy to do well. But I would not be surprised if Denmark went far in the tournament too. They have had some strong results of late and they are extremely hard to break down. With a Champions League winner at the heart of defence and a well balanced squad, they could raise a few eyebrows. (Ben)
Biggest flop: Big expectations often equal major disappointment. This England side is far from the finished article. The semi-final finish at the World Cup was largely thanks to the favour of the draw. They will not get that this time around with one of Portugal Germany or France potentially awaiting them in the round of 16. The group could cause them problems too. Scotland, Croatia and the Czech Republic will not be easy. (Ben)
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