The UEFA Men’s Euro 2020 finally gets underway after a year-long delay.
Set to be held across 11 countries with 24 teams divided across six groups of four, we will be seeing the group toppers, runners-up and four of the best third-place teams advance to the Round of 16. The teams will then qualify for the quarter-finals, then semi-finals and then the final at Wembley Stadium in London.
Without wasting any more time, let’s have a look at the groups and see how the teams might fare.
Italy | Wales | Turkey | Switzerland
They say the best offence is a good defence. Well then, Italy have been a very strong and attacking team of late. Although they are like to go through as group winners, they might face some tough competition in what looks like a beautifully balanced group.
Italy play their opening matches in Rome and enjoy the home advantage. Known for their defensive strength, Gli Azzurri have conceded a mere four goals in the ten qualifying games, and with veteran defenders like Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Rafael Tolói, the other teams will find it hard to break them down.
Italy’s talisman striker, Ciro Immobile, is arriving hot off a fantastic 20-goal campaign in Serie A and is known for his flexibility – with the ability to play anywhere across the front line, his finishing abilities, and also the scoring positions he gets himself into. Immobile will be an important factor towards the Azzurri’s march forward and with creative playmakers like Manuel Locatelli and Marco Verratti there to feed him and his partners up front, Italy will be strong contenders to leave their group as leaders.
Consistency will be the key for this Swiss team. Even though they came through the qualifying stages as group toppers (a group which had Ireland and Denmark), the Swiss team haven’t won a knockout match at a major tournament for almost seven decades.
With players like Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri, Haris Seferović and Remo Freuler, the Rossocrociati will be looking for strong performances from their star players to see them through the group stage. With not much depth in the squad, one would doubt how far the Swiss can go.
Can Xhaka, along with young talents like Rubén Vargas, lead the Swiss to cause some spectacular upsets?
One of the stingiest team through the Euro qualifiers – having been tied for the best defensive record coming into the tournament with only three goals conceded – Turkey’s defence, consisting of their star centre-backs Çağlar Söyüncü and Merih Demiral, should make it hard for opponents to get through on the Turkey goal. Their biggest strength – the defence – will also have to be on the lookout throughout the tournament as Turkey’s goalkeeping options don’t really give them a lot of confidence. With the three goalkeepers of Turkey having the combined international experience of 29 games, the Turks would hope that their defence don’t allow the opponents to disturb the goalie too much.
Turkey can take confidence in their striker Burak Yılmaz’s recent form, having helped his French club Lille to a Ligue 1 title. The experienced campaigner is expected to lead from the front and with players like Yusuf Yazici and Hakan Çalhanoğlu showcasing good form, they can be hopeful.
Wales, although marred by off-field controversy that has had their head coach Ryan Giggs step down, should be confident to repeat their heroics from five years ago.
Although this might be a young Welsh side, the likes of Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Kieffer Moore, and Ben Davies have plenty of experience to guide them through. Kieffer Moore comes off a 20-goal season for Cardiff City in the EFL Championship and will be an important clog in the wheel. Side acts such as Harry Wilson and Dan James will need to make sure that all the pressure isn’t just piled up on Bale and Ramsey.
Even though they have a promising side, Wales would need to play out of their skin to do a repeat of their 2016 semi-final run.
Italy should make it to at least the quarter-finals. Wales and Turkey will have to fight it out to get out of the group and they will be vary of the best four third places spot to make it out of the group stages. Switzerland should qualify as runners-up, but beyond that, the Round of 16 will be tough.
Belgium | Russia | Finland | Denmark
Sitting on top of the FIFA men’s rankings, Belgium are set to ace the group. They are managed by Roberto Martínez, who helped the team finish 3rd in the 2018 Russia World Cup. With names like Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, Belgium looks ready to score a lot of goals. While they lack the same opulence in the backline, they do have Thibaut Courtois guarding the goal. One of the favourites for winning the competition, Belgium will comfortably advance to the next stages.
Denmark are one of the hosts and currently sitting at the 10th spot in FIFA men’s rankings. The team look ready for the competition, with FA Cup winner Kasper Schmeichel in the goal, Champions League winner Andreas Christensen in the defence, and Serie A winner Christian Eriksen leading the midfield. The Nordic side have scored 14 goals without conceding any during the recent World Cup Qualifiers. Kasper Hjulmand will be managing the side in his first major competition as the Danes’ manager and will be looking to go further in the competition with a great squad at his disposal.
First time in the European Championship, Finland are ready to give their best shot. With nothing to lose, they will rely heavily on Norwich City’s Teemu Pukki, who has been the biggest attacking threat for both – his club and country. He has scored 10 of 16 goals during the qualifying rounds of the competition. The 54th-ranked team is managed by Markku Kanerva, who has led the Finns to their first major competition.
Finland’s chances of progressing from the group stage are slim but with nothing to lose, they can give a tough competition to the three other teams in the group for the qualifying spot.
Russia had a good run in the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020 is the perfect opportunity for them to replicate their performance. The side is ranked 38th in the FIFA men’s rankings and is managed by Stanislav Cherchesov, who took over the national team in 2016 and was nominated for the “Best FIFA Men’s Coach” for 2018. With 17 years of managerial experience under his belt, Cherchesov is the right man to take the Russian team further in the competition.
One of the most recognised faces of the 2018 World Cup, Artem Dzyuba leads the attack upfront and looks ready to score some brilliant goals. Russia is also one of the host nations, which means the team will have an added home crowd advantage pivotal for their success in the group stage.
With no doubt in mind, Belgium will finish at the top of the group. While both Denmark and Russia have the home crowd advantage, Denmark seem to have a better set of players which does make them second favourites to qualify. Russia, on the other hand, have what it takes to surprise everyone and can give Denmark a close competition for the second spot.
Austria | The Netherlands | North Macedonia | Ukraine
Austria, under manager Franco Foda, have been a versatile squad; a large chunk of the players are top-tier footballers – especially in the German Bundesliga. With that in mind, it is no surprise that this team like to press their opponents and hit with quick transitions.
Die Burschen often build-up from the back with one midfielder dropping deep, allowing in the fullbacks David Alaba and Stefan Lainer, while the creative outlet in Marcel Sabitzer will be key in linking the play from the middle of the pitch.
The Netherlands, after a sketchy period under current manager Frank de Boer, and the absence of their star defender and leader in Virgil Van Dijk, will have a difficult time navigating their way past the group. While de Boer likes to push his fullbacks up the pitch, the lack of robustness in their backline will make them susceptible to conceding goals on the counter.
The Dutch like to build up their play from the back with quick short passes, with ball-carriers like Frankie de Jong and Georginio Wijnaldum. They also like to draw defenders to these ball-carriers for spaces to open up in between the lines. However, with a one-dimensional style of play, de Boer and his men will find it hard to break down the likes of Austria and Ukraine.
This is the first time that North Macedonia have qualified for any major tournament, but as recently shown in their 2-1 win against Germany, Igor Angelovski’s side can beat anyone on their day. Angelovski usually sets his team up in a 5-3-2 system, packing the middle of the pitch, while looking to counter in quick transitions with able runners down the flanks.
For the Lynxes, star players like Egzijan Alioski, Eljif Elmas, and veretan Goran Pandev will be expected to shoulder the burden of springing a surprise or two in their first major tournament.
Former Ballon d’Or winner Andriy Shevchenko has reformed the Ukrainian side, who have sealed their first direct qualification to any major tournament by topping their qualification group that also had defending Euro champions Portugal.
Shevchenko’s team believe in vertical progression of the ball, bypassing defensive lines, with the team looking to exploit opponents centrally. But that has led to meagre returns in front of the goal as they have struggled to find the back of the net consistently.
While Ukraine have struggled to add goals, they have conceded far fewer of those as well, the credit for which goes to their engine room of Ruslan Malinovskyi, Serhiy Sydorchuk, and Oleksandr Zinchenko, which should see them easily make it through Group C.
Group Winners – Ukraine
Group Runners-up – The Netherlands
Third-placed team – Austria
England | Croatia | Scotland | The Czech Republic
A side filled with some of the most talented footballers in the world today, the Three Lions come into the Euros as a favourite to win the cup. Captain Harry Kane leads from the front and is ably assisted by the likes of Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, and Jadon Sancho up top. With the likes of Phil Foden, Mason Mount, Declan Rice and Jack Grealish in creative roles, England’s attack is one of the deadliest in the tournament. With more or less a balanced outfit, England might just be sweating it out when it comes to their man between the sticks. Although a good goalkeeper, Jordan Pickford isn’t world-class, and England’s bench strength of Dean Henderson and Sam Johnstone isn’t very promising either.
With Trent Alexander-Arnold pulling out of the tournament with injury, England might have been worried, but Luke Shaw, Kyle Walker, John Stones are all coming off impressive seasons with their club, hence the backline shouldn’t be a worry, although Alexander-Arnold’s runs and creative play will be something Gareth Southgate will definitely miss.
The 2018 World Cup runners-up head into the Euro 2020 to get their hands on that elusive international trophy. The road though, might not be as easy as one expects.
Croatia qualified for the tournament with the lowest points of all the group winners and with registering just two wins in the last eight games since October, the preparation is far from ideal. A lot of pressure will be on the 2018’s Ballon d’Or winner, Luka Modrić. The likes of Ivan Perišić and Nikola Vlašić would have to step up after the retirements of Ivan Rakitić and Mario Mandžukić, which has left a gap Croatia are yet to fill.
Andrej Kramarić will hope to translate some of his club form into national glory, but with a supremely talented midfield he will have ample opportunities to continue his great goal scoring form he showcased with Hoffenheim last season.
The underdogs, and the ones that can cause maximum damage. The Czechs will bank on the youth to help them get some reasonable results. They will look up to their promising young talents like Tomáš Souček, Patrik Schick and Alex Král for the creativity. One unique factor about the Czech Republic is that with most of their players above six-feet, they are a considerable threat in the box, especially from set-pieces.
The Czechs, however, face a major problem at the back, with no one reliable enough to help out the experienced Tomáš Kalas. Ondřej Kúdela serves a 10-match ban for racial abuse, while David Hovorka misses out due to a torn ACL. That said, they will like to be party spoilers and can cause some major upset on their day.
This is Scotland’s golden era, consisting of probably their most talented squad for a while.
With captain Andrew Robertson leading from the front (or back, should we say) – the Liverpool full-back ranking among one of the world’s best today – there will be a lot of pressure on him to see his side through, though he will be ably supported by Kieran Tierney. Manchester United’s Scott McTominay provides stability in the midfield along with John McGinn who will add creativity and might just score the odd goal.
Chelsea’s wonder kid Billy Gilmour is one to watch out for and when given the chance, he might just light up the pitch.
A repeat of 2018 World Cup’s semi-final, England vs. Croatia, should decide who tops the group.
They both, though, should go through as the top two. England will look to go the full distance and become the Euro 2020 champions. The Czech Republic will do well to make sure that they don’t finish with the wooden spoon in a group where they will probably struggle. Scotland should try to maximise every chance they get and try to get through to the Round of 16 through that top four third place teams, although it might be a step too far.
Spain | Poland | Sweden | Slovakia
Three-time Euro winners Spain have more individual talent than any other teams in the group. Despite previous accomplishments, they have not performed to the standards in recent times.
Spain currently rank 6th in the FIFA men’s rankings and are managed by Luis Enquire. The former FC Barcelona coach has a balanced squad of new young talents and experienced Spanish internationals. Packed with experienced talents like Sergio Busquets, Rodri, Koke and Thiago Alcântara, the Spanish midfield seems to be the powerhouse of the team. With Sergio Ramos excluded from the squad, Premier League winner Amyeric Laporte and Champions league winner César Azpilicueta will make it difficult for teams to get anywhere near the goal, and Gerard Moreno (30 LaLiga goals this season) up front presents a serious threat to any opposition. La Furia Roja, with an added advantage of home crowd, should qualify the group stage with ease.
When speaking of Poland, one name that automatically pops up is Robert Lewandowski. The Bayern Munich striker is arguably the best in the sport right now and has been on a rampage for the past two years. Poland’s hope of advancing to the next stage definitely rely on the 32-year-old, but the likes of Wojciech Szczęsny, Kamil Glik and Piotr Zielinski are also set to give oppositions a very tough time.
Poland is ranked 21st in the FIFA men’s ranking and is coached by Paulo Sousa who has been in charge of the team for not more than six months. Poland’s run in the 2018 World Cup was a rather disappointing one, but under this new leadership they can expect surprises in the upcoming competition.
The Swedish side will walk into the competition without Zlatan Ibrahimović who came out of retirement for the national side but was ruled out due to a knee injury. However, young talents like Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isak and Juventus’s Dejan Kulusevski have what it takes to lead the attack and trouble defences.
The 18th-ranked Sweden are coached by Janne Andersson, who has been in charge of the Swedes since 2016. Under his leadership, the team were able to reach the quarterfinals of the 2018 World Cup, which frankly wasn’t quite expected of them. In a nutshell, Sweden are capable of displaying good football and getting results.
The Slovakian team will be captained by Marek Hamšík, who is undoubtedly their best player, while Serie A winner Milan Škriniar will be leading the defence. Slovakia sit at the 36th spot in the FIFA men’s rankings and are coached by Štefan Tarkovič, who has been in charge of the side since 2018. In a group that is full of attacking talent, Slovakia find themselves in a difficult position to qualify.
Luis Enrique will lead his Spanish side to the top of Group E.
The fate of the remaining sides really boils down to Poland vs Sweden.
With Lewandowski in an incredible form, Poland should finish behind Spain.
France | Germany | Hungary | Portugal
Right now, France have an obscene pool of talent, and in Didier Deschamps, they have a man who has won the World Cup both as a player and a manager. With the long-awaited inclusion of Karim Benzema in his 26-man squad, Deschamps can attack oppositions whichever way he likes. N’Golo Kanté, unlike with Chelsea, sits deeper in Les Blues‘ midfield, shielding the backline and freeing Paul Pogba/Adrien Rabiot to carry the ball.
While Antoine Griezmann remains the cog in the wheel that holds the side together up top, the Barcelona man is used in the playmaker/second-striker role, which adds an extra dimension in the final third, and will be key in France winning the Euros.
The 2014 World Cup winners have been on a downward trajectory since the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Humiliation at the hands of Spain in a 6-0 drubbing, followed by a World Cup Qualifier defeat to North Macedonia, was considered a national embarrassment for the country. With Joachim Löw finally stepping down at the end of the tournament, the 61-year-old has called up the forgotten duo of Thomas Müller and Mat Hummels, who he himself ostracised few years ago – a desperate attempt to right the wrongs of the 2018 World Cup blunder.
Joshua Kimmich and Toni Kroos in the middle of the pitch, and the duo of Marco Reus and Serge Gnabry, will be key in deciding Germany’s fate. Being a young squad, progression to the semi-finals will be a massive confidence boost for Die Mannschaft, with Qatar 2022 around the corner.
The defending champions have a side that can beat any team on their day. While they have a good mixture of youth and experience, in recent games there have been patches of lack of cohesion. Manager Fernando Santos has more than 30 years of managerial experience, which will be tested this term just like it was during the 2016 Euros and the 2018 World Cup. Up top, the trio of Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, and João Félix will be key in their fight to defend the title.
One of the major obstacles Santos’ side will encounter is breaking down defensive blocks, with their attacking talents looking to run in behind the backline.
Two-time World Cup finalists in 1938 and 1954, this tournament will only be the second time Hungary have qualified for a major tournament in the last 35 years. After finishing in the playoffs places from a group that comprised of teams like Croatia and Wales, Hungary managed to defeat Iceland in a dramatic playoff final, where a 92nd-minute winner from youngster Dominik Szoboszlai sealed group stage qualification for the team.
Despite Marco Rossi improving the team by leaps and bounds, and a spine of very good players like Peter Gulasci, Willi Orban, and Dominik Szoboszlai, making it past the Group of Death will be a miracle for the Magyars.
Group Winners – France
Group Runners-up – Germany
Third-placed team – Portugal