After COVID-19 forced the postponement of the 16th UEFA European Championships last summer, the wait is almost at and end for the beginning of Euro 2020.
In its first incarnation as an expanded competition, 24 teams will face-off in six Groups A-F, with 36 initial games staged in 11 different venues across the continent.
There are nine host nations (Italy, Denmark, Russia, Netherlands, England, Scotland, Spain, Hungary and Germany) with two designated venues for each Group. Each host country will play all their Group games on home soil, so as to limit travel.
The last 16 will then see the best two teams in each pool progress, together with the four sides with the most points who finish third.
The quarter-finals will then take place in Germany, Russia, Italy and Azerbaijan, before both semi-finals and final are staged at the home of football, Wembley Stadium. The final takes place on Sunday 11 July.
Euro 2020 will have a unique flavour with no less than 11 different host cities, that even during a still on-going pandemic, should provide for terrific entertainment and colour.
So, as the tournament is primed to begin on Friday at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, just what are the groups looking like, who are the favourites, and who might meet an shock early exit?
In the first of Britwatch’s extensive Group previews, here we showcase A-C, including Italy, Wales, Belgium and the Netherlands.
To kick off our Group-by-Group focus, we look – unsurprisingly – at Group A, consisting of Italy, Turkey, Switzerland and the first of three home nations, Wales.
Are the 2006 World champions back to make a statement this summer? Well, yes, quite possibly.
After finishing runners-up in Euro 2012, and advancing to the quarter-finals four years later, Italy’s failure to reach Russia 2018 was a seismic shock for the Azzurri, but under Roberto Mancini, Italy are going places again.
Having won all ten of their qualifying games for the Euros, the Italians are flushed with strength in all areas of the pitch.
From the experience of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Marco Verratti, Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile, to the exciting midfield throng of Nicolo Barella, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Manuel Locatelli.
Boosted further by the likely goals Andrea Belotti, Federico Chiesa has continued to improve since his switch to Juventus and Sassuolo’s Domenico Berardi has enjoyed his best season in Serie A.
With one of the best young goalkeepers in Gianluigi Donnarumma between the sticks, Italy look fearsome again, and underlined that fact by hitting Switzerland for four in the build-up to the tournament.
Though still regarded as seventh favourite to lift the Henri Delaunay Trophy at Wembley on July 11, it would be no surprise however, if Italy do just that.
Turkey meanwhile, are one of the dark horses of the competition.
Finishing third in the 2002 World Cup, the Crescent Stars made the semi-finals again in Euro 2008, and are once more becoming a force in the game.
Having gone unbeaten against France in reaching the tournament and picking up a number of surprise results, the Turks’ spine consists of the new Ligue 1 winners Lille, with the goals of Burak Yilmaz set to drive Turkey this summer.
Clubmates the highly sought Zeki Celik and Yusuf Yazici will similarly be prominent, whilst Milan’s Hakan Calhanoglu and Leicester City’s Cengiz Under will be the spark in midfield, with the bite provided by West Brom’s Okay Yokuslu.
Defensively, Turkey have questions to answer, but as a side whose starting two centre-backs are Caglar Soyuncu and Juve’s Merih Demiral, and, as a team who know how to progress in major tournaments, Senol Gunes‘ charges could do very well.
As the first of the home nations to get under way, Wales – semi-finalists five years ago – face a stiff task to even progress out of the Group stages.
Though talisman Gareth Bale has shown glimpses of his best for Spurs during the latter stages of the term, the Dragons’ skipper is going to have to shrug off fitness issues at Euro 2020.
Aaron Ramsey has had similar problems of late in Italy, and both he and David Brooks also, have yet to recapture their sterling form of two years ago for both club and country.
Manchester United winger Dan James is going to be vital for Welsh hopes in attack, and he in tandem will be looking for Cardiff striker Kieffer Moore to supply the threat up front.
A back line with no less than four players less than 24-years-of-age, Liverpool’s Neco Williams, Swansea’s Ben Cabango and Joe Rodon look likely to be starting XI regulars, with Rodon’s north London pal Ben Davies adding some much-needed experience at left-back.
Wales have a very youthful and exuberant team, but goals could be at a premium as they showed against Albania. Without manager Ryan Giggs due to his off-field issues, interim boss Rob Page has it all to do against tough Group opponents. Wales have a job to progress.
Not least because, Switzerland complete the pool line-up.
A rather unknown commodity themselves, Vladimir Petkovic leads his Swiss army into a third major tournament, in his seventh year in charge.
Though their team does not immediately scream quality, the squad consists of a large portion of the same names that have reached the last 16, in their last three major tournaments.
Captained once again by Arsenal’s combative Granit Xhaka, Liverpool’s bit-part Xherdan Shaqiri and Benfica’s Haris Seferovic make up a similar look to the teamsheet.
The Swiss threat could also come from the full-back areas, with both Ricardo Rodriguez and former Newcastle man Kevin Mbabu regular exponents of roaming runs from the back.
But in truth, Switzerland should carry no fear both Italy and Turkey. Wales and the Swiss will surely be vying for third, moving further from that position.
Prediction: 1. Italy 2. Turkey 3. Switzerland 4. Wales
For the second quartet, the ever-underachieving Belgium finally look for Euro 2020 to be the crowning moment of their golden age, as Roberto Martinez‘s face many people’s fancies to go a long way in Denmark, together with Russia and making their first appearance in a major tournament, Finland.
Could this finally be the start of a glorious summer for the Low Countries nation? taking the equivalent of the bronze medal at the last World Cup, third place was perhaps a disappointment for a team of such quality.
Knocked out by Wales in the last eight five years ago, Belgium were stung at Euro 2016, but with a red-hot Romelu Lukaku set to star, their story could be different this time around.
But the Belgians are no one-trick pony, far from it.
Though neither Eden Hazard or Dries Mertens have been at their best for close to two years, Rennes’ exciting winger Jeremy Doku could announce himself on the scene at Euro 2020.
Supported in attack by Thorgan Hazard and Yannick Carrasco, despite the concussion worries talisman Kevin De Bruyne sustained in the Champions League final, the Foxes’ Youri Tielemans and a fit-again Axel Witsel can carry the load.
With both full-backs Timothy Castagne and Thomas Meunier continuing to supply a threat down the channels, Belgium may not be as rock solid at the back as they have been in recent years, but attack will surely be their best form of defence this summer.
Their biggest plus however, is the draw for the Euros, in one of the comparatively less tricky quartets to negotiate. That said, they face a tough tie in the last 16.
As a team somewhat stigmatised as a ‘boring’ side, the new era of Danish football is slowly beginning to change that moniker.
Having left the rather defensive ways of both Morten Olsen and Age Hareide, new Head coach Kasper Hjulmand is revolutionising the approach of Denmark’s national team.
Having won all three of their World Cup qualifiers for Qatar so far, the Danes have scored 13 times without conceding, and held Germany 1-1 in Austria last week.
Christian Eriksen remains the lynchpin, but with a healthy balance of Thomas Delaney and Spurs man Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, central midfield looks well set.
If we then throw in the burgeoning Jonas Wind, to go with Barcelona’s pacey Martin Braithwaite, Nice’s Kasper Dolberg, together with the lively Serie A pair of Andreas Skov Olsen and Mikkel Damsgaard, the picture is rosy.
Defensively, Denmark also look water-tight with Chelsea’s fast-improving Andreas Christensen partnering veteran skipper Simon Kjaer in defence, with the ever-reliable Kasper Schmeichel behind them.
Danish football has not looked in better fettle in almost 30 years, when they won Euro 92 on Swedish soil – famously beating Germany in the final.
Could they repeat that feat this summer? Unlikely, but the Danes should finish behind Belgium and could even give them a run for their own money for top spot. From then on, Denmark could be a serious threat.
As hosts of the last major footballing competition to be held on European soil, Russia again will have home advantage by playing all their initial games in St. Petersburg.
A rather ageing team in 2021 however, no less than nine players are now 30 or above, but their key player in Alexandr Golovin remains their creative outlet and has an eye for goal.
In top scorer and bullish skipper Artem Dzyuba, the Russians remain a handful and will target the big man this summer as a team who rely on hold up play.
Atalanta’s Aleksei Miranchuk and Spartak’s Roman Zobnin will also be ones to watch, as too will Valencia’s Denis Cheryshev after banging the goals in during the last world World Cup, but the latter has injury problems to overcome first.
Home advantage could play a big part in Russia’s hopes of making it through the Group, but even that may not be enough to make sufficient in-roads from Group B.
Finland meanwhile will likely lean on Teemu Pukki for majority of their threat, but in Union Berlin’s rather inconsistent Joel Pohjanpalo, the Finns still have a useful partner to the Norwich striker.
Newly-promoted Brentford forward Marcus Forss has been a recent call-up to the national team, and as Bees fans know can live up to his name in front of goal, whilst Minnesota United’s Robin Lod, will add a very creative and dynamic ingredient in midfield, supported in the wide areas by his MLS cohort, Montreal’s Lassi Lappalainen.
Finland’s defence will be braced for an examination, but in Lukas Hradecky, Finland do have a reliable shot-stopper.
In truth though, Finland face a tall task to emerge from Group C, and taking a significant setback with defeat at home to Estonia in their opening warm-up game, the Finns’ stay in the tournament may be short lived.
Prediction: 1. Belgium 2. Denmark 3. Russia 4. Finland
Perhaps the most open and intriguing of them all, Austria, debutantes North Macedonia, the Netherlands and Ukraine meet in Group C.
Frank De Boer‘s Oranje will enter as favourites to top the standings, but there remain real doubts over the Dutch and their manager’s chances of steering his side through the tournament.
Defensively, the Dutch are strong- or should be – even without Virgil van Dijk, as Mathias de Ligt, Stefan de Vrij and Daley Blind make up a resolute unit, but as we saw against Scotland, that remains with a considerable asterisk.
In terms of personnel, Wolfsburg hitman Wout Weghorst has been drafted in to support Luuk De Jong and Memphis Depay, but from a creative standpoint, there are no real credible forces aside from Frenkie de Jong.
Manchester United outcast Donny van de Beek would under normal circumstances be very important player, but his confidence is low after a season on the sidelines, as is Georginio Wijnaldum‘s.
The Dutch should get through, but if they happened to fall to a defeat against the Ukraine, Oranje could face a uphill task not only to top the Group, but to even make it to the last 16.
Say it quietly, but Austria are beginning to assemble a potent attack.
Already with Marko Arnautovic and Marcel Sabitzer in their ranks, the red-hot, 6’6 presence of Sasa Kalajdzic has joined their ranks, having netted 15 goals at the back end of the season for VfB Stuttgart.
Throw in the experience of David Alaba, Martin Hinterregger and Stefan Ilsanker, with the dash of pace in Christopher Trimmel, and Das Team could be a surprise package.
That said however, despite causing problems for England in their warm-up game in Middlesbrough, goals could be an issue for an Austrian side, who are yet to win a game at the European Championships.
Goals too could be a problem for the big story of the tournament in North Macedonia, in their debut appearance at the Euros.
Many are perhaps expecting the small South-Eastern nation north of Greece to be the whipping boys of not just the Group, but Euro 2020 overall. But that may not be the case.
Made of a defence including Leeds United’s Gjani Alioski, the Lynxes’ midfield boasts a number talented and creative operators, including Napoli’s Eljif Elmas, Levante’s Ennis Bardhi and Dinamo Zagreb’s Arijan Ademi.
Skippered by the evergreen Goran Pandev, the North Macedonians should not be overlooked given the fact that in their most recent outing, Igor Angelovski‘s side stunned Germany back in March, during their World Cup qualifier in Duisburg.
Having lost just two of their last 12 games, North Macedonia will be plucky and driven opponents and can also find the net.
Not having to face the Dutch until their final game also, they could have already booked their place in the knockouts.
Call us romantics, but North Macedonia could be the fairytale of the summer.
Ukraine complete an unpredictable Group C with a team with just as much reason to be optimistic, than not.
Undeniably, Head coach Andriy Shevchenko‘s star man is Atalanta’s Ruslan Malinovskyi, who has been a key ingredient in La Dea’s continued rise in Serie A. His left foot from set-pieces in particular, could become a narrative itself.
Main striker Roman Yaremchuk has had another decent season in Belgium for Gent, but away from West Ham’s Andriy Yarmolenko, Shakhtar Donetsk’s Marlos, and Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko – in a more advanced role – just where the Ukrainians can sustain a consistent threat in front of goal, may be an issue.
Though undefeated in their last five games – four of which resulted in 1-1 draws, in 2020 alone, Ukraine lost 80% of their competitive games, and realistically, it might be hard to see their participation going much longer.
But as we say, this, of all the Groups, has the most uncertain outcome.
Prediction: 1. Netherlands 2. North Macedonia 3. Austria 4. Ukraine
We may receive compensation for products purchased via affiliate links on this website
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.