EURO 2020 (2021)
March 2nd, 2021 | Football
EURO 2020 (2021) by Jack Dixon
Please note: The football articles that feature on this site are being written by Jack Dixon as part of his work experience. He is a teenager and looking for work experience within the football industry. He is currently studying for his media and art A-levels.
This year’s EUROs are more different than ever before.
For a start, they are taking place a year on from the original date. The games are being played across the globe at a number of stadiums including Wembley, where the final and semi-final will be contested, Johan Cruijff ArenA, Olimpico in Rome and Hampden Park.
There’s also a chance that there will be no fans in attendance for the first time. However it’s rumoured that the upcoming League Cup and FA Cup finals are going to be used as ‘trials’ to see if it’s possible to have fans back in stadiums while sticking to COVID-19 guidelines.
So, with the introduction out of the way, let’s turn our attention to the groups – who I think will top them, teams to look out for, dark horses and standout players.
GROUP A: Turkey, Italy, Wales, Switzerland
This is an interesting group.
I think Italy will win the group comfortably with their talented technical players, especially in midfield with the likes of Jorginho and Verratti. They also have an experienced defence, solid goalkeeper and decent options in the striker department and a squad with a good balance of youth and experience.
Second place is difficult to call.
Wales have a general lack of quality in defence, goalkeeper and midfield with their standout players Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, both injury-prone and hard to rely on. Wales aren’t a team who can dominate a game and win comfortably; if they want success this summer, I can only see them getting it by defending compact as a team and hitting the opposition on the break, with the likes of Daniel James and Gareth Bale getting quick passes in behind from Aaron Ramsey.
Along with injury worries for Bale and Ramsey, those two and Daniel James will, by the way this season has gone so far, be lacking in match sharpness, so it will be interesting to see how Wales deal with that.
Turkey have decent centre-backs with Merih Demiral and Caglar Soyuncu, and the young Ozan Kabak as cover. But centre-backs can’t guarantee results and apart from Hakan Calhanoglu and Cengiz Under, they lack quality.
Switzerland are an average side, like Turkey and Wales, and will have to work harder and defend better than their counterparts to get results. The lack of quality is evident and with Xherdan Shaqiri being their only real creative outlet – he doesn’t have the best injury record which may cost them – I think they’ll struggle.
I think Wales will edge second-place over the other sides, purely because they have slightly higher in quality players, but it will be close and I can see the head-to-head game between Wales and Turkey being closely contested, with Switzerland possibly challenging for third at best.
GROUP B: Denmark, Finland, Belgium, Russia
A group that seems on the easier side to predict.
Belgium are a top side with brilliant creative players in De Bruyne and Eden Hazard supplying the lethal and reliable goal threat of Romelu Lukaku. Axel Witsel’s injury is a big blow, but with the tidy on the ball Youri Tielemans and world class Kevin De Bryune, if he isn’t occupying one of the front three positions, then the Belgium midfield is more than fine.
This along with a solid and experienced defence which includes Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and the questionable but decent goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois easily makes Belgium the favourites to win this group.
Looking at the other sides in the group, I find it easier to predict second place in this one than the last. None of the remaining three teams should get anywhere near Belgium in this group, making it a battle for second place.
Russia and Finland you’d imagine would work hard and try to stay in games as long as possible, but both sides lack the real quality needed to get into the top two spots. If I had to pick one I’d go with Russia as they have a slightly better side, but with form, Russia having struggled more than Finland of late, it will be tight, but I’d go with Russia.
Denmark, on paper at least, are a better side then both Finland and Russia.
They have a top goalkeeper in Kasper Schmeichel, a decent enough defence, a quality, but a slightly defensively minded midfield with Thomas Delaney and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg with Christian Eriksen playing as a number ten in front of them. Attackers include Dolberg, Poulsen and Braithwaite, not bad players at all, but a lack of versatility and overall quality will let them down. I think Denmark have a decent side, but one that will fall in the latter stages of the competition due to their attackers not being the standard of other countries. They’ll work hard but struggle to produce the goods.
GROUP C: Netherlands, Ukraine, Austria, North Macedonia
I really like the balance of the Netherlands side.
The blend between youth and experience is good – strong characters and leaders along with quality quick-thinking footballers. The defence is solid with de Vrij and Daley Blind likely to be the first-choice centre-back pairing, Van Dijk would obviously start if fit, but this remains to be seen. The midfield has quality and work-rate with players like Wijnaldum, de Jong and van de Beek. They have one outstanding attacker in Memphis Depay who can be the link between the midfielders and attackers, helping feed players like Luuk de Jong and Steven Bergwijn, and get into goalscoring positions himself. I personally would like to see the Dutch trial a diamond with Depay behind the two mentioned forwards, but they’ll likely stick to a 4-3-3 with a striker or standard 4-2-3-1.
I’d go for Austria for second with their well-known players with more experience at a higher level. The likes of David Alaba, Marcel Sabitzer and Marko Arnautovic. I just think they’re a better side then Ukraine and North Macedonia, but not as good as the Netherlands.
I can’t imagine Ukraine and North Macedonia will be close to the Netherlands and will struggle to keep up with Austria. I really don’t think there’s much between the two sides and it looks like a battle for third between them. I do think Ukraine will edge North Macedonia due to having a more experienced side in terms of having played at a high-level.
Notable players Manchester City’s Zinchenko who often plays in midfield for Ukraine, West-Ham’s Yarmolenko and the talented Viktor Tyshankov, who plays for Dynamo Kyiv. North Macedonia do have players like Leeds United’s Alioski and Eljif Elmas who plays for Napoli.
4TH: NORTH MACEDONIA
GROUP D: England, Croatia, Scotland, Czech Republic
A really tough group to call.
England have a young and quality squad with plenty of players competing for places, perhaps only lacking in defensive midfield and goalkeeper. The defence is okay and looks a lot tighter with the 3-4-3 formation Southgate has opted for of late. Harry Maguire is seemingly undroppable for club or country and is in fairness probably England’s best centre-back. Stones is coming back into form at Manchester City and his clubmate Walker offers a good balance on the right of the back three, bringing pace and composure.
John Stones resurgence in form of late has been timed well for England due to the long-term absence of Liverpool’s Gomez. The fullback depth is impressive with Shaw and Chillwell likely to battle it out for left-back or left-wing-back. You could also throw Saka in there if not in another position. At right-back there’s Alexander-Arnold, Wan-Bissaka, James and Lamptey, and you could possibly play Wan-Bissaka or James on the right of the back three. The defensive midfield of England is slightly weak when compared to others, but Rice has massively improved this season at West Ham and Henderson or Phillips could do a job there. The front and flare players England have unbelievably good and strong in depth. The likes of Rashford, Kane, Sancho, Sterling, Hudson-Odoi, Calvert-Lewin, Greenwood, Lingard, Grealish, Mount, Foden and Maddison.
Croatia have technically gifted players like Marcelo Brozovic, Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and the versatile Ivan Perisic, but lack quality in goalkeeping and defence. Attacking players like Kramaric and Rebic are okay, but there are much better forward lines. Not only in the competition, but in the group with England’s, no matter who they play.
Scotland and the Czech Republic will struggle to push England and Croatia in the group and will likely be battling it out for third place.
Scotland have some notable players like Robertson, Tierney, McGinn and McTominay, but that’s about it. They often play a back-three and defend well, losing or winning by usually no more than a goal. But the lack of top quality is really lacking in midfield and attack with no real in-form or standout players.
The Czech Republic have a few decent players like Coufal and Soucek, both of West-Ham, striker Schick who has done well in the Bundesliga and young highly rated talent Adam Hlozek. But similar to Scotland, they just lack that final bit of quality but defend well and win or lose by usually the single goal. I don’t see much difference in the two sides. But I think the Czech Republic are more capable of getting a big result against England or Croatia, whereas I think Scotland will struggle to get much, if anything, from those games.
I think England are better than all the nations in this group and should win it. Croatia have a better central-midfield, but lack that real fire power that England possess. And I think the Czech Republic will get a good result against England or Croatia and get third place over Scotland.
3rd: Czech Republic
GROUP E: SPAIN, SWEDEN, POLAND, SLOVAKIA
Spain are the clear favourites for this group with a solid centre-back paring of the captain Sergio Ramos and 24-year-old Pau Torres. Spain also have technically gifted midfield players like Koke, Fabian Ruiz, Saul, Marcos Llorente and a very good defensive midfielder in Rodri, whose defensive capabilities allow them to express themselves. They also have exciting and wide players in Asensio, Oyarzabal, Fati and Torres. I don’t think Spain have too many issues; but they’d definitely be better with a world-class striker and top full-backs. I can see Spain cruising to the top of Group E.
Sweden appear poor overall. The only two real creative sparks are Kulusevski and Forsberg, so if one of them got injured they’d only have one real creative outlet. The team doesn’t have a lot of standout players who are household names, apart from Victor Lindelöf of Manchester United and Robin Olsen who plays for Everton.
Poland are a good side. They’ve got two decent goalkeepers in Szczesny and Fabianski. They’ve also got Southampton’s Jan Bednarek partnered with the veteran centre-back Kamil Glik, who has 79 Caps. Along with experienced defensive-midfielder Krychowiak, talented young winger Jozwiak of Derby County, Napoli’s midfielder Zielinski and three top strikers in Lewandowski, Piatek and Milik.
Slovakia’s only real standout names are Inter Milan’s Skriniar and Napoli Legend and now playing for Dalian Professional Marek Hamsik, who is also captain of Slovakia and has 126 caps scoring 26 goals. The side lacks quality in general and I think will struggle to make an impact in the group. They’ll need Sweden and Poland to stumble, a bit of luck, and some brilliant performances to get into that top two or three.
So that leaves Sweden and Poland in the battle for second place. I think both sides are very even, both with standout players and I think it will come down to who can get a result against Spain and pick up points from the head-to-head and Slovakia game. It’s a tough one to call, but I just think Lewandowski is the only world-class player out of those two sides and such a goal-threat who can score so many types of goals regardless of involvement in the game. It will be close but I feel Poland will snatch second place.
GROUP F: HUNGARY, PORTUGAL, FRANCE, GERMANY
Wow. This really is the group of death.
Three top sides to look at, but I’ll start with Hungary before all that. I could go deeply analyse Hungary with their strengths and weaknesses, but realistically it’s not that relevant. They’re an average side with few top players. Ones of note and RB Leipzig’s Gulacsi, Orban and talented young midfielder Szoboszlai, who has a lot of potential and is a free-kick specialist. If Hungary somehow qualify it will be one of the biggest shocks in sporting history. But I can’t see the other three sides and their experience let Hungary have that chance. Hungary can have a big influence within the group by how many goals they concede and If they can pick up a point or even a win to effect the group standings massively and determine which of the other three nations finish in the top two. If Hungary can get a point out of this group, they should be very proud of themselves.
Now looking to these three heavyweights of international football. Portugal, a fantastic side. A top goalkeeper in Patricio, the world class Ruben Dias at centre-back who elevates the performance of whoever is next to him, possibly the legendary Pepe who has 113 caps. The full-back options are solid as well with Semedo, Cancelo and Ricardo Periera, the last two mentioned capable of playing on either side. The solid Pereira and Carvalho as options in defensive midfield. In central or attacking midfield there’s the world-class Bruno Fernandes, Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva, Wolves’ Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves. In attack there’s the talented Felix, Trincao and Neto and obviously one of the greatest footballers of all time and most likely his final Euro campaign Cristiano Ronaldo, a player who can win any game of football in the blink of an eye and do so out of nothing. A fantastic team with fantastic depth and a good blend of experienced players, young players, hard workers and quality match winners.
Germany are interesting. They have two of the best goalkeepers in the world with Neuer and ter Stegen, so that’s not an issue. But the defence lacks a top player in any position, so is vulnerable and a weak point. The midfield is probably up there with France as being one of the best in the world in terms of quality and depth. The world-class serial winner Joshua Kimmich, the experienced Toni Kroos, who has 101 caps, the physical Goretzka and classy Gundogan; and also the young talented and yet to be called up duo of Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala, who has most recently represented England at U21 level and can represent England or Germany. I believe they should also recall Thomas Muller as I think he’d offer experience and a different option to unlock a defensive block, not necessarily from the start. The forwards are talented, but lack consistency, apart from Gnabry; But the likes of Sane, Havertz and Werner will cause problems. A starting XI but a slight lack of depth, not massively but could use more quality cover in attacking midfield, up front and defence. Not a bad side, but I think would struggle if hit with one or two injuries in key areas.
France are a top side. They are the world champions as well as EURO 2016 Finalists. A very experienced squad full of winners and quality with the likes of Giroud, Griezmann, Kante, Pogba, Kimpembe and the name on every football fan’s lips following his scintillating hat-trick against Barcelona at the Camp Nou in the Champions League, Kylian Mbappe. I’m not a fan of Hugo Lloris. I believe France won the World Cup not because of him, but in-spite of him. He’s indecisive, as shown my Mandzukic’s goal in the final for Croatia where he took a heavy touch from a back-pass, didn’t clear it and crumbled under the pressure from Mandzukic allowing him to prod home and attempted turn or clearance, it’s tough to tell which. He isn’t good with the ball at his feet and is weak from crosses, So I hope for France’s sake they have a good modern goalkeeper coming through. The defence is solid for the most part but would benefit from perhaps one more top centre-back and right-back. The midfield is full of quality whether it’s Pogba and Kante as a two behind the attackers, or Rabiot, Ndombele, Fekir or the young and highly rated already three-time capped 18-year-old Eduardo Camavinga. The attack is impressive and has plenty of depth with the likes Griezmann, Mbappe, Giroud, Martial, Dembele, Coman and Ben Yedder.
France are a top team and I expect them to top this group despite the other two countries involved as I could see them collecting close to maximum points. Portugal are a better side than Germany and I imagine they’ll get a result against both other high-ranked nations, whereas I think Germany will struggle. That leaves Germany in 3rd and a pressure-free Hungary chilling in 4th.
Predicted Winner: Portugal
I know I put France above Portugal in my Group F predictions, but I believe Portugal will win the EUROs, or will come very close to doing so. Their team is full of quality in the starting eleven and in depth along with a perfect blend of experience and young players, so I think they’d cope well with injuries and suspensions. There is a world-class spine to the team with Patricio in goal, Dias at centre-back, Fernandes in midfield and Ronaldo up front. Majority of their players are regular starters for their club sides meaning they’ll have match sharpness which may be the difference in certain games.
Portugal strike me as a team who don’t need to play well to win a game. They could simply defend for 80 or so minutes and then with some individual brilliance from a Ronaldo, Fernandes or Silva, they could win the game against the run of play. I just feel Portugal are a top side with a lot of experience with players like Ronaldo, Pepe, Moutinho and Patricio with a combined number of 504 caps, with elite and winning mentalities also evident throughout the side with players like Dias, Silva and Fernandes. A top team that will be very difficult to beat.
Dark Horse Italy:
You could argue Portugal are dark horses, but I believe they’ll win when looking at the other sides so if I had to pick another team to challenge with expecting it, I’d go for Italy. A team with experience in the centre-back partnership of Chiellini and Bonucci having a combined 204 caps in front of a top keeper in Donnarumma. And a good all-round right-back in Florenzi and an attacking left-back with Spinazzola. The classy Jorginho and Veratti running the midfield with the promising Barella and Locatelli also in the squad.
Italy also have three top strikers in Immobile, Belotti and the in-form and promising Kean. Out wide there are options in the young and talented Chiesa, the versatile Pellegrini and experienced leader and top player, Insigne.
They are a good side and will get results when it matters. I’m not saying they will win the Euros, but I certainly think they can challenge, especially with their top goalkeeper, experienced defence, quality midfield and top forwards.
Worth a mention: The Netherlands
I also think the Netherlands could be a possible challenger that you wouldn’t necessarily think of at first. Even with the possibility of not having Van Dijk they’ve still got Blind and de Vrij, a partnership good enough to win any competition. And with Ake coming back in the near future that further strengthens the defence. Top midfielders in de Jong, Wijnaldum, van de Beek and other decent options in depth with Gravenberch and Klaassen. Memphis Depay is a top forward who offers versatility across the front line. Bergwijn is a talented forward and Luuk de Jong is a good target-man option upfront. They’ll need to be lucky with injuries as they lack quality depth in attack and don’t have a top goalkeeper, but they could do well in the upcoming European championships.
Top Goal-Scorer (Golden Boot): Romelu Lukaku
I think Romelu Lukaku will be the top goal scorer at the Euros. The big man’s now hitting around 25 goals a season for club and country and looks unstoppable at the moment for Inter Milan. He’s also a reliable goal-scorer for the Belgium Red Devils netting 57 goals in 89 caps. With Denmark, Finland and Russia in the group stage; and with service coming from the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne, I can see Lukaku getting around five goals in the group-stage alone, leaving him the remainder of the tournament to get one or two more regardless of opposition when you have that service. So with golden boot winners at these tournaments normally scoring around six or seven goals to claim the prize, I can see Lukaku matching around that or bettering it. This makes him my pick for the golden boot.
Honourable Mention: Harry Kane
The England captain is a brilliant all-round footballer and goal scorer. His ability to create chances for himself and others is truly unique and the fact he’s the kind of player who just needs one chance to score a goal helps. His ability to create himself a chance in a variety of positions, of which he can score from majority is a useful asset. But he will also get service from England’s gifted creative talents. Wide players like Rashford, Sterling, Sancho, Saka and Hudson-Odoi. The full-backs with top crossing ability will also provide chances; players like Shaw, Chilwell, Alexander-Arnold and James. And service from midfield with the flary Grealish, reliable Mount and possibly Maddison, who I hope, at the very least, is included in the squad. So, with all this along with his incredible goal scoring record for club and county I can see Harry Kane also challenging for the golden boot and getting closer to Wayne Rooney’s England goal record of 53.
Most Assists & Player of the Tournament: Harry Kane
Harry Kane’s role at Tottenham has changed this season. The England captain has begun to move into deeper positions to receive the ball and become more involved in build-up play by distributing it to teammates in good attacking positions using his outstanding passing range and vision; playing almost as a false-nine. Despite the more withdrawn role getting Kane eleven assists in the Premier League this season, more than other player, he’s kept his goalscoring touch and has thirteen goals in the league, very impressive numbers and meaning he’s directly contributed to twenty-four goals this season in the English top-flight.
If Southgate permits him to play this role for England, I can see Kane having a brilliant Euros campaign with goals and assists. The thought of the likes of Calvert Lewin, Sterling, Rashford and Sancho running in behind opposition defences with Kane feeding them is one I’m sure England fans want to see in the tournament. Of course the personnel Southgate picks will determine how effective Kane would be dropping of, but even if Kane was the recognised centre-forward and he played Grealish and Rashford either side, he could feed them the ball to make things happen then make a run into the box. He could also feed England’s talented full-backs, or wing-backs depending on the system, who can then make things happen with their good attacking play and crossing ability.
Kane is a joy to watch and is unbelievably underrated on many levels. A leader and gifted footballer who can score every kind of goal and assist by crossing, playing a through ball, or a long-ball over the top of a high-line. A real asset for England and Southgate as they try and end the long wait for silverware and bring Euro 2020 home. He’ll get goals and assists and be one of the standout performers in the competition.
Honourable Mention: Kevin De Bryune
The Belgium playmaker is one of the best in the world. Known his for his vision, passing, crossing and shooting he really is a top player. With the quality he possesses along with the top forwards Belgium have with Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard, He could be one of, if not the, standout players of the tournament.
Defences all over Europa have struggled this season with a unbelievable amount of goals having been conceded by top teams. Being an avid watcher of specifically the Premier League and Champions League, Manchester City have the best defence, in my opinion, in Europe this season. A lot of that is down to the newfound form in Cancelo and the inspired signing of Dias, both of whom are Portuguese. Leicester’s Pereira is also a top fullback and the experienced and reliable Pepe is an out and out defender. Both centre-backs love defending and don’t take risks, leaving that to the talented and more technical players around them like Cancelo, Fernandes and Silva.
I also don’t think there is a Portuguese player in that squad who won’t work hard off the ball to try and win back possession higher-up the pitch, which massively takes pressure off the back-four.
Rui Patricio has struggled at times this season but is still a top and heavily experienced goalkeeper with proven credentials and is more than good enough to win the golden glove.
Honourable Mention: Jasper Cillessen
With the Netherlands defence, even if they are without Virgil van Dijk, I can’t imagine them shipping many goals. Their whole team is drilled to press and win the ball back quickly, similar to Portugal is the sense their players will work hard on and off the ball. I don’t see Cillessen as a top goalkeeper, but I think he’s steady enough and has played at a high-enough level in La Liga to be capable of winning the golden glove. Let’s hope for the Netherland’s sake he’s recovered from his current muscle injury in time for the Euros, as I don’t think they have another really reliable keeper, possibly the only one being Tim Krul.