Previewing Euro 2020 (2021): The eight biggest contenders
There will plenty of young stars on display at Euro 2020.
After a yearlong delay due to the global pandemic, the Euro 2020 (2021) European Championship tournament is set to start this week. The tournament will run concurrently with the Copa America edition that was also set to occur last year and has run into various hosting issues due to the COVID situation in South America.
As of today, the tournament will be held in Brazil with no fans in the stands, while the Euros will be held in a variety of cities, including Budapest, London, Rome and Bucharest.
The Euros expanded from 16 teams to 24, meaning that alongside the group winners and second-place teams, the next four best third-place teams in the group stages will advance to the Round of 16. Portugal is the defending European Champion after defeating France 1-0 in the 2016 edition. Unfortunately for them, both teams are in the “Group of Death” alongside Germany and Hungary.
Here are eight teams that have the best chance at winning the title.
This is likely the last chance for Belgium’s golden generation of players to win an international tournament. After crashing out in the quarterfinals versus Wales in 2016 and losing to France in the semifinals in the 2018 World Cup, they don’t have the luxury of youth on their side.
Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne are 30 and 29 respectively, and while one has not been an elite player since 2019 the other is recovering from a face fracture suffered during the Champions League Final.
Romelu Lukaku just had the best season of his career for Inter Milan. He is talented enough to carry the offensive load of this team. However, the duo of Toby Alderweireld and Jon Vertoghen in the back line are in their mid 30s, which could lead to them being a step behind and at the mercy of counter-attacking teams. Belgium opens the tournament on Saturday against Russia.
England is filled with young talent. So much so that Gareth Southgate brought in four right-backs (3 now due to the unfortunate injury of Trent Alexander-Arnold). The question for this team is not one of talent but one of “is this the right man for the job.”
Southgate isn’t the most astute tactician, as evidenced in the World Cup in which England struggled to break down good defensive teams. With a rematch against Croatia as their Euro opener and facing one of France, Portugal or Germany in the Round of 16, Southgate will have his hands full.
His decision to start with a back three or a back four will likely dictate the way this team attacks. He faces tough decisions. Should he start Jordan Henderson, who hasn’t played in months? Who will he choose between in-form Luke Shaw or Ben Chilwell on the left side of the defense?
Who will he pair in the center of the defense if Harry Maguire is not fully healthy? Lots of questions. Let’s hope Southgate has answers. England opens the tournament against Croatia on Sunday.
Lastly, France is arguably the strongest team with the least amount of questions. France returns with roughly the same team that won the World Cup in 2018.
Adrian Rabiot replaces Blaise Matuidi while the full-backs Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavardcome are in with more stability and confidence after two years at Bayern Munich. Perhaps the biggest indication of how serious Didier Deschamps feels about the competition in the group/tournament is the inclusion of Karim Benzema.
After six years of exile from the national team he once again gets a chance to lead the front-line alongside Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe. The dynamism that Benzema presents as a center-forward coupled with Mbappe’s natural talent on the wing will surely make this France attack a tough task for any backline.
France has the team to make it out of its group. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win the Euro title. France opens the tournament against Germany on June 15.
Don’t be surprised if they contend.
Portugal is the defending European Champion after beating France 1-0 in 2016. The year’s Portugal squad is much more talented. It’s very likely that the second-leading scorer from the Bundesliga, Andre Silva (28 goals this season) will start off the bench.
Of course, that’s what happens when you play on the same team as Cristiano Ronaldo. While he doesn’t seem to be slowing down one can’t help but think that this is the beginning of the end for the 36-year-old.
He likely has enough in the tank to make it to one more World Cup, but winning back to back European titles would be a fantastic addition to his resume. Portugal has a tough draw in the group stage.
If England wins its group they would face each other in the Round of 16. While it would not be a huge upset to get past England, it’s a significant obstacle that could shut down their chances to repeat. Portugal opens the tournament against Hungary on June 15.
After missing out on the 2018 World Cup and narrowly losing to Germany in the 2016 edition of the Euros, Italy is back and seemingly more formidable. Of course, a group consisting of Wales, Switzerland and Turkey helps. While the team is still dependent on the duo of Leonardo Bonnucci and Giorgio Chiellini to man the back line, they are young and talented in the midfield and out wide.
Federico Chiesa had a breakout year at Juventus. Nicolo Barella was one of many standouts at Inter Milan. Perhaps the biggest question for them is at striker, where Ciro Immobile resides. He’s flourished in Lazio but has struggled when facing tougher competition in leagues outside Italy.
If they can generate enough goals from Immobile and the talent on their front line they should be considered a candidate to hoist the trophy. They would face the runner up of the group that consists of Netherlands, Ukraine, Austria and North Macedonia, so seeing them in the quarterfinals is likely a given. Italy kicks off the tournament against Turkey on Friday.
Giants with something to prove:
After being drop-kicked out of the World Cup following their victory the prior edition, Spain has
had a bit of an identity crisis. Gone are the days when tiki-taka was an effective method of winning a tournament.
Of course, much of this has to do with the fact that Andres Iniesta and Xavi have retired. But even with them, Spain struggled to score. In 2018, they crashed out against Russia in penalties after having 70% possession for 120 minutes. They had nine shots throughout the game.
The team has since hired Luis Enrique. The question still lingers, who will score? The hope is that Gerard Moreno, after a spectacular season with Villareal, can carry the load. If not, the hope is that one of Alvaro Morata, Ferran Torres, Adama Traore and Mikel Oyarzabal will.
Luis Enrique caused some controversy by excluding Sergio Ramos , not calling up any Real Madrid players, and not filling out the 26 man roster (only bringing in 24 players). He’s by and large the most overqualified manager in the tournament. Let’s see what he does. Spain kicks off group play against Sweden on June 14.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: after being drop-kicked out of the World Cup following their victory the prior edition, Germany has had a bit of an identity crisis. The intensity that the Germans had usually shown was gone.
It was time for the new generation to step in, and Joachim Low tried. He made the decision to exclude Thomas Mueller and Mats Hummels from the squad. While the deficiencies on the squad can’t all be blamed on their exclusion, Low certainly thinks that having them back on the squad will raise the team’s ceiling.
This is an extremely talented squad. But after a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Spain in the Nations League many wondered if Low was the right man to continue the project. While having already announced his resignation post tournament, Low likely feels less pressure.
Something that will help considering they face Hungary, France and Portugal in the group stage—having third-place teams advance makes this a less daunting task.
Germany will likely try to exploit the pairing of Pepe and Ruben Dias in their Portugal matchup. Look for Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane to benefit from Timo Werner’s off-ball runs, in what likely will decide who finishes second in Group F. Maybe this squad has a run in them to send off their coach of the past 15 years on a winning note.
Lastly, we have the Netherlands. Last seen losing in the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup to Argentina. This team is vastly different than the one from that day. They have also been through a bit of a crisis since 2014, failing to qualify for the 2016 Euros and the 2018 World Cup.
Since then however, they managed to make it to the Nations League Final under the leadership of Ronald Koeman (now the Barcelona manager) and Virgil Van Dijk. They come into the tournament with some uneasiness. Van Dijik is still recovering from ACL surgery. Frank de Boer, Koeman’s replacement, has not impressed during his tenure so far.
The Netherlands boast talented players in Frenkie De Jong, Matthijs De Ligt and Memphis Depay. They should make it out a group that consists of Ukraine, Austriaand North Macedonia. For the Netherlands, like England, it is a chance to see how far the squad can go with the manager they have.
If things break right, they can expect one of the third-place teams that advances in the Round of 16. Netherlands opens the tournament against Ukraine on June 13.
This tournament is busting at the seams with young talent on each team. I can’t wait to watch every game I can.
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