Euro 2020 Outlook: Group A & B

Turkey

To kick off the preview of Euro 2020 (or 2021 if you rather) we will start with Turkey. Turkey will be making their 6th appearance at the European Championships this year, having achieved a best of a Semi Final place in 2008. With that kind of result unlikely again, how will the Turkish team feature in the newly expanded 24 team championships this time around?

With 16 teams making progress out of the groups (top 2 certain, and 4 of the 6 third placed teams) every nation will be coming into the tournament hoping to at least make it to the knockout stage and Group A is certainly there for the taking. Indeed, Turkey were able to overcome world champions France in a 2-0 victory at home in the qualification period and grabbed a 1-1 tie at the Stade De France. Rule them out at your peril! They only lost once in the group stage, coming unstuck away to Iceland and managed a second place in the group giving them qualification with one game to spare.

Although the current squad lacks the star names of when Turkey reached the latter stages of the 2002 World Cup, there is enough experience and quality in the squad to suggest they are a team that people will want to avoid. Burak Yilmaz has already hit 28 goals in 66 games and has had a strong season with Lille so the goals are there. Halil Dervisoglu at age 21 looks like a promising talent and given a run out could provide opposition defenders with a head ache. Across the midfield the likes of Cengiz Under from Leicester, Yusuf Yazici from Lille and Milan’s Hakan Calhanoglu can cause anyone problems. Ozan Tufan remains a bed rock as he approaches 60 caps and part of the problem the coach will have is how best to balance this midfield of talent.

In qualification the defence held together solid for the most part and this was a lynch pin in the campaign. Shutting out France and holding them to one goal in the Stade De France is testament to the likes of Caglar Soyuncu (after a great season at Leicester) and Juventus Merih Demiral. The core defensive unit is approaching a total of 100 caps between them and this provides the bedrock this time will need to progress.

The coach, Senol Gunes, has a wide range of experience and proven in his two years in charge he can master a team to win key games. They will be tough to break down, not even the best teams will walk over them and they will cause headaches with their solidness, ability to counter attack and the threat presented up front. Group A is going to be a tricky on but a win against Switzerland looks likely and they should overcome Wales to sail through to the second round. In tense knockout football anything is possible but a Quarter Final appearance for Turkey must  be seen as a success.

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Group A – Italy

Italy are one of the many nations who will benefit from home matches in Euro 2020 and in this era for Italian football that can only be seen as a good thing. The days when Italy could boast some of the worlds best players are long gone but the squad remains solid, with top talent leagues across the continent. But are they serious contenders for the crown?

Roberto Mancini has certainly taken the teams fortunes and turned them around since the horrendous failure to qualify for the 2018 Fifa World cup which was one of the darkest days in Italian football. In the expanded 24 team competition it was always likely they would qualify for Euro 2020 and they did so in style with three games to spare.  In fact they won all 10 games, only the sixth team ever to qualify with a 100% record. Greece, Bosnia, Finland all could have proven tricky with with just 4 goals against and 37 scored, they made light work of the opposition. A memorable 9-1 win over Armenia marked a campaign that could signal Italy’s return to form. Rule them out at your peril.

The defensive unit that only shipped 4 goals in qualification is built around the 100+ cap duo of Girogio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci who form the core of the team. Alessadndro Florenzi provides solid back up and across the back line and squad, Italy have one of the most proven back lines in the world game. They just don’t conceded goals and teams will have to try and unlock the solid unit Mancini has built to get any joy at all against the Azzuri.

But what about the fire power up front. Only Andre Belotti netted more than twice in qualifying which is far from prolific. Ciro immobile has never managed to recapture his club from at International level and his 12 goals in 45 games is lacking from what is needed from a front line striker of a top level nation. Behind those two there is very little in terms of solid back up and the one positive from qualification was that the goals were scored from all over the pitch.

Indeed, the midfield, although lacking in that one “Pirlo” esque star has certainly had to pull their weight in terms of scoring. The teams runs through Chelsea’s Jorginho but he has a tendency to slip in and out of games. Marco Veratti is a PSG sensation and is the workhouse that can create the chances and openings needed. But when you look deeper into this squad, past the solid defence, the goals may be the issue? With a lack of creativity the side could struggle in the final stages.

Italy should be able to get past Wales and Switzerland and make to the last 16, which after the 2018 World Cup fiasco, will be a relief but going any further from there will depend on whether they an turn the solid possession, defensive based game into goals. Only time will tell

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Group A – Wales

Four years ago, Wales were the neutrals favourite. With an inspired run to the Semi Finals in their first ever appearance at the event, they proved that hard work, organisation and having a proven match winner could be enough to turn tournament football on its head. This time round though, as Euro 2020 arrives, things are very very different.

Wales are in turmoil both on and off the pitch. Ryan Giggs won’t be at the tournament as he faces personal and legal issues at home. Rob Page steps in to try and pull together a team that feels far inferior to the squad from 4 years ago.  Wales recovered from a horrific start in qualification to finish second in a tough group going unbeaten in the final six matches.

Group A may present problems for Wales as they come up against 3 stronger teams. The must win games appears to be Switzerland and Wales will be focusing on that as a route to the Last 16. Remember what happened last time? Although unlikely to repeat the semi final run, knockout football must be the aim for a Welsh team who are lacking in many areas.

Much will depend on the form of Gareth Bale who has been hot and cold for the past few season, uprooted back to Spurs and not playing as regularly as he would hope. If he does not fire, Wales will be going home early. Captain Bale needs to inspire both on and off the pitch and he needs to be the match winner he is, to get this team the wins that will ensure progress. Bale has always kept his best form for the international stage so for the hope of Wales, lets hope he fires.

Aaron Ramsey is the only other player in the squad who you could say approaches anywhere near world calss and he has had a bad season at Juventus, hardly playing and when he has, being invisible. Again, just like Bale, Ramsey has managed to save his best for the international stage. The midfield does contain the likes of Daniel James, Joe Allen, Harry Wilson etc but if Ramsey and Bale aren’t firing this team will struggle.

The defence remains a cause for concern. Ben Davies and Chris Gunter have over 160 caps between them and provide a reliable level of experience but outside of that the squad lacks depth and are going to leak goals. Can they hold off the Swiss, Italians and Turks enough to build a base to win with the odd goal? That seems unlikely .

Welsh fans may have a painful summer but just being part of two back to back tournaments should be considered something of an achievement for this side who have very little in terms of championship experience. But then again, in 2018 everyone wrote off Wales and look what they did? If they can just get to that knockout stage…..

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Group A – Switzerland

Switzerland are one of those nations that often come into European Tournaments with the tag of underdog after a successful campaign in qualification. But the hard truth is that they have only ever made it out of the group stage once at a European Championship (2016) and haven’t made an impact in the world cup since 1954. Vladimir Petkovic is entering his 7th year in charge and this has got to be considered a make or break tournament for his reign. Turkey and Italy will prove stiff opposition in getting out of Group A, but Wales presents a chance to get the win that will more than likely be enough for knockout football. But can they get there?

Switzerland faced a tough qualification group, narrowly taking a 1 point lead over Denmark to top the group with 5 wins and only one loss. With Ireland and Georgia also in the group, this was further testament to Switzerlands ability to win when it counts.

Granit Xhaka and Xherdhan Shaqirim both approaching 100 caps, are still the beating heart of the team. In fact the whole midfield, including the likes of Steven Zuber and Denis Zakaria, are highly experienced and can provide the core to what will make this team tick. In the key game vs Wales, this is the battle that will tip the scales. The Welsh midfield surely cannot compete with the experience  of the Swiss?

The defence as well brings some experience including Torino’s Ricardo Rodriguez and Fabian Schar from Newcastle who will bolster a back line that also has the youth of Nico Elvedi and Manuel Akanji. Long term keeper Yan Sommer will provide assurance between the sticks and when you look at this team on paper, they will certainly strike fear into opposition trying to break them down.

Indeed, when you consider the strike force of Haris Seferovic and Admir Mehmedi and over 70 caos each, the Swiss team from front to back is one of the most capped in the entire tournament. But they have failed time after time to produce when it matters. Do they have that true match winner who can strike gold when it matters? Is this aging team past its best….or will this be the culmination of a 7 year project under the current management team?

Again, Group A is wide open and the Swiss could well challenge to win it, but on the other hand if they fail to perform, they are as likely to be heading home. The Wales game kicks off the campaign and this could well define the tournament. A loss here and the road to the last 16 seems long, whereas a win will likely set the Swiss on the route to knockout football. Could this finally be the year the Swiss, who before World Cup 2018 were ranked 6th in the world let’s not forget, pull together and get a decent run? A Quarter final birth must be considered a good achievement!

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Group B – Denmark

Who can forget Euro 1992…..the last minute call up….the dramatic rise throughout the tournament and then lifting the trophy at the end. Alongside Greece’s win in 2008, Denmark’s Euro 1992 victory remains one of footballs most surprising tournament wins and always adds that “What if?” factor to the tournament. Kasper Hjulmand brings his Danish side into Euro 2020 with very little expectation but lying in the very tame Group B, they can be aiming to progress!

With Ireland and Switzerland in the qualification pool, Denmark had a tough route to the finals but to their credit went undefeated recording 4 wins and 4 draws to end second by one point. Goals weren’t a problem with 23 scored and the defence held solid conceding less than 1 per game. The 3-3 draw away in Switzerland being a key game, they continued and perhaps a 0-0 draw with Georgia was the opportunity they missed to top the group.

The team revolves around the talents of Christian Eriksen, one the finest players who will be on display at Euro 2020. His five goals in qualification brought his total to 36 goals in 106 games and after a title winning season at Inter, he arrives at Euro 2020 in good form. With a player of his quality on the pitch anything is possible and he will certainly strike fear in opposition in Group B.

But he is also surrounded by quality players in the midfield. Thomas Delaney, from Dortmund, and Peirre Emile Holjbjerg from Spurs give the extra quality needed to back up Erkisen and provide the structure the team need to feed the likes of Yussuf Pulsen and Martin Bratihwaite upfront. In fact, the Barcelona star is due a  big tournament and is probably at his peak time to strike. Could this be the year he finally lives up to the potential and takes Denmark into the upper realms? Given the state of this group, and that mentioned above, he could well be worth a sneaky bet to win the Golden boot.

Defensively, Kasper Schmeichel is in the form of his life and will provide the backbone and reassurance the team need. Simon Kjaer from Milan recently won his 100th cap, and at age 32 is in the peak of his career and surrounded by Andreas Christensen, fresh from winning the Champions League, and Mathias Jorgensen the Danes provide  stiff task for anyone to break down.

1992 was very much the year of the Danish surprise, but they would expect and be expected to qualify from this group and then the knockout stages are there for the taking. They have the class, the match winners and the experience to make their mark on this tournament. Defeating Finland on Match Day 1 will be crucial and then the crunch showdown with Belgium will provide an indication of how good this team are. With 3 games at home, the Dane’s could well set themselves up nicely for a good run at Euro 2020. How far they will go, only time will tell!

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Group B – Finland

The expansion of the European Championships to 24 teams has not arrived without criticism but when it enables teams like Finland to qualify for the first time in their history, it its hard to hold a grudge. This will mark Finlands first ever appearance in a major tournament and they got there in style under Markku Kanerva. 5 years into his management of the national side, Kanerva will lead his team out onto the pitch in June this year with a mark of Pride.

In qualification, Italy were the runaway winners in the group finishing 12 points ahead of Finland. But with 6 wins and 4 losses Finland ended second ahead of previous winners Greece and Bosnia. Given their qualification record in the past this was a performance beyond Finnish hopes and the day they sealed qualification was the biggest moment in Finnish football history. They recovered well from a poor start and were unlucky to lose at home to Italy. The solid wins kept coming, and despite a 4-1 loss to Bosnia, the team walked away from qualifying with a proud set of results.

This was of course all driven by the 10 goals from the prolific Teemu Pukki. In modern football it is perhaps harsh to label any team as a “one man team” but I think very few would disagree that it was the goals of Pukki that have driven Finland to Euro 2020 and if they have any hope of progressing it will be his goals they need. 30 goals in 90 games, 10 of those in qualification alone means the team revolves around his pace, running and ability to finish. Russia, Belgium and Denmark will be aware of this and they known if they can shut Pukki down, they shut Finland down.

Tim Sprav, at 81 caps, remains the heartbeat of the midfield but at age 34 and on the back of a lack of football in the season, his impact may dwindle. The likes of Robin Lod and Rasmus Schuller will have to step up and Glen Kamara from Rangers will hope to carry his league winning form into the tournament. The whole squad lacks tournament experience but there is enough of a bond between them and collective match experience to give hope that the midfield can keep hold of games and provide Pukki with the chances he needs to score.

Lukas Hradecky from Bayer Leverkusen provides the safe pair of hands at the back, but the defence is the biggest cause of concern. Although experienced, a lack of pace and big match experience could be key. If Joona Toivio and Jukka Raitala can up their game and perform on the big stage then it could be the saving grace but the worry for this team is that facing the attacks of the pacey Russian, the world class Belgians and the tricky Danes, this team could well collapse.

Qualification must be considered a success for Finland and the fans should enjoy being part of an international tournament. The first goal, the first win if it comes will be a joyous moment but hopes of making it to the knockout stages should be put on ice.

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