UEFA Euro 2020 Preview: Part 2

On the eve of the beginning of UEFA Euro 2020 (live on ESPN/ESPN+), it’s time to preview the teams in Groups D-F, which includes the group most people consider to be the “Group of Death”. For those who missed it, you can check out part one of my Euro 2020 preview here.

So, let’s dive in to the second half of teams looking to capture Europe’s top international prize:

Group D

Croatia

Last Euro appearance: 2016 (Round of 16)

Manager: Zlatko Dalic

Overview: Croatia comes into this tournament certainly with elevated expectations after they made it all the way to the final of the 2018 FIFA World Cup before losing to France.  In qualifying, they were the top team in a group that included three other teams set to compete at Euro 2020.  What this team lacks in terms of defensive personnel they make up for in midfield depth.  Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic and Inter Milan duo Marcelo Brozovic and Ivan Perišic are all excellent in possession and picking apart opposing defenses.  Up top, Dinamo Zagreb’s Bruno Petkovic led the national team in qualifying with four goals.  It’ll be tough for Croatia to replicate their World Cup success this summer with the crux of their stars getting up there in age, but this side still has enough quality to advance out of the group stage.  From that point, maybe lightning can strike twice.

Best Player: Luka Modric

The oldest player on Croatia at 35-years-old, Modric is still the one pulling the strings on offense.  Despite an expected decline, Modric’s passing skills are still elite and he’s Croatia’s main man on set pieces.  This most likely is his last shot at a major tournament with the national team so he’ll be properly motivated to be on his A-game.

Player to Watch Out For: Ante Rebic

Rebic is coming off of back-to-back 11 goal seasons with AC Milan in Serie A and will most likely be one of the three guys up top in manager Zlatko Dalic’s system.  He’s not a world-class athlete by any stretch, but Rebic is dependable in front of goal as a clinical finisher.  While Croatia have plenty of depth in the midfield, they’ll need their group of forwards to score a few goals if they want to be successful at Euro 2020.  Rebic should be expected to be one of the leaders of that group.

Prediction: Quarterfinals

 

Czech Republic

Last Euro appearance: 2016 (Group stage)

Manager: Jaroslav Šilhavý

Overview: The Czech Republic qualified for their sixth straight European Championships after coming in second behind England in their group, even beating them 2-1 at one point.  The Czech’s aren’t a particularly strong scoring team, so they’ll have to rely on their defense to keep matches close.  West Ham United’s Vladimír Coufal is coming off of a strong first season in the English Premier League and should provide ample cover at right back.  In the midfield, Slava Prague’s Lukáš Masopust will provide a bit of a creative spark to the offense.  While the Czech Republic have been a regular participant at the Euros, it doesn’t look like they have the firepower to make it out of their group.

Best Player: Patrik Schick

The Bayer Leverkusen forward is coming off a nine-goal season in his first year with the club and he was also the Czech Republic’s top scorer in qualifying with four goals.  Schick is in his prime at 25-years-old and this is his first real opportunity to contribute to the national team on a big stage.  He doesn’t have much support alongside him, so he’s going to have to take his game to the next level for the Czech’s to advance out of the group.

Player to Watch Out For: Tomáš Soucek

Coufal’s teammate at West Ham, Soucek is an imposing figure at 6’3”.  His main job is to break up play in the midfield, but he has also become quite the talisman in the box on set pieces due to his size.  If the Czech’s need a goal late for whatever reason during the Euros, look for them to feed Soucek in the box in order to make that happen.

Prediction: Group stage

 

England

Last Euro appearance: 2016 (Round of 16)

Manager: Gareth Southgate

Overview: After they were shockingly knocked out of Euro 2016 by Iceland, England followed up by making the semifinals at the World Cup in 2018, only to lose to another side with less overall talent than them in Croatia.  The honeymoon period with manager Gareth Southgate seems to be ending, and as one of the tournament favorites, there’s even more added pressure to get the job done.  England were one of the top scoring teams during qualifying, but there a lot of questions surrounding this team at the back. The team is still tracking the fitness of center-back Harry Maguire having already lost Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold due to injury.  In the midfield though, there’s a ton of young talent ready to prove themselves such as Manchester City’s Phil Foden, Chelsea’s Mason Mount, and Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish.  Up top, wingers Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling are coming off of tough seasons, but Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho is one of the top wingers in the world.  England have the talent to win this tournament, but a potential matchup with Portugal or Germany in the Round of 16 may be too tough of a test for a team that has some holes on defense and will have to rely a lot on their young talent.

Best Player: Harry Kane

Despite all of the great, attacking talent on the team, Kane is still the focal point of the English national team.  The Tottenham striker is coming off of an excellent 23 goal and 14 assist season and led England during qualifying with 10 goals.  He wasn’t a fixture quite yet with England in 2016, but he led them with six goals at the World Cup in 2018.  There’s a lot of pressure already on the English national to win and Kane has put a lot of pressure on himself by reportedly asking for a summer transfer.  However, he’s used to the spotlight and is eager to prove himself to the world that he’s the top striker in the game.

Player to Watch Out For: Jude Bellingham

Of the all the young players on England’s roster, Bellingham is the youngest at age 17 and is also possibly the most intriguing.  Snapped up quickly from Birmingham City by Borussia Dortmund, Bellingham earned a lot of playing time in his first season, including eight starts in the UEFA Champions League.  He’s capable of playing in multiple positions in the midfield and displays great pace and shooting precision.  It’s a crowded midfield on the English national team so Bellingham will have to make the most of the opportunities he is given at this tournament.

Prediction: Round of 16

 

Scotland

Last Euro appearance: 1996 (Group stage)

Manager: Steve Clarke

Overview: It seemed like this day would never come for Scotland who are back at their first major tournament since the 1998 World Cup.  After finishing third in their group behind Belgium and Russia, Scotland had to sweat out two penalty kick shootouts vs. Israel and Serbia to qualify for their first Euros since 1996.  The key to Scotland’s rebirth has been the development of their young players, as they only have one non-goalkeeping field player 30 years or older on their roster.  The team is mostly made up of players from the Scottish Premiership, but Leeds United center-back Liam Cooper and Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney are a big part of the defense.  In the midfield, Manchester United’s Scott McTominay will use his 6’4” frame to cut off opposing attackers while Aston Villa’s John McGinn led the team in qualifying with seven goals.  Up top, Southampton’s Ché Adams will look to utilize his speed to unlock opposing defenses.  Scotland will be in a battle to advance out of their group, but the emotional high of returning to the Euros will be a big help in their efforts.

Best Player: Andy Robertson

The Liverpool left-back is not only a good defender, but exceptional in going forward and putting crosses into the box.  He has plenty of experience in big matches and has been one of Scotland’s most consistent players.  His skills on both sides of the ball will be needed even more so if Scotland want a chance at advancing to the knockout round.

Player to Watch Out For: David Turnbull

One of six Celtic players on the Scottish national team, Turnbull is the youngest of the bunch at age 21.  He scored eight goals this past season as Celtic finished second in the Scottish Premiership and he made his first appearance for Scotland this month in their 2-2 draw with the Netherlands.  He’s an aggressive midfielder who does a good job of creating his own shot as well as opportunities for others.  Scotland will need to get goals from multiple areas of their team to be successful and Turnbull could be one of those unexpected sources.

Prediction: Round of 16

 

Group E

Poland

Last Euro appearance: 2016 (Quarterfinals)

Manager: Paulo Sousa

Overview: Poland is coming off of their best finish at the Euros in 2016 when they made it to the quarterfinals before losing to Portugal in a penalty kick shootout.  They pretty much breezed through qualifying, winning eight of their 10 matches on their way to a first-place finish in their group.  Poland begins with a solid foundation at the back with Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and center-back Kamil Glik.  The midfield will feature familiar faces in Grzegorz Krychowiak and new ones such as 17-year-old Kacper Kozlowski, who has been dubbed the “Polish Pogba”.  However, they will have to deal with the loss of forward Arkadiusz Milik to a knee injury.  However, there’s enough technical ability in this squad for Poland to grind out enough results to make it out of their group and be a dangerous team in the knockout rounds.

Best Player: Robert Lewandowski

The unquestioned best striker in the world at the moment, Lewandowski is coming off of a Bundesliga record 41 goal season with Bayern Munich.  While he’s never been surrounded by the amount of talent he has at Bayern, Lewandowski has still managed to be as productive for his national team.  During qualifying, he led the team with five goals.  Strangely enough, Lewandowski only has one goal total from the past two major tournaments Poland has featured in.  Now with his strike partner Milik ruled out for Euro 2020, Lewandowski will have shoulder almost the entire goal-scoring load in order for Poland to make a run.

Player to Watch Out For: Jan Bednarek

Poland will be looking for other players to step up on defense and Bednarek isn’t a bad choice.  The center-back started 36 of 38 league matches for Southampton in the EPL this past season and is coming into his own at age 25.  He’s strong in the air in both boxes and is a good shot-blocker.  If given a consistent chance, Bednarek should be a vital piece to Poland’s campaign this summer.

Prediction: Quarterfinals

 

Slovakia

Last Euro appearance: 2016 (Round of 16)

Manager: Štefan Tarkovic

Overview: Slovakia qualified for their second ever Euros as an independent nation the hard way, winning a penalty kick shootout vs. the Republic of Ireland before beating Northern Ireland 2-1 in extra time.  Slovakia play a rugged style of football that isn’t always pleasing to the eye, but it drains their opponents’ energy.  Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dúbravka will be playing behind a backline that has a fair bit of experience.  In the midfield, Minnestoa United FC’s Ján Greguš is a solid playmaker as is the veteran Vladimír Weiss.  Up top, Róbert Boženík was the team’s joint top goal scorer during qualifying.  If Slovakia can assert themselves and their style, they have a chance to advance out of their group.  More than likely however, they won’t be able to create enough chances to do so.

Best Player: Milan Škriniar

Another guy I’ve mentioned before, Škriniar has been a consistent starter with Inter Milan the past few seasons, helping lead them to a Serie A title this year.  He is emblematic of the way Slovakia like to play, physical and unrelenting.  He’s also a threat to get on the end of set pieces on the other end of the field.  Slovakia will be under a lot of pressure in group play, so Škriniar and co. will have to find a way to stay compact.

Player to Watch Out For: Marek Hamsik

At 33-years-old and a few seasons removed from his best work with Napoli, Hamsik is still a big part of Slovakia’s offense.  The attacking midfielder tied for the team lead with three goals during qualifying.  Hamsik is still a wicked shot from the outside and has the ability to create chances for others.  It’s a matter of what does he have left to give to the national team after a decade plus of service.

Prediction: Group stage

 

Spain

Last Euro appearance: 2016 (Round of 16)

Manager: Luis Enrique

Overview: After winning the European Championships back-to-back in 2008 and 2012, Spain’s reign ended in 2016 with a 2-0 loss vs. Italy in the quarterfinals.  A relatively early exit at the 2018 World Cup signaled that it was time to move on from the group that brought the country so much silverware and prestige.  Spain breezed through qualifying without losing a single match, but the recent buildup to their Euro 2020 campaign has had a few problems.  Manager Luis Enrique opted to not select a single player from Real Madrid to his squad, including Spain’s most capped player Sergio Ramos.  Then, their captain Sergio Busquets tested positive for COVID-19, causing the entire team to have to quarantine and miss out on their final tune-up match.  Healthy or not, there’s a lot of question marks with Spain, but there’s also still a lot of talent.  Manchester City center-back Aymeric Laporte switched his allegiance from France to Spain this year and should provide a huge boost to a defense missing several of its regulars.  Atletico Madrid duo Koke and Marcos Llorente are important parts of the midfield.  Up top, it remains to be seen if Juventus striker Alvaro Morata can get the job done or if Spain will have to turn to Villarreal striker Gerard Moreno.  Spain should be able to find a way to advance near the top of their group, but from that point, there’s as good a chance they go on a run as there is of them crashing out of the tournament.

Best Player: Rodri

Spain doesn’t really have that one player that stands out above the rest, but Rodri is arguably their most in-form player.  He played a major role for Manchester City this season in helping them win the EPL title and make it to the UCL final.  At 6’3” and 24-years-old, Rodri is quite the physical and athletic speciman.  He’ll be critical in breaking up play in the midfield and distributing to Spain’s wide variety of playmakers and goal-scorers.  Even if Busquets is available, Rodri should get plenty of time to make his mark for Spain.

‘Player to Watch Out For: Ferran Torres

When given the opportunity to play in his first season with Manchester City, Torres scored goals in bunches.  He scored seven goals in 15 league starts as well as four goals in four UCL starts.  Torres has great pace as a winger and is able to create his own shot with ease.  He’s already scored a couple of times for Spain in their first round of World Cup qualifiers, so he’s firing on all cylinders headed into Euro 2020.

Prediction: Quarterfinals

 

Sweden

Last Euro appearance: 2016 (Group stage)

Manager: Janne Andersson

Overview: Sweden will be looking to advance out of the group stage at the Euros for the first time since 2004 when they made it to the quarterfinals.  They’ll have to do so without all-time goal scorer Zlatan Ibrahimović, who’s comeback this year was cut short due to a knee injury.  However, he wasn’t a part of the group that successfully led Sweden through qualifying.  Despite not getting much time at Everton, Robin Olsen is still the first-choice goalkeeper for the national team.  Manchester United’s Victor Lindelöf headlines a defense that only conceded nine times during qualifying.  Sebastian Larsson still has a heavy hand in offense, but he’ll get support from Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isak and Krasnodar’s Marcus Berg up top.  Sweden have been a consistent presence at major tournaments over the years, but it’ll be a tough task for them to break this streak of group stage exits this time around.

Best Player: Emil Forsberg

Forsberg has been an underrated reason for RB Leipzig’s success over the past few seasons, including their semi-final run in the UCL last year.  His production as a forward-thinking midfielder has been consistent over the years and that’s also translated over to the national team.  Sweden is definitely at their strongest as a collective, but they’ll need the individual brilliance of someone like a Forsberg to make any noise at this summer’s tournament.

Player to Watch Out For: Dejan Kulusevski

After a great season with Parma in Serie A, Kulusevski transferred to Juventus for this season, where he scored four goals and added three assists.  He’s the future of the Swedish national team at 21 years of age, a dynamic midfielder who’s excellent with the ball at his feet.  The experience he got playing for Juventus in the UCL and other top competitions should do wonders for his development going forward and hopefully Sweden will be around long enough for fans to witness his exciting style of play.

Prediction: Group stage

 

Group F

France

Last Euro appearance: 2016 (Runners-Up)

Manager: Didier Deschamps

Overview: It seemed liked destiny was written in the stars for France to win Euro 2016 on home soil, but Portugal had other plans.  France would dust themselves off and go on to convincingly win the 2018 World Cup and announce themselves as the world’s best team.  Now this team seeks to go back-to-back like their countrymen did before them in 1998 and 2000.  Current manager Didier Deschamps was the captain of both those teams and now is tasked with picking a starting 11 from the deepest pool of talent in the game.  The French defense will once again be anchored by captain Hugo Lloris in net and Real Madrid’s Raphaël Varane at center-back, who is the team’s oldest defender at age 28.  In the midfield, France will have UCL final Man of the Match N’Golo Kanté wreaking havoc on their opponents all over the field.  However, the pièce de resistance of the French national team is their group of forwards and wingers, which now includes a returning Karim Benzema to pair with the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembélé among others.  With the amount of talent they have, and motivation to finish what they started in 2016, this is France’s tournament to lose.

Best Player: Kylian Mbappé

With respect to Kanté, Mbappé is France’s most dynamic player and is widely considered to already be a top five player in the world at the age of 22.  The French striker lit up the 2018 World Cup on his way to being named the Best Young Player at the tournament.  This will be his first appearance for France at the Euros and another opportunity to showcase his world class speed and finishing skills.  We’re looking at someone who should be the favorite to be the top scorer at Euro 2020.

Player to Watch Out For: Paul Pogba

Will the real Paul Pogba please stand up?  The often injured/maligned central midfielder has only made 34 starts for Manchester United the past two seasons in the EPL.  However, when he puts on the French national team kit, he transforms back into the player many considered to be top 10 in the world at one point.  We know what Pogba brings to the table in terms of his physicality and playmaking ability.  Whichever version of him that shows up at Euro 2020 will tell us what type of outing France are in for.

Prediction: Champions

 

Germany

Last Euro appearance: 2016 (Semi-finals)

Manager: Joachim Löw

Overview: Little did we know after France eliminated Germany in the semi-finals of Euro 2016 how much worse it would get for Joachim Löw and his team.  The reigning World Cup champions were eliminated in the group stage at the 2018 World Cup, their worst finish in the country’s history.  The embarrassment led to wholesale changes, including a shift towards a younger generation of players and Löw set to step down after Euro 2020.  However, a handful of veterans from that team, including goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, center-back Mats Hummels, and central midfielder Toni Kroos, have been in good enough form to make this summer’s squad.  Joshua Kimmich offers versatility as a wing-back or midfielder.  Bayern Munich winger Serge Gnabry led Germany in qualifying with seven goals.  However, the big question is can the likes of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz rediscover their scoring form after their production dropped off in their first season with Chelsea.  Germany’s talent and pedigree still make them one of the top teams to beat, but they are no longer as feared as they once were.

Best Player: Thomas Müller

Müller gets another opportunity at a major tournament for Germany after he scored 11 goals and added 19 assists in league play for Bayern Munich this past season.  Müller has had an excellent club career, but he’s done his best work for Germany in the past.  With an added playmaking dimension to his game, he’ll look to get the rest of Germany’s young offensive players going at the Euros.

Player to Watch Out For: Leon Goretzka

While maybe not as heralded as some of his other teammates, Goretzka is very much a part of Germany’s success.  Operating out of the same role as the legendary Bastian Schweinsteiger, Goretzka controls each match he plays from the center of midfield with his passing and ability to retrieve the ball.  He’s also a quality scorer, as he was second on Germany during qualifying with four goals.  Goretzka is still working his way back from an injury, but when he’s fit, he will be active in helping Germany rid the stench of their World Cup performance.

Prediction: Quarterfinals

 

Hungary

Last Euro appearance: 2016 (Round of 16)

Manager: Marco Rossi

Overview: What did Hungary do to deserve this?  After narrowly qualifying for Euro 2020 with consecutive playoff wins vs. Bulgaria and Iceland, Hungary’s reward was that they were drawn into the same group as the reigning World Cup champions, the reigning Euro champions, and Germany.  To make matters worse their best player, 20-year-old Dominik Szoboszlai, is still recovering from a long-term injury and won’t be at Euro 2020.  This means they’ll have to depend upon RB Leipzig goalkeeper Péter Gulácsi to keep them in matches.  In terms of offense, guys like Ádám Nagy and Roland Sallai will have to step up in the absence of Szoboszlai.  Unfortunately, the odds are too stacked against Hungary for them to advance, but hopefully they provide a few moments of brilliance before their exit.

Best Player: Willi Orbán

Orbán had a great season with RB Leipzig, scoring four goals from his center-back position as well as providing excellent defense.  He’ll be pressed into action on both ends even more so now with the injuries and the opponents they’ll be facing.  However, he’s seen a lot of high-octane attacks in the Bundesliga already, so he should be able to find a way to impact the game to an extent.

Player to Watch Out For: Nemanja Nikolic

While Nikolic isn’t the same striker who poured in 51 regulars season goals as a member of the Chicago Fire in MLS, he is still a very capable option at the forward position.  He was an active part in qualifying for Hungary and has also contributed during their World Cup qualifiers this year.  Hungary need all the help they can get to keep pace with the teams in their group and Nikolic has at least shown in the past that he can score goals in bunches.  That’s all this team can truly hope for.

Prediction: Group stage

 

Portugal

Last Euro appearance: 2016 (Champions)

Manager: Fernando Santos

Overview: When you look back on Portugal’s Euro 2016 win, they very much played not to lose more than to win.  They finished with more draws than wins at the tournament and three of their four knockout stage matches went to extra time, including the final vs. France.  That’s because they didn’t have the talent at the time to support Cristiano Ronaldo on either end.  Now as they enter Euro 2020 as the reigning champions, Portugal have so much more talent at their disposal.  It starts with a defense that now includes the reigning EPL Player of the Year in Manchester City’s Rúben Dias and his teammate outside-back João Cancelo.  In the midfield, Sérgio Oliveira had an excellent run with FC Porto in the UCL and he’s joined by some of the EPL’s best in Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes and Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva.  Up top, the emergence of Diogo Jota and André Silva give Portugal even more options going forward.  With the depth that they now have, Portugal should be much more aggressive in their play.  If they’re able to get past a tough matchup in the Round of 16, they should be favored to make a run at becoming back-to-back champions.

Best Player: Cristiano Ronaldo

For all we know, this will be Ronaldo’s last appearance at the Euros for Portugal.  When last we saw him, he was walking off the pitch in tears after picking up an early injury, but quickly turned into a coach/motivator on the sidelines as the rest of Portugal played on.  He’ll want to go out being the main reason behind Portugal’s success, having already scored half of their goals in qualifying with 11.  With a lot more talent surrounding him, it’s going to be hard for opposing defenses to zone in on just Ronaldo, which is just the way he likes it.

Player to Watch Out For: João Félix

Dubbed Ronaldo’s successor at a very young age, the now 21-year-old Félix has settled in at Atletico Madrid.  He’s coming off of a seven goal, five assists season with the champions of Spain, which also included a lot of playing time in the UCL.  Much like Ronaldo, Félix loves taking on opposing defenders one-on-one and creating space to get off his shot.  The spotlight isn’t too bright for him, and with all of the big names on this Portugal roster, there shouldn’t be too much pressure on him this time around.  In the end, this is a great opportunity to get his feet wet at a major tournament for the first time and hopefully build upon it for years to come.

Prediction: Runner-Up

 

So there you have it, all 24 teams and their outlook for Euro 2020.  As for a prediction, while it may seem boring to predict a repeat of the 2016 final, the talent on both France and Portugal is undeniable and their predicted paths to the final favor them both.  As for teams set to upset that pick, Italy and England would be my top choices.  Here’s to an entertaining and historic Euro 2020!

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