Ian Darke on Euro 2020: Why France and Italy are my favorites, but watch out for Denmark

Ian Darke on Euro 2020: Why France and Italy are my favorites, but watch out for Denmark

This could be the Euro that challenges our predictions. Spread over 11 cities in the midst of a pandemic, who knows what fate brings us. A COVID-19 outbreak could derail the most gifted teams, and so could the schedule. Add to that the fatigue of players who have had a more congested and hectic season than normal, and the tournament could become a matter of survival for the strongest and most rested.

The peculiar 24-team format could also bring surprises. Portugal lifted the trophy in 2016 after finishing third in their group, and having won only one match in the 90 minutes in the entire tournament. Let’s not forget that the Euro has surprised us in the past: Denmark came off the bench at the last minute to replace Yugoslavia and won the championship in 1992, and then we had Greece’s insane 150-1 win in 2004.

England He has never won the tournament or reached the final, but he is among the favorites this round. After being drawn in Group D, it could also have the advantage of playing the entire tournament at Wembley Stadium except for the quarter-finals, although no locals have been established champions since France in 1984.

Led by World Cup Golden Boot winner Harry Kane, Gareth Southgate’s pick is packed with exciting young forwards including Mason Mount, Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho. However, Harry Maguire, a key defender, is against the clock in his recovery, and without him, the defense looks vulnerable against the best teams.

There are also concerns about the conditions of Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling. However, Jack Grealish could be one of the players of the tournament if they manage his shin injury well and if Southgate has enough faith in him to put it. As in 1996, when England reached the semi-finals and the country sang “Football is coming home” (it finally didn’t happen), Wembley will be a factor.

France He is also among the favorites, as he still has nine of the 11 players who won the World Cup three summers ago. Add to that the return of Real Madrid’s star forward Karim Benzema after a six-year absence from international football, and the team looks more formidable than ever.

A forward with Kylian Mbappé, Benzema and Antoine Griezmann is scary, and there is quality everywhere, although goalkeeper Hugo Lloris has not had his most convincing year at Tottenham Hotspur. However, France would be in the toughest group, Group F, with Germany, Portugal and Hungary, who must wonder what they did to deserve such bad luck in the draw.

Germany hopes to give his longtime coach, Joachim Löw, a winning farewell, but confidence in this team is not looking very high following a 6-0 humiliation against Spain and an unexpected 2-1 loss to North Macedonia in recent years. nine months. Löw has drawn veterans Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels to a squad that continues to be of sufficient quality to be dangerous. The first game, home to France in Munich, could be a barometer of their state of mind and conditions.

Portugal have a stronger team than the one that hopefully triumphed in 2016. Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and Rúben Dias lead a star-studded squad, and if ultra-conservative coach Fernando Santos lets go a bit, they are capable of defending their Crown. However, it probably won’t.

Hungary He seems cannon fodder against such powers, especially after losing star player Dominik Szoboszlai to injury on the eve of the tournament. But the location in a lit Puskás Aréna in Budapest could help him star in one or another surprise.

From Belgium, first in the FIFA rankings, another long career is expected like the one he had in the 2018 World Cup, when he reached the semifinals. He has more or less the same group of players, although his Eden Hazard talisman is not at his best in terms of level and physical condition, while the wonderful winner of the PFA award for player of the year, Kevin De Bruyne, has undergone eye surgery, which will at least mean you could avoid playing with a face mask. However, it will surely affect you. The squad has an aging defense, which could take its toll in the final stages.

Denmark they are in Group B with Belgium, as well as the unpredictable Russian national team and rookie Finland, who will be supported by goals from Norwich City’s rising hero Teemu Pukki. The Danes appear to be a dynamic secondary team. With Kasper Schmeichel in goal, a strong defense that managed to annul England at Wembley, a wealth of experience and the astute forays of Christian Eriksen, they are capable of making life difficult for anyone.

Italy is less cautious than years ago and is in the midst of a long undefeated streak under Roberto Mancini. Ciro Immobile can score goals with the help of Federico Chiesa and Lorenzo Insigne, while the Azzurri also feature classy midfielders, grizzled veterans Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci on defense and fast backs in Alessandro Florenzi and Leonardo Spinazzola. Anyway, something that worries is the physical condition of the key midfielder, Marco Verratti.

The Italians kick off the tournament in Rome on Friday with a Group A clash against a team from Turkey with their best defense ever, allowing just three goals in the standings and finishing with four points against France. This is a tough group that also includes Switzerland, a team that always progresses to the Round of 16, and Wales, a team for which Gareth Bale may not be the force he managed to be in his surprise advance to the semis in 2016. Italy should lead the group , but after that he’s fought.

What about Spain? Who won three major tournaments in a row from 2008 to 2012 with a vintage team. That 6-0 win over Germany, in which Ferran Torres scored a hat trick, proved his talent, but there are questions to be answered.

Spain’s preparation has already been severely affected by the positive cases of COVID-19 by Sergio Busquets and Diego Llorente, causing other team members to train alone and Spain having to make their debut to 16 players in the 4-5 win. 0 on Tuesday against Lithuania. Only an optimist would believe that other teams might be able to weather similar difficulties, and there is a sense that this is an unpredictable team doomed to come up short unless Alvaro Morata or Gerard Moreno score goals in quantity.

Spain should have too much for Group E rivals Sweden (it’s a shame Zlatan Ibrahimovic isn’t physically fit to play), Marek Hamsik’s Slovak team and Poland, who could be second in that group if Robert Lewandowski can maintain his record 41-goal Bundesliga form and avoid the almost invisible performance he had in the previous World Cup.

In England’s group, Croatia, one of the World Cup finalists, still has 35-year-old Luka Modric at the helm, and while their results this season have been modest, they have new talents like Bruno Petkovic and Nikola Vlasic. . Regardless of their recent form, they still have enough good players (including Ivan Perisic, Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic) to give England a close first match at Wembley.

The 1996 finalist Czech Republic is hard to read, but West Ham man Tomas Soucek was one of the Premier League players of the season, and they will hope to recreate their entertaining 2-1 victory. against England in Prague during qualifying, rather than repeating the 5-0 beating they received at Wembley.

Also in that group is the upgraded Scotland team, which qualified for their first major tournament in 23 years. Led by Liverpool man Andy Robertson and cleverly coached by Steve Clarke, a 2-2 draw on the road against the Netherlands in a recent set-up match showed that the Scottish national team can be very competitive. Clarke has cleverly downplayed the hype after the England clash, reasoning that the games against Croatia and the Czech Republic at Hampden Park represent his best chances of scoring the points needed to advance.

The Netherlands they have missed the last two tournaments, and not everyone is sure that Frank de Boer is the man who can lead them into an era of greater success. Without Virgil van Dijk to lead the defense, it’s hard to imagine them as potential winners. Having said that, with a bit of a home advantage in all three games of a friendly Group C containing Macedonia, Ukraine and Austria, the Netherlands seem to have assured progress to the phase-out stages.

The presence of North Macedonia in its first European Championship comes via the League of Nations, and led to a national celebration. Veteran Goran Pandev, 37, is their standard bearer, and that impressive win against Germany in March will encourage them to believe that they are not just there to show up. Can they be the Iceland team this year?

Forced to take a definition at this point, France would be my chosen one to win here, with Portugal and Italy fighting and Denmark a lively long shot.

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