After the postponement last year due to COVID concerns, the UEFA Euro 2020* tournament is just around the corner. Like any tournament, some groups have their heavy favorites while other teams are overlooked. Let us not forget that Portugal qualified to the next round of the 2016 Euros by being one of the best 3rd place teams en route to their stunning tournament win. Will this year see a similar fate for a lucky 3rd place team? In this article, I will be going over and predicting groups A and B of the competition. Armaan Sodhi will be going over groups C and D and Preston Helfand will be going over groups E and F.
Group A: Italy, Switzerland, Turkey, and Wales
Group A features a nice variety of play styles as well as talent. In tournaments like this, the best teams can be beaten by teams inferior to them on paper. Italy is the only team here to have won the Euros, winning once in 1968. Turkey and Wales each had their best placements in the competition during this century, with Turkey placing 3rd in an inspired 2008 run meanwhile Wales placed 3rd with their 2016 team, losing in the semis to the eventual champions Portugal.
3 players to watch- Nicolo Barella, Federico Chiesa, Ciro Immobile.
Italy has a lot to prove after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. They fired their coach, lost a lot of veteran icons to retirement, and were called national shames for missing the prestigious tournament. That bitter taste of failure is sure to be a spark in the hearts of the players. Personally, I think Italy has one of the better midfields in the tournament. Players like Barella and Marco Veratti are sure to have a good tournament. Ciro Immobile is coming off a 27 goal season and completing 75% of his passes. They also have an excellent veteran backfield with Chiellini and Bonucci as the glue of the team and voices in the locker room. The pressure is the biggest factor, because they can either redeem themselves or let themselves get in their own way.
3 players to watch- Yann Sommer, Ruben Vargas, Breel Embolo
Switzerland has always been a confusing team to follow. Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri have been the face of the team for as long as I can remember. They have really bad performances against teams you’d expect them to beat (like Costa Rica in the 2018 World Cup), and then they have games where they are going toe-to-toe with elite squads. I really feel that the young guys Ruben Vargas and Breel Embolo can be in for a great run. Vargas is a shifty winger that can use his size to weave around defenders and can be a key piece to the attacking third for the Swiss team. Breel Embolo is a 6 foot beast, whose pace and strength can be used to help bolster the lackluster striking options that Switzerland has.
3 players to watch- Hakan Calhanoglu, Burak Yılmaz, Ozan Tufan
One of the more overlooked squads in the entire tournament, Turkey is full of players who play hard and with a ton of passion. Their last loss was in November of 2020 and they have a solid duo in the attack game with Calhanoglu and Yilmaz. Turkey is a gritty team that plays together and doesn’t let egos get in their way, like some teams. Even when they lose, they look like the better team because of how well they play together. Their last Euro appearance saw them leave after the group stage, and this one can very easily see them make noise outside of the group stage.
3 players to watch- Daniel James, Aaron Ramsey, Gareth Bale
The Welsh team is always a team that people underestimate. For the most part, they have a right to do so as they play so underwhelming sometimes. In 2016, however, they proved to be a solid squad that placed 3rd in a tournament no one saw them making any type of noise in. Daniel James and Gareth Bale at the winger spots give Wales so much pace and composure in the attacking third of the pitch. Aaron Ramsey provides a great veteran role in the midfield, but can also play at a high level as he is keen to turn around a lackluster season at Juventus. The main issue Wales have is their defense and if they play teams with a lot of pace down the wings, they can be in trouble.
Prediction: Turkey wins the group, Italy gets second, and Wales steals the 3rd spot and goes to the next round as a top 3rd place team.
Group B: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Russia
A solid group without a doubt, group B is home to one of the favorites to make it far, Belgium. The Belgian squad made it to the quarter finals last year, with their best finish coming in 1980 where they were the runner ups. Denmark is one of two teams to have won the Euros in this group, with their lone win coming in 1992. Finland can only make history in this installment of the Euros as this is their first time ever playing in this tournament. For Russia, they won the first ever Euro competition when they were the Soviet Union. Their past two tournament appearances were rather bad, as they have been unable to move past group stage action.
3 players to watch- Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku
Belgium is a team STACKED with talent up and down the roster. Lukaku is coming off a 30 goal 2020-21 season and can be a huge difference maker up top for Belgium. The midfield is solid with Kevin De Bruyne (who is likely to sit out the first game because of injury rest), and a young and hungry Youri Tielemans who had flashes of greatness for Leicester this season. The biggest question is the play of Eden Hazard. His name and past makes him a man to watch out for no matter what, but his drop in form and lack of games played this season definitely hurt his image. He needs to have a good tournament if Belgium wants to do well, and also if he wants to prove he’s still that guy.
3 players to watch- Kasper Schmeichel, Christian Eriksen, Youssef Poulsen
Denmark has always been a solid squad but since their success in the early 90s, they haven’t really been a team to fear. Schmeichel is still a very great goalkeeper so Denmark should be fine there. Their defense is pretty average and when they play elite squads in Europe, they look really inferior. Eriksen had a nice season for Inter, and he is going to be the one Denmark turns to for production, like they have for a while now. Poulsen and Braithwhite should be an interesting duo up top, should coach Hjulmand choose to go with them up top. If they can pick up their defensive sets, especially against teams like Belgium, they should be alright.
3 players to watch- Lukas Hradecky, Fredrik Jensen, Teemu Pukki
No matter what happens this year, Finland is going to make history. Win or lose in the group stage, Finland will be playing in its first ever Euro tournament and will make history as soon as the first whistle blows. They are coming off three straight losses, which isn’t ideal for them in terms of having momentum going into their first game. Lukas Hradecky is an excellent goalkeeper and has been for quite some time. Fredrik Jensen is a solid young winger who can create chances along with Glen Kamara in the midfield. Pukki is the veteran as well as the leader of this team. He has 91 senior caps for Finland and also had 26 goals this season for Norwich. For Finland, Pukki has scored 30 goals in all so there is little question on how important he is for this team. It isn’t going to be an easy Euro for them, but you never want to count anyone out.
3 players to watch- Denis Cheryshev, Aleksandr Golovin, Artem Dzyuba
Russia will miss their beloved World Cup hero Igor Akinfeev this Euro. The great Russian goalkeeper retired from the national team in 2018 after 111 caps over 14 years, leaving behind a giant gap to fill. This Russian team is sure to give anyone they face a fight. They play fierce, tough, and passionate football. Their first game against Belgium will be played in Russia, giving them a slight edge in what should be an excellent game of football. Cheryshev had a great 2018 World Cup, scoring 4 goals for the host team. His team will need that kind of form if they want to make it past the group stage for the first time since 2008. The captain Artem Dzyuba has 29 goals and 52 caps for the senior team and will be looking to make his mark for his country. I have a sneaking suspicion that Aleksandr Golovin is going to have a great tournament. The 25 year old Monaco midfielder has the most to offer skill-wise and his passing, free kicks, and finishing need to be displayed in this competition. If Russia can fill in the gap left by Akinfeev and have good performances by their big three, they can be a dark horse team to watch.
Prediction: Belgium wins the group, Russia takes second, Denmark moves on as a top 3rd place team.