On Friday 11 June, the delayed 16th UEFA European Championships will begin when Italy host Turkey in Rome. Rome is one of 11 host cities that include London, Glasgow, Baku (in Azerbaijan), and Saint Petersburg. Confusingly, the tournament is still called Euro 2020 despite being played in 2021, adding to the feelings of disorientation we have experienced over the past 15 months.
In 2016, Portugal became the tenth different winner of the trophy beating France 1-0 in the final despite their talisman, Ronaldo, being injured and substituted in the 25th minute. The Euros have a knack of throwing up unexpected winners and results, such as Greece winning in 2004 and Denmark winning in 1992 despite only qualifying as a late replacement for Yugoslavia.
The bookmakers rarely get it wrong!
France will be looking to do the World Cup/Euros double again after doing it in 1998/2000 and they are joint favourites with England. England need to focus on the progress made at the 2018 World Cup where they made the semi-finals, and won a penalty shootout against Colombia, rather than their ignominious exit to Iceland in 2016. England’s status as favourites is based partly on the home advantage of potentially six games at Wembley Stadium, and the range of attacking talent available in Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho and Mason Mount along with the more experienced Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford. They have the bookmaker’s favourite for the Golden Boot in Harry Kane and back up from Dominic Calvert-Lewis to capitalise on the chances that will be made. However, optimism needs to be tempered by concerns over the fitness of key defenders and the question of who is the first-choice goalkeeper?
The French continue to be strong in all areas with attacking talent such as Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann, midfield power in Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante, balanced with a strong defence with Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane and Barcelona’s Clement Lenglet at its heart. Just behind the joint favourites are Belgium who came third in the 2018 World Cup and are rated number 1 in FIFA’s world rankings. The Belgian squad is built around nine players from the Premier League, such as the outstanding talents of Kevin De Bruyne and Youri Tielemans, fresh from a wonder strike that secured Leicester City’s first FA Cup victory. They also have world stars in Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard. Psychological frailty and poor team dynamics have often been seen as Belgium’s downfall, but this golden generation has a real chance to finally win something.
Familiar faces are looking strong
The bookmaker’s only see holders Portugal as sixth favourites. This could be because they are in this tournament’s ‘group of death’ with France and Germany but four third-place teams will qualify as well as the group winners and runner ups. Portugal has star quality in Bruno Fernandes, Ruben Dias, the Premier League player of the year, and Joao Felix of Atletico Madrid who is an attacking player with exceptional skill.
Italy have been rejuvenated by manager Roberto Mancini and are riding on the back of a 25-match unbeaten streak after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Rather than selecting players from the Milan teams and Juventus, this squad is made up with players from a range of Italian clubs, such as Andrea Belotti from Torino, and players from Napoli, Atalanta and Lazio.
There are several teams who fall into the ‘hard to predict’ category. Germany have gone from being regular finalists or semi-finalists to failing to get out of their group at the 2018 World Cup and in March losing a World Cup qualifier to North Macedonia. However, they still have a strong squad and pulled off a coup by persuading Jamal Musiala, who came through the Chelsea Academy, to pledge his football allegiance to Germany. Spain who won successive tournaments in 2008 and 2012 underachieved at the 2018 World Cup after their manager left for Real Madrid days before the tournament. They seem to be a team in transition, from those experienced players who brought them so much success, to a younger generation. They can be frustrating to watch as they often dominate possession without turning it into goals. They also have a squad without their talisman defender and captain, Sergio Ramos, who has had an injury-hit season.
The plucky outsiders
In 2016 Wales became the nation with the smallest population to reach the semi-finals of the competition. This was partly due to star names such as Gareth Bale, but they showed that team spirit and cohesion, as well as raucous fan support, are as important as talent when it comes to success. This time Wales have a stronger squad, but they may be compromised by having to replace their manager in the months before the tournament. Scotland seem to have the ingredients for team success with a close-knit team that is being moulded by Steve Clarke and the added benefit of some matches with home support. They also have a core of established Premier League players, such as John McGinn and Andy Robertson, but they have to negotiate a tricky group first, which includes England and Croatia.
North Macedonia will attract some interest after they beat Germany, while Turkey has a squad with three Lille players, who beat PSG to the French League title, and two players from the 2021 FA Cup winners Leicester City.
Who will win?
This is a fantastic opportunity for England to finally win a major tournament, but will their players be burnt out after a season compressed because of a late start, as well as having three teams in European finals? Anything less than a semi-final appearance would be a failure and they could be joined there by Belgium, Portugal and France. There will always be surprises and teams who improve throughout the tournament so watch out for Scotland and Turkey.