FINALLY, EURO 2021 IS HERE FOR FOOTBALL FANS AROUND THE WORLD. Well, technically Euro 2020 is finally here. This thing was supposed to happen last summer after all, but a little thing called the pandemic sidelined things for a year. Buuuut they already had all the signs printed and ready to go so *technically* this is still Euro 2020?
Anyway, the qualifiers for this thing happened way back in 2019, other than those weird UEFA Nations League last chance qualifiers which also happened sometime last spring. Now we’ve got 24 teams in six groups of four to narrow things down to 16 knockout spots, which means 72 group games the next few weeks just to knock out a third of the field — enough math for you?
The tournament kicks off Friday, June 11, and runs through Sunday, July 11, which means a full month of glorious daytime football, the perfect sneaky background viewing for… wait, we all work at home now! Games kick off at 9am, noon, and 3pm ET each day, and the tournament will span 11 European countries with crowds packing the stands, which definitely, *definitely* does not make this a giant super spreader event in a still raging pandemic. ?
Are you sold yet?
The Euros are the biggest competition in the world short of the World Cup, and honestly, we’ve got most of the heavy hitters here anyway, minus Brazil, Argentina, and your occasional Japan or Australia outlier. And as an added bonus, we get all sorts of history and contentious rivalries here, with plenty of shared borders and, ya know, centuries of wars and ill feelings passed down through the generations. Some of these teams really don’t like each other, and with fans back in the stands and 11 home stadiums hosting, we should get some wild, fun atmospheres.
Cristiano Ronaldo!! Kylian Mbappe!! Kevin de Bruyne!! Harry Kane!! Romelu Lukaku!! Robert Lewandowski!!
The stars are out, and Euros are always wildly unpredictable. Portugal are the defending Euro champs but didn’t even win a single group game last time. France are the defending World Cup champions. Germany won the World Cup before that — and those three teams are all in the same group! England is loaded and the semis and final are in London, so Brits are dreaming big and England are favorites. Is football *finally* coming home?
Let’s break down each group and preview Euro 2020. Or is it 2021?GROUP A
Can I interest you in a Welsh turkey and Swiss on Italian? Not exactly sure what it is, but it sounds delectable.
This looks like a defensive, cagey group, so don’t expect a ton of goals. Four of the six third-place teams advance, but with more draws likely in a group like this, Group A could be a spot where the third-place team is in danger of missing out. The group winner here gets to face the runner up from Group C, probably the cushiest draw in the bracket.
Italy are favorites, and this team is pretty good. They cruised through qualifying but didn’t really play anyone of note. Like usual, Italy has an extremely stout defense, with Chiellini and Bonucci the veteran center back pairing with Jorginho and Verratti in front of them, though it won’t be the same without Gigi Buffon belting out the Italian anthem before every game.
Italy and Azerbaijan (?!) host Group A, so the Italians will play all three group games in Rome. They’re led by accomplished manager Roberto Mancini and feature more scoring threat than you think of for a typical Italian team, with Juventus’s Federico Chiesa the bright young star in attack, though the team still lacks a lethal striker. Still, this is a team with a clear identity and one that looks like a clear group favorite and a team that could make a deep run.
Italy is no lock to win the group, though, and Switzerland could push them. The Swiss have plenty of nationalized players like usual, and Shaqiri will lead the way. Switzerland loves to sit deep and counter attack, and that tends to get the Swiss out of group play but not much further. Switzerland has made seven of the last eight major tournaments but failed to win a knockout game in all of them. Still, this team feels right in its prime, and the Swiss always seem to have one big upset in them per tourney.
Turkey plays the opener against Italy. They’re the youngest team in the tournament and one of the best defenses. The Turks play a 4–1–4–1. They love to play behind the ball and wait for an opportunity, and this team allowed only three goals in 10 qualifying games. Up front, Burak Yilmaz is the one old on the team at age 35, but he’s coming off a huge season for the French champs, Lille. Turkish manager Senol Gunes is aggressive and has led some surprise runs.
Wales are the minnows in this pool. Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, and Daniel James lead the way, and most of this team plays in the Premier League. This team is tactical and versatile, but they’re going to have to be creative and scrap for any point in this group because they were probably in better form a year ago when this tourney was supposed to be held. Like apparently everyone in this group, Wales prefers to sit deep and counter attack.
Turkey vs Wales — June 16
Because *finally* we’ll get an answer to the age old question. Would you rather fight one whale-sized Turkey or 100 turkey-sized Wales?
In contrast to Group A, we should get some more free-flowing and pleasing football from Group B. Belgium is at the tale end of its uber-talented golden generation, and Russia always plays a fun attacking style while Denmark and Finland bring plenty of talent to the table. Denmark and Russia hosting means every group game will be a home game with great fans too.
Belgium are the group favorites, and all the greatest hits are back. De Bruyne, Hazard, Lukaku, Courtois, Mertens, Witsel, and — as always — Vertonghen, Vermaelen, and Alderweireld overloading the center of the defense (even with Kompany retired), with nary a fullback to be found. Belgium is the world #1 entering the tournament, but most of these stars are nearing the tail end of their primes and running out of chances to make good on all their talent.
Belgium stormed through qualifying with 40 goals scored and just 3 allowed, winning all 10. That’s how Belgium rolls. They love to run up the score on overmatched group opponents, then flame out when the knockout starts. I wonder if this year’s team might finally be the opposite? KDB will miss at least the group opener after that Champions League final cheap shot, Eden Hazard has been badly out of form for over a year, and this team still has no clear best XI, though I trust Roberto Martinez to find some answers as usual.
There are some red, or at least yellow (and black?) warning flags here. Belgium is experienced but older, and most of these stars played huge minutes in long, grueling club seasons. Belgium also has a brutal travel schedule in group play, from Russia to Denmark and back to Russia, with two of those true road matches. Belgium’s talent is clear. I just don’t know if this team is peaking at the right time to make a run. Maybe next year’s World Cup?
Denmark is my pick to steal the group, and if they do, you know Christian Eriksen will be at the hart of everything good. But unlike past tournaments, these Danes are more than just Eriksen. Hojbjerg and Delaney form a solid midfield, and Denmark has good center backs, flying fullbacks, and tons of attacking versatility, even if they lack a recognizable striker up front.
Denmark was unbeaten in qualifying, though they didn’t win their group. And like Switzerland, Denmark tends to have have a high floor, but this team might have a sneaky ceiling too. Plus, they get to play all three matches at home. That’s a huge crowd advantage and maybe an even bigger rest advantage while the rest of the group is busy flying to Russia and back.
Russia will host two games before traveling to Denmark for their finale. Like usual, the Russian team is stacked with mostly guys playing in Russian Premier League. That includes seven players from Zenit alone, and it typically means this team has good chemistry and knows how to play together. Russia attacks aggressively — in soccer too, am I right?? — but the defense is poor and there’s no real talent in goal. The team is badly out of form, winning only two of their past nine coming in. But hey, their matches will be fun!
Finland is playing in its first major tournament after sneaking past Greece and Bosnia-Herzegovina, so good for the Fins! Norwich forward Teemu Pukki is the recognizable name on the squad, but they’re clearly worst in the group. They’re also nicknamed the EagleOwls, which is CoolNeat I guess?
Denmark vs Belgium — June 17
These teams should battle for Group B supremacy, and with these teams neighbors and this one in Copenhagen (that’s Denmark!), this should be a fun, high energy game that comes down to one or two moments.
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