Ultimate EURO 2020 Preview: Dark Horses, Group of Death, ones to watch & race for the Golden Boot
We may have been forced to wait an extra year due to Covid-19 but the first game of EURO 2020 is just 24 hours away.
All the traditional big dogs of International football will be competing to call themselves the best team in Europe with Italy & Turkey set to kick things off at 8pm (Irish Time) on Friday night!
Teams have been plagued by Covid issues & injuries in the lead up to the tournament but the time for worry and talking will soon be over, this is your Ultimate Guide to EURO 2020.
Frances tournament to lose?
The reigning World Champions come into the Championship as heavy heavy favorites with the majority of the squad having only improved since claiming the World Cup in 2018.
Their squad depth cannot be matched by a single other team outside of England and with the return of Karim Benzema to the international scene their chances of winning have only improved.
The main knock against France is the strength of their group, having been drawn in the Group F with Germany, Portugal & Hungary-The Group of Death!
While the French will still be confident of coming out top of the group, Germany are always rock solid in major tournaments & Portugal are the defending champions and are still being led by their legendary captain, Cristiano Ronaldo.
France's tendency to implode may also come back to haunt them like we saw back in 2010, expectations to win can be difficult for some to handle and the high expectations may be too much for some in the France camp.
But the positives still far outweigh the negatives here and it will be somewhat of shock if we don't see France at least make it to the Final like they did back in 2016.
Dark horses- ITALY
There hasn't been much talk about the Italians over the past few years, especially after they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup but under Roberto Mancini they have rebuilt and appear to back to the Ol' Italy we all know and love (if you are Italian) but hate if not!
Italy won all 10 of their qualifying games for the tournament and have not lost since September 2018.
Defensively there is little to say, they are Italian. Tough, experienced & clever, a forwards nightmare. In Marco Verratti they have one of the world's top midfield players, who is paired with Jorginho, a key member of the Chelsea team that one this seasons Champions League, and Nicolo Barella, a stalwart of the Inter Milan team that won the Serie A title last month. No superstars but teams will struggle to win the midfield battle against this trio.
Italy have the immortal Ciro Immobile leading the line with a number of exciting options out wide including Lorenzo Insigne, Domenico Berardi & Federico Chiesa. Italy rarely blow teams away but they are solid defensively and pose a serious threat on attack, a combination that has worked well for them in the past.
Drawn in Group A alongside Turkey, Switzerland & Wales, they will be confident of coming out on top. With their first knockout match likely to come against Austria or Ukraine, the Italians are definitely worth a bet at 10/1.
Can England win it all?
As is always the case heading into a major tournament, England are heavy favorites to bring home their first major international trophy since 1966.
Having come up short on so many occasions over the last 50 years it would naive to think that's all behind them but with the array of talent available to manager Gareth Southgate they have to be in the conversation...
In terms of attacking talent, England are second to none with likely four forward positions up for grabs (CAM,RW,LW & ST) Captain Harry Kane currently appears to be the only dead cert to start their opening game against Croatia with the other three positions to be filled by Mason Mount, Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho & Jack Grealish. Despite having had disappointing seasons with their clubs, Rashford and Sterling are likely to fill the wing positions but it will be a tough choice between Mount, Foden & Grealish for the no.10 position. Too many options is always a good thing for a manger and England will have a number of game changers to come off the bench aswell as in their starting lineup.
With midfielders Jordan Henderson & Declan Rice appearing to return from injury right on time for the tournament, England will likely have their first choice midfield available to them but Harry Maguire only returned to training today and is unlikely to be fit for the opener if at all. With the Tyrone Mings & John Stones the likely centre back pairing if Maguire cannot win his race to be fit, England may be forced to play with a back three. This system has worked well for them in the past and with Mings & Stones as a centre back pairing they have little hope of making a strong push for the trophy.
England have crumbled under the pressure of expectations major tournament after major tournament over the past 30 years and home advantage may work against them but with their youthful team & attacking talent they are in a strong position to succeed. Their defensive frailties are the major concern and with their first knockout game likely to be against France, Germany or Portugal, they will have to be at their best from game 1.
The Group of Death!
Group F, comprised of France, Germany, Portugal & Hungary, is the eye catcher of the group stages with three of the tournament favorites drawn against each one another.
With the four best third place teams qualifying for the round of 16 it is probable that all three advance to knockout phase but the battle to win the group will be fierce as it would likely provide a much more favorable last 16 matchup with the runner-up of Group F likely to face England and 3rd place (if one of the top four) likely facing the Netherlands.
The difference maker in the group will likely be if any team fails to beat Hungary, who are no doubt the minnows of the group but they will be playing in front of their home crowd and that could be a huge boost. Germany will also be playing in front of their home fans and that support could make all the difference.
France are the favorites for me but with home advantage on their side a victory for Hungary could cause a huge shock in the Group Stage....
Players to watch:
Phil Foden- Foden is still only 21 years old but he lit up both the Premier League and Champions League this season, winning the former and reaching the final of the latter and while he may not be a guaranteed starter for England, he has all the talent to make the European Championships his playground.
Burak Yilmaz- At 35, Yilmaz may no longer be in the prime of his career but this past season he scored 16 goals in just 28 games to lead Lille to their first league title since 2011 and he has bagged five goals in his last four appearances for his national team. Turkey looked well placed to cause a few surprises similar to Greece in 2004 & Wales in 2016 and Yilmaz will be crucial to any deep run in EURO 2020.
Ferran Torres- The City youngster was not a regular starter in his first season at the Etihad but the 21 still contributed 13 goals in 36 appearances as City reclaimed the Premier League. A versatile forward, Torres has become a key member of the new look Spain team, having scored 6 goals in 11 games played for the three time Euro's winners. The stage may be set for the youngster to announce himself to the world.
Memphis Depay- The former Man Utd forward looks set for a big move this summer after bagging 20 goals for Lyon last season and clubs interest may be sparked after a dazzling Euro's performance. Depay is the star man it was is a depleted Dutch squad having bagged 13 goals in his last 20 appearances for the national team including five in five in 2021. If Depay shows up the Dutch may surprise a few.
Federico Chiesa- The Juventus winger was a bright spot in what was a disappointing campaign for the Bianconeri, contributing 15 goals and 11 assists across the season. Still only 23 years old, Chiesa will not be expected to lead the way for Italy but with his flair and attacking talent, he may be a key contributor as Italy look to show the world they are back on the international scene.
Race for the Golden Boot
Kylian Mbappe- 8/1
The PSG striker bagged four goals as France claimed the World Cup in 2018 and after hitting 42 goals in 47 games this season, Mbappe's form is red hot.
France are favorites to win it all and Mbappe will be at the forefront of all their attacking play, a safe bet.
Karim Benzema- 14/1
Benzema returned from international exile after scoring 30 goals for Real Madrid as they came up short both domestically and in Europe. Benzema had not played for France since 2015 before being recalled for the European Championships.
He picked up a knock in France's last friendly game on Tuesday but if healthy he will have a great chance of bagging at least 3 or 4 goals.
Ciro Immobile- 16/1
The Lazio striker has been one of the most elite goal scorers in world football over the past three years, winning the European Golden Shoe in 2020. Since joining Lazio five years ago he has scored 150 goals and will be leading the line for the new look Italian side.
Having bagged 6 goals in his last 11 international appearances, he is in good form and with his natural finishing ability & Italy's favorable group, he will be primed to deliver the goals.
Harry Kane- 11/2
Kane took home the Golden Boot at the 2018 World Cup after bagging 6 goals as England reached the semi-finals.
Kane will once again lead the line for England at EURO 2020 and after winning another Premier League golden boot thanks to his 23 goals for Tottenham in 2020/21, he appears primed and ready.
Romelu Lukaku- 11/2
The big Belgians goals led Inter Milan to the title in Italy this season and he is now set to lead the line for Belgium at the Euro's.
Lukaku has scored an astonishing 60 international goals despite only being 28, Belgium got one of the most favorable draws in the group stage and begin the tournament as one of the top 3 favorites to win it all, Lukaku looks well placed the bag the golden boot.
It's going to be a fun summer of football and it all gets underway on Friday June 11th.