The rescheduled 2020 European Championship kicks off on Friday, June 11 at the Stadio Olimpico, Rome with a fixture between Roberto Mancini’s rejuvenated Azzurri and a quickly improving Turkey side that could be one of the dark horses of the tournament. The tournament will be held across 11 stadiums in 10 countries.
You cannot look beyond Les Bleus of France, the FIFA World Cup champions, who have strengthened their squad with the recall of potent forward, Karim Benzema.
The spine of the team has Hugo Lloris-a goalkeeper who is above average and possesses cat-like agility; in defence, there is the skillful and unflappable Raphael Varane; in midfield is the vacuum in N’Golo Kante, who will cover the whole pitch, breaking up play and instigating attacks and upfront is the potent Antoine Griezmann.
Behind France will be Italy, who have been rejuvenated under Roberto Mancini and the Azzurri are on a 27-game unbeaten streak and though they might not have as many standout stars as teams before them, they are a solid team. They do not concede easily and score enough goals.
The third contender has to be Portugal, the defending champions, because they still have the mercurial Cristiano Ronaldo and a lot of burgeoning stars like Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix, and Diogo Jota.
Joachim Low leads the Mannschaft to his last tournament with some stalwarts of the squad, also on their last legs. If it were about goalkeepers, then Germany will be runaway Euro champs but only one can get to play.
After the debacle of the last World Cup in Russia, Low ditched some veterans but because of insipid performances has had to recall the likes of Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels. They possess an electric forward line that will stretch many defences but how will they fare in midfield and in defence?
Belgium’s Red Devils are the world’s No.1 ranked team and boast a plethora of hugely skillful and also experienced players. A team that has Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois, and Romelu Lukaku must be contenders but they have always flattered to deceive.
I also doubt the game management competency of the manager, Roberto Martinez. The path to the quarters and semis may be a thoroughfare when they will have to face better players and better managers and that is likely when the coin will drop. I will be glad if they prove me wrong.
Why is Spain’s La Roja a part of the doubters? There are doubts throughout the squad and if the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 outbreak in the camp is added, then Luis Enrique will be commended if he gets this team beyond the quarter-finals.
The absence of Sergio Ramos has taken out a huge chunk of experience and leadership from this team but we cannot totally write them off. Young players like Pau Torres, Dani Olmo, Pedri, and Ferran Torres will be tasked with carrying this team at crucial moments-if they can pass the test then Spain can dream again!
The two semi-final matches and the final will be staged at Wembley Stadium…the last time the Three Lions won a senior football tournament was in 1966 when England hosted and won the FIFA World Cup.
They also have a young crop, not burdened by the many failures in the past. Even though Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson are carrying knocks, they have young deputies, who are big-game performers and they also Harry Kane, who if well serviced will score goals.
Can the Oranje of Holland perform on the big stage? They have the players even though their finest and most dependable defender in the injured Virgil van Dijk but they dogged by the managerial career of Frank de Boer.
And last but not least is Croatia, the team led by the mercurial but ageing Luka Modric, who led the Vatreni to the final of the 2018 World Cup final. Can they put together another sequence of superlative performances that can see them go deep in the tournament?
There, surely out of breath but I have to add football is not a scientific endeavour and sometimes the data history does not support expectations and even results.
The Denmark team of 1992 were recalled from their holidays but they went on to beat Germany 2-0 in the final; in 2004, Greece braved all the odds to beat Portugal 1-0 in the final, and then in 2016, Portugal unexpectedly beat France 1-0 in the final played at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis. Football can be anyone’s game, so let the games begin.
Group A: Italy, Switzerland, Turkey, Wales
Group B: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Russia
Group C: Austria, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Ukraine
Group D: Croatia, Czech Republic, England, Scotland
Group E: Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden
Group F: France, Germany, Hungary, Portugal