• Tom Abadie

EURO 2020: FRANCE TO WIN AND ENGLAND TO FAIL IN ROUND OF 16? WHO ARE THE OUTSIDERS AND FAVOURITES


Arriving a year after originally planned, the Euros are set to set alight the continent, starting today.


Every nation obviously hopes to go far, prove their hope on the biggest stage of continental football. However, there are a handful of teams who are expected to go far in this competition. So here is a quick overview of the outsiders and the Favourites of this competition.


Outsiders


Italy:



Managed by ex-Manchester City boss, Roberto Mancini, the Italians are slowly getting back to their best days. After failing to qualify for World Cup 2018 and overall, some pretty poor performances since the Euro 2012 final, the Italians now have a very bright generation and are much more organised. While star names such as Donnaruma, Insigne and Bonucci might stand out, the heart of midfield is where the true quality is. Verratti is in his prime of his career at Paris Saint-Germain, Jorginho is a recent Champions League winner with Chelsea and the likes of Locatelli (Sassuolo) and especially Barella (Inter) have had sensational seasons. With young talent such as Bastoni and Chiesa playing at the top of their game in Serie A, there is definitely a lot of potential in this team.


While the core of the squad is far younger than in previous competition, there is still a lot of experience in this team, with Chiellini notably leading the back line. The young group is taking over the starting 11 and that in itself is a positive and a negative.


The positive is that this new team can go very far in the near future, the negative is the lack of international experience, which could be detrimental against other powerhouses of the continent. Added to the lack of efficiency from their Centre-forwards with the national team, there are a few questions that have not quite found their answers yet. This team is building up towards the next world cup, maybe even 2024 and this is a great opportunity to do well and restore trust is a great footballing nation. They are expected to get out of their group, and a quarter final finish should be realistic, depending on who they face in the next round.


Germany:


Winners of the 2014 World Cup, finalists of Euro 2008 and semi-finalist of Euro 2016, Germany are a huge nation of football, but far from the heights that they used to be at. After a very poor 2018 World Cup, the nation has gone through some difficult years recently. Internal problems with Muller, Hummels and Boateng being set aside from the squad only made matters more complicated. It feels like the new generation has not fully taken over an ageing squad. However, there are a few motives of hope for the Germans. Firstly, Muller and Hummels are back in the squad this time around, and they have already made an impact, particularly the striker. He has been essential for Bayern since being left out of the German squad and it only made sense to see him come back. A true leader who can guide this team to the latter stages of the competition. Secondly, the likes of Havertz and Musiala have come into the squad and showed some real promise, while others are leaders at club level with the likes of Kimmich or Gnabry being part of the elite of European football. The new inclusions of Gosens or Koch show that the squad is progressively moving away from the victors of 2014.


So, what to expect from this competition? Well, ultimately, it is hard to tell. The recent defeat to Macedonia in World Cup qualifiers shows there is a lack of confidence in this team and that it is maybe time to truly renew this whole squad. It feels like the end of the cycle with Löw leaving after the competition, and therefore expecting huge things from the Germans could be a bit of stretch. Additionally, they start the competition in the group of death with France, Portugal and Hungary, so there is a chance that they could even crash out right at the start. It is however expected that they qualify at least as a best third spot and go onto to play the last 16. Anything from there on would be a bonus. Difficult to exactly pinpoint how far they will go but with Germany, they can always find a way to scrape through trouble somehow.


Spain:



Once a powerhouse of European football, the Spanish are like Germany, far from what they once were. Since winning Euro 2016, la Roja has struggled a lot: knocked out in the group stages in 2014, in the last 16 by Italy in 2016 and at the same stage in 2018 by Russia. Another ageing squad. Interestingly, although Spain won the U21 championships in the last decade, in 2019 notably, those players have struggled to make a real impact in the senior squad. Ceballos, Fabian and Jesus Vallejo for example were brilliant in 2019 and have struggled to make their marks. Dani Olmo, Oyarzabal and Unai Simon are the rare successes of late. Without Ramos and Fati, injured, and maybe Busquets due to COVID, this Spanish squad is depleted of leaders and will struggle to go into the final four teams of the tournament.


There is hope however for Spanish fans. With the recent 6-0 victory against Germany for example, some players have made a real impact and the addition of Laporte at the back will definitely help their chances. They are in a homogenous group with Poland, Sweden and Slovakia, a group they are expected to top. After that, they should play of third best team, probably Wales, which they should beat as well. A quarter final should be realistic for this team, that will certainly not be easy to beat but could also self-destruct with a chaotic organisation and lack of leadership.


Favourites


Belgium:



A star studded team, full of experience and incredible young talent, Belgium is amongst the favourites. While certain players will arrive either injured, like De Bruyne, or very much out of form, like Eden Hazard, there is still a lot of talent in this team. Lukaku comes out of the best season of his career, Youri Tielemans has been at the top of his game with Leicester and Dries Mertens continues to perform. They have learnt from their past defeats against Wales and France in the last two tournaments and will be ready to face whatever comes against them.


However, there are worries within the Belgium camp and particularly with supporters. With an ageing squad, a few players are past their prime years. This is particularly the case at the back, where Alderweireld and Vertonghen look like they are playing their last or penultimate tournament, while being far from their best years. Martinez’ organisation with three at the back makes them vulnerable, with Denayer trying his best to hold the fort. However, the Olympique Lyonnais centre back has also come out of a difficult season in France, with a few surprising mistakes and many injuries. It will definitely be interesting to see how the Belgian set up and whether they can push for a continental title, exceeding their previous tournament finishes.


Portugal:


Holders of the European Cup as well as the first edition of the Nations League, Portugal is even stronger, on paper, this time round. Their squad has significantly improved since 2016, with notable additions of Bruno Fernandes, Diogo Jota or Joao Felix, three attackers who will most likely play a major role this summer. It feels like every position in this team is glittered with talent, with players who all play at the best clubs in Europe. Diaz and Cancelo won the Premier League with Manchester City, Guerreiro has had another great season with Dortmund, while Fonte and Pepe have shown that their age is only a number and they can still perform at the very best level.


More importantly, with Ronaldo, Jota, Felix, Fernandes and even André Silva, Portugal has some of the best European attacking talent. However, that could also mean a very unbalanced team, where Fernando Santos could struggle organising his team properly. They start strongly in the group of death with France, Germany and Hungary, but they should pick up at least 4, if not 6 points combined and move to the next round. From there, they could honestly beat anyone. A disadvantage they have on 2016 is that they are expected to perform and teams have a better eye on them, so there won’t be any surprises. They should still reach the semi-finals of the competition.


England:



Is it coming home? Not sure. The story between England and the Euros is somewhat complicated, with their last good run going back to Euro 96 with their semi-final. Beaten by Iceland in 2016, by Italy on penalties in 2012, unqualified in 2008 and beaten by Portugal in 2004, England does not seem to like this competition. However, they are arriving with one of the best generations of their history. Prime talent of Kane, Henderson, Maguire or Steling mixes with the youth of Phil Foden, Bellingham and Sancho, creating one of the best attacking group of this competition, but also the youngest.


And that is exactly where they might face issues. While they will have the experience of the previous World Cup, they have also changed parts of the squad and haven’t quite meshed together yet. The lack of experience of certain players could be detrimental to the England squad who could face the second-place team of Group F in the last 16 if they win their group. Facing Portugal or France could be very difficult, although Germany would be within their reach. With the organisation of the current table, England could feasibly go out in the last 16, but could also push and go all the way. Similarly, to Portugal though, the amount of attacking talent can also be an issue when trying to create a cohesive organisation up front.


France:


Most likely the favourites for this competition, France arrives with probably the best squad of the competition. The addition of Karim Benzema up front only reinforces a squad that is ever so slightly changed since the World Cup win in 2018. These players arrive with certainties, the confidence of being world champions and world class talent at every part of the pitch. While starting in the group of death, they will probably top it. With an alignment of stars, they could face Croatia, Belgium and Portugal in the final on their way to European Glory, 21 years after they last trophy in this competition. Didier Deschamps, the captain at the time, is now managing the team and he wants to go one step further than in 2016.


There is serious hope in France concerning the final win, but there are still questions over how well Benzema will fit into this squad, after only playing a game and half with them. There have been some promising movements against Wales and Bulgaria, but the oppositions this summer could be a lot stronger and therefore more compact against stronger teams. Being the favourites is not something France handled very well in 2016, so it will be interesting to see how they do this time round. Many will still argue that they should win it either way.