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Graham Ruthven: Euro 2020 preview – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly!

June 1, 2021January 7th, 2022

THEY say good things come to those who wait and that is certainly true for international football fans who have had to wait five years for Euro 2020 (which will now be played in 2021) due to the postponement of the tournament last summer. 

The pan-European competition, which will be hosted by 11 different cities across the continent, promises to provide a month of drama as the great and good of the international game face off against each other. With 51 matches involving 24 teams set to be played over 31 days, there will be plenty to draw your attention.

Five years on from Portugal’s surprise triumph, Euro 2020 promises to be a tournament for the ages. Here are some of the things you should keep an eye on over the course of the tournament, which starts on Friday June 11.

 

Favourites

While England have good reason to fancy their chances of going all the way this summer, it’s difficult to look past France as the tournament favourites. Didier Deschamps team are the reigning world champions. Their squad is so strong they could have assembled a second string team of players left at home capable of challenging at Euro 2020.

Karim Benzema has returned to the France squad after a six-year absence due his alleged involvement in an attempted blackmail case involving ex-France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena. The 33-year-old is in the form of his life and will further elevate a frontline that already boasts Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe.

At the back, Deschamps will need key figures Clement Lenglet and Raphael Varane to rediscover their best form after a difficult season at club level. That there is no place in the squad for Tanguy Ndombele reveals a lot about the embarrassment of riches Les Blues have at their disposal right now.

 

 

 

Biggest flop

The last thing Germany needed after a disastrous 2018 World Cup was to find themselves in the ‘Group of Death’ at Euro 2020, but this is the challenge Joachim Low’s side face. Die Mannschaft are caught between two generations. Low has struggled to transition Germany into a new age and this reflected in the surprise return of Mats Hummels and Thomas Muller to the squad this summer.

Recent results have been poor, with North Macedonia inflicting defeat on Germany in their last competitive outing. This was after Low’s side suffered a 6-0 mauling at the hands of Spain in the UEFA Nations League last November. Germany appear to be in no better shape than they were three years ago at the World Cup.

This is reflected by the fact Low will step down as national team manager after Euro 2020, with Hansi Flick already confirmed as his successor. In truth, Low should have gone in 2018 and this tournament could be proof of that if Germany fail to get out of Group F which includes France, Portugal and Hungary.

 

 

Surprise package

Scotland have qualified for their first major tournament in 23 years, but Steve Clarke’s side won’t be content with just making up the numbers at Euro 2020. Indeed, the country boasts its strongest crop of players for years, decades even, with several young talents shining at Premier League level in recent times.

In Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney, Scotland will possess two of the best full backs in the tournament. Scott McTominay will be a key figure in the centre of the pitch alongside John McGinn, who has 10 goals in 32 appearances for his country. Then there’s Billy Gilmour, the diminutive Chelsea dynamo who could feature in Scotland’s midfield.

Stuart Armstrong and Ryan Fraser will bring creativity in the final third while Che Adams, who decided to play for Scotland only two months ago, gives Clarke some genuine penalty box quality. Scotland under Clarke have been tough to play against and while they haven’t always played the most exhilarating football, this team could make a big impression this summer.

Read MoreTierney and Robertson: A dilemma proving to be a very Scottish curse

 

England’s chances

This is England’s best chance of major tournament glory since the 2006 World Cup. Gareth Southgate’s squad is packed full of world class talent, particularly in the attacking areas (see Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, and boasts the balance needed to sustain a Euro 2020 challenge. 

What’s more, England are in better shape now than if Euro 2020 had been played when originally played. Twelve months ago, John Stones was a peripheral figure at Manchester City, Luke Shaw was still seen as a failure at Manchester United and Declan Rice wasn’t as accomplished as he is now. Keep in mind Kane also missed the final few weeks of last season through injury. Now, though, he’s fully fit.

If England have a flaw, it could be in the dugout where Southgate isn’t as experienced as some of his international peers. Spain have Luis Enrique. Italy have Roberto Mancini. England, however, have a coach who has yet to prove he can evolve his side beyond the counter-attacking style that worked well, but had its limitations, at the 2018 World Cup.

This is where England’s Euro 2020 campaign will be won or lost. Unlike three years ago, they have the players to dictate games higher up the pitch – see Foden, Grealish and Mason Mount. Southgate must harness those players rather than revert to the default of sitting deep and waiting for the counter. England must trust themselves against the tournament’s best.