Now the Euro 2020 draw has been made, the previews and predictions can begin! The tournament can be viewed LIVE in the U.S. on ESPN networks, from June 12 to July 12.
Overview: Italy were one of two teams (Belgium) to finish qualifying with a perfect record, but avoiding France and Portugal must come as a relief. Turkey took four points from six against France and go to the Euros with the best defensive record on the continent: an almost impregnable wall comprising Merih Demiral, Ozan Kabak and Caglar Soyuncu. Wales went the furthest of any of these teams at Euro 2016, and we all know where Gareth Bale‘s priorities lie. Switzerland have a wily coach in Vladimir Petkovic and keep games close.
X factor: The atmosphere at the Stadio Olimpico, starting with the tournament opener on June 12 against Turkey. Italy manager Roberto Mancini has talked up replicating the fervour he experienced at Italia `90, and doing so could give an intrepid and fresh-faced side an edge, providing an emotional charge their opponents will find tough to play against.
Must-watch game: Italy vs. Wales (June 21) If Italy knock their heads against Turkey’s brick wall and find it hard to play through a stodgy Switzerland side, the Wales game at the end of this group could light some fireworks. For all his troubles in Madrid, Bale is the arguably the one attacking player in this group who can win a game on his own, while Aaron Ramsey will know all about that Italy backline, having spent a year either training or playing against it.
Overview: No.1 in the FIFA rankings, Belgium had the best attack and defence in qualification and should not be worried by Russia, having beaten them 7-2 on aggregate during their journey to the finals. The Danes are an altogether different proposition and will fancy their chances. Finland, meanwhile, have nothing to lose after reaching a major tournament for the first time in their history. Teemu Pukki scored 10 goals in qualifying.
X factor: Looking beyond Belgium’s array of stars, Christian Eriksen ended qualifying as Denmark’s top scorer and the qualifying rounds’ second-best chance creator behind Antoine Griezmann. Out of contract in the summer, unless he extends with Tottenham, the playmaker could be playing to attract the calibre of interest he was unable to arouse [Real Madrid] at the end of last season.
Must-watch game: Finland vs. Russia (June 17) Saint Petersburg is a ferry ride away from Helsinki so expect the boats to be full. Routinely biffed by bigger neighbours, the Finns impressed in qualifying, and Pukki’s battle with Artem Dzyuba, the towering Zenit striker with the best xG numbers of any forward in qualifying [inflated by games against San Marino, Cyprus, Kazakhstan and Scotland], should be fun.
Overview: After missing the past two major tournaments, Netherlands’ run to the Nations League final, combined with Ajax making the final four of last season’s Champions League, is undoubtedly to the benefit of the Euros. Ukraine were so good in qualifying that they forced their way into the top seeds, dumping France into pot two. Austria are reliant on maverick striker Marko Arnautovic, but have talent elsewhere in Marcel Sabitzer, Valentin Lazaro and David Alaba. Of the playoff teams competing to complete the group, Kosovo were such a joy to watch in qualifying that it’s hard not to root for them to reach their first major tournament.
X factor: The Dutch have arguably the best centre-back partnership at the Euros. No centre-back has gone closer to becoming the first defender to win the Ballon d’Or since Fabio Cannavaro than Virgil van Dijk, while his partner Matthijs de Ligt emerged as perhaps the brightest talent of his generation in that position. Moreover, the pair also present a real threat from attacking set pieces.
Must-watch game: Netherlands vs. Ukraine (June 14) Andriy Shevchenko’s side are a tough cookie, having kept five clean sheets in eight unbeaten qualifiers. Draws in Portugal and Serbia indicate Ukraine won’t be fazed in Amsterdam, meaning it is a trap game for the Dutch. Atalanta playmaker Ruslan Malinovskyi looks like he came through Ajax’s finishing school, such is the refinement of his technique, while Gent striker Roman Yaremchuk — four goals in seven qualifiers — could not wish for a better mentor than Sheva himself.
Overview: If England go one better than at the past World Cup when Gareth Southgate’s team reached the semifinals, five of their seven games will be at Wembley. World Cup runners-up Croatia should push them for top spot, although the Czechs beat England in qualifying. When it comes to the playoff teams, a home nations game between England and Scotland appeals, but what about Norway and the talent emerging in their ranks? Don’t you want to see Erling Haaland, Martin Odegaard and Sander Berge putting on a show?
X factor: Haaland firing Norway to the Euros would be a fantastic story, particularly in the same year he became the first teenager to score in his first five Champions League games. Not guaranteed to see that, we can at least count on the presence of Harry Kane, who finished top scorer in qualifying with 12 goals in eight games.
Must-watch game: England vs. Croatia (June 14) Group D’s opener is a repeat of the 2016 World Cup semifinal and a Nations League tie, in which England came from behind to win late, even if much has changed in recent times. After winning the Ballon d’Or on the back of inspiring his country to the final in Russia, Luka Modric has had one of the worst years of his career, while Ivan Rakitic is on the margins at Barcelona. England, meanwhile, have more talent with Jadon Sancho having burst onto the scene, but have not necessarily pushed on in the past two years.
Overview: Tensions are high in the Spain camp following Luis Enrique’s return and subsequent war of words with former assistant Robert Moreno; whether the ripple effects are still felt by June remain to be seen. Poland have the best striker in the world in Robert Lewandowski, skilful midfielders like Piotr Zielinski and Wojciech Szczesny, who is overlooked whenever there is a conversation about the best goalkeepers on the planet. Sweden made the quarterfinals of the last World Cup — without Zlatan Ibrahimovic — and look to have found an exciting talent in Dejan Kulusevski. Joining this trio through the playoffs could be Bosnia and Herzegovina. Edin Dzeko would be the third-most prolific international goal scorer at the tournament behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lewandowski, while watching Miralem Pjanic against Spain’s midfield would be quite something.
X factor: Look no further than Lewandowski. Just when you thought he could not get any better, particularly in an unsophisticated and poorly-coached Bayern team — that is, until Hansi Flick replaced Nico Kovac — the 31-year-old is hitting new heights and has scored 31 goals already this season, including four in 14 minutes against Red Star in the Champions League. There is not a more complete No. 9 on the planet.
Must-watch game: Spain vs. Poland (June 20) The question is whether talented Poland can fulfil their potential has been an issue for them since the 1982 World Cup (hosted by Spain). Watching Lewandowski against Sergio Ramos will be one of the matchups of the group stages, and while Spain have a ridiculous amount of skill and can fold in the winners of last summer’s Under-21 Euros, it is also true that they no longer inspire the same fear as a decade ago.
Overview: Didier Deschamps (France) laughed, Joachim Low (Germany) looked ashen-faced and Fernando Santos (Portugal) stared into the distance. Group F, with its six European Championship titles, features holders Portugal and the most recent two world champions in France and Germany, all three of whom reached the semifinals in 2016. Whichever team makes up the numbers via the playoffs, it will be hard to avoid the thought they have simply won the right to finish bottom.
X factor: This could be Cristiano Ronaldo’s final international tournament, and, recently his best form has been reserved for Portugal, with 10 goals in qualifying. The 34-year-old is 11 goals away from passing Ali Daei’s mark of 109 as the most prolific international goal scorer of all-time. Ronaldo tends to turn it on against elite nations; remember that hat trick against Spain in the last World Cup?
Must-watch game: France vs. Germany (June 16) Since the end of Spain’s dominance, France and Germany have become Europe’s preeminent nations, with one knocking the other out of two of the past three major tournaments. Recent results suggest France have the edge; Antoine Griezmann, for example, inspired a comeback win in the Nations League. This game will set the tone for the rest of the group, and eyes will be on Low. Can he go again after disappointing at the past World Cup and in the Nations League, where Germany only avoided relegation because the competition got restructured and expanded.