STAR PREVIEW: EURO 2020

Football fans have had to wait a year but the European Championships are finally here and after the end of this year’s tournament France may be celebrating again.

Les Bleus avenged heartbreak on home soil in 2016 with World Cup success two years later and arrive here with much of the same squad that gave them such success in Russia, bar the big change of Karim Benzema’s return to the squad.

The spine of their squad is world class and proven under the highest pressure. Hugo Lloris, Raphael Varane, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Antoine Griezemann and Kylian Mbappe is as strong a core as any team at this tournament will have and they are supplemented with a squad befitting World Cup winners.

Presnel Kimpembe is an excellent foil with Varane at centreback whilst France’s fullback duo of Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernández both play for Bayern Munich. Kante, arguably the most important figure in Chelsea’s Champions League win (and run to the FA Cup Final), will anchor a midfield with Paul Pogba, fresh from a strong season with Manchester United, whilst one of Adrien Rabiot, Corentin Tolisso, or Thomas Lemar can shuttle between defence or attack.

Going forward, we know all about Kylian Mbappe’s incredible pace and Antoine Griezmann’s silky feet, leaving us with Karim Benzema’s sensational return to the fold; Assuming that the potential risk of a squad bust up has been fully assessed, then his arrival can only be seen as a bonus. Benzema has been brilliant for Real Madrid this season, scoring 23 La Liga goals and six in the Champions League, and his aerial presence and skill are a tremendous asset to a French side that also has Champions League winner Kingsley Coman, Wissam Ben Yedder and Olivier Giroud as potential options.

The downside with France is a brutal schedule. In the Group of Death, they face Germany and Portugal (both away) and then a Hungary side that will be able to play infront of a capacity crowd, a group draw that could easily see them in some trouble with a poor result. However, with a spot in the last 16 for the top two in each of the groups and the four best third placed finishers making it through, there’s a little bit of leeway before the knockout stages.

If France make it out of the group then they couldn’t face Germany or Portugal again until the final, and should they win Group F then they’d face a third placed side from Groups A, B or C, a tie for which they’d be strong favourites.

Didier Deschamps’ pragmatic style has been good enough to take France to the final of this tournament in 2016 and then the World Cup two years later, so there are no major concerns on that score for a side that has lost only one of their last 18 fixtures – a friendly to Finland when changes were made across the board.

All things told, 9/2 looks very fair for the World Cup winners, who are aiming to repeat their own World Cup/Euros double of 1998/2000, something Spain managed in 2010 and 2012.

UEFA EURO 2020
June 11 – July 11
Opening Fixture: Turkey v Italy, 8pm Stadio Olimpico
Final: July 11th, 8pm, Wembley

All Fixtures Live on BBC and ITV, including online platforms

Past Winners:
2016: Portugal
2012: Spain
2008: Spain
2004: Greece
2000: France
1996: Germany
1992: Denmark
1988: Netherlands
1984: France
1980: West Germany

There is much excitement around England’s chances for this summer, and with good reason. Gareth Southgate’s men captured the hearts of the nation in a feelgood summer when making the World Cup semi-finals in Russia and may have benefited from the delay to this tournament, with a number of their young players coming here after outstanding seasons and another year on their back.

Gareth Southgate has arguably never had so much talent to choose from, even without Trent Alexander-Arnold at right-back after a cruel injury against Austria in the warm-ups, whilst. There’s also the factor of home advantage that may, results allowing, extending through to the final, if they manage to top Group D – something they are heavily favoured to do according to the markets.

That advantage is potentially massive, but their knock-out draw is as hard as any in the tournament. Victory in Group D will put them against the second placed side in Group F, which means they are likely to face one of Germany, Portugal or France according to match prices.

Home advantage would be a major factor, but there can’t be many more difficult runs and even the second-place route leads to a potential quarter-final with France. Having to beat the best to win the tournament is part of the deal, and England should be able to hold their own against any side, but they have won only two knockout games against World Cup or Euros-winning countries since 1966 (and one of those was on penalties).

Much of that is history, but this route is far harder than their World Cup draw (beat Colombia on penalties in last 16 and Sweden in quarter-finals) and after the World Cup, they did lose their semi-final on penalties again to the Netherlands in the Nations League. It’s fair to say that this England side should be improved, but Southgate must find the correct balance to the team and 5/1 feels just about short enough for a team that is tremendously exciting, but unproven.

This may well be the last big chance for Belgium to win a major tournament and there’s no reason they can’t go well. Third place finishers at the last World Cup, they’ve been winning games like they’re going out of fashion, with 20 wins in 23 competitive games since then.

After a sensational qualifying, when they won all ten of their matches and scored 40 goals – more than any other nations – they arrive here with a spring in their step and will fancy their chances of beating Denmark, Finland and Russia to Group B glory and taking momentum into the knockouts.

In Romelu Lukaku they arguably have the tournaments in form striker, supplied by the likes of Kevin de Bryune, Yannick Carrasco, Youri Tielemans and Thorgan Hazard, whilst Dries Mertens and Eden Hazard can supply movement to occupy defenders going forward, and anything other than a big showing would be a disappointment.

The picture looks rosy for the Red Devils, but there are three concerns for their outright prospects. The first is the form of Eden Hazard, who has had an abysmal run with injuries and form at Real Madrid. The second is the recovery of Kevin de Bruyne, who fractured an eye-socket in the Champions League final and looks likely to miss their opener against Russia; And the third is a backline of Toby Alderweireld (32), Jan Vertonghen (34) and Thomas Vermaelen (35), which is likely to be vulnerable to pace on the counter attack, even more so if Axel Witsel, Roberto Martinez’s favoured midfield anchor, cannot recover properly from an achilles tendon he injured in January (he is training but has not played a game in fourth months).

All that said, we should still expect a bold bid from them.

Germany’s tournament record in the main speaks for itself – before the last World Cup they arrived in Russia as defending world champions and semi-finalists in their last seven major tournaments – but their preparation for this year’s tournament has been a rocky one. They qualified in smooth style, scoring 30 goals and winning seven of their eight games, but there have been moments of ruthless exposure, with a 6-0 tamping against Spain – who had 70% possession and 23 shots – in the Nations League and an alarming 2-1 loss to North Macedonia in World Cup qualifying back in March.

This will be Joachim Löw’s seventh and last major tournament of an extraordinary career, and it will be an incredible achievement if he’s able to overcome the defensive issues that have plagued Germany over the past two years. It would be unwise to put their defensive issues down to one position but Germany haven’t had a strong left-back presence since the great Philipp Lahm, whilst a high line has been exposed on many occasions, including in the Nations League.

Die Mannschaft will need Antonio Rudiger to carry on his incredible form for Chelsea alongside either the recalled Mats Hummels or Nikas Sule in what’s presumably going to be a 4-3-3 formation which must tighten up the defence that has leaked 18 goals in their last 11 internationals, especially in the heat of Group F.

In Germany’s favour is their rich amount of attacking talent. The recall of Thomas Muller could be a masterstroke, whilst Ilkay Gundogan and Leon Goretzka have been two of the best goalscoring midfielders in Europe. Joshua Kimmich is one of the most versatile players at the tournament and there won’t be a faster frontline than Serge Gnabry, Timo Werner and Leroy Sane to stretch defences.

If they can fashion enough opportunities then they can definitely land a blow or two, but Germany must find the balance of previous tournaments if they’re going to take a fourth European Championship.

Defending Champions Portugal cannot be excluded from the conversation. Victorious in 2016 despite winning just one game in 90 minutes, they arguably arrive here with a more varied and high-quality side with far more support to offer talisman Christiano Ronaldo –who has still scored a hatful of goals for Juventus this season – than five years ago.

Veteran manager Fernando Santos can support Ronaldo with João Felix, Diogo Jota (or both in a 4-3-3, which he has commonly used) whilst Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva can provide space and find passes. Andre Silva, who scored 28 Bundesliga goals for Eintracht Frankfurt (one more than Earling Braut Haaland), isn’t even a guaranteed starter.

A double defensive pivot of William Carvalho and Danilo Pereira provides solidity to the midfield – although João Moutinho or Rueben Neves could play there – and in defence, they have arguably Europe’s best centre back in the shape of Ruben Neves.

His partnership with Jose Fonte – the pair ahead of the uber solid veteran Rui Patricio – is as solid as any defensive pairing, and in the shape of Joao Cancelo and Raphael Guerriero, Portugal might well have two of the best full-backs in the tournament; Cancelo has had an outstanding year for Manchester City and Raphael Guerriero has provided eight assists for Dortmund.

Following a disappointing World Cup exit, Portugal bounced back with a victory in the inaugural Nations League, getting the better of Italy and Poland in their Group stages before beating Switzerland and The Netherlands in the semis and final, and this season only France managed to pip them to qualification for the finals again.

They are obviously in at the deep end in Group F, but the format this year gives them a bigger chance of qualification than they would have had previously and if they make it through, they’d avoid France and Germany until the final. A last 16 clash with England is quite likely and would be a tough assignment, but Portugal are capable of causing the Three Lions – or any side for that matter – serious problems and it would be no surprise if they went all the way again.

Spain dominated international football a decade ago, winning back to back titles in 2008 and 2012 – with the small matter of a World Cup inbetween – but are heading here after three successive failures at major tournaments (by the high standards of La Roja), the latest being a penalty shootout defeat to Russia at the last World Cup.

However Spain have undergone a major squad refresh since, and arrive as a much changed side under the reappointed Luis Enrique, a treble winner with Barcelona.

Their style of play still involves dominating the ball but they are arguably more direct now, with the pace of Ferran Torres and Mikel Oyarzabal out wide supply one of Gerard Moreno or Alvaro Morata.

The midfield magic is likely to come from Barcelona starlet Pedri, only 18 but already trusted enough to play 52 games for Barcelona this season including seven in the Champions League, Thiago, a technical wizard when fit, and Rodri, Manchester City’s metronomic master.

Getting Aymeric Laporte from France is a huge coup defensively whilst César Azpilicueta Arrives at the Euros as a newly crowned Champions League winner, but David de Gea has had a rough season for United and has to be considered a liability. However, there’s no reason for them not to have a strong run at regaining their title – assuming that Sergio Busquets’ COVID-19 case doesn’t cause too many knock on effects, fingers crossed.

Italy’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup resulted in the appointment of Roberto Mancini; The rest, as they say, is history. The former Manchester City man took his time to get into stride – after winning an initial friendly against Saudi Arabia, Mancini oversaw a run of five games without a victory, including two defeats – but since then Italy have gone unbeaten in an astonishing 27 matches.

That includes wins in all ten qualifiers as Mancini developed a well-balanced side that is well typically well stocked defensively, with the defensive legends Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci at centre back, the brilliant young goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma behind them, and Alessandro Florenzi and Emerson as right and left backs.

In possession there are many options, with Jorginho controlling the pace of the game, Marco Verratti finding fellow Azzuri players all over the park, Federico Chiesa and Emerson Palmieri stretching the game, and the combative and in form Nicolò Barella joining Lorenzo Insigne up front to supply Ciro Immobile, the Lazio legend who scored 20 Serie A goals and five in the Champions League this season.

Three host games at the Stadio Olmipico – and some crowd backing – are a help for them, and they should feel confident heading into their opening fixture this Friday with Turkey before facing Switzerland and Wales. Their tournament chances – which are more than fair, especially given their likely draw – may rest on whether Immobile can find the same form he did for Lazio, and just how fit Marco Verratti can be before the knockouts, with the latter question potentially tournament defining for the Azzurri.

The Netherlands are back at the top table after two failed campaigns, and home advantage in what’s considered to be a kind group have raised excitement about the Oranjie’s chances. They have arguably not been helped by the delay though, as captain, Virgil van Dijk, suffered a serious knee injury and Ronald Koeman – who had coached the team to their first major tournament since 2014 – left for Barcelona.

There are major managerial questions over new coach Frank De Boer – he failed badly at Inter and Crystal Palace, before struggling at Atalanta – and there have to be major questions over how he’ll structure his side.

Frenkie De Jong and Matthijs de Ligt are two of the best young players at the tournament, and Georginio Wijnaldum may be one of the most underrated (spare a thought for the criminally underused Donny van de Beek) whilst Memphis Depay arrives after a sensational season with Lyon. However, after that the Netherlands don’t have the depth of their rivals and one wonders if this tournament may have come at the wrong time for them.

Denmark have been well backed over the last 12 months, and it’s easy to see why. Since October 2016 they’ve lost only twice in 34 games and they’ve started their bid to make it to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup in style, scoring 14 and conceding none in wins against Israel, Moldova and Austria.

Kasper Hjulmand’s side are not easy to break down – Daniel Wass, Simon Kjær, Andreas Christensen and Joakim Mæhle lie ahead of Leicester’s shot stopping ace Kasper Schmeichel – whilst Christian Eriksen has been revilalisted by his title winning exploits at Inter Milan.

The worry? Going forward Martin Braithwaite and Yussuf Poulsen have not scored or played regularly for their clubs this season and ideally one of the two would be in form ahead of a potential challenge, but that said they are worthy of respect – and ask Portugal about the need to win games on your way to the title.

Of the rest, Turkey, who picked up four points from France in qualifying before beating The Netherlands and Norway in style back in March, and Ukraine, who are emerging from a period of turmoil with high quality prospects under Andriy Shevchenko such as Taras Stepanenko, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Ruslan Malinovskyi.

Croatia’s midfield makes them worthy of respect, but they suffered a World Cup hangover and haven’t looked as good since, with the retirements of Ivan Raktic, Verdan Corluka, Mario Mandzukic and Danijel Subasic leaving them shorn of crucial experience whilst an ageing defence is now much more vulnerable than it was four years ago.

Other home nations Wales and Scotland must be respected, with qualification to the latter stages entirely possible for both although they’ve landed difficult groups (something which Wales must take on without the benefit of home advantage).

Poland’s poor tournament record – bar a 2016 quarter-final reappearance they’ve failed to progress from the group-stage in five of their past six major tournaments – was off putting despite the fact Robert Lewandowski will surely score a goal or two in the group stages.

For the rest of the teams, please do check out our team-by-team guide: https://www.starsportsbet.co.uk/euro-2020-team-by-team-pinstickers-guide/

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