The wait is almost over, as the delayed European Championships will begin in Rome on Friday night. The last week has seen the 24 qualifying nations go through their training paces, play warmup games, and in some cases manage a crisis ahead of the kickoff. Here, we countdown how they’re all looking:
Finland has been waiting over half a century for their tournament bow, and that dream will be lived on Saturday afternoon in Copenhagen. However, the Fins are not going in guns blazing after successive defeats. Against neighbors Sweden, Markku Kanerva picked an under strength side and Finland were handily beaten 2-0. Against unfancied Estonia, Finland had a stronger lineup, but surprisingly lost by a 1-0 margin. Teemu Pukki didn’t feature in either game and will improve the team that lines up against Denmark, however, that is now four defeats in six matches for the Fins ahead of their big day.
With an unenviable draw, Hungary’s hopes suffered a hammer blow with midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai ruled out of the tournament. Hungary has an excellent defence to call on who kept a clean sheet in a 1-0 win over Cyprus. Against Ireland in Budapest, Hungary dominated possession, but struggled to create chances in a placid 0-0 draw. RB Leipzig duo Peter Gulasci and Willi Orban will ensure a stout defence for Hungary, but without Szoboszlai, they lack incision going forward.
22. Czech Republic
The Czech’s got a rude awakening in Bologna when they were on the receiving end of a 4-0 thrashing from Italy, although the Czech’s were without several key players. Against Albania, Patrik Schick scored early, but the Czech’s conceded before halftime. Second half strikes from Lukas Masopust and Ondrej Celustka ensured a confidence-boosting 3-1 win. With Schick and Matej Vydra looking in solid form, the Czech’s do look to have goals in them. They start at Hampden Park against a Scotland team who has beaten them twice this season; a point is the minimum requirement if the Czech’s are to give themselves a realistic chance of progression.
The preparations for Slovakia have shown familiar strengths, but equally familiar failings. Against Bulgaria, they fell behind early, but a first international goal from midfielder Lazlo Benes rescued a 1-1 draw. Coach Stefan Tarkovic picked a stronger side to face Austria and Slovakia’s stingy defence kept a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw. Marek Hamsik hasn’t featured to this point, and without him, Slovakia look short of goals. Still, they do go into the tournament unbeaten this year.
20. North Macedonia
Unlike most, the tournament’s bottom-ranked nation have stuck largely to their preferred team throughout the buildup. Midfielder Elif Elmas gave them the lead against Slovenia, only to be pegged back by a 97th-minute equalizer. Against Kazakhstan, the Macedonian’s put in an excellent performance, winning by a 4-0 score. Gjanni Alioski got the first from the penalty spot, with the scoring rounded off by debutant Milan Ristovski. North Macedonia has three wins and a draw from their last four matches, including a win over Germany.
The goals have dried up at the wrong time for Austria. An away match against England always looked tough, but Austria did give their hosts a few problems before going down by a 1-0 score. At home against Slovakia, Austria drew a blank for the third game in a row. For Coach Franco Foda, the big decision will be whether he sticks with Sasa Kalajdzic or recalls Marko Arnautovic to face North Macedonia.
This is not a great buildup for Wales with manager Ryan Giggs in court and no win from their warmup fixtures. Wales faced the toughest of away games by taking on France, and their task was made impossible by Neco Williams’ early red card as they crashed by a 3-0 margin in Nice. The Welsh side could then only manage a 0-0 draw with Albania in Cardiff. Interim boss Rob Page has received a boost with David Brooks’ return to fitness, while Gareth Bale’s good late season form at Tottenham suggests Wales’ talisman is back in the groove at the right time.
Russia has enjoyed a solid, but unspectacular week. They came from behind to draw 1-1 with Poland in Wroclaw. Bulgaria should have provided a clean-cut win in Moscow, but Russia labored and it was left to substitute Aleksandr Sobolev to score the only goal of the match with six minutes remaining. They will play on the break when Belgium are the visitors to Saint Petersburg on Saturday, with Artem Dzyuba just one goal short of Russia’s goal-scoring record.
Steve Clarke’s squad has quietly gone about a favorable buildup to the Euros. They were short by seven players due to Covid precautions against Holland, but twice lead through Jack Hendry and Kevin Nisbet goals, only to be denied the win by Memphis Depay’s late free-kick. The final warmup game against Luxembourg brought a morale-boosting win. Che Adams continued his excellent start to his Scotland career by grabbing the only goal. In truth, Scotland was profligate against the minnows, who were down to ten men before halftime. Scotland will open their first major tournament campaign in 23 years on home turf against the Czech Republic on Monday.
Poland began the week with a half-strength team, earning a 1-1 draw with Russia thanks to Jakub Swierczok scoring his first goal for his country. They finished their preparations with a 2-2 draw with Iceland, a game that highlighted Poland’s defensive problems. On the bright side, Tymoteusz Puchacz put in an assist from Piotr Zieliniski for Poland’s opener. The equalizer for Karol Swiderski’s ended the game on a high, but worryingly it’s one win in seven matches for the Poles. With Arkadiusz Milik and Krzysztof Piatek injured, Swiderski may just have won himself a start next week against Slovakia.
Ukraine picked up a much-needed pair of wins to end a seven-match winless streak. Oleksandr Zubkov headed in an early goal against Northern Ireland, but Ukraine had to survive a flurry of second half chances to claim a narrow 1-0 win. Things were much simpler against Cyprus, with Andriy Yarmolenko bagging a brace to take his international goal tally to 40 in a 4-0 win. The timely return of Yarmolenko adds some stardust to a team that has struggled of late to convert possession into goals.
The uncertain form of Croatia continued with a disappointing 1-1 draw with Armenia, despite taking an early lead through Ivan Perisic. Against Belgium, Croatia started brightly, but were overpowered by the world’s top-ranked side by a 1-0 score. They contain few surprises, but included 21-year old Domagoj Bradaric after a title-winning season at Lille and recalled Dinamo Zagreb and Luka Ivanusec have made the squad. They have won just two of their last nine matches heading to Wembley to face England.
It has now been five consecutive wins for the Swiss, admittedly against lesser opposition. They started by coming from behind to beat a USA team without Christian Pulisic in a 2-1 win. A meeting with Liechtenstein was never likely to pose a threat, but Mario Gavranovic bagged an impressive hat trick in a 7-0 romp. The Swiss have a battle-hardened side, and with Xherdan Shaqiri back to full fitness, they enter the tournament in a confident mood.
Sweden signed off their preparations with two more wins, despite the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. In Solna, the Swedes saw off fellow qualifiers Finland in a 2-0 win, thanks to an early Robin Quaison goal and a second half penalty. They then turned in an impressive display in a 3-1 win over Armenia, with Emil Forsberg scoring with a crafty free kick and setting up a second from a fine whipped cross. Sweden enter the Euros on a high after a run of five straight wins this year. Sweden did suffer a blow when midfield duo Dejan Kulusevski and Mattias Svanberg both tested positive for Covid and will miss the opener against Spain.
Turkey got ready for the tournament opener against Italy by extending their unbeaten run to six matches. Their second string began preparations with a 0-0 draw against Guinea. They fielded a strong side against Moldova with Burak Yilmaz scoring early in the second half and Cengiz Under adding some gloss in a 2-0 win. With a strong backline and Yilmaz in prolific form, Turkey could prove a surprise package this summer.
Dutch preparations when from bad to worse when primary goalkeeper Jesper Clissen was ruled out through Covid and Donny Van de Beek joined Virgil Van Dijk on the injury list. Unsurprisingly, Holland looked shaky at the back against Scotland and only escaped defeat through a brilliant Memphis Depay free kick that secured a 2-2 draw. The Dutch looked better against Georgia, with Depay again scoring and Ryan Gravenberch getting his first goal for his country to round off a comprehensive 3-0 win.
The Danes are coming to form at the right time. The late goal of Yussuf Poulsen gained Denmark a smash-and-grab draw against Germany. In Brondby, Denmark comfortably saw off Bosnia with Martin Braithwaite’s first half header setting them on their way to a 2-0 win. Denmark has a settled side, having lost just twice this season (both to Belgium). If one of their young strikers hits form, the Danes will be serious contenders this summer
It has been a testing few weeks for Spain boss Luis Enrique. First, he sprung a selection shock by not just omitting Sergio Ramos, but becoming the first Spain manager to go into a major tournament without any Real Madrid players. On the pitch, a tepid 0-0 draw with Portugal saw Aymeric Laporte make his Spain debut. Then came the confirmation that Sergio Busquets had tested positive for Covid and the squad will be in insolation while Spain’s Under 21s fulfill the senior side’s remaining friendly against Lithuania. The remainder of the squad are isolating, but Enrique has been forced to call up four potential replacements to an enlarged squad just days ahead of their first game.
It has been a rough three years for Germany, but the signs are encouraging for Joachim Low’s last hurrah. Low has relented and brought Mats Hummels and Thomas Muller back into the fold to provide some much-needed experience at either end of the pitch. Kai Havertz is joining the squad fresh from scoring the Champions League winning goal and Antonio Rudiger was excellent in that final. Germany warmed up with a 1-1 draw against Denmark with Low’s team in a 3-4-3 system that suits most of his key personnel. From there, Germany thrashed Latvia by a 7-1 margin. They will start against France in Munich, and for all their recent problems, nobody peaks at tournaments like Germany.
The dominance of Premier league clubs in Europe’s club competitions this season meant England was missing 11 players for their first warmup match against Austria. England still beat Austria by a 1-0 score, with Bukayo Saka scoring his first goal for the Three Lions. However, England lost Trent Alexander-Arnold to injury. England then saw off Romania by a 1-0 score thanks to Marcus Rashford’s second half penalty. Harry Maguire remains an injury doubt for the opener against Croatia, but Gareth Southgate will be boosted in midfield by the return to fitness of Jordan Henderson and the form of Jude Bellingham.
The world’s top-ranked side suffered a major blow when Kevin De Bruyne suffering a fractured eye socket in the Champions League Final. The uncertainty around Eden Hazard and suddenly facing Russia in St. Petersburg looks to be a tricky opener, although Roberto Martinez got some positive news with midfielder Axel Witsel returning from injury. On the pitch, Belgium’s undercard recorded a 0-0 draw with Greece before their best available side eased past Croatia by a 1-0 score on Sunday night. Martinez has gone with tried and trusted in his squad and left Alexis Saelemaekers out, but did bring back Christian Benteke after an improved season at Crystal Palace.
The holders got their preparations off to a cautious start with a strong side taking a 0-0 draw with Spain in Madrid. Portugal will play their final warmup game against Israel on Wednesday evening. Fernando Santos did include Renato Sanches in his final squad after a fine comeback season with Lille, with the injured Andre Gomes the most notable absentee. With so many players coming off excellent club seasons, Portugal look well set for another deep run this summer.
History has shown the Euros aren’t always won by the best team, but instead by the team in the best form. Gil Azzurri extended Italy’s unbeaten run to 24 matches after thrashing Luxembourg by a 7-0 score with their second string before an impressive 4-0 hiding of Czech Republic. Ciro Immobile grabbed the opener against the Czech’s and seems set to start upfront when Italy kicks off the tournament on Friday night.
The World Cup holders got even stronger by bringing back Karin Benzema from his six-year absence from the national team. The return of Benzema against Wales became difficult to judge after the Welsh were reduced to ten men after just 26 minutes. France made their numerical advantage count in a 3-0 win, with Antoine Griezmann getting the pick of the goals with a beautiful curling finish. Griezmann was on hand again to send France on their way against Bulgaria with Olivier Giroud adding a late double in a 3-0 win. With no obvious weaknesses, a positive buildup and another world class striker added to the squad, Les Bleus starts as justifiable favorites.
For a preview of Euro 2020, check out our group-by-group guide:
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