Continuing our countdown to this summer’s European Championships, we take a look at Group C, which features a returning heavyweight contender, two nations looking to break their second round ducks and a surprising new qualifier.
FIFA Ranking: 16
Best Finish: Champions (1988)
Euro Highlight: Marco Van Basten’s stunning volley beats the USSR to cap an incredible tournament and win Euro ’88.
Euro Low Point: Being ripped apart by Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham as Holland was trounced 4-1 by England at Euro ’96.
Manager: Frank de Boer
Key Player: Memphis Depay
Holland is back after surprisingly missing out on successive major tournaments. Ronald Koeman guided them to the inaugural Nations League Final and through Euros qualification before leaving for Barcelona. Frank de Boer was parachuted in last summer and guided Holland through a respectable Nations League campaign, but missed out on a return to the semifinals. World Cup qualifying got off to a shocking 4-2 loss to Turkey, but the Dutch recovered with comfortable back-to-back wins.
Ajax has done it again, bringing through a talented group from their academy to form the spine of the Netherlands national team. Frenkie de Jong is key in his midfield role, with Matthijs de Ligt bringing the ball out of defence behind him. Georginio Wijnaldum provides a veteran presence at midfield, while Memphis Depay has developed into a predatory forward and is coming off a stellar season with Lyon.
There is a Virgil Van Dijk-shaped hole in the middle of Holland’s defence and Daley Blind isn’t an exact replacement. Turkey exploited that problem in March and de Boer has to choose between Blind and Stefan De Vrij in central defence. The other striking options behind Depay aren’t the most prolific either.
If Van Dijk were fit and Koeman still at the helm, Holland would have been amongst the favorites. They should win the group at a canter, however, the second phase could bring a blockbuster clash with a one of the Group F heavyweights. Their defensive vulnerability in their captain’s absence is likely to be exploited in the knockout phase, but after seven years away, giving their new generation the experience of a major tournament should hold the Dutch in good stead for Qatar and beyond.
Prediction: Second Round
FIFA Ranking: 24
Best Finish: Group Stage Exit (2012, 2016)
Euro Highlight: Andriy Shevchenko underlines his national icon status with a quickfire double to defeat Sweden in Donetsk and gain Ukraine’s only win at Euro 2012.
Euro Low Point: A surprise defeat to unfancied Northern Ireland makes Ukraine the first nation to be eliminated from Euro 2016.
Manager: Andriy Shevchenko
Key Player: Ruslan Malinovskyi
Ukraine won their qualifying group without defeat, nudging holders Portugal into second place and Serbia to the playoffs. They won promotion to League A in their First Nations League campaign, but were swiftly relegated back to League B last year. World Cup qualifying saw them hold France to a draw, but then drop points at home to Finland and Kazakhstan.
Ukraine doesn’t concede many goals and have cohesion from their large contingent of players from Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kyiv. Meanwhile, graduates of Ukraine’s Under-20 World Cup winning team of 2019 are starting to graduate to the senior side. Left wing Oleksandr Zinchenko is coming off an outstanding season at Manchester City and Atalanta’s Ruslan Malinovskyi is a key presence in midfield. However, the player Ukraine will look to for inspiration is Andriy Yarmalenko, the 31-year old forward is coming off a quiet season at West Ham, but is still capable of moments of magic.
Ukraine doesn’t score often and their recent qualifying slip-ups underlined their problem of turning possession and territory into goals. Gent striker Roman Yaremchuk looks the pick of the forwards on offer, but what Shevchenko wouldn’t give for a forward in his own image.
Ukraine’s fortunes have been on the rise for a few years, but this season has been beset with setbacks. The team is capable of making life difficult for most sides, but they need to be more clinical than they’ve shown of late if they are to bridge the cap to the competition heavyweights.
Prediction: Second Round
FIFA Ranking: 23
Best Finish: Group Stage Exit (2008, 2016)
Euro Highlight: Ivica Vastic puts away an injury time penalty to the delight of the Ernst Happel Stadion as Austria scores the only goal and point as hosts of Euro 2008.
Euro Low Point: Austria’s promising Euro 2016 team finishes at bottom of the group as they suffer a shocking 2-1 defeat to Iceland.
Manager: Franco Foda
Key Player: David Alaba
After decades in the wilderness, Austria has made it to their second straight Euros. They finished as runner-up’s to Poland in Group G, qualifying with a game to spare and beating group rivals North Macedonia home and away. Last fall, they won promotion to Nations League A, but suffered mixed fortunes at the start of their World Cup qualifying campaign.
Austria has a world class talent in David Alaba, who plays a more advanced midfield role for Austria rather than the back four role he occupies for Bayern Munich. RB Leipzig’s Marcel Sabitzer adds dynamism to the attack and skipper Julian Baumgartlinger provides veteran presence in midfield. On his day, Marco Arnautovic is a handful for any defence and Austria may have one of the tournaments breakout stars in Sasa Kalajdzic.
Their problems tend to be at the other end of the pitch, where they do leak goals. They conceded seven in their three recent World Cup qualifiers, including a 4-0 hiding from Denmark.
Austria could be a wild card this summer, as there is talent going forward. They should improve on their one goal showing at Euro 2016. If the defence can hold together, a first foray into the knock-out phase looks achievable.
Prediction: Second Round
FIFA Ranking: 62
Best Finish: First-Time Qualifiers
Manager: Igor Angelovski
Key Player: Elif Elmas
North Macedonia qualified by winning through the Nations League D playoffs, making them the lowest-ranked qualifiers in tournament history. It followed a respectable third-placed finish in their qualifying group. After winning promotion to Nations League C in 2018, they finished as runner-up’s in their group in 2020. They created international headlines in March by handing Germany their first World Cup qualifying defeat since 2001.
There is scoring potential on this team, as only Poland kept a clean sheet against them in qualifying and they only failed to score once in the Nations League. Napoli midfielder Elif Elmas provides the creative hub of the side in tandem with Levante’s Enis Bardhi, while wingback Ezgjan Alioski is coming off a strong season at Leeds and provides an attacking outlet down the left. All eyes will be on 37-year old striker Goran Pandev, as the 2010 Champions League winner holds the national caps and goal-scoring record as Germany discovered he is still a deadly finisher.
Clean sheets are rare for this team and despite playing a 5-3-2 formation, goalkeeper Stole Dimitrievski is likely to be kept busy, with most of the backline playing their club football in Europe’s lesser leagues.
North Macedonia won’t be coming to make up the numbers, as they have attacking talent and a well-drilled team with plenty of experience playing together. In an open-looking group, they’ll fancy their chances of making it to the knockout phase, but while they should be good to watch, they’re likely to concede too many goals to make it out of the group phase.
Prediction: Group Phase Exit
June 13th, 12pm EST Austria vs North Macedonia (Bucharest)
June 13th, 3pm EST Netherlands vs Ukraine (Amsterdam)
June 17th, 9am EST Ukraine vs North Macedonia (Bucharest)
June 17th, 3pm EST Netherlands vs Austria (Amsterdam)
June 21st, 12pm EST Netherlands vs North Macedonia (Amsterdam)
June 21st, 12pm EST Austria vs Ukraine (Bucharest)
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