We continue our preview of Euro 2020 with a look at Group D, which will open at Wembley with a rematch of a World Cup semifinal, as well as the latest instalment of football’s oldest rivalry.
FIFA Ranking: 4
Best Finish: Semifinalists (1968, 1996)
Euro Highlight: Stuart Pearce exercises his Italia ’90 penalty demons to send England into the last four of Euro ’96.
Euro Low Point: England reached a new low at Euro 2016 with a loss to Iceland, leading to the infamous tabloid headline ‘Iceland 2-1 Poundland’.
Manager: Gareth Southgate
Key Player: Harry Kane
England followed up their surprise fourth place finish at the World Cup by finishing third at the 2018 Nations League. They blasted 37 goals to breeze into the Euros with nine wins from ten matches. The 2020 Nations League proved disappointing, but Southgate appears to have corrected their course with three wins in World Cup qualifying.
England has an array of options in the front three. Premier League golden boot Harry Kane remains the focal point, but Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Mason Mount are interchangeable attacking options. They have flare at the tip of midfield in the creative Jack Grealish and Phil Foden, who can create chances out of nothing. At both fullback positions, there is strength in their depth with Luke Shaw and Kyle Walker coming off impressive club seasons.
Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford continues to make mistakes at Everton, although he hasn’t let Southgate down to this point. The central defensive options look sparse, leading to Southgate swapping systems. Considering the midfield can be stodgy, could Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham be the one to change that?
England’s reboot is starting to bare fruit, giving Southgate a far stronger squad than the one he took to the World Cup semifinals. England can devastate teams with their front line and if they do go to the last four again, the final phase of the tournament will be on home turf. The worries surround a defence that too many look candidates to make a mistake at the critical moment.
FIFA Ranking: 14
Best Finish: Quarterfinalists (1996, 2008)
Euro Highlight: Davor Suker’s finish completes a trouncing of defending champions Denmark at Euro ’96.
Euro Low Point: Celebrating the last minute ‘winner’ of their Euro 2008 quarterfinal against Turkey, only to concede a last-ditch equalizer and suffer penalty elimination.
Manager: Zlatko Dalic
Key Player: Luka Modric
Since the World Cup Final, Croatia’s form has dropped like a stone. In two Nations League campaigns, they’ve won just two of ten matches and narrowly avoided relegation. Euros qualification was achieved with just one defeat in eight matches and few alarms, but the World Cup campaign began with a surprise loss in Slovenia. Although Croatia rallied, Dalic is under huge pressure going into the summer.
Croatia’s midfield still bristles with skill, as captain Luka Modric remains one of football’s greatest midfield schemers. With Ivan Rakitic retired, Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic are coming off an outstanding season at Inter. There is also a new attacking talent in Nikola Vlasic.
Croatia conceded an alarming 16 goals in six matches when faced with top-tier opposition in this season’s Nations League, with Domink Livakovic struggling to replace the retied Daniel Subasic in goal. Bruno Petkovic looked to be an ideal replacement for Mario Mandzukic up front, but the goals have dried up for him at international level. Their overriding problem remains to be an ageing squad, with too many key players approaching the twilight of their careers.
Croatia has a habit of struggling in midseason and coming through in the later stages. Dalic will be hoping they can repeat the trick this summer, as Croatia will not fear a Wembley rematch against England. The form of Petkovic could prove key, but the bigger question for Croatia is whether their World Cup stars can deliver one last hurrah before riding off into the sunset.
Prediction: Second Round
FIFA Ranking: 44
Best Finish: Group Stage (1992, 1996)
Euro Highlight: A trademark Ally McCoist strike against Switzerland puts Scotland on the brink of the Euro ’96 quarterfinals.
Euro Low Point: Gary McAllister’s poor penalty is saved at Euro ’96. Moments later, Rangers’ Paul Gascoigne breaks Scottish hearts as England win 2-0 at Wembley.
Manager: Steve Clarke
Key Player: Andy Robertson
Scotland is back after 23 years in the international wilderness and are rewarded with two home group games and a date with England. They did it via the Nations League playoffs with dramatic penalty shootout wins over Israel and Serbia. The playoff berth was reward for winning promotion from Nations League C and provided a second chance after a poor qualifying campaign saw Steve Clarke replace Alex McLeish in the dugout. This season’s Nations League almost ended in a second successive promotion while World Cup qualification got off to a steady start.
The left flank of the team is outstanding, with captain Andy Robertson a world class performer at left back and Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney in the back three. Scott McTominay provides a solid base in midfield, where Aston Villa’s John McGinn provides creativity and has the knack of scoring vital goals.
Goalkeeper David Marshall was error prone in the March internationals and his uncertain form won’t help a shaky-looking central defence. Several of the large Celtic contingent have suffered comparatively poor domestic seasons, while Rangers title winner Ryan Jack is injured. Scotland lack a consistent goal-scorer and focal point in attack, as Clarke will be hoping newcomer Che Adams can fill that void.
Scotland is improving under Clarke’s stewardship, but the hefty qualifying defeats they took from Russia and Belgium highlight this team is a work in progress. The auld enemy clash at Wembley will be in the minds of the Tartan Army, but the opening match against the Czechs could prove pivotal to Scotland’s second round hopes. With quality attacking sides in the group, Scotland’s lack of a reliable striker may prove fatal.
Prediction: Group Phase Exit
FIFA Ranking: 40
Best Finish: As Czechoslovakia, Champions (1976), As Czech Republic, Runners-Up (1996)
Euro Highlights: Karol Paneka invents a new style of penalty to calmly dink in the winning strike of Euro ’76. 20 years later, Karol Poborsky’s brilliant lob to send the Czech Republic into the Euro’96 Semifinals.
Euro Low Point: Blowing a golden chance of a berth in the Euro 2004 Final by conceding a silver goal from a simple Greek set piece.
Manager: Jaroslav Silhavy
Key Player: Tomas Soucek
After failing to qualify for Russia 2018, the Czech’s started Euro qualifying by getting thrashed 5-0 by England at Wembley. However, they rebounded to secure second place in the group phase and a surprise win in the reverse fixture in Prague. This season’s Nations League saw the improvement continue and promotion to League A, despite losing two of their six matches. World Cup qualifying got off to a mixed start, but holding their own against #1 Belgium again highlighted improvement.
The Czechs have an excellent young midfield with Tomas Soucek, who offers goals and industry from midfield and is coming off an excellent season at West Ham. Sampdoria’s Jakub Jankto has a creative spark and scores from an advanced midfield position. Winger Lukas Provod has also shown promise.
Experienced goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik is no longer first choice at Sevilla. The Czech’s lack a dominant central defender and struggled to keep clean sheets against middleweight sides in the Nations League. They also shipped five goals on their last trip to Wembley. Up front, Patrick Schick has a decent scoring record for his country. Still, he hasn’t proved prolific at club level and can miss big chances.
This is an improving side with a large home-based contingent. They have shown they can make life difficult for heavyweight sides and are proving greater than the sum of their parts. Getting a positive result against familiar foes Scotland at Hampden Park will be critical to their campaign.
Prediction: Group Phase Exit
June 13th, 9am EST England vs Croatia (London)
June 14th, 9am EST Scotland vs Czech Republic (Glasgow)
June 18th, 12pm EST Czech Republic vs Croatia (Glasgow)
June 18th, 3pm EST England vs Scotland (London)
June 22nd, 3pm EST Scotland vs Croatia (Glasgow)
June 22nd, 3pm EST England vs Czech Republic (London)
All times EST