Our final preview of Euro 2020 looks at this tournament’s group of death, featuring the last two World Cup winners and three teams with a combined six European titles.
FIFA Ranking: 2
Best Finish: Champions (1984, 2000)
Euro Highlight: Michel Platini capped the best individual tournament in Euros history with the winning goal of Euro ‘84, as France won their first major tournament in Paris.
Euro Low Point: Eccentric coach Raymond Domenech bizarrely decided France’s early exit from Euro 2008, made for the perfect opportunity to propose to his girlfriend live on television.
Manager: Didier Deschamps
Key Player: Kylian Mbappe
Since lifting the World Cup in Moscow, France has suffered a few hiccups. They narrowly missed out on the 2018 Nations League semifinals and were pushed hard by Turkey in Euro qualifying. Deschamps’ team did win through their 2020 Nations League group at the expense of holders Portugal. They currently sit atop of their World Cup qualifying group.
Deschamps has a tried and trusted formula built around a very solid defence lead by Raphael Varane and a hard-working midfield. Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann have both rediscovered their best club form this season, and Kylan Mbappe may be the best player in the tournament. Deschamps sprung a shock when he brought back Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema after six years in the cold.
Deschamps’ unflinching faith in Olivier Giroud continues to divide opinion, especially given the veteran’s lack of games at Chelsea. France still has the habit of turning in the occasional poor performance (Turkey away, Finland at home) and switching off, with painful memories of the underwhelming display in the Euro 2016 Final still lingering.
France just doesn’t execute average tournaments: They either make the Final or go out in the group phase. With such a talented squad, the latter looks unlikely and the tough group phase may just serve to focus their minds. They’re unlikely to concede many goals, and anybody who pushes a high line on them will be exposed to Mbappe. However, the semifinal could be a rematch with a Belgium team still smarting from the World Cup Semi.
FIFA Ranking: 12
Best Finish: Champions (1972, 1980, 1996)
Euro Highlight: Oliver Bierhoff found the space to turn and shoot to score the golden goal that won Euro ‘96.
Euro Low Point: A humiliating 3-0 defeat to Portugal rounded off a dreadful Euro 2000 campaign and brought the curtain down on the career of the great Lothar Matthaus.
Manager: Joachim Low
Key Player: Leroy Sane
Any thoughts of Germany’s disastrous World Cup being a blip were put to bed by a dismal 2018 Nations League campaign. Qualification for Euro 2020 was still achieved with few alarms, despite a home loss to Holland. This season’s Nations League was better, until the shocking 6-0 hammering from Spain. Matters got worse in World Cup qualifying with a loss to North Macedonia. Joachim Low has already confirmed he’s stepping down after the Euros, but for all the incredible success he has enjoyed in his 15 years at the helm, many fear he’s now tarnishing his legacy.
Germany still has a phenomenal midfield; Joshua Kimmich is the best defensive midfielder in the world, Toni Kroos remains a world class playmaker, and Ikay Gundogan is coming off a career year at Manchester City. Going forward, Leroy Sane and Serge Gnabry provide the pace and incision Germany sorely lacked at the World Cup. Meanwhile, Manuel Neuer is looking more like his old self between the posts.
Low can’t find a stable defence with veteran Mats Hummels a late recall after being out of the picture for two years. The recall of Antonio Rudiger’s at Chelsea is a boost to Low, as is left back Robin Gosens’ form for Atalanta. The old problem at centre forward also persists with presumed first choice Timo Werner coming off a dismal first season in England, perhaps explaining Low’s decision to bring back Thomas Muller.
Playing their group games in Munich is an advantage to Germany and they still have a deep pool of talent in midfield. However, Low seems unable to fix the defensive problems. In addition, Gnabry isn’t quite in the goal-scoring form of last season. They should still make it to the knockout phase, but a heavyweight clash is likely to await them in the last 16.
Prediction: Second Round
FIFA Rankings: 37
Best Finish: Semifinals (1964, 1972)
Euro Highlight: Ferenc Bene’s late goal at the Bernabeu sent the Euro ’64 Semifinal into extra time.
Euro Low Point: Being blown away by the brilliance of Eden Hazard in the last 16 of Euro 2016.
Manager: Marco Rossi
Key Player: Peter Gulasci
After making their first finals in 30 years at Euro 2016, Hungary failed to make the World Cup. A poor Euro qualifying campaign saw them thrown into the playoffs. The playoff final against Iceland seemed to be slipping away until a late equalizer, and Domink Szoboszlai’s stunning injury time winner booked Hungary’s spot in the Finals. They won promotion from Nations League C at the second attempt and have maintained an unbeaten start to World Cup qualifying.
Hungary is a defensively-stubborn team, with RB Leipzig’s Peter Gulasci an excellent goalkeeper and Willie Orban an assured presence at the heart of defence. Hungary has a budding superstar in Dominik Szoboszlai, who offers pace and trickery from midfield.
Hungary doesn’t score often with captain and centre forward Adam Szalai dropping down the pecking order at Mainz. Szoboszlai is struggling for fitness since his January transfer to RB Leipzig. His presence is vital if Hungary is to offer a threat on the counter. The Leipzig contingent aside, few of the squad play in Europe’s top leagues and the draw is a nightmare.
Qualifying for back-to-back Euros is a huge step forward for one of football’s great forgotten nations. The defence is strong enough to make life awkward for their more illustrious opponents. However, in a group this tough, it’s difficult to see them progressing beyond the group phase.
Prediction: Group Phase Exit
FIFA Rankings: 5
Best Finish: Champions (2016)
Euro Highlight: Eder’s extra time strike won the Ronaldo-less Portugal Euro 2016 against home favorites France.
Euro Low Point: Mass protests from the Portugal’s players at Xavier conceded a late handball and saw three players handed lengthy bans as Zidane’s spot-kick sent France to the Euro 2000 Final.
Manager: Fernando Santos
Key Player: Cristiano Ronaldo
The defending champions have changed their spots since their underwhelming World Cup campaign. The emergence of new world class attacking talents like Joao Felix and Bruno Fernandes have lead to a more progressive style of play. It paid a quick dividend when Portugal became the first Nations League champions in 2019. A tough qualifying group served up a few problems, but Portugal made it through with one loss. Their Nations League defence was ended by old enemies in France, but Portugal has already assumed control of their World Cup qualifying group.
Portugal have an impressive frontline of Diogo Jota, Bernardo Silva and Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo isn’t slowing down and now has the international goal-scoring record in his sights. After so many years of carrying the attack, there is now a supporting cast who can lighten the load. Fernandes’ command of the midfield has been pivotal in Portugal’s transition from game managers to a dynamic team, alongside the dependable William Carvahlo. At the back, Ruben Dias has been exceptional for Manchester City and gives Portugal the successor to Pepe they desperately needed.
While they remain great stalwarts, Portugal’s reliance on Pepe (38) or Jose Fonte (37) to play alongside Dias is a worry going into the a major tournament. The fullbacks, although impressive in attack, can be exposed defensively.
The spine of Portugal’s team reads Dias-Fernandes-Ronaldo. Regardless of who they face, Portugal has the talent to beat anyone and now know how to win the big games. Their habit of slow starts might work in their favor here, potentially putting them on an easier path to the Final if they finish third. The biggest worry could be the aging legs of key individuals if the knockout draw doesn’t open up.
June 15th, 12pm EST Hungary vs Portugal (Budapest)
June 15th, 3pm EST Germany vs France (Munich)
June 19th, 9am EST Hungary vs France (Budapest)
June 19th, 12pm EST Germany vs Portugal (Munich)
June 23rd, 3pm EST France vs Portugal (Budapest)
June 23rd, 3pm EST Belgium vs Hungary (Munich)
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