It's 2021, and we all know what that means; time for Euro Cup 2020. All jokes aside, the refusal by UEFA to change the name is ridiculous. Regardless, Euro 2020 is upon us, and this year feels special. It has been over a year since we had stadiums with thousands of chanting fans cheering on their home sides in meaningful international games. The Euros give fans, usually divided, the chance to unite under one flag and cheer one team on as they go towards one of the two most prestigious national-level trophies globally. The Gold Cup will go forward in around a month, but the Euro Cup is the one everyone tunes in for.
It goes without saying that the big five nations are all favorites going into the tournament. Mixed in amongst the big five are Portugal, Belgium, and the Netherlands. This year looks to be one of the most competitive competitions there has been since the 1990s. Excitement buzzes through the air of 24 countries as match days open up. Now it's time for me to make some predictions and figure out how to navigate the wild way UEFA has attempted to cramp 16 teams into the knockout stages.
Group A looks to be one of the most well-balanced groups in the tournament. Italy enters this group as a favorite to emerge as the top seed. Their team may have the best backline and deep-lying midfielders in the entire tournament, let alone their own group. They have gone eight consecutive matches without conceding and look to ride that momentum into the Cup. Their first game comes against the group's red-headed stepchild, so to speak, Turkey. Italy will look to snatch up three quick points early and go from there.
Turkey, on the other hand, is going to struggle here. Burak Yilmaz always poses a threat to score, and he knows what it takes to win. His LOSC Lille is coming off a Ligue 1 league win, and Yilmaz will look to carry that momentum into the tournament. He will need to be the leader of this squad if they hope to take a potential third-place birth away from the always dangerous Wales. Turkey has potential; however, I don't love their chances in this intense group.
Wales, on the other hand, will toss out one of the youngest squads in the competition. Teenagers and players in their early twenties are scattered across their team. The question for them is whether the moment will be too big for them, or if they will be too young to know the difference? I lean towards the latter as the depth of raw talent can pull off some extraordinary things, as their midfield possesses some truly lethal attacking options. Lest we forget the joker tucked in their back pocket of Gareth Bale. His leadership and experience will be invaluable as they push to take away a second-place finish from Switzerland.
The Swiss squad is a little bit top-heavy. Their midfield has a potentially deadly trio of Granit Xhaka, Ruben Vargas, and Xherdan Shaqiri. These three will need to step up and create offense through the center as quickly as possible as this group's defensive talents run deep. I like their chances to pull it off. Switzerland will get a heavy dose of pressure from the youngsters on the Welsh squad, but they have all the talent to hold them off.
Final Standings Prediction: Italy - 7 points; Switzerland - 5 points; Wales - 4 points; Turkey - 0 points
Group B may be the most straightforward of the groups. Belgium is the overwhelming favorite to come out of this group. They currently sit atop FIFA's world rankings and reside in a group with only one semblance of a threat. The team is headed by a superstar in each portion of the field. Romelu Lukaku leads the attack following what may be his best season yet. Behind him is arguably the best player in world football right now, midfielder Kevin de Brunye. Controlling the defense, Toby Alderweireld acts as a massive anchor for the backline. Belgium not only possesses superstar talent, but they're as deep as you could want a potential winner of the Euro Cup to be.
The only real threat to take even one point off Belgium is Denmark. They are lead by standout goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. With a man in goal as good as Schmeichel, your team will be competitive in any game they play. Where Denmark poses a threat is through the midfield. Headed by Christian Eriksen and Thomas Delaney, the group has keen defensive fundamentals while still attacking rapidly and deliberately. Denmark will be a tough outcome in the knockout stage. Unfortunately for them, the ceiling for Denmark in Group B is second.
As for Finland and Russia, there is not a whole lot to say. Finland is a young, inexperienced team that comes in having lost its last six games. Russia has not faired much better in their recent international outings. The two teams lack the attacking threat or the defensive solidity to compete in this group with a juggernaut like Belgium and a very solid Denmark.
Christian Eriksen collapsed during Denmark's game against Finland. Obviously, his exit from the tournament would be a loss for the team; however, what matters most is the health of an immensely talented footballer and overall good person. I know I speak for everyone at Sideline Sources when I wish Eriksen a speedy recovery.
Final Standings Prediction: Belgium - 9 points; Denmark - 6 points; Russia - 3 points; Finland - 0 points
The game is the Netherlands to take. Group C may be the weakest of the eight groups, and even the favorite to win it has looked poor as of late. Turkey took them to a draw in 2021, and they have lost to Scotland, a team I will not be discussing much in this article. This is not the Netherlands that finished third in the 2014 World Cup. The squad will also be without superstar defender Virgil van Dijk as he is still recovering from a long-term injury. Negatives to one side, the team remains packed with talent, mainly in the attack. The Netherlands should waltz into the knockouts, but anything is possible.
The intrigue in this group resides within the race for second place. Ukraine is probably the least likely to push for this as their roster is the most lacking in international talent. Meanwhile, Austria is the favorite to get this spot. The most international experience from the three remaining teams in this group resides with Austria. However, North Macedonia should not be overlooked. Players making their living in Europe's second divisions comprise this team. North Macedonia looks like a legitimate threat for second place in Group C. Austria's experience will differentiate this group.
Final Standings Prediction: Netherlands - 9 points; Austria - 6 points; North Macedonia - 3 points; Ukraine - 0 points
Group D is intriguing as it will be a contest for who finishes first between the two favorites. No disrespect meant towards Scotland and Czech Republic. Unfortunately for the two squads, their attacks lack the firepower to really press the stout defenses in front of the goal for England and Croatia. With both Czech Republic and Scotland likely taking two losses from the heads of the group, slipping into a third-place bid for the knockouts looks difficult at best.
England, on the other hand, may have the best front three in the tournament. Between Marcus Rashford, Harry Kane, and Raheem Sterling, goals should pour in from England. The squad has as much youth on it as there has been in years. The new generation is taking over the Three Lions. Even in goal, England has competition. Jordan Pickford likely starts for the club. However, Dean Henderson wrestled away more than a few starts from David de Gea for Manchester United. What stops him from doing the same with England?
Croatia never goes down easy. The squad plays together as well, if not better than any team in the tournament. If Luka Modric plays midfield for your team, the team competes with the best teams in the world. Croatia lacks superstar talent around Modric, yet that matters little. The squad often resembles an amoeba, moving as one fluid organism, adapting and changing based on the current situation. This team was in the World Cup finals just three short years ago, eliminating England in the semifinals. This group may come down to goal difference between the two powerhouses. Either way, it looks locked and loaded to send someone deep into this tournament.
Final Standings Predictions: England - 7 points; Croatia - 7 points; - Scotland - 3 points; Czech Republic - 0 points
The term wide open gets tossed around with this group. I understand why as well. Sweden's squad has experience in major leagues and a deep midfield. Spain is still one of the major talents in the tournament, but this is not 2010. The attack lacks the potency it once did, and to say David de Gea's form has fallen off over the past year would carry more than a fair bit of water. For me, though, this group comes down to two teams.
Spain may have its flaws, and it may have departed the golden era of Spanish football, but the youth within the squad cannot be overlooked. The aging stars like Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba are not what makes this team dangerous. Dani Olmo, Ferran Torres, Rodri, and Pedri are all younger than 25 years old. These four players look to be critical difference-makers for this club, even as subs. The backline plays as formidable and as stingy as any in the tournament, and de Gea still possesses world-class talent.
Spain's biggest competition manifests as a Polish squad with a .50 caliber sniper leading it. Poland's unit lacks top-league name recognition depth that squads like Spain do. However, no club has a striker in the type of form that Robert Lewandowski is in. Lewandowski is coming off a season where he broke the Bundesliga's single-season goal record. He did so while missing three games due to an injury. Lewandowski is the best striker in the world right now. When a player like that lines up across the field from you, every single player on that same squad looks a little bigger, runs a little faster. Poland is not a juggernaut, but they may knock a few down a peg or two.
Final Standings Prediction: Poland - 9 points; Spain - 6 points; Sweden - 1 point; Slovakia - 1 points
Group F (the Group of Death)
Saved for last comes the Group of Death, Group F. This group has three of the top eight teams in the world fighting for spots. Hungary, unfortunately, was put into a group where they have little to no chance of even scoring one point.
As for the big three, France is the odds on favorite to win the whole tournament. France has the most potent attack in the tournament. The midfield has creators like Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante flowing through and causing chaos amongst defenses. The front line possesses goal scorers with pace and a clinical style of finishing few other teams can claim to have. Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele, Antonio Griezmann, and Olivier Giroud all wreak havoc against any defense they show up against, and at least one of those men will be coming on as a sub. That is the depth France gets to work with.
Not to be outdone, Portugal's attack looks nearly as lethal and almost as quick. Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the greatest strikers in the world and now gets to play alongside Joao Felix, which feels unfair. If that wasn't bad enough for opposing defenses, the pair would have Bruno Fernandes surging behind and leading counter-attacks. Since moving to Manchester United, Fernandes looks like one of the most unstoppable offensive forces in the world. The Portuguese midfield looks so stuffed with talent you would be hard-pressed to fit it into a five-man midline. Joao Moutinho, Bernardo Silva, Ruben Neves, and Danilo make themselves available to fill out a midfield around Fernandes. Yet, the defense is not lacking for talent either, even if some of it is quite old.
Speaking of defense, Germany plays in this group as well because those other two were not enough. Germany's defense looks to be their strongest asset as they not only are deep with their backline, but their midfield plays spectacular defense against counters as well. The experience of players like Toni Kroos, Mats Hummels, and Marcel Halstenberg will prove the biggest asset for this team. That all being said, the attack is not lacking. Ilkay Gundogan leads the attack through the midfield while a pair of Chelsea forwards, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner, lead the front line. Oh, and Thomas Muller is still only 31 years old and will operate from the center of this attack.
This group possesses an absurd amount of talent and will absolutely come down to the wire. Three teams from this group should make it to the knockout rounds. I will say these standings predictions are the ones I am least confident about, though. Any of these three teams can finish in first. In fact, all three of these teams have the potential to win the Euro Cup 2020 as a whole.
Final Standings Prediction: France - 7 points; Portugal - 5 points; Germany - 4 points; Hungary - 0 points
Knockout Rounds and Champions
A lot happens between the first game of matchday one and the last game of matchday three. I could make predictions based on what I have for the group stage ranks, but I will have gotten at least a seeding things wrong here and there. That being said, I like the teams I picked to make it to the Knockouts as a whole.
Without going even deeper into some of the teams I have already discussed, I like England to meet up with Portugal for the finals of the Euro Cup 2020. The two squads both have what it takes to make deep runs and even upset a team like Belgium or France should the need arise in the elimination rounds. However, I won't make my official prediction until the group stage is over.
The Euro Cup 2020 could not be more exciting if it tried. Having legitimate, competitive international football with fans present is good for football. With teams like England and France being favorites to go home with the trophy, it adds more intrigue to what will be a fantastic summer of international football.