All good things are worth the wait. The longer you have to wait for something the more you will appreciate it when it arrives. And loads of similar sayings fit the last year. But the time has come for Euro’s 2020 even if it is 2021! And it will be worth the wait. The European championship is the second largest soccer tournament there is falling behind only the World Cup. They are played every even numbered four years staggered between World Cups. Delayed for a year due to the pandemic has resulted in a couple of changes but nothing major to the actual play (rosters have been expanded from 23 to 26 players and the use of 5 substitutes will continue). There will be eleven cities hosting matches across the continent and all of them will be allowing fans anywhere from 25% to 100% capacity. The recent USMNT vs Mexico CONCACAF Nations League final held in Denver last Sunday clearly showed that sports are better with lots of fans in attendance.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
So who are the eleven host cites and which matches are they hosting?
Amsterdam: 3 Group C matches and 1 Round of 16
Baku: 3 Group A matches and 1 Quarter-final
Bucharest: 3 Group C matches and 1 Round of 16
Budapest: 3 Group F matches and 1 Round of 16
Copenhagen: 3 Group B matches and 1 Round of 16
Glasgow: 3 Group D matches and 1 Round of 16
London: 3 Group D matches, 2 Round of 16 matches, both Semi-Finals, and the Final
Munich: 3 Group F matches and 1 Quarter-final
Rome: 3 Group A matches and 1 Quarter-final
Saint Petersburg: 3 Group B and 3 Group E matches and 1 Quarter-final
Seville: 3 Group E matches and 1 Round of 16
This will all kick off (pun intended) on Friday with Italy hosting Turkey in Rome. Italy, Denmark, England, Spain, and Germany will each get to play all their of their Group stage matches at home while Russia will have two home matches. So lets review each group and see how things stack up. Note that the number behind each country is their current FIFA ranking. Also, should be noted that the top 2 from each group as well as the top 4 third place teams will advance.
Italy (7) – One of the host teams and playing the opening match starts with a traditional 4-3-3 formation. They rely on 3 ball handling midfielders linking with 3 attacking players, two wingers with one expected to cut inside and one to stay wide, and striker. The wingers will change often as to who cuts in and who stays wide. This requires their opponents defense to pay close attention.
Switzerland (13) – The Swiss employ a 3-4-3 and they like to attack. For those who watched the recent friendly between the USMNT and Switzerland, you saw they their keys lie in the midfield duo of Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri. They are talented and experienced!
Wales (17) – They played a 4-2-3-1 during qualifying but have played mostly a 3-4-3 of late. Midfielders Dan James and Harry Wilson will provide the midfield engine and link with striker Gareth Bale. Don’t go to sleep on Wales. Bale, even at 32, can still score and is a very dangerous player.
Turkey (29) – The Turks tend to play a 4-2-3-1 to focus on the defensive end with a fast counter attack. They have struggled a bit to score this way and may move to more of a 3-4- to give them more build up options. But the issue they have is that their key player is striker Burak Yilmaz who while still scoring goals in the French Ligue 1 is 35 years old. Can he keep up the grind of a long tournament or will others step up?
Prediction: Look for Italy to advance and Switzerland and Wales to battle for 2nd in the group. Good chance that all three will advance. The odds makers actually have Turkey ahead of both the Swiss and Wales.
Belgium (1) – One of the clear tournament favorites. They are just a loaded side right now. Look at this list of names in the middle of the field back to front – Thibaut Courtous (keeper), Jan Vertonghen/Thomas Meunier/Toby Alderweireld (defensive backs), Kevin DeBruyne/Eden Hazard (midfield), and Romelu Lukaku (forward). Thats a stout spine down the field and will create lots of trouble for their opponents. They got a scare during the recent UCL final when DeBruyne had to be taken off with a broken nose and orbital socket but he appears good to go for the tournament.
Denmark (10) – One of the best sides made up with a bunch of players you’ve probably never heard of. Other than keeper Kasper Schmeichel all but the most ardent soccer fans just don’t know much about these guys. Watch this tournament and you will see why they are a solid team. In fact in their last 5 international matches they are 4-1-0 with the only blemish being a recent tie with Germany. In that span they have outscored their opponents 17-1!
Russia (38) – They will employ two different formations about equally and you never know which way they will start out until they step on the field. This makes game planning for their opponents difficult. Will they come out in a very defensive 5-3-1-1 and play long over the top to their lone attacker Artem Dzyuba or a more attacking oriented 4-2-31? Much will, of course, depend on the opponent but I feel their chances are better in the 4-2-3-1. Too much goal scoring is going to happen in this group for them to play overly defensive, but we shall see if that rings true.
Finland (54) – The problem with the Fins is that they are coming in off a run of not their best form having 0-2-3 in their last 5. And they like to play a 3-5-2 or 5-3-2 and focus on defense with a fast counter from Teemu Pukki. Pukki can make some very dangerous runs behind defenders but they may struggle to get many chances in this tournament. But this is their first time ever in the Euros and they probably don’t have the horses or experience to compete.
Predictions – Belgium and Denmark should advance with Russia having a shot at a 3rd place slot.
Netherlands (16) – My how the Dutch have fallen. After reaching the semi-finals of WC 2014 they failed to qualify for Euros 2016 AND World Cup 2018. But they appear to be back on track. Coming off a 3-1-1 stretch they are a team on the rise. They are probably still a player or two short of being back at the top but a semi-final berth seems to be in reach. They like to play a possession oriented attack out of a 4-3-3 formation. Pushing the ball forward with width to stretch defenders. Their key players will be Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay. They have a real feel for each others play making them a dangerous duo near the 18. Its a shame that all world center back Virgil Van Dijk is still injured. He is truly a special player to watch.
Austria (23) – Coming in off a less than stellar run of 1-2-2 they have some work to do. They like to employ a 4-2-3-1 formation using a double pivot in front of the back line. This requires an excellent passing team in order to build an attack once they have possession. The key here will be defender David Alaba. If he can keep the back line tight and then link with the two man pivot they can quickly build an attack from the back. Interesting thing here is to note that Austria has never won a single Euro match. Look for that to change!
Ukraine (24) – On a 2-3-0 stretch the Ukrainians are coming on quite confident. They typically play a 4-3-3 with a holding midfielder (one of the ideal formations for the USMNT) but can also morph to a 3-5-2 to give them more attacking options down the flanks. Being able to play multiple formations and tactics and even during the same match is always tough to defend. The key for Ukraine will be two fold. First can Ruslan Malinovskyi gather possession and create space between the 18s. If he gets that space watch our for his booming left foot from distance. Secondly, will be up top with Andriy Yarmolenko. When he is in form he can be scary good.
North Macedonia (62) – The other team along with Finalnd making their first ever appearance in the Euros. They have the proverbial good news bad news scenario. They drew Austria in their group having also been paired with them in qualifying so they are quite familiar with their first match opponent. So the good – that always helps a team prepare. The bad – Austria beat them both times in qualifying. Austria’s Alaba seems to play especially well against North Macedonia.
Predictions – Netherlands move on. Austria wins their first ever Euro match and will fight with the Urkaine for second (and both have shot at a 3rd place slot), and North Macedonia goes home winless.
England (4) – The Three Lions have won 5 straight. They are playing at home in Wembley. Normally playing a 4-3-3 but that is a bit in question since key defender Harry McGuire has an injury and has already been ruled out of their first match. This may lead manager Gareth Southgate to go to a 3-5-2. In any case look at the names you’ll see on most lineups. Dean Henderson, Luke Shaw, John Stones, Phil Foden Jack Grealish (watch this kid), Jordan Henderson, Mason Mount, Jadon Sancho. Oh and some guys upfront by the names of Harry Kane (Golden boot winner at WC 2018 and just lead the recent EPL season in goals (23) along with 14 assists), Raheem Sterling, and Marcus Rashford. This is a scary good and deep team.
Croatia (14) – While not the team of the WC 2018 finals, they are still a very tough out. They have quality all over the field but no one more important than Luka Modric. While he may be turning 36 this fall his engine seems to be finely tuned and still running smoothly. In fact he was just named the Real Madrid player of the year. Not bad for someone who should be past their prime. Key for them will be if his legs can maintain the pace of a long tournament.
Czech Republic (40) – Coming in on a 2-1-2 stretch the Czechs are ready. The problem is that have 2 really tough matches. They will likely need to get at least a point from their England and Croatia matches and beat Scotland to be able to advance. They like to play a 4-2-31 and sit back on defense once the opposition has crossed midfield. But they like to high press in the opponents half to try and squash any buildup and to regain possession. When they have the ball they like to move numbers forward keeping their outside defenders wide and lots of bodies pushed into the penalty area. Works great until it doesn’t. This does put them on their heels for quick counters especially teams that can play from deep over the top like England.
Scotland (44) – Coming in off a 2-3-0 run they have built up a lot of confidence. And that is crucial for a long tournament. They like to play a 3-5-1-1 with their wings pushing wide down the flanks and the point attacker pushing into the box and the trailing attacker sitting at the 18. The key for the Scots will be midfielder John McGinn. If the defense is paying too much attention to the two strikers and the wings then he can sneak into the area unmarked.
Predictions – England and Croatia should advance fairly easily. If they get points in their early matches it will set up them resting some players prior to the Round of 16. That is always a huge benefit. The Czechs and Scots are talented enough to pull of an upset along the way though so England and Croatia will need to stay focused.
Spain (6) – While this may not be the same Spain from a few years ago they still come in on a 3-2-0 run and are one of the most talented and deep sides in the tournament. They are still in a bit of transition and are a bit inconsistent. A year ago they trounced Germany 6-0 yet recently they struggled to get a 1-1 draw with Greece. They play a 4-3-3 high press style and still love to dictate the tempo of the game. While they don’t have Xavi or Iniesta anymore to control the play they do have Gerard Moreno. Don’t be surprised if the outside attacked shows up in the middle of the field as a false 9. He has some mad foot skills and a great left footed shot. The biggest issue for Spain is that they really dislike playing against a bunkering team and can get frustrated. If the maintain composure they will find ways to score and win. If, and that’s a big if, they get frustrated they can have troubles.
Sweeden (18) – They have won their last 5 matches and have pretty well honed in on a 4-4-2 but it can change quickly and fluidly when on attack. The key will be their left midfielder Emil Forsberg moving centrally when they have possession and pushing the defense back with his attacking runs. If they collapse too deep he can shoot. If they press him tightly and he beats one or two on the dribble then lots of holes will open for their forwards. One thing you can be certain of and its a hallmark trait of the Swedish sides. They will run you to death so you better be fit. They will be!
Poland (21) – What can you say about striker Robert Lewandowski that hasn’t been said already? Ten thousand times. But there is just no way around it when it comes time for a tournament. He’s the guy they will rely on to find the back of the net. Which he does at an incredible rate. Formation wise they play a 4-4-2 high press without the ball switching to a 3-4-3 possession oriented attack with the ball. Teams are in a quandary when defending the Poles. They know they have to keep close marking on Lewandowski to keep him from getting the ball in deep. But if they focus too much there then others will be open. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. And coming in on a 1-3-1 run has them in decent form. Decent but certainly not great.
Slovakia (36) – On a 1-4-0 run is again the good news bad news thing. The good being that they aren’t losing and playing tight close matches. The bad being that they aren’t winning either. Highly unlikely they can advance on just draws. They probably need more points than 3 so they have to find a W in one of their 3 matches. The problem is a bit of their system. Playing a 4-3-2-1 is great for shutting down opponents but at some point you have to score goals. The key is midfielder Marek Hamsik. He’s their all time cap leader and is a dynamic and exciting player. But when teams figure out how to minimize his influence on the match they struggle to score.
Predictions – Spain advances. Sweden and Poland battle closely for 2nd. Slovakia likely goes home unless they pull of an upset and steal points from at least 2 matches. The third place team has a legit shot at moving on.
France (2) – How does coming in on a 4-1-0 stretch sound? Pretty good for sure. But that’s going to have to continue. They tend to play a midfield diamond shape especially against teams that like to play fast and not bunker. They can have a tough time beating a bunker. But the problem with bunkering against the French is that it makes it awfully hard to score on counters against them as they just don’t make many mistakes in the back. And they have inarguably one of the best players in the world sitting in the middle of the action in Kylian Mbappe. And then they also have Antoine Greizmann and Karim Benzema in the attack. Very difficult to shutdown that trio. But the ultimate key may be Kingsley Coman. He missed WC 2018 with an injury and is motivated to be seen on the big stage. Whether its starting or coming off the bench, no defender wants to see him in front of them. He is fast. Mbappe fast. Two players with that kind of speed on the field at the same time is a tough deal to handle.
Portugal (5) – Hot on a 3-2-0 run. They have one of the best goal scorers in history in Cristiano Ronaldo. Don’t care if he is 36 years old. Dude still scores goals at an incredible pace just scoring a mere 29 goals in the Serie A this past season. And to make matters worse he may be looking for a transfer this season, perhaps back to Manchester United (yes, please) so he’s going to be very motivated. And he has loads of talent around him with stars like Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, and Ruben Dias. They will play a 4-4-2 and teams need to pay attention to whomever starts up top with Ronaldo. Whether its Diego Jota or one of their other talents they can’t be overlooked.
Germany (12) – Being outside the top 10 is very unusual for them. And manager Jaochim Low is leaving after this tournament so he is motivated to go out with a strong finish Germany has never failed to reach at least the semi-finals under Low. Could this be the first time? If they were in a different group it would be laughable with all their talent to think they wouldn’t advance. But this group is a tough nut. And while they have certainly not played like German teams of the past, they are loaded with talent. They come in on a 3-1-1 run and look solid. The will rely on Thomas Mueller. Mueller was cut several years ago but has been called back in to national team duty based on his play in the Bundesliga this last season (18 league leading assists). They will score goals and if Timo Werner figures out how to get his aimer working (which it didn’t for Chelsea) then the could go deep.
Hungary (37) – A 3-2-0 stretch says they are ready. And they reached the knockout stage in 2016 after missing out on the Euros for 44 years. The good news: Keeper Peter Gulacsi, midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai are both really talented and the later is only 20 years old. The bad news: France, Portugal, Germany. Playing in a different group they might be good enough to advance. In this group, not so much.
Predictions – France, Portugal, and Germany are going to battle it out for the top 2 spots and any of them could win the group. The sad part is that they may also end up not getting a third slot to the Round of 16 if they all beat up on each other, especially if Hungary steals some points.
Every major soccer tournament has to have its “Group of Death.” Many times a group gets that designation, well, just because you have to have one. But that is not the case this time. There is a no question, no doubt about it, honest to goodness Group of Death and its clearly Group F. Two teams in the FIFA top 5, three in the top 12, and the lowest ranked team coming in at 37. Now lets break that down.
- Group B is the only other group with 2 teams ranked in the top 10 but that group also has 2 lower ranked teams at 38 and 54.
- Group C has no team ranked in the top 15.
- The composite ranking for the group is 56. The next “best” group has a composite ranking of 66. And the next best after that drops down to 81.
That folks equates to a true Group of Death.
So there it is. It all starts on Friday then really ramps up over the weekend. Most matches will be shown on ESPN so sit back and enjoy some top flight soccer over the next month culminating with the final on July 11. And the CONCACAF Gold Cup starts on July 10th so tons of great soccer the next two months!
Steve is an avid fan of all things soccer and the O’s. Originally from the west, he grew up in the Baltimore area. He returned to the west for college where he earned a BS degree in Chemical Engineering from Montana State University and spent 36 years working at the Idaho National Laboratory prior to retiring in 2013. It was during his school years in Baltimore where he learned to play soccer and that developed into a life long passion. He played competitively for over 40 years and was a four year starting goalkeeper at MSU. He also coached and refereed in the Idaho premier soccer and High School programs for many years.