Eurocup 2020 is coming. Legions of fans around the globe are holding their breath to see who will reign supreme.
Country pride and betting pools are on the line for some, others miss the excitement and thrill that comes every Eurocup season.
Here’s a look at Group A to F this season:
Turkey surprised everybody when they were drawn for Group A.
They managed to take four points from the world champions France, booking a place in Euro 2020 with a game to spare. After years of defensive plays, Turkey is starting Eurocup 2020 strong with Çağlar Söyüncü as the standout star.
Turkey is composed of young players, the oldest being the 25-year-old Ayhan. The midfield do not exactly play aesthetically pleasing football but they are industrious and protect the back four. The abundance of young talents may just seal their victory.
The Renaissance is here to claim the crown. With Roberto Mancini as their coach since May 2018, he built the team to beat this season.
Mancini built the team on new pillars: attacking football, technical players, youth. And it worked! Italy won all their matches in Group J, scoring 3.7 goals per game and conceding only four. Italy now has a dark horse play with a 4-3-3 formation based on pressing, possession and speed.
The team may lack structure (Marco Verratti, Lorenzo Insigne, Nicolò Barella and Jorginho are not heavyweight champions) but they dazzle with a new generation of talents such as Nicolò Zaniolo – who was called up before he had even made his Serie A debut – Gianluigi Donnarumma, Stefano Sensi, Sandro Tonali and Federico Chiesa.
After a 57-year wait to reach a major tournament, Wales will now play second in four years next summer. Up until Eurocup 2016, Wales were discouraged by their failures.
But now, there is a new generation that worked hard for the qualifying rounds. After beating Hungary in a winner-takes-all match in Cardiff, they finished this year unbeaten in six matches. Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey continue to provide the pizzazz for a nation that flourished at Euro 2016, reaching the semi-finals and, with seemingly more depth than ever, Wales will fancy their chances of going deep into the competition.
Switzerland didn’t play well in qualification for Euro 2020, but ended up emerging victorious when Denmark failed to beat Ireland.
During the qualifying rounds, the group had Xherdan Shaqiri’s absence – the Liverpool man didn’t play during qualification because of injury. So the Swiss team was short of creativity but still had enough quality to qualify. Another problem is Granit Xhaka’s situation at Arsenal. So Switzerland has to solve the problems surrounding Xhaka and Shaqiri before the Euros start.
There is also uncertainty if their coach, Vladimir Petkovic, will renew his contract before the tournament. But the team is talented and the key players such as Xhaka, Shaqiri, Yann Sommer, Ricardo Rodríguez, Fabian Schär or Haris Seferovic have played together for a long time. So after three consecutive eliminations in the round of 16 in major tournaments the goal is the quarter-finals this time.
The qualification of Denmark is peculiar. The team scored goals like never before and didn’t lose any of eight group outings but still only just managed to secure their place at Euro 2020. Denmark fully deserved their ninth appearance at the European Championship finals, which they won in 1992.
This national team held a groundbreaking winning streak - 34 matches without defeat since October 2016. As a negative counterweight Christian Eriksen is surrounded by much uncertainty. He needs to become a regular at Spurs or find a new club in January – without him at his best Denmark stand almost no chance of progressing from their group.
Finland, on the other hand, had an unlucky streak and did not win a single game in 2016 under Hans Backe, the former assistant coach to Sven-Göran Eriksson at Manchester City.
This prompted the Finnish FA to give the job to Markku Kanerva, who had held a caretaker-manager role twice previously. Not much was expected from Kanerva, a former school teacher and once a national team centre-back with almost no coaching experience at club level. But Finland started to find their footing and began winning games. They won their Nations League group and then qualified for the first time in their history.
A crowd favorite because of their true team spirit and flawless game plays. Belgium wrote history with their 30 points out of 30 qualification campaign, 40 goals scored and only three conceded.
Roberto Martínez, one of the star players, scored a total of six goals in one game. Although Belgium had a winning streak, they faced a heavy defeat in the Nations League against Switzerland. Their team still stands with great players such as Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku. Will this be enough to help them win the Eurocup? We’ll find out soon enough.
Russia's group has totally changed in the year and a half since they opened their World Cup crusade against Saudi Arabia. Three players from that beginning XI resigned from worldwide obligation (Igor Akinfeev, Sergei Ignashevich and Aleksandr Samedov), two have been out this year in view of wounds (Alan Dzagoev and Yuri Gazinskiy) and two more lost their places in the team (Fyodor Smolov and Ilya Kutepov).
Mário Fernandes, Aleksandr Golovin, Roman Zobnin and the ever-enduring Yuri Zhirkov are the solitary players who have endured. The vital character in this group is surely Zenit's striker Artem Dzyuba. Fans love the chief for the two his human characteristics and footballing ones. Dzyuba is the most productive striker in the group (scoring nine objectives in 10 qualifiers). Golovin is another star man, who made a forward leap at the World Cup. The goalkeeping spot is Russia's feeble connection.
The Netherlands is enjoying progress under the leadership of Ronald Koeman. Young stars like Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt burst onto the world scene and will give their team an edge for Eurocup 2020.
In Euro 2020 qualifying they needed to win against Germany and tough Northern Ireland. They arrived at the finals after a "German-style" win, coming from 2-0 behind to win 4-2 in Hamburg against their main opponents. There are some frail regions yet capable players keep springing up. Notwithstanding those referenced above we may well see the best of their prize players Donny van de Beek, Donyell Malen, Calvin Stengs, and others the following summer.
Ukraine had the best ever qualifying campaign – eight games, six wins, two draws. This is thanks to the goalkeeper’s Andriy Pyatov skills and a strong defensive line.
Their strong defense is from their new and young players Mykola Matvienko, Vitaliy Mykolenko and Eduard Sobol and the experienced Serhiy Kryvtsov and Oleksandr Karavaev.
Shevchenko has a very competitive midfield with Taras Stepanenko in a defensive role and Marlos, Ruslan Malinovskiy, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Viktor Tsyhankov and Andriy Yarmolenko in attack. The main strength of these players is footballing intelligence and creativity. Malinovskiy is perfect at free-kicks and corners, while Zinchenko acts as a nuclear engine for the team. The best forward, Roman Yaremchuk, can conjure a goal even during poor performances. The power of the squad is in mutual understanding and hard work.
Austria gave Eurocup fans a rollercoaster ride. Austria was drawn for Group G. Other than the favorites Poland, Franco Foda's side were the other clear top choices to get through ahead of Slovenia, Latvia, North Macedonia and Israel.
But defeat in the first fixture, against Poland at home, was followed by a disastrous 2-4 defeat in Israel and pressure began to mount. But Marco Arnautovic and co started delivering some better performances, and crucial wins against Slovenia and North Macedonia followed. The pressure slowly started to ease when the team showed what they are capable of. Nevertheless Foda was criticised for stubbornly sticking to his system and not getting everything out of a squad which is undoubtedly capable of very good football.
2016 was not a good year for Finland. They did not win a single game in 2016 under Hans Backe, the former assistant coach to Sven-Göran Eriksson at Manchester City.
Markku Kanerva, who had held a caretaker-manager role twice previously, replaced Eriksson. Not much was expected from Kanerva, but under his tutelage Finland started to win games.
They won their Nations League group and then qualified for the first time in their history for the European Championships, which delighted fans everywhere. The core of the team is the same as that which qualified for the Under-21 Euros in 2009, under Kanerva. It took a decade for them to blossom into the powerhouse they are now.
Russia’s team has transformed in the 18 months since they opened their World Cup campaign against Saudi Arabia.
Three players from that starting XI retired from international duty (Igor Akinfeev, Sergei Ignashevich and Aleksandr Samedov), two have been out this year because of injuries (Alan Dzagoev and Yuri Gazinskiy) and two more lost their places in the squad (Fyodor Smolov and Ilya Kutepov). Mário Fernandes, Aleksandr Golovin, Roman Zobnin and the ageless Yuri Zhirkov are the only players who have survived.
The player to watch out for is Zenit's striker Artem Dzyuba. He’s one of the fan favorites of the season.
England had a joyful semi-finals run at the 2018 World Cup. But the pressure is on as their matches are held on home court at Wembley.
The team can rely on the Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford trifecta for outstanding forward lines on the planet. The director is yet to choose his strategies for a stronger midfield when they face the Czech Republic and the Netherlands in the Nations League. England has a lot to demonstrate against the absolute best.
Who can deny that captain Luka Modric is the supreme midfield this season? He still reigns supreme with far more consistency than other players.
Croatia also has a fine defensive midfielder in Marcelo Brozovic that they’ve lacked for years. They also have new recruits: Everton “flop” Nikola Vlasic, now at CSKA Moscow, was a hero of the qualifiers, while Dinamo Zagreb’s Bruno Petkovic surpassed expectations to fill Mario Mandzukic’s shoes, already scoring five times in eight appearances since his debut in March. Croatia hit a few bumps on the road to the Euros, but will again be a force to be reckoned with come the tournament.
Czech Republic qualified for their seventh European Championship in row. It’s a remarkable feat for any team to have.
The reason behind their winning streak in the most recent qualifying campaign was the change of manager in September 2018, when Karel Jarolim was replaced by Jaroslav Silhavy, who improved the mood in the squad and identified a core for the team quite quickly – based around Tomas Vaclik, Ondrej Celustka and Vladimir Darida. Team spirit and good organisation seems to work great for Czech Republic. But will it be enough to beat solid team lineups in Eurocup?
Luis Enrique returned as Spain team’s manager, and he’s been asked if they could win the Euros. Despite the struggles Spain has faced, with three tournaments in a row without winning a knockout game, Luis Enrique didn’t hesitate. “Yes,” he said.
Spain’s qualification had shown that, he said: the selección were unbeaten. It was a qualification finally clinched by his assistant Robert Moreno, who took over when Luis Enrique was forced to step aside because his nine-year-old daughter was seriously ill and subsequently died. His return hasn’t been smooth – But he’s back and ready to whip the team into shape.
Reaching the 2018 World Cup quarter-finals is already a success for Sweden. This season is their best campaign since 1994.
The coach, Janne Andersson, has continued to build on that success with most of the team intact. After the World Cup Sweden won their Uefa Nations League group ahead of Turkey and Russia, and in the qualifiers they lost only once, away to Spain (3-0), and finished second in their group. The Mainz forward Robin Quaison has shouldered some of the goalscoring responsibility and was Sweden’s top scorer in qualifying with five goals. Sweden’s game is built upon a well-organised collective. Apart perhaps from Victor Lindelöf (Manchester United) and Emil Forsberg (RB Leipzig) Sweden do not really have any superstars, although Dejan Kulusevski (Parma) and Alexander Isak (Real Sociedad) are highly regarded for the future.
Jerzy Brzeczek replaced Adam Nawalka after their failure at the World Cup and there were plenty of question marks over whether he was a suitable man for the job. Their Nations League campaign and friendlies prior to the Euro 2020 qualifiers only added to those doubts but fans need not have worried. Brzeczek has done exactly what the Polish FA chairman, Zbigniew Boniek, wanted him to do – win the group but also rebuild and refresh the squad with some new faces. The 20-year-old Sebastian Szymanski can be a first-choice winger for years. Krystian Bielik proved that his fine performances during the European Under-21 Championship were not a fluke. And there was also Krzysztof Piatek, a revelation in the 2018-19 season in Serie A. But Lewandowski has to be at the top of his form. His contribution in his three big tournaments? Only two goals.
Portugal will be at Euro 2020 defending the title won in France in 2016. They have a guaranteed Qualification only in the last game, with a modest victory in Luxembourg, but the Seleção still had the play-offs as plan B, thanks to their victory in the first Nations League in the summer.
Their play formation was not always convincing, but with Fernando Santos in charge, Portugal have achieved good results and won two trophies. Cristiano Ronaldo is set to be the first player in history to play in five European Championship finals, and now with Bernardo Silva taking on a more relevant role (and players such as João Félix, Bruno Fernandes and Rúben Neves), Portugal can reach greater heights.
Due to their only defeat of the year (0-2), the 2018 world champions and 2016 Euro finalists did not make the top of the chain. But France is keeping their chin up. France have reached their eighth Euro finals in a row rather comfortably and qualified untroubled by a raft of major injuries.
Consequently Didier Deschamps had to use 29 players, among them a few new recruits such as Clément Lenglet, Léo Dubois, Ferland Mendy, Tanguy Ndombelé and Jonathan Ikoné, but his strongest possible lineup looks very similar to the one that won the World Cup, with only Lenglet having edged out Samuel Umtiti in central defence. The team rely heavily on set pieces , tournament experience and defensive nous. And at 28 Antoine Griezmann remains their undisputed technical leader and main inspiration. Anything but a place in the last four next summer would be considered a failure.
Germany had setbacks in the 2018 World Cup at the group stage which resulted in an overhaul. Former key players such as Jérôme Boateng, Mats Hummels and Thomas Müller were told that they were surplus to requirements, while Mesut Özil retired in the wake of the debate triggered by his photo with Turkey’s president, Recep Erdoğan.
The remaining key players are the goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and playmaker Toni Kroos. Add to that Marco Reus or Ilkay Gündogan, who are experienced but have not yet been able to win any trophies with the national team due to injuries. The bulk of the side, however, is made up of players born between 1994 and 1997, foremost among them the Bayern striker Serge Gnabry, whose record on the international stage is astonishing: 13 goals in as many games. Joachim Löw thinks his team are too young to be one of the tournament favourites. Then again, life as a dark horse can be quite enjoyable.
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