Euro 2020: Preview and Predictions for the Group Stages
The extra year of waiting for Euro 2020 will be worth it, so to bring you all the latest updates, predictions and beautiful moments of the tournament, we've teamed up with vivo—the official smartphone of Euro 2020—and they'll be with us every step of the way. Speaking of which, now is the time to share your chants, cheers and applause with #vivoSuperTime for the chance to be featured in the closing ceremony, presented by vivo.
On to the previews and predictions...
We do not have to wait long for a marquee match in the group stage. England and Croatia square off in the Group D opener in a rematch of the 2018 FIFA World Cup semifinal.
France, the winner of the last World Cup, is the favorite to win the competition. Les Bleus face some tough immediate tests, with Germany and Portugal aligned with them in Group F.
France's Kylian Mbappe, Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo and England's Harry Kane are among the star players we will see in the top group-stage games. The trio will be focal points of potential deep runs into the knockout round.
The tournament begins on Friday in Rome, with Italy taking on Turkey. The competition is spread out across 11 arenas in 11 different European nations. Two sites are assigned to each group.
Some are easy to predict, with Italy, the Netherlands and Spain likely to have a talent advantage over the other sides in their respective groups.
Others will be difficult to figure out before the final matchday, including the so-called "Group of Death," with France, Germany, Portugal and Hungary.
Group A: Azzurri Domination Expected
Teams: Italy, Switzerland, Turkey, Wales
Defense should dictate the games in Group A.
Italy has not conceded in its last eight games. Its last concession came in the 25th minute on October 14 in a UEFA Nations League match with the Netherlands.
Switzerland has not been as efficient defensively as Italy, but it has been strong over the last six months. In the last seven games, the Swiss conceded more than one goal on a single occasion.
Wales owns a trio of clean sheets from its five matches this year, while Turkey allowed four tallies in its last five games, and even that total is a bit skewed by the three goals it gave up to Latvia. It owns three clean sheets in 2021.
If the defensive trends extend into Rome and Baku, it could take a single chance in front of goal to create a difference in Group A.
On paper, Italy has one of the deepest forward groups, but none of those players have more than 13 goals on the international level. Ciro Immobile has the best scoring record of the group with 13 tallies in 46 international appearances.
Haris Seferovic, Burak Yilmaz and Gareth Bale are the danger men for the other three teams. Bale has the most international goals in Group A, and he found the back of the net in each of Wales’ group-stage games at Euro 2016.
If Bale delivers a few moments of brilliance again, Wales could take the edge over a few of the sides in Group A.
Bale underwent a career resurgence at Tottenham Hotspur that got him in form for the Euros. If the best player in the group shows up, we could see a battle between Italy and Wales for first place on the final group matchday.
While Bale is a dangerous threat, Italy has the most X-factors in its squad between Jorginho and Marco Verratti in midfield. In addition, Italy's Federico Chiesa could be the breakout star of Group A. He had 15 goals and 10 assists in his first full season with Juventus. He has a single goal in 25 appearances for Italy.
Prediction: 1. Italy, 2. Wales, 3. Switzerland, 4. Turkey
Group B: Why Belgium Should Cruise Through the Group
Teams: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Russia
The top-ranked team in the FIFA World Rankings should cruise to first place in Group B. Belgium has an overwhelming talent advantage over Denmark, Finland and Russia.
Romelu Lukaku will be one of the top contenders for the Golden Boot. He produced 30 goals across all competitions for Serie A champion Inter Milan, and he has 60 goals in 93 international appearances.
Lukaku will not face stiff group competition as other top forwards in the competition will. Denmark, Finland and Russia all finished second in their respective qualifying groups, and Russia was second to Belgium in Group I.
Belgium defeated Russia by a combined 7-2 score in their two qualifying matches, and the Russians earned a single clean sheet in five matches this year.
Roberto Martinez's team could take away Russia's home-field advantage in St. Petersburg right away on June 12. Denmark is the other host country in Group B.
Denmark lost 4-2 to Belgium in the UEFA Nations League on November 18, and Finland has not won in its last six games.
Belgium should top Group B with relative ease.
Each of the other three teams has some strong individuals who could propel them to second place. Denmark has Kasper Schmeichel in goal and Christian Eriksen likely to create most chances in the final third; Finland could go as far as Teemu Pukki takes it; and Russia should rely on Artem Dzyuba, who had eight goals in qualifying.
Finland is playing in its first major international tournament, Russia has not made it out of the Euro group stage in the last two tournaments and Denmark last advanced to the Euro knockout round in 2004. None of those statistics are promising, so it may be worth putting trust in the team with the best goalkeeper and experience throughout its spine.
In Schmeichel, Simon Kjaer, Christian Eriksen and Yussuf Poulsen, Denmark has a ton of club and international experience that should help it get through a wide-open race for second.
Prediction: 1. Belgium, 2. Denmark, 3. Russia, 4. Finland
Group C: An Easy Dutch Delight? Think Again
Teams: Austria, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Ukraine
If you predicted Group C on name recognition, the Netherlands would cruise into the final 16.
That could still happen in a weak foursome, but the Dutch have struggled on the international stage lately. They failed to qualify for the 2016 Euros and 2018 FIFA World Cup, and their results under Frank De Boer have not been that impressive.
De Boer's side comes into the Euros with three wins in 2021, but they were against Latvia, Gibraltar and Georgia. The Dutch lost to Turkey and drew 2-2 with Scotland in their other two games.
The talent strewn across their roster makes those results all the more perplexing. Matthijs de Ligt and Stefan de Vrij are not expected to give up many chances at center-back, while Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay, both 20-goal scorers for the country, should generate enough offense to beat the other three sides.
Keep an eye on Ryan Gravenberch for the Oranje. The 19-year-old Ajax player was a fixture for the Dutch giant during the European club season and won the Dutch Football Talent of the Year and Ajax Talent of the Year awards.
Just like Group B, Group C has a clear-cut favorite and three teams in not-so-great form expected to fight for second place.
Austria's only victory in 2021 came against the lowly Faroe Islands, Ukraine played to a quartet of four draws and beat Northern Ireland and Cyprus in its Euro buildup and North Macedonia is playing in its first-ever international competition.
North Macedonia is in an ideal spot to earn a surprise second-place finish. It has a roster littered with players plying their trade in European second tiers, and those players have little to no experience in major international games.
However, they enter the Euros with some confidence after surprising Germany in World Cup qualifying in March.
North Macedonia is unbeaten in its last four matches, and if Goran Pandev and other veterans play well, it could produce one of the tournament's biggest surprises.
Predictions: 1. Netherlands, 2. North Macedonia, 3. Austria, 4. Ukraine
Group D: England and Croatia Meet Again
Teams: Croatia, Czech Republic, England, Scotland
Group D's opening match at Wembley Stadium between Croatia and England should be a clash of the group's two automatic qualifiers to the knockout round.
Croatia is looking for an encore to its runner-up position from the 2018 World Cup and has a wealth of experience with the likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Domagoj Vida in the squad.
It should make life difficult for England in the opener. Croatia has experience on the big-game stage against the Three Lions, and Modric could dictate the pace of the match to take England out of its attacking rhythm.
England faces an immense amount of pressure after reaching the final four of the 2018 World Cup. The Three Lions are trying to get past the quarterfinals at the Euros for the first time since 1996.
Trent Alexander-Arnold's injury hurts the English back line, but Gareth Southgate has plenty of options to choose from on the defensive flanks, including Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier.
In Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford, the Three Lions have one of the strongest forward groups of the 24 teams. Kane could be one of the favorites to challenge Lukaku for the Golden Boot.
Even if England does not beat Croatia, it will be expected to get four to six points from the matches with the Czech Republic and Scotland to safely advance.
Scotland and the Czech Republic could have their fates decided in their opener at Hampden Park, unless either team can secure an upset win over one of the two group favorites.
Both third-place contenders could struggle to find goals. Patrik Schick has 10 international goals, but he has been inconsistent in the Bundesliga over the last two seasons. John McGinn is the only Scottish player with double-digit international goals.
The Czechs have more international experience on their side, and their pressing system may trouble England and Croatia for stretches, but they will need more production out of Schick to advance.
Prediction: 1. Croatia, 2. England, 3. Czech Republic, 4. Scotland
Opening Ceremony from the Stadio Olimpico
vivo was the presenting sponsor of the opening ceremony, taking place at Stadio Olimpico, Roma.
Group E: La Furia Roja Could Face Tough Road to Knockout Stages
Teams: Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden
Group E appears to be the most wide-open of the six groups.
Spain is the front-runner on a name and talent basis, but this is a very different team from those that have had success in the past. Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets are the remaining pieces from the Golden Generation that won back-to-back European titles and the 2010 World Cup.
Alba and Busquets are the two oldest players on the Spanish roster. David De Gea, Cesar Azpilicueta and Thiago Alcantara are the only other stars 30 or older in the side.
Spain should be fine up top with Alvaro Morata leading a collection of players that had fantastic club seasons, but its defense might be a concern. La Roja have been better defensively of late with back-to-back clean sheets in its two buildup friendlies versus Portugal and Lithuania.
The conversation about Poland immediately goes to Robert Lewandowski, who has 66 goals in 119 international appearances.
Poland has experience in other parts of the pitch, including Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski in net, Kamil Glik on the back line and Gregorz Krychowiak and Piotr Zielinski in midfield.
Poland did lose Arkadiusz Milik to a knee injury, so if Lewandowski is slowed by a back line, it will need one of its three young strikers to step up. No one else on the Polish roster has more than six international goals.
The buzz around Sweden could have revolved around Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but he is not in the squad because of injury. The Swedes still have Marcus Berg up top to carry the scoring load and Emil Forsberg to work in behind him.
Alexander Isak could be poised for a breakout performance in Ibrahimovic's absence. The Real Sociedad man has five goals over 22 caps and could help make up what the veteran would have brought into the final third.
Slovakia will not come in with much fanfare, but it could earn some results if it remains organized. It allowed four goals in its last five games in the tournament buildup. Marek Hamsik is the most notable name in the squad. He has 126 international appearances, which is one of the highest totals in the tournament.
Prediction: 1. Spain, 2. Poland, 3. Sweden, 4. Slovakia
Group F: 'Group of Death' Will Produce Beautiful Moments
Teams: France, Germany, Hungary, Portugal
The Group of Death has three legitimate title contenders.
Hungary, playing in its second major competition in the last 30 years, could finish with zero points.
France, with one of the deepest rosters we have ever seen at an international tournament, is viewed as the favorite to hoist the trophy.
The strikeforce of Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann and Kingsley Coman would be enough to win Les Bleus a few games on its own.
Add in Hugo Lloris in net, a defense headlined by Raphael Varane and a midfield controlled by N'Golo Kante, and you have a bona fide superteam.
France should be favored in every game it plays at the Euros, even against two traditional powers in Germany and Portugal.
Germany could be the most vulnerable of the three favorites to advance because it is in a transitional phase with a younger generation of players stepping into the squad. Manager Joachim Low will also leave the program after the tournament.
Plenty of eyes will be on Timo Werner after he went through a frustrating first season with Chelsea. If Germany gets the Werner from his RB Leipzig days, it could be a force in the final third.
If not, Thomas Muller, Leroy Sane, Serge Gnabry and others will be tasked with picking up the goal-scoring contributions.
Scoring should not be a problem for a Portugal team led by Cristiano Ronaldo, Andre Silva, Joao Felix and Bruno Fernandes.
Portugal is capable of being the highest-scoring team in the group stage, and its final-matchday showdown with France could be the best match in that part of the tournament.
Hungary will be lucky to earn more than a point in its tough draw. Dominik Szoboszlai, who is the biggest name in the national team setup, was ruled out of the tournament because of injury issues.
Prediction: 1. France, 2. Portugal, 3. Germany, 4. Hungary
One of the wrinkles to the group stage is that third place means something.
The four best third-place teams will advance to the round of 16. Goal differential is the first tiebreaker, and that is followed by goals scored and wins.
Germany has the opportunity to rack up goals on Hungary, and it could take a point from France or Portugal to feel comfortable with four points.
Russia could find itself in a similar situation against Finland. If the Russians beat the Finns in comfortable fashion, they could be in good shape to advance.
The depth of Groups A and E could produce a crowded table, with Switzerland and Sweden the picks to finish in third place in those sections. Those two teams could use victories over the weaker sides in their respective groups (Wales and Slovakia) to pick up three points and an edge in goal differential.
The bottom half of Groups C and D appear to be the weakest. Croatia and England could feast on the Czech Republic and Scotland, and it may be a struggle for Ukraine or Austria to snag points from two matches. Those two sides could be done in by goal differential if the Netherlands attack lives up to its capabilities. If North Macedonia earns a win off either, it may be tough for either side to make up the differential in their head-to-head clash.
Four points should get any of the third-place teams into the round of 16. At Euro 2016, Slovakia and the Republic of Ireland topped the third-place table with four points and the four other sides produced three points.
Prediction: Germany, Russia, Switzerland, Sweden advance to knockout round.