Euro 2020 Preview

Paul Pogba – WikiCommons

David Prendeville

Now that the Premier League season has concluded, attention turns to the belated Euro 2020 Championships, which kick off on June 11th, when Italy take on Turkey. The tournament takes place over a number of host cities. Sadly, Dublin lost its position as one of these, due to Covid reasons. Dublin’s scheduled games were taken by London (Wembley) and Saint Petersburg. Bilbao also lost out and were replaced by Seville for the same reasons. The other host cities are: Amsterdam, Bucharest, Budapest, Copenhagen, Glasgow, Baku, Munich and Rome. 

France go into the competition as pre-tournament favourites and they certainly have an extraordinary abundance of talent all over the pitch. As if they weren’t strong enough already, the big news for them is the reintegration of Real Madrid hitman Karim Benzema back into the squad, after 6 years in the international wilderness. French manager, Didier Deschamps, has not selected Benzema since his embroilment in various scandals, most notably a still continuing court case relating to the blackmail of former France international Mathieu Valbuena. Benzema will take his place alongside the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, Antonine Griezmann and N’Golo Kante in France’s ludicrously talented squad. Deschamps will be hoping to emulate the French side he played in and captained, which won the World Cup and the European Championships back to back in 1998 and 2000, respectively.

Second favourites to win the tournament are England. Gareth Southagate certainly has an abundance of attacking riches to call on – Harry Kane, Mason Mount, Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, to name but some of the options available to him. Some doubts still remain however about the centre of England’s midfield and their defence. The former is of concern, particularly, due to Southgate’s insistence on playing two defensive midfielders. While England certainly have decent options there – two of Jordan Henderson, Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips will likely be deployed there – it’s not quite as inspiring as the deadly front-line. The centre of the defence also looks vulnerable, particularly with Harry Maguire’s injury troubles prior to the tournament. 

By all accounts it seems like Southgate is also going to make a hugely controversial call in leaving Liverpool’s Trent Alexander Arnold at home. This is despite squads being extended from 23 players to 26, and the fact Southgate is reportedly going to bring three right backs with him. Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier and Reece James are all seemingly ahead of the Liverpool man. If it comes to pass, it seems an odd decision, given that Alexander Arnold’s form has been excellent in the last few weeks of the season, when Liverpool made an unlikely recovery to secure Champions League football. Reece James on the other hand isn’t an automatic starter at Chelsea and sat out their Champions League semi-final ties against Real Madrid, for example. Alexander Arnold also surely offers something a bit different and more versatility than those other players? It seems like Southgate is trying to make a point with this selection and he could be setting himself up for a fall if things backfire.
There is also the fact that England head into this tournament with a bit of expectation on their shoulders, unlike their successful 2018 World Cup campaign. The lack of pressure certainly appeared to help them on their journey to the semi-finals of that tournament. I would also still be somewhat skeptical as to how good a manager Gareth Southgate really is. There was an element of fortune about that last World Cup campaign. Southgate certainly says the right things in the media, but his career prior to taking over England was less than stellar. Far more distinguished managers have struggled under the pressure of this job. If England get off to a bad start against Croatia, who knocked England out at the semi-final stage in 2018, Southgate’s managerial credentials will be really tested.

Third favourites to win the tournament are Belgium, who rank as the number one team in the world in the Fifa rankings. This may be the last chance for some of this golden generation to win a major tournament. Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen are all either in their 30s or approaching it. This extremely talented group of players has generally flattered to deceive in the major tournaments, getting knocked out at the quarter final stages in the World Cup in 2014 and the Euros in 2016. They did reach the semi-finals in the World Cup in 2018, but similar to Southgate, I’d have doubts about the ability of their manager, Roberto Martinez, to lead them all the way.
Elsewhere, you can never really write off the likes of Germany or Spain, even though both appear to be in transitional periods. This will be the last major tournament for Joachim Löw, who has managed Germany for 12 years. He will be replaced by Hansi Flick after the Euros. Spain’s squad doesn’t appear to be the embarrassment of riches it once was. This Spanish squad is most notable as the first Spanish squad for a major tournament ever that did not contain any Real Madrid players. Italy’s squad also does not seem to be of the same vintage as Italy teams of old.
In terms of underdogs, it will be interesting to see how Steve Clarke’s Scotland do. This is Scotland’s first appearance in a major tournament since the Euros in 1996. This talented squad featuring players such as Liverpool’s Andrew Robertson, Man Utd’s Scott McTominay, Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney and Aston Villa’s John McGinn, has the quality to cause a few upsets. They kick off against the Czech Republic on June 14th.
Whatever happens, it promises to be a fascinating summer of football.