With Euro 2020 just one day away, theScore’s footy editors are breaking out the crystal balls and offering up some predictions for the tournament.
Most excited about …
Michael J. Chandler: The abundance of dark horses participating in a tournament that could be rife with surprises. Denmark, Turkey, and Ukraine are among a slew of largely uncelebrated sides entering Euro 2020 with legitimate hopes of making a deep run. In the wake of domestic leagues throwing up shock results, it’s not unthinkable that the same could occur in an international tournament.
Anthony Lopopolo: The group of death. We are guaranteed three top-tier matches in the first week-and-a-half of the tournament, with 2018 World Cup winner France facing 2014 champion Germany, Euro holder Portugal later meeting Germany, and France rounding out play against Portugal in a rematch of the 2016 final. All three teams could make the next round, with four of the six third-place finishers advancing to the knockout stage. So there’s no need to worry about losing some of the tournament’s biggest stars early on. Just enjoy the show.
Gianluca Nesci: The thrill of an international tournament. After grinding through the slog that was the recent club season, Euro 2020 should provide a welcome breath of fresh air for fans desperate for a change of pace. Even if the football itself isn’t scintillating – which, to be honest, is a distinct possibility considering the workload on the players – the kind of tension and excitement you can only get from a major international competition will offset that.
Daniel Rouse: There’s something magical about the sight of a player taking center stage for his country after struggling during the club season. Guillermo Ochoa was a sensation in goal for Mexico at the 2014 World Cup after being released by relegated French side Ajaccio, and Wales’ Hal Robson-Kanu was heroic at Euro 2016 after a goal-shy campaign in England’s second tier. Who will drastically change the course of his career this year?
Chandler: Alexander Isak. Sweden’s Isak’s 17 La Liga goals played a big role in Real Sociedad’s fifth-place finish in Spain, and at Euro 2020, the 21-year-old forward will be relied upon to fill the gargantuan boots left by Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s absence. Expect Isak to get on the end of more than one of Sebastian Larsson’s pinpoint dead-ball deliveries as the Swedes look to progress from a Group C primed for upset results.
Lopopolo: Donyell Malen. The Netherlands needs production from someone other than Memphis Depay to make any kind of impact at the Euros. Enter Malen, PSV Eindhoven’s 22-year-old hotshot who took the Dutch Eredivisie by storm last season with 19 goals and eight assists in 32 appearances. Malen’s a strong passer and dribbler, and he should find a way to break down stubborn blocks of four. That will come in handy against Ukraine, North Macedonia, and Austria, who will likely defer possession to the Netherlands in Group C play.
Nesci: Manuel Locatelli. There’s a reason the spindly Sassuolo midfielder is being linked with a big-money transfer this summer. His varied skill set has caught the attention of the continent’s top clubs, and the Italian has a great opportunity to open even more eyes. With Marco Verratti’s fitness in question – of course it is – the 23-year-old should see plenty of playing time as part of an excellent midfield trio for Italy.
Rouse: Phil Foden. This is definitely a case of picking the low-hanging fruit given Foden’s huge reputation in England, but it’s time for the rest of Europe to salivate over the playmaker’s incredible technical ability, unbridled confidence, and vision. The 21-year-old has also developed a reputation for scoring important goals following a sensational season with Manchester City.
Chandler: Netherlands. Imagine having faith in a side managed by Frank de Boer – Inter Milan, Crystal Palace, and Atlanta United supporters nod in unison. After the recent 2-2 draw with Scotland, De Boer was asked who could play on the right side of a 5-3-2 formation, to which De Boer responded, “Queensy Menig could possibly go there, of course.” Perhaps he meant Quincy Promes, since FC Twente winger Menig didn’t even make the team. This is the man entrusted with orchestrating a major tournament run? C’mon.
Lopopolo: Belgium. The so-called golden generation is under a lot of pressure to deliver, and Kevin De Bruyne, arguably the best of the crop, is coming into the tournament banged up. Eden Hazard is also coming off one of the worst seasons of his career and unlikely to make a difference. Defensively, the Red Devils looked good in qualifying, but playing San Marino, Kazakhstan, Cyprus, Scotland, and Russia will make any backline look good. Buyer beware.
Nesci: Spain. This is a far cry from the all-conquering Spanish sides of years past, and COVID-19 issues within the squad may compound issues. There’s still plenty of talent at Luis Enrique’s disposal, but both star power and scoring punch seem to be lacking. A new generation is blossoming, but it’s not quite ready to deliver just yet. La Roja should benefit early from what looks like a very forgiving group, but the knockout stages won’t be kind.
Rouse: Germany. Joachim Low’s team will get plenty of cuts and bruises as it tries to emerge from the toughest group at the tournament, and then, as one of the best third-place finishers, would get another tricky match to begin the knockout rounds. Hansi Flick could have a serious cleanup job on his hands when he replaces Low after the Euros.
Golden Boot winner
Chandler: Burak Yilmaz. Going off the board with this one, but with Turkey looking to cause a few upsets en route to a deep run, the 35-year-old striker is primed for a standout tournament. Yilmaz bagged 16 league goals for shock Ligue 1 champions Lille this past season and will be blessed with stellar service from the likes of club teammate Yusuf Yazici, Hakan Calhanoglu, and Irfan Can Kahveci.
Lopopolo: Bruno Fernandes. Portugal’s attacking ensemble is arguably the best in the tournament, and Fernandes is at the heart of the operation. Though he’s not Portugal’s designated penalty taker – Cristiano Ronaldo continues to assume spot-kick duty – Fernandes is still a capable scorer from open play. And with defenders more likely to shadow Ronaldo, Diogo Jota, or Andre Silva, Fernandes could be afforded space in and around the 18-yard box.
Nesci: Romelu Lukaku. Coming off another spectacular season with Inter Milan, the 28-year-old will be the focal point of an absurdly talented Belgian attack. He’ll also have the opportunity to feast on Finland and Russia in the group stage before leading the Red Devils on what they hope will be a title-winning run through the knockout rounds. Getting service from De Bruyne – assuming he’s fit – doesn’t hurt Lukaku’s chances here, either.
Rouse: Kylian Mbappe. Paris Saint-Germain had a disappointing season overall, but Mbappe wasn’t to blame. The 22-year-old notched 27 goals in Ligue 1 and smashed eight goals over 10 Champions League appearances, and he’ll be fronting arguably the best side at Euro 2020. A pretty straightforward pick, this one.
Tournament final – and champion
Chandler: France vs. Portugal – France wins. In a rematch of the 2016 final, Didier Deschamps’ men will get revenge against Fernando Santos’ sage offering. Karim Benzema’s addition to an already elite squad makes Les Bleus the team to beat.
Lopopolo: Italy vs. Portugal – Italy wins. This is the best team to come out of the Italian peninsula since the 2006 World Cup, and it has the midfield to dominate matches. Verratti should be fit for the latter stages, offering the Azzurri relief right when it counts. Head coach Roberto Mancini can also count on multiple scorers and tremendous width from his crop of wingers. Expect Italy to beat Ukraine, Denmark, and France on the way to the final, where the four-time World Cup winner will take advantage of Portugal’s aging defense.
Nesci: France vs. England – England wins. English supporters have been burned before, and that’s created an understandable apprehension among large portions of the fan base going into just about every major tournament in recent history. But this edition of the Three Lions is for real. Gareth Southgate’s team is loaded up front, features depth at the back, and has interchangeable pieces in midfield. There’s the potential for an absolute gauntlet of opponents in the knockout stages, but there’s no better way to silence doubters than running through contenders before closing things out with a victory over France at Wembley.
Rouse: France vs. Portugal – France wins. The final match in Group F could also be the final match of Euro 2020. France is so strong, even under the at-times questionable stewardship of World Cup-winning boss Deschamps, so a spot in the final should be the absolute minimum. Portugal, meanwhile, is awash with talent in midfield and attack, while Ruben Dias can do a lot of the leg work in a backline that could feature Pepe and Jose Fonte, who have a combined age of 75.