IN WHAT is going to throw archivists into a state of confusion, way off in the future. We commence our preview of the Euro 2020 Championships in the middle of the summer of 2021. Wait till you get a load of the 2020 Olympics next month.
No better place to start than in Group A. Here we have Italy, Switzerland, Turkey and Wales (listed in how I think they'll finish) face each other in a group many, if not all, would have fancied their chances of qualifying from at the time of the draw. Italy of course are always favourite by dint of talent and experience and it would be a major shock if they should stumble at the first fence.
Switzerland topped a relatively tricky qualifying group if you remember to see off Denmark and ourselves to arrive at this tournament in good form, as do Turkey who qualified from the same group as favourites France.
Wales will have a tough time here now to bag even the third qualifying place to the next round, as they arrive at the tournament effectively without the manager that got them here and the squad in some disarray. Their best hope is that through such hard times they can rally around their adversity and pull off a bit of a miracle.
Group B has Belgium, Denmark, Russia and Finland lining up against each other.
Belgium are the comfortable favourites, here again, to advance on top of the group and while Denmark have proved their love of this tournament down the years, one fancies their best hope is to finish behind the talented lowlanders and move on. Russia enjoyed a favourable World Cup in their homeland but finished six points behind Roberto Martinez’ men in qualifying for this tournament and will need to refind the exciting form they showed in the World Cup to make progress. Their neighbours Finland are making their first appearance at a major football tournament, so not too much is expected other than they will put in a shift and who knows if Teemu Pukki gets into a scoring mood then maybe might cause a surprise.
Group C features The Netherlands, Ukraine, Austria, and North Macedonia.
The Dutch tournament experience will stand to them here but they are not like the great Dutch sides of old and even of a few years ago. More so in the absence of Virgil van Dijk. Frank de Boer's men only qualified second albeit to the mighty Germans. But one might argue the Germans were not that great either.
The big threat to them comes from the Ukraine, who won their qualifying group, finishing ahead of Portugal, and they also pulled off a couple of upsets in the Nations League, most notably beating Spain 1-0. Andriy Shevchenko’s side I predict will finish second but could edge ahead of the Dutch to top this group yet. Austria had a good Nations League campaign but their form of late has been patchy, so long after they qualified for this tournament. As for North Macedonia, we hope they will enjoy the tournament and look to create some memories for the new nation.
Group D has football coming home with England, Croatia, Czech Republic and Scotland vying for honours in a group that will be hot from the start. The English have the advantage of kicking off the tournament with a home tie against Croatia on Sunday at Wembley.
World Cup finalists Croatia are a side full of talent but are an ageing side. If they play to expectations they too will advance, if not, the Czechs will be on their shoulder to take advantage The Czechs finished runners-up to England in qualifying, actually beating Southgate’s side in Prague. Technically good, they are ready to take the next step. The Scots finished third in their qualifying group but made it to the Euros via the play-offs, beating Serbia on penalties. Probably the team Ireland will be supporting most, they have some good players but will have their work cut out for them.
Group E sees Spain, Poland, Sweden and Slovakia battle it out in a group that's tough to call especially for second-spot.
Spain, again, are the obvious front-runners. Following them, it would not be a surprise to see both Poland and Sweden join them in the next round, but I give Poland the edge here for the second spot. Slovakia only made it to the tournament by beating Ireland in a playoff penalty shootout. Not the greatest endorsement in form to be fair.
Group F is the group of death and one can only feel sympathy for Hungary to be in the same group as Germany, France, and current European holders Portugal.
There is an argument that all three 'big name' sides could win this group but I'll give Germany the edge here just by the traditional efficiency of the team in group stages. Mind you recent form has not been that impressive.
One could see world champions France come second here yet go on to win the tournament. The prospect of this talented team adding the Euro crown to their World Cup is enticing.
Definitely, the group to watch for intrigue and expectations.