UEFA EURO 2020: A PREVIEW OF THE TOURNAMENT

by Clint Mashariki
July 12, 2021

The long-awaited European football tournament that pits some of the best footballing nations in the world against each other kicks off on Friday, June 11th, and boy have we waited. Thanks to COVID-19, football fans had to endure another year of waiting after the tournament was cancelled last year, but the wait has been worth it.

Hosted across Europe, from the mythical Wembley Stadium in London, to a venue that hosted the World Cup three years ago in St. Petersburg, Russia, the tournament will also be hosted in the cultural gem that is Budapest in Hungary, and Copenhagen in Denmark, just to name a few. It is a footballing bonanza that promises to live up to its expectations.

So as every football fan is doing right now, with special mention to the betting warriors, let us analyze the nations involved. I will also be brave enough to predict the winner of the tournament. Without further ado, here are the five nations I believe have the best shot at winning UEFA EURO 2020:


BELGIUM

Belgium is the top-ranked footballing nation in the world. Their golden generation of players have achieved a momentous fete in topping the world rankings, pipping powerhouses such as Brazil, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Argentina. Their third-place finish at the World Cup in Russia came as a result of a loss in the last four to eventual world champions France.


They dispatched England with ease in the third-place playoff, but their coach Roberto Martinez and his players will feel that a significant trophy is long overdue. Here are some of their key players:

Youri Tielemans (Leicester City, England)

The former Anderlecht captain has been a revelation at Leicester City since joining the English side. He drove a dagger into the hearts of Chelsea fans with a piledriver to win the FA Cup for his club. His services in midfield will be much needed.

Romelu Lukaku (Inter Milan, Italy)

The big striker was talismanic in leading Internazionale to their first Seria A title in 11 years. He has more than enough assist-providers in the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard to fire Belgium away at this tournament.



Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City, England)

When England and Tottenham striker Harry Kane was asked by football pundit and former player Gary Neville who he’d like to have playing behind him, providing him with the ball, he did not hesitate to mention Kevin De Bruyne.


The Professional Footballers’ Association voted him the best player in the English Premier League for the second season running, and that came as no surprise. He was injured in the UEFA Champions League final loss to Chelsea but should be fit in the course of the tournament.

Weakness

Roberto Martinez has called up only five defenders to the squad. That includes Tottenham’s erratic Toby Alderweireld and former Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen, who now plies his trade in Japan with Vissel Kobe. He seems to prefer playing three defenders at the back, but given the opportunity to have a 26-man squad, that’s a gamble that could fail terribly. Belgium kicks off their tournament against Russia on Saturday, June 12th at 2200hrs EAT.


PORTUGAL

Portugal shocked the footballing world as they won the previous tournament hosted in France with their talisman. Cristiano Ronaldo reduced to shouting instructions on the sidelines, literally dwarfing Coach Fernando Santos.


They have proven that that was no fluke after winning the inaugural UEFA Nations League in 2019. Incredibly, their squad has become more assertive in every department, with an eclectic mix of players from their domestic league and some from the best football leagues in Europe. Here are some of their key players:

Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus, Italy)

At 36 years old, this should be Ronaldo’s final Euro tournament. I recall his debut tournament in 2004, which Portugal hosted and lost to minnows Greece in the final.


I was a kid then. I’m an adult now. It is astonishing that he still plays at a level high enough to top the Serie A goal scorers’ chart with 29 goals. You can never rule out a player who has won the Ballon d’Or five times.



Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United, England)

Bruno Fernandes is a midfield maestro who has proven to be such an influence at Manchester United. He knows how to thread that final pass and can create goalscoring opportunities out of nothing. He is exactly who Ronaldo wants playing behind him.

Renato Sanches (Lille, France)

Renato Sanches was the best young player at the previous tournament in France. He fell into oblivion after a forgettable spell at German champions Bayern Munich, but after winning the league in France with Lille, he could rediscover his full potential at the same tournament that thrust him into the world stage.

Weakness

Portugal has a much stronger squad than the last time , but that could be their downfall. As has been the case with Argentina, too many brilliant players do not automatically translate to success if not utilized properly. But the calm and collected Fernando Santos seems like the perfect candidate to steer them to back-to-back Euro cup wins. Portugal kicks off their tournament against Hungary on Tuesday, June 15th at 1900hrs EAT.


GERMANY

Affectionately known as “Die Mannschaft”, Germany is a footballing nation that has an endless supply of talent. Joachim Low, who took the reins in 2006, is the longest-serving coach at the tournament. He bows out at the end of the match to be replaced by Hansi Flick.


The players surely want to give him the perfect send-off. After their embarrassing exit at the group stages in the World Cup in Russia, they have more than enough impetus to win this tournament. Here are some of their key players:

Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich, Germany)

The goalkeeper and captain is their leader and captain at the back. He is more than reliable, as he has proven over the years for both club and country. He will want to lift this trophy as a tribute to his long-serving boss.


Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City, England)

The midfielder enjoyed a rich vein of goalscoring form as he helped Manchester City win the English Premier League. He scored a belter against Lithuania in a warm-up game and is looking to continue the same record at the tournament.

Timo Werner & Kai Havertz (Chelsea, England)

Fresh off of winning the UEFA Champions League, this attacking duo complements an attacking contingent that boasts Bayern Munich trio Leroy Sane, Serge Gnabry and the experienced Thomas Muller. They could tear apart any defence in the world.

Weakness

Joachim Low could lose his managerial touch, as witnessed in their embarrassing heavy loss to Spain in a friendly and a recent loss to Macedonia in a World Cup qualifier. The World Cup win of 2014 could remain the highest moment of his career. Germany kicks off their tournament against France on Tuesday, June 15th, at 2200hrs EAT.


ITALY

Italy is coming into the tournament off the back of failing to qualify for the World Cup in Russia in 2018. That came as a shock. They have recovered brilliantly. Led by Roberto Mancini, their rebuilding has borne much fruit, as they qualified for this tournament with much ease, not losing a single match in the qualifiers. The team boasts some of the best players.

 Here are some of their key players:

Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan, Italy)

The young goalkeeper looks like the most suitable successor to the veteran goalkeeper and World Cup winner Gianluigi Buffon. He is a safe pair of gloves between the sticks. Being a nation known for its defensive acumen, that is an added advantage.



Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus, Italy)

At 36 years old, it is incredible to see Chiellini play. He puts his life on the line and will plunge himself in front of the ball without thinking twice.

He is coming into the tournament with a tonne of experience and will want to lead Italy to their first major tournament win since their World Cup success in 2006.

Nicolo Barella (Inter Milan, Italy)

Nicolo Barella is one reason why Internazionale was able to win their first Scudetto in over a decade. The diminutive midfielder has a keen eye for creating chances and also being at the end of them.

Weakness

A saying in football goes something like, “goals win games, but good defending wins tournaments”. Italy is clearly blessed with the latter, but the jury is still out on the former.

Lazio’s Ciro Immobile and Torino’s Andrea Belotti will need to step up and provide the goals, for winning games leads to winning tournaments. If they don’t, not calling up Moise Kean despite his rich goalscoring return at PSG this previous season could come back to haunt them. Italy kicks off their tournament against Turkey on Friday11thJune, at 2200hrs EAT.


FRANCE

Last but not least, France. Popularly known as “Les Bleus”, boasts one of the best squads at the tournament. They followed up their Euro final loss to Portugal at home in 2016 with their second-ever World Cup win in Russia two years later. And it just gets better for “Les Bleus”.


They have recalled Real Madrid’s all-time top assist-provider Karim Benzema to the squad after his 6-year absence. Karim Benzema is also a proven goal scorer, a leader and a serial winner. Here are some of their key players:

Kylian Mbappe (Paris St.Germain, France)

KylianMbappe was the outright star of the World Cup in Russia. He was able to earn comparisons with Brazilian legend Pele’s World Cup win of 1958 in Sweden. Not many players are compared with the great Pele. If he manages to shake off some of the criticism he received domestically throughout the season, the 22-year old could inspire France to European success.

N’Golo Kante (Chelsea, England)

N’Golo Kante can dismantle any midfield in the world. The midfielder led Chelsea to only their second UEFA Champions League trophy in history and will replicate the same form for his nation.

Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona, Spain)

Antoine Griezmann did not have the best of seasons with Barcelona. But Barcelona did not have the best of seasons either.


He scored a sublime goal against Bulgaria in a warm-up game recently to show that he’s still got it. He was instrumental in leading France to the final of the previous tournament and could do so again.

Weakness

None. Coach Didier Deschamps found the winning formula in Russia three years ago and has called up an incredible group of players. Karim Benzema adds gloss to an already finished article. I believe France could win this tournament. France kicks off their tournament against Germany on Tuesday15thJune, at 2200hrs EAT.


WILDCARDS

England – “The Three Lions” always go into a major tournament expecting nothing but being champions on the final day. They boast some of the best talents in the world, but their undoing could be the same thing that has been their Achilles’ heel at every major tournament:


The English Press. They made such a fuss over Trent Alexander-Arnold making the squad that the Liverpool right-back ended up pulling out of the team through injury. Words are powerful, and that scenario just showed how much.

Spain – “La Furia Roja” have too many young and new players in the squad. Coach Luis Enrique also left out former captain Sergio Ramos.

Their camp was recently thrown into disarray after captain Sergio Busquets tested positive for the coronavirus, forcing the Under-21 squad to play a recent friendly on their behalf. That could have a psychological effect on them.

All in all, it promises to be an intriguing and entertaining tournament.