Euro 2020 is on our doorstep now, just hours stand between us and the opening game where Turkey will take on Roberto Mancini’s Italy. The aforementioned pair are the two frontrunners in group A but moving on to group B and all the focus is surrounding the Belgium squad. They have somewhat of a golden generation involving the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Thibaut Courtois but are yet to deliver a major honour, could this be their year? Here is a preview of Belgium and the rest of their group too for the tournament…
Starting in alphabetical order and with the favourites too, it is of course Roberto Martinez’s Belgium! The former Everton boss took to the helm of Les Diables Rouges in late 2016 and under him, they made it to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup before losing to eventual champions France. Their opening game this summer will come against the hosts of the previously mentioned tournament Russia, they were excellent on home soil and it remains to be seen if that will translate as they fly from the nest. A weakness of Belgium’s comes in defence; whereas a few years ago you had that dominant duo of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen but the pair are both on their last legs. Other contenders for the centre-half berths are Dedryck Boyata and Jason Denayer, both who were previously at Man City and Celtic and also Thomas Vermaelen who himself is way past thirty.
Saying that though, they’re a well-drilled unit under the man who lifted the FA Cup with Wigan Athletic and their attack can tear any defence apart. Romelu Lukaku has of course been key in Inter’s Scudetto win this season and if they’re both fit, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne in and around him will surely thrive on an international stage. The lesser-known role players may well be Youri Tielemans who scored a thunderbolt at Wembley that saw Leicester win the FA Cup and then Yannick Carrasco, an underrated creator in Diego Simeone’s title-winning Atleti side. All-in-all, it would seem most probable that Belgium will top group B and may well advance into the last four again.
There is no denying that many expect Belgium to waltz towards top spot in group B but if anyone could be their undoing, it would surely be the Danes. Conversely to Belgium manager Martinez, Kasper Hjulmand hasn’t been in the job for very long at all, less than a year in fact. Denmark have a very strong spine to their squad and they certainly won’t be easy to play against but the lack of form of their key man could prevent them from exceeding expectations. Christian Eriksen, granted, is a completely different player when he dons his national team jersey, similarly to Eden Hazard, but the last couple of years have been far from ideal. It was a less than harmonious departure from White Hart Lane and despite winning the league in Italy, Eriksen was hardly at the fore of the now former Inter manager Antonio Conte’s plans.
Focussing on Eriksen would be an oversight though as he’s not the only experienced asset. Kasper Schmeichel in goal is a great voice to have on and off the pitch and he has gotten his fair share of silverware during his time with Leicester. Completing their spine you have Milan’s Simon Kjaer, Champions League winner Andreas Christensen, Hojbjerg of Spurs as well as Thomas Delaney who plays his club football for Borussia Dortmund. They certainly have the stability to frustrate Belgium in that huge clash on June 17th but their shortfall may come in the final third. A lot of the responsibility may fall on Eriksen’s shoulders given that neither of Martin Braithwaite or Youssef Poulsen are prolific goalscorers really. They are good role players but at this level, a lethal finisher could prove to be the difference for the Danes.
Finland have never before qualified for the Euros so whilst it would be easy enough to contribute to the discourse that they’re just happy to be there, they could spring a surprise here or there. It is a squad of no real stars but there is clear unity and that all starts with manager Markku Kanerva, a man who was U21s head coach and then assistant coach of the men’s team prior to getting the main job. His know-how in the ranks has seemingly brought him a wealth of respect from the players, something that could be repaid by this fascinating squad. The first name to jump out at most people will be Teemu Pukki, a prolific scorer in the Championship and, in all fairness, a key asset when Norwich were last in the Premier League. Age is a factor with the forward though, at 31 he possesses neither extraordinary pace or strength, this could be his last hoorah at a major tournament and also in the English top-flight too.
Elsewhere on the team-sheet, Lassi Lappalainen and Robin Lod stand out to me personally given that they play their club football in MLS. The former has had a good start to the season under Wilfred Nancy with CF Montreal whilst after a deep play-off run last season, Lod and Minnesota are yet to re-find their groove this time around following the departure of Kevin Molino. Tactically Finland are very astute and well, safe- something which could upset the apple cart of Belgium. Under Kanerva they don’t try to play beyond their means which has obviously helped them qualify; Rangers’ Glen Kamara, Leverkusen goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky and one of Brentford’s Championship play-off semi-final scorers Marcus Forss furthering their quality but again, as a unit more than anything else. Most bracket predictions have Finland rock bottom of group B and this is understandable but this will only spur them on!
Finally then to Russia! As previously mentioned they hosted the last major tournament, at which they enjoyed great success including a round of 16 win over Spain via a penalty shootout. Stanislav Cherchesov was in charge then and he remains at the helm, keeping in-tact the bulk of the players that shocked many on their home soil. Many are expecting that Russia will be uninspiring this time around now that they’ve lost the home advantage, succumbing to Belgium and Denmark, but I wouldn’t be so blasé in saying this. There are a few out-and-out attackers that one needs to delve into but the best place to start is on the right side of defence with Mario Fernandes. Despite being a right-back, Cherchesov’s system is set up to allow him to constantly push forward whilst the experienced Zhirkov on the other side tends to drop deeper, maintaining some form of a back four.
There is an attacking trio that all played a role three years ago and Denis Cheryshev was probably the most surprising of the three. Whilst Artem Dzyuba’s dominance and physical presence is there for all to see, and Aleksandr Golovin has long since been dubbed a future star, Cheryshev has been, more often than not, quite mediocre. He rose up through the Real Madrid ranks but was unable to establish himself at the Bernabeu, going on to the likes of Villarreal, Sevilla and now currently Valencia trying to lock down a spot. His goalscoring at the World Cup was mind-blowing and it would appear he will be unable to reach those dizzy heights again, but hopefully he proves us all wrong. Next to Dzyuba who, whilst you know what you’re getting with the big man, shutting him down is a completely different scenario. Golovin of Monaco also performed well on his own turf but has somewhat sustained that level, proving his was less of a flash in a pan and more that he’s a strong player. This triumvirate along with the likes of Atalanta’s Aleksei Miranchuk and Spartak Moskva striker Aleksandr Sobolev could cause some issues for the rest of the group B defences. Dzyuba up against Belgium’s ageing backline is something I can’t wait to witness in the opening game!
That is the end of a preview of group B for the features, which features Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Russia. Whilst I have put forward arguments to why Belgium could become unstuck, I still believe they’ll top the group with Denmark second, Russia qualifying as one of the best third place finishes and then Finland bringing up the rear. This is the most likely outcome but I am in no ways confident that it will pan out as expected, this is a group that could throw up a lot of surprises. Stay with us here at WD for all the best insight and articles regarding Euro 2020 from start to finish!