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Euro 2020 preview: picks, scouting reviews, must-see video games

In the end, Euro 2020 is right here! Twenty-four groups throughout 11 host cities promise to make the Euros a pageant of soccer — all of it LIVE on ESPN and ESPN+ from June 11 to July 10 within the U.S. — however all the highest groups vying for the title have points coming into the match. Can France make historical past? Can England deal with the stress? Will Cristiano Ronaldo‘s supporting solid lead Portugal to a second straight Euros crown? And which group is the subsequent Iceland and able to shock stronger opponents?

– Euro 2020 bracket and fixtures schedule

– Euro 2020 on ESPN: Stream LIVE video games and replays (U.S. solely)

We have got all the information you want on the highest groups, the must-see video games and the large points heading into Friday’s opener between Italy and Turkey.

Soar to: France | England | Portugal | Germany | Spain | The “Next Iceland” | Italy | Should-see video games | Belgium | Scotland | Predictions

FRANCE: Can they make historical past with a second ‘double-double’?



Julien Laurens offers an replace on Karim Benzema after he left France’s pleasant vs. Bulgaria injured.

The double-double of World Cup and European Championships: they did it in 1998 and 2000… however can they do it in 2018 and 2020?

France could possibly be the primary nation to realize this twice. None of their greatest rivals — Germany, Spain, Italy — has been ready, however France won’t ever have a greater alternative to do it than this summer season. The Zinedine Zidane and Didier Deschamps era in 1998 was nice, a group constructed round collective spirit over particular person stars, and so they received the World Cup with no prolific striker and an unimaginable defence. In 2000, nevertheless, they had been at their peak and added particular person brilliance to their power; with Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka, Youri Djorkaeff and David Trezeguet, they lastly had a beautiful attacking line.

There are numerous similarities with the group of 1998/2000 and this group, anchored by Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and, past them, the Kylian Mbappe era. Deschamps is the widespread thread and Les Bleus have by no means seemed so robust.

– Euro 2020 on ESPN: Stream LIVE video games and replays (U.S. solely)
Euro 2020: Fixtures, ESPN live, match dates, times and venues
European Soccer Pick ‘Em: Compete to win $10,000

This group has the DNA of its head coach, like 1998 had with Aime Jacquet, one among Deschamps’ mentors. Deschamps is at the beginning a practical, conservative supervisor. His group will defend properly and be well-drilled. He’s additionally astute. After 5 years and 237 days with out Karim Benzema since their falling-out over the Mathieu Valbuena scandal, the France boss finally known as him again in Might to make this squad even stronger. At 33, the Actual Madrid striker is in the perfect type of his life. He is coming off one other nice season in Spain (23 objectives, 9 assists in La Liga) and he is hungrier than ever after lacking on the success of 2018 and the near-success of 2016.

No different group on the Euros has this a lot expertise up entrance. There is a little bit of all the things: tempo, effectivity, energy, abilities, power, top, intelligence, nous. Mbappe is that this group’s Henry. Benzema performs like Anelka, a purpose scorer who appreciated to drop deep and organise the play. Antoine Griezmann is a little bit of everybody. Olivier Giroud is like Trezeguet, a poacher and a field participant. Ousmane Dembele, Kingsley Coman and Wissam Ben Yedder can begin or come off the bench, bringing velocity, shut management and extra objectives.



Kylian Mbappe cannot take his eyes off the ball as he talks with French astronaut Thomas Pesquet from the Worldwide Area Station.

Then there’s N’Golo Kante. The Champions League remaining Man of the Match is the perfect midfielder on the planet heading into the Euros, and probably the greatest gamers at any place. He brings a lot to this group by way of effort, work price and intelligence in protection or assault; his partnership with Pogba will probably be key for the French doing properly, because it was in 2018.

In 2016, France had been favourites to win the Euros, however misplaced to a Portugal facet with out Cristiano Ronaldo. In 2018, they had been favourites once more and received the World Cup. They’re used to the stress and to the expectations. The truth that they’ll make extra historical past by doing the double-double will definitely not hamper them; if something, it’s going to spur them on much more. — Julien Laurens


ENGLAND: Can they reply the hype?

England’s greatest problem this summer season is likely to be how they address hope turning into expectation.

Supervisor Gareth Southgate took cost 5 years in the past with the nationwide group in a determined state, humiliated by Iceland at Euro 2016 and compelled to half with Roy Hodgson’s alternative after that match, Sam Allardyce, only one sport into his tenure amid a newspaper sting. Consequently, little was anticipated from England on the 2018 World Cup, however Southgate inspired his squad to unburden themselves from historic failure and revel within the second. They even broke the curse of the dreaded penalty shootout, beating Colombia on spot-kicks within the spherical of 16 — their first win by that methodology in a World Cup match.

Three years on, lots of England’s youthful gamers at that match have developed additional and are actually supplemented by thrilling expertise of an much more tender age.

England have one of many youngest squads right here, and 15 of the 26-man squad haven’t any senior match expertise. The choices of Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka, 17 and 19 years previous respectively, epitomise Southgate’s dedication to youth over expertise, however extra is demanded of the group now. This summer season is the closest factor England have skilled to a house match for 25 years relationship again to Euro ’96, when a nation was whipped right into a frenzy by England’s run to the semifinals. Southgate will have the ability to strategise and prepare at England’s ordinary house of St George’s Park, a facility the place they’ve a full-size pitch re-created to the precise specs of Wembley. That may turn out to be useful, as a result of all three of England’s group video games are there. In actual fact, ought to England win Group D, they might play each sport right through to the ultimate, bar one, at Wembley.

– Inside England’s Euro camp: Wembley duplicate pitch, basketball and BBQs
– England’s Henderson breaks golden rule with penalties

But preparations haven’t been superb. Accidents to key gamers, together with Manchester United defender Harry Maguire and Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson, have created uncertainty over Southgate’s beginning XI for the opening sport in opposition to Croatia. Liverpool full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold was compelled to tug out by way of harm on Thursday, whereas Jack Grealish is managing a shin downside and Leeds midfielder Kalvin Phillips has been hampered by a shoulder difficulty.



Steve Nicol explains why he believes opposition defences will not wish to face Marcus Rashford at Euro 2020.

There are questions marks about England defensively — notably in opposition to the highest sides — however they possess an thrilling array of attacking expertise that would trigger issues for any group. Along with Tottenham striker Harry Kane, who received the Golden Boot as prime scorer on the final World Cup, Southgate has a humiliation of riches, with Manchester Metropolis duo Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling, Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford and Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho amongst these vying for inclusion.

Maybe the important thing level is that this: England reached the semifinals at Russia 2018 with a major reliance on set-pieces and an acute understanding of VAR. Solely three objectives got here from open play, whereas their 9 from set-pieces was the best at a World Cup since information started in 1966. England should be higher in possession — a perennial match failing — and carry extra of a constant menace, all whereas ensuring they tighten up defensively. It does really feel as if Southgate has extra choices this time and his tactical selections will due to this fact be important, deciding whether or not to play with a again three as in Russia or a 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 form.

That is nonetheless a younger squad, however England have come by way of a prolonged rebuild. The subsequent section begins now. — James Olley


PORTUGAL: Lastly, Ronaldo has a real supporting solid

Portugal are all the time about Cristiano Ronaldo. Regardless of the array of expertise out there to teach Fernando Santos, the dialogue concerning the reigning European champions all the time begins and ends with the 36-year-old Juventus ahead, and that is hardly shocking.

Ronaldo heads into Euro 2020 simply six objectives in need of equalling the world file worldwide purpose tally of 109, held by former Iran striker Ali Daei. One purpose on this match will see him transfer away from Michel Platini (each have scored 9 objectives) because the all-time prime scorer within the European Championship finals.

– How Euros will address COVID-19: What it is advisable know

He has scored in additional Euros (4) than every other participant and made extra appearances (21) than anybody else. His haul of 40 objectives in Euros qualifying can be a file, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic a distant second with 25. However maybe for the primary time since he burst onto the worldwide stage at Euro 2004, when he scored his first worldwide purpose within the opening sport in opposition to Greece, Portugal usually are not solely reliant on the performances of their ageing talisman.

The emergence of Liverpool’s Diogo Jota and Atletico Madrid’s Joao Felix since Portugal received Euro 2016 has given them larger choices in assault, with Eintracht Frankfurt’s Andre Silva one other succesful menace. In midfield, Manchester Metropolis’s Bernardo Silva and Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes provide creativity and objectives, so any opponent believing that stopping Ronaldo is the important thing to victory is unlikely to come back away with a optimistic outcome.

The issue for Coach Santos is becoming all of his attacking choices in. Ronaldo barely contributes defensively, both by way of monitoring again or urgent the opposition defenders, however he is all the time going to play as a result of, properly, he is Ronaldo and he’s nonetheless able to altering a sport with a second of brilliance. With Ronaldo allowed to roam throughout the ahead line, the opposite gamers should do his share of the work off the ball, however Portugal are a group with a powerful work ethic, so whoever Santos selects, he may be assured of a fully-committed efficiency in help of Ronaldo.

The power of Portugal’s defensive choices, with Manchester Metropolis’s Ruben Dias, the 38-year-old Porto centre-half Pepe, Borussia Dortmund full-back Raphael Guerreiro and Wolves goalkeeper Rui Patricio, allows Santos to overload his group with attacking gamers. Portugal are an actual contender to win the Euros once more.

Regardless that he is nearer to 40 years previous than 30 this yr, Ronaldo continues to be the primary identify on the group sheet. He’s the principle man, however this time, he has a formidable supporting solid behind him. — Mark Ogden



Gab Marcotti talks by way of the sensational Cristiano Ronaldo had for Portugal from the sidelines in the course of the Euro 2016 remaining.


GERMANY: Low’s remaining match might go both means

Germany’s marketing campaign guarantees to be one among extremes: both a triumphant departure for outgoing supervisor Joachim Low, who’s leaving after the Euros, or it will likely be an unmitigated catastrophe. In a gaggle with France, Portugal and Hungary (the latter sadly with out the good Dominik Szoboszlai), Germany must present a outstanding enchancment in the event that they’re to complete on the prime of Group F.

They’ve endured some humbling outcomes already in 2021 — a 6-0 hammering to Spain, together with a 2-1 defeat to North Macedonia that was labeled by Bild as Low’s third nice failure following the 2018 World Cup debacle — however a quick look by way of their squad exhibits they’re reliably full of high quality. The backbone of the group comes from Bayern Munich, with Niklas Sule, Joshua Kimmich, Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller, Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane all prone to begin. Muller and Mats Hummels are again in, having been publicly exiled after the 2018 World Cup. They choose themselves, however then it will get a little bit difficult. Low will solely have house for one among a number of good midfielders in Leon Goretzka, Kai Havertz, Ilkay Gundogan, Florian Neuhaus and Toni Kroos, although the good cash is on Kroos to win that spot. However protection stays their Achilles’ heel.

Then come the problems of simply who’s going to attain. They might comfortably function with out a clear out-and-out striker, however with Timo Werner struggling for confidence after a dismal first season at Chelsea, and Sane and Gnabry out of shape, objectives could possibly be an actual downside.

Low has been emphasising the significance of a profitable “mentality” in his pre-tournament information conferences, and he desires that to be the theme of this marketing campaign. With Hansi Flick confirmed as Low’s alternative, the outgoing Germany supervisor is adamant he is centered on a profitable end to a outstanding 15 years in cost. “I’m going into this tournament with the same focus, concentration and anticipation,” Low mentioned. “There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do differently.” — Tom Hamilton


SPAIN: COVID-19 points aren’t their solely stress



Alejandro Moreno examines the tough state of affairs dealing with Spain amid a COVID-19 outbreak on the eve of the Euros.

Spain’s lead-in to the Euros could not have gone a lot worse. Captain Sergio Busquets is isolating at house after testing optimistic for COVID-19, leaving the remainder of the squad in quarantine and unable to coach collectively simply days earlier than their opening sport in opposition to Sweden (Stream LIVE: Monday, 3 p.m. ET, on ESPN+ within the U.S.). The group could not even play their remaining warm-up pleasant in opposition to Lithuania given the coronavirus precautions, drafting within the U21s as a substitute, and are present process every day testing within the hope that an outbreak has been averted, with defender Diego Llorente the most recent to return a optimistic outcome.

Previous to that, coach Luis Enrique’s 24-man squad listing had already enraged throughout the nation, with the omission of an unfit Sergio Ramos — coupled with the absence of any Actual Madrid gamers — inflicting indignation within the Madrid press. The coach would not appear to have settled on a beginning XI but, both. There are doubts over the goalkeeping state of affairs: Athletic Bilbao’s Unai Simon was picked forward of David de Gea and Brighton’s Robert Sanchez vs. Portugal final Friday, however seemed nervous of their 0-0 draw.

That sport additionally raised additional questions over whether or not Alvaro Morata is the suitable man to steer a goal-shy assault, with Villarreal’s Gerard Moreno a tempting different. The in-form Marcos Llorente has been squeezed into the group at right-back, an imperfect resolution for arguably La Liga’s greatest midfielder final season. No less than Luis Enrique seems to have settled on Pau Torres and Aymeric Laporte — whose Spanish nationality was fast-tracked in time for the match — as a chic, ball-playing centre-back pairing. The midfield is stuffed with expertise, with Rodri Hernandez, Pedri, Fabian Ruiz, Koke and Thiago Alcantara all competing for locations even when Busquets finally ends up lacking out, whereas Ferran Torres presents objectives and trickery out huge.

When it clicks, because it did in a 6-0 Nations League win over Germany in November, it may be spectacular. Too typically, although, Luis Enrique’s Spain have suffered from a well-recognized lack of leading edge. It might doom them once more this summer season. — Alex Kirkland



Gab & Juls warn that Covid might nonetheless upset Euro 2020 after Spain’s Sergio Busquets assessments optimistic.

The subsequent Iceland: who would be the Euro shock in 2021?

Nothing brings life to a match like an out-of-nowhere run, and this match has had its share of Cinderellas. In 2016, tiny Iceland not solely completed second in Group F, however they took down England within the spherical of 16. In 2004, Greece beat hosts Portugal, France after which Portugal once more to win the match. In 1992, Denmark beat France, Netherlands and Germany to win all of it.

Predicting such a run is not possible — in case you noticed it coming, it would not be a Cinderella run — however this match does provide a few notably intriguing candidates.

– Denmark (betting odds per Caesars: +2800). This match options mainly two betting tiers: the favorites (France, England, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Netherlands) … and everybody else. The previous group all has odds of +450 (equal to an 18% likelihood of profitable) to +1200 (8%), the latter is all at +2800 (3%) or decrease.

Denmark leads the latter group, and it isn’t tough to see why. For starters, they get to play all of their group-stage matches at house in Copenhagen. Group B favourite Belgium has to come back to them. Past that, the squad is loaded with sturdy professionals in every single place you look.

– RB Leipzig’s Yussuf Poulsen and Barcelona’s Martin Braithwaite up entrance
– Tottenham’s Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Inter’s Christian Eriksen and Borussia Dortmund’s Thomas Delaney in midfield
– Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen, Milan’s Simon Kjaer, Southampton’s Jannik Vestergaard and Fulham’s Joachim Andersen in protection
– Leicester’s stalwart Kasper Schmeichel in purpose

Belgium is likely to be the Group B favourite, however a shades-of-1992 Danish run is not that tough to think about.

Austria (+8000). Should you really feel Denmark’s odds are too good and {that a} Danish run is just too predictable to be a “Next Iceland” candidate, let’s dive a little bit deeper. Outdoors of the eight betting favorites, listed here are the squads that had probably the most gamers in Europe’s Large 5 leagues (English Premier League, German Bundesliga, Spanish Primera Division, Italian Serie A and French Ligue 1) this previous season:

1. Austria (21)
2. Switzerland (18)
3. Denmark (17)
4. Wales (14)
5T. Croatia and Turkey (12)

That may not be who you had been anticipating atop the listing. For an extended shot, Austria has huge expertise: Bayern-turned-Actual Madrid defender David Alaba, RB Leipzig midfielder Marcel Sabitzer, Hoffenheim attacking midfielder Christoph Baumgartner, Wolfsburg midfielder Xaver Schlager, and so on. Alaba and Sabitzer each struggled a bit extra in 2020-21 than that they had the season earlier than, and the group’s total type has been inconsistent. They certified simply for the Euros, however extra not too long ago, they obtained overrun by Denmark 4-0 within the second half of a World Cup qualifier in March.

That is what makes them an underdog! Amongst these with enormous odds, no underdog has extra pure upside than the Austrians. — Invoice Connelly


ITALY: Do not anticipate the “boring, defensive” Azzurri of the previous



Nedum Onuoha seems again at Mario Balotelli’s efficiency vs. Germany to ship Italy to the ultimate of Euro 2012.

Overlook the previous stereotypes. Profitable Azzurri groups of yesteryear had been identified for uncompromising A-list defenders (assume Fabio Cannavaro, Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi or Gaetano Scirea) and deadly strikers (Paolo Rossi, Roberto Baggio, Pippo Inzaghi or Francesco Totti). Not this group. This one is all concerning the midfielders, a class that — with some notable exceptions — hasn’t been Italy’s robust swimsuit in previous tournaments.

However that is the place coach Roberto Mancini can wallow in his power in depth. From Inter’s Nicolo Barella to Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, Sassuolo’s Manuel Locatelli and Roma’s Lorenzo Pellegrini, this facet is teeming with two-way gamers. Pulling all of it collectively is an old-school playmaker like Chelsea’s Jorginho, who received the Champions League final month.

Whichever trio finally ends up beginning — and Italy are all however sure to go along with a 4-3-3 formation — will probably be tasked with implementing Mancini’s present imaginative and prescient of soccer (he has advanced greater than most through the years), which is primarily based round possession, passing and urgent. These “three p’s” are designed to make the group proactive, somewhat than reactive, like up to now.

A part of it’s the normal route of journey within the fashionable sport: defend-and-counter could have labored properly up to now (and should still work in knockout competitions), however few prime sides play that means anymore. A part of it’s merely enjoying to your strengths and masking your weaknesses, which, in Italy’s case, had been conventional areas of power up to now.

Positive, on the again you may nonetheless discover the large names, however Giorgio Chiellini is now 36. Leo Bonucci is 34. The latter was benched for the previous throughout Juve’s late-season run and it is unlikely we’ll see the pair collectively. They do have a vastly gifted goalkeeper, able to taking the baton from the likes of Gigi Buffon (and earlier than him, Walter Zenga and Dino Zoff), however Gianluigi Donnarumma continues to be simply 22 and, extra importantly, not in the perfect mind set. He turned down a contract provide from Milan, the membership the place he is been a daily from the age of 16, and is now a free agent, playing that golf equipment would line as much as signal him. They have not — but — and within the meantime, Milan signed his alternative.

Up entrance, there aren’t any A-list stars — although Federico Chiesa could get there sooner or later and Nicolo Zaniolo would possibly already be there if harm hadn’t robbed him of the 2020-21 season and a shot on the Euros — however there is a core of hard-working, gifted gamers with the power to get sizzling and carry the group. All eyes will probably be on the center-forward place, the place Mancini will doubtless select between Ciro Immobile — a goal-machine for Lazio, much less so on the worldwide stage — and Andrea Belotti, a blue-collar kind who hasn’t scored from open play at membership degree since early February.

To succeed, Mancini will want a kind of two (or, maybe, 21-year-old Giacomo Raspadori, the finances Sergio Aguero) to transform the numerous possibilities Italy create as of late. He’ll want Donnarumma to be in the suitable frame of mind (one thing he most undoubtedly wasn’t the final time his membership future was unsure, in 2017 on the U21 Euros), and he’ll want the again line to carry up and never be judged in opposition to Italy protection of the previous.

What he probably will not have to fret about is his corps of younger stars in the midst of the park. — Gab Marcotti

Clear your calendar! The must-see video games

From a plot perspective, the Euro schedule is properly drawn. You start with a few days of new-tournament honeymoon vibes and pleasure, you then get to the great things. Listed below are the ten group-stage matches that pack both probably the most intrigue or probably the most significance.

– June 13: Croatia at England. Per Caesars, England is the No. 2 favourite to win behind France. Their first match is a doozy, nevertheless, in opposition to a Croatia squad that’s advancing in age however nonetheless options loads of the expertise that introduced them to the World Cup finals — and previous England within the semifinals — three years in the past.

– June 13: Ukraine at Netherlands. We’ll discover out loads of what we have to know concerning the Dutch in opposition to a Ukraine squad made up primarily of Dynamo Kyiv and Shakhtar Donetsk gamers, plus a few Premier Leaguers (Man Metropolis defender Oleksandr Zinchenko, West Ham ahead Andriy Yarmolenko) for good measure.

– June 15: France at Germany. Group F is the Group of Chaos, that includes each the previous two World Cup champions (France and Germany) and the defending Euros champ (Portugal). Germany have been the shakiest of the three, however they get to play all their matches in Munich’s Allianz Enviornment.

– June 16: Switzerland at Italy. Switzerland is loaded with expertise from Europe’s elite leagues. If this seems to be a bumpy street for the Italians, favorites in Group A, that is about when issues would possibly go awry.

– June 17: Belgium at Denmark. Belgium is likely to be the perfect group in Group B, however the house group right here could possibly be the second greatest. May home-field benefit and a sturdy midfield give the Danes an surprising edge?

– June 17: Austria at Netherlands. Austria’s squad is loaded with expertise from Europe’s greatest golf equipment. If Ukraine cannot get to the Dutch, it is attainable that Alaba, Sabitzer, Baumgartner & Co. nonetheless might.

– June 18: Scotland at England. English followers know precisely how proficient their group is, however the sense of “waiting for the other shoe to drop” paranoia could possibly be at a excessive approaching this rivalry match in opposition to Robertson, Tierney and the neighbors up north.

– June 19: Portugal at Germany. If we assume that France advances from Group F — not a given, however they are the general favorites — then this turns into perhaps the most important match of the group stage, an eliminator between two of probably the most proficient groups in your complete world.

– June 23: Sweden vs. Poland. Spain obtained what seems to be a straightforward attract Group E, however this match could possibly be one other eliminator for second place, to not point out a showcase sport for Poland’s Robert Lewandowski and Sweden’s burgeoning stars (Dejan Kulusevski, Alexander Isak) in assault.

– June 23: France vs. Portugal. Few worldwide matches are able to fielding extra pure expertise amongst its 22 opponents than this one. We do not but know the stakes — Group F is likely to be all sewn up, and it very a lot won’t — however this one will please the attention regardless. — Connelly


BELGIUM: Final likelihood for his or her Golden Era to win one thing

Their stars are nonetheless all enjoying collectively this summer season, although perhaps for the final time. The Belgian golden era have gotten near glory up to now decade, however have by no means received something. They have been No. 1 within the FIFA World rating since September 2018 — technically making them the perfect group on the planet, but in each large competitors within the final 10 years, they’ve fallen quick.

For Eden Hazard (30 years previous), Kevin De Bruyne (30), Dries Mertens (34), Toby Alderweireld (32), Jan Vertonghen (34), Axel Witsel (32), Thomas Vermaelen (35) and maybe even Nacer Chadli (32 in August), that is the final likelihood. In fact, a few of them will journey to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup; their youngest stars, like midfielder Youri Tielemans, would possibly even preserve enjoying till the 2024 Euros in Germany after Romelu Lukaku & Co. are ageing out, however this match stands to be their final hurrah as a gaggle. And there’s no higher solution to say goodbye than to lastly win it.

Each time the Purple Devils are among the many favourites earlier than an enormous competitors, they stumble. On the 2014 World Cup, their first main match as a unit, they misplaced to Argentina within the quarterfinals (1-0). In 2016, on the Euros, they had been too complacent in opposition to Wales within the quarterfinals, struggling an embarrassing 3-1 defeat after taking a 1-0 lead. In 2018, they had been pissed off by a stable, environment friendly French group within the World Cup semifinal, earlier than rallying to beat England and end third.

Clearly, Belgium have grow to be an influence in worldwide soccer. They’ve steadily improved beneath Roberto Martinez, who changed Marc Wilmots as supervisor in August 2016. They’re well-organised, with a 3-4-2-1 formation that makes the perfect of their squad, but additionally have a lot particular person expertise to name upon. The issue is that De Bruyne continues to be recovering from the facial accidents he suffered within the Champions League remaining and will but miss the primary sport in opposition to Russia on Saturday (stream LIVE on ESPN+, Jun. 12, 3 p.m. ET). Hazard is struggling for type after two nightmare years by way of harm. Witsel hasn’t performed since January and also will miss the beginning of the match.

However, the Belgian camp consider this could possibly be their flip, that they might lastly break their duck. In spite of everything, they’re No. 1 on the planet. In Romelu Lukaku, they’ve one of many 5 greatest strikers on the planet after two excellent seasons with Inter. Thibaut Courtois carried Actual Madrid on his personal at occasions this yr. Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco has been unbelievable in 2021 for Atletico Madrid, a clutch contributor in clinching the title. Champions League remaining apart, De Bruyne has been nice once more, whereas Tielemans has taken his sport to the subsequent degree this season with Leicester Metropolis.

Nevertheless, there are some fragilities in protection. Is the back-three actually probably the most suited to this squad? With no absolutely match Witsel, is the defence uncovered? In the end, the important thing could possibly be how a lot they’ve realized from earlier disappointments. How would they method a semifinal in opposition to France now? How a few sport in opposition to an underdog? Absolutely, all of the expertise they’ve gathered by way of all these years will come good, although time is operating out.

With Russia, Denmark and Finland, Belgium have the proper group during which to construct momentum in an effort to hit their peak within the knockout levels. From there, your complete nation will probably be hoping that this time, their dream turns into actuality. — Laurens


SCOTLAND: Filled with enthusiasm for first match since 1998

Scotland by no means do issues the simple means. After a 23-year hole between efficiently qualifying for a world match, they wanted a penalty shootout win in opposition to Serbia within the playoffs to ebook a spot on the Euros. That win triggered memorable scenes in the dressing room as gamers danced awkwardly to Baccara’s 1977 tune “Yes Sir, I can Boogie” — however converse to these close to the Scotland squad and so they’re adamant they don’t seem to be there to make up the numbers. They’re going to be primarily based in Middlesbrough for the Euros (the Czech Republic have their ordinary Edinburgh base, and Croatia are at St. Andrews) so that they’ll preserve themselves away from the hype however will little doubt really feel the general public expectation. With matches in opposition to the Czech Republic and Croatia in addition to a visit to Wembley to face England, Scotland will throw all the things at Group D.

There’s top-tier expertise up and down the group. Supervisor Steve Clarke will doubtless line his facet up in a formation that permits them to shoehorn two of their greatest gamers into the group: Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney at centre-back, and captain Andrew Robertson within the left wing-back spot. Manchester United’s Scott McTominay has been used as a makeshift centre-back, with Chelsea’s Billy Gilmour, Celtic’s Ryan Christie, Aston Villa’s John McGinn and Southampton’s Stuart Armstrong able to operating the midfield.

They’re going to want a very good begin and have a gaggle of 15 or 16 gamers who can bother the perfect in Europe. What might swing issues of their favour is their group spirit. Don Hutchison received 27 caps for Scotland from 1999 to 2003, and he feels the togetherness is stronger than the Scotland groups of previous. “I look at them now and think that’s a dressing room I’d love to be part of,” Hutchison advised ESPN.

Scotland’s prep has been disrupted by a COVID-19 outbreak that noticed seven gamers dominated out of their 2-2 draw in opposition to the Netherlands, and with Glasgow in lockdown, their opener in opposition to the Czech Republic could possibly be performed in entrance of empty stands at Hampden Park. That first sport in opposition to Jaroslav Silhavy’s high-pressing Czech Republic will set the tone. “It’s a huge game for us,” goalkeeper Craig Gordon advised ESPN. “We really have to go in there and get off to the best possible start. It’s a tough one, but especially at Hampden, hopefully with some fans in, I think it gives us a chance to get off to a great start.” — Hamilton

PREDICTIONS: So who’s profitable this factor?

Belgium. The window is closing for the Golden Era, however Euro historical past is stuffed with guys who did not play a lot or carry out in the course of the season, solely to excel for 4 weeks in the summertime. I am relying on you, Eden Hazard and Axel Witsel… — Marcotti

Deschamps’ squad is head and shoulders above each different nation within the match. France have a lot high quality and depth that it is just about not possible to see the world champions failing to win this. – Ogden

Engl… I am solely kidding. France, France and France. Deschamps might have fielded two 23-man squads, and so they’d find yourself assembly within the remaining. The strongest XI has all the things, and Benzema now, which will probably be too powerful for any opponent. – Laurens

France. The World Cup winners boast the strongest squad, and groups are in a position to make 5 substitutions in every sport. Solely a comparatively powerful draw has stopped France being shorter within the betting markets. – Olley

It is France‘s to lose. When you’ll be able to sleep simple after shedding Aymeric Laporte to Spain, you already know they have unimaginable power in depth. Should you’re after a shock bundle, although, control Denmark. – Hamilton

France. Usually talking, it appears fairly good to guess on whichever group has a wholesome Kante in it, particularly when you’ll be able to group him with Pogba and Mbappe. — Connelly

Portugal: They’re good from entrance to again and are stacked with gamers who’re coming off spectacular seasons with their golf equipment. If they’ll get by way of their group, they will fancy their possibilities in opposition to anybody. – Rob Dawson

I feel it’ll be a France vs. Turkey remaining, however whether or not that is proper or not, there’ll must be a stewards’ enquiry if France do not win this match. Blessed with ample expertise, in addition they demonstrably possess a tricky ‘profitable’ mentality. Plus ça change… – Graham Hunter

Runners-up in 2016 and winners in 2018, they already had Griezmann, Mbappe, Pogba and Kante and the remainder. Now they have Benzema, too, which is simply dishonest. France, after all. – Sid Lowe

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