Racing Post - Euro 2020 - 2021-06-03




Who will win Euro 2020? Portugal were surprise winners of Euro 2016 but their current crop of stars give them a real shot at retaining their crown. They are housed in a tough section but it shouldn’t stop them reaching the latter stages and manager Fernando Santos can count on remarkable strength in depth. Belgium were not far away from succeeding at the 2018 World Cup and I think they will seize what could possibly be their last big chance of winning a major trophy. Youri Tielemans and Kevin De Bruyne are two of the best midfielders on show and Romelu Lukaku has been in prolific form. France. I love their wine, their cheese, N’Golo Kante, Kylian Mbappe, even Paul Pogba in an international shirt. They’re the reigning world champions and super-confident. They have goals in them from so many sources and look to be at their peak. With the deepest squad and a manager in Didier Deschamps who is happy to sacrifice flair for success, it is hard to look past France winning Euro2020. France won the 2018 World Cup in impressive fashion and three years on their squad looks just as strong in defence and midfield with Karim Benzema adding another dimension to their attack. Being in a tough group alongside Portugal and Germany should mean there is no complacency in the Les Bleus camp. Italy tend to be gloriously unpredictable at tournaments. Often they crash out at the group stage, but when they do not they can make a lasting impression. Double-figure odds may understate the chance that the Azzurri could put their best foot forward over the next few weeks. Which team looks to be the best dark horse? If anyone can upstage the market leaders, it is Denmark. The Danes boast serious quality and their starting 11 is filled with players who play in Europe’s elite leagues. They picked up four points from two meetings with England in the Nations League last year and will be dangerous in knockout matches. I fancy Poland to go well at a big price thanks largely to the brilliance of Robert Lewandowski. The supporting cast behind the Bayern Munich frontman has improved too, giving Poland a decent chance of at least matching their quarter-final effort of five years ago. I have a feeling about the Turkey (who, of course, did for France in qualifying) under Senol Gunes. They are going to be bright as a button going forward, look dependable at the back under the stewardship of manmountain Caglar Soyuncu and can’t complain about their group. Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup but won all ten of their Euro 2020 qualifying fixtures and look as though they are coming out of their transition phase. Few teams can boast a more experienced defence, they can pass teams to death and they are in one of the tournament’s softer sections. Denmark would be awkward opponents in the knockout stages but Turkey are a more tempting wildcard pick, especially if they can tighten up at the back. They thumped the Netherlands and Norway in their first two World Cup qualifiers in March and Burak Yilmaz will be buzzing after inspiring Lille to the Ligue 1 title. The Netherlands did not qualify for the last World Cup or European Championship and come into this one with a manager who has failed at club level in the par. This is not a vintage Oranje generation, and its best member is injured, but any Dutch squad can come good if fortune smiles on them. Who will finish as the top goalscorer? It is difficult to ignore the head of the market and Romelu Lukaku looks a standout selection. The Belgian fired 24 goals to help Inter to the Serie A title and his international record is spectacular. Lukaku has scored 36 times across his last 31 internationals and group games with Finland and Russia can see him make hay early. Romelu Lukaku is Belgium’s all-time leading goalscorer and looks the strongest candidate. He was outstanding for Inter this season and could do plenty of damage in Group B. An alternative is Netherlands attacker Memphis Depay, who takes penalties and could fill his boots in a weak group. Memphis Depay could be a spot of value at 20-1. The Lyon striker arrives off a top Ligue 1 campaign in which he bagged 20 goals and he takes penalties. I also think there are goals in Group C and the ex-man United star could build up a few going into the knockouts. Romelu Lukaku has rejuvenated his career at Inter, scoring 64 goals in all competitions across two seasons. He looks fitter and sharper in the final third, having helped fire his club side to the Serie A title this year, and has limited competition for his place in the Belgium team. Romelu Lukaku’s international scoring rate since the 2018 World Cup, in which he scored four times in Belgium’s first one and a half games but amazingly none thereafter, is sensational. He had a great season for Serie A champions Inter, and he should be on penalty duty for the free-scoring Belgians. It is usually someone from a team that goes far, though not necessarily the winners. Timo Werner played well in his first season at Chelsea but luck was unkind to his shots. It may become kinder. Germany are in a tough group but may only have to finish above Hungary to progress, and then who knows? Who will be voted as the player of the tournament? If Portugal lift the trophy again, it makes sense to back Cristiano Ronaldo to scoop the award in what will surely be his final European Championships. With 29 goals from 33 games for Juventus this season, the 36-year-old evidently still has plenty to offer. A saver on Manchester City’s rock Ruben Dias is also advised. I’m going to stick with the Belgian theme here and plump for Kevin De Bruyne, who is absolutely key to them lifting the trophy. The 29-year-old has been outstanding for Manchester City and is a joy to watch. He could be among the top assist makers at the tournament. If France win it then Kylian Mbappe stars. And if Mbappe stars people start to drool and that should lend itself to winning a market like this. He got best young player in Russia three years ago and can go one better over the next few weeks. The last three winners of this award – Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Antoine Griezmann – were all top creative outlets and one player who is often as good at setting up goals as he is scoring them is Karim Benzema .I fancy France to go all the way and the recalled Real Madrid man could be crucial to their success. Romelu Lukaku is again of interest as he has proved he is far more than just a goalscorer but I also like Paul Pogba at a big price. He had an excellent 2018 World Cup, put in some eye-catching performances for Manchester United before an untimely injury in February, and is primed for a big tournament. It tends to be a creative player from one of the teams who go far. Okay, this is a real longshot given he started only four league games for Manchester United, but they paid £35 million for Donny van de Beek and he arrived with a good reputation. He may play a key role if Netherlands go far. Give us a player going under the radar this summer Defenders don’t always get the recognition they deserve, but Luke Shaw has shown he is one of the best full-backs in world football and he can play a starring role for England. The 25-year-old he was a standout performer for Manchester United this season and is a great weapon to have at both ends of the pitch. Villarreal forward Gerard Moreno has made a very promising start to his international career – scoring five times in his opening ten appearances – and could make a big impact. He could be the prolific centre-forward La Roja have lacked in recent years. Ferran Torres came of age in the Premier League this season and is growing into a role in the Spain side. He scored a hat-trick against Germany last year and impressed whenever Pep Guardiola summoned him. He looks each-way value in the Golden Boot betting. Spain’s squad looks weaker than in recent tournaments but that could open the door for their younger players to shine and Leipzig’s 23-year-old attacking midfielder Dani Olmo is an exciting prospect. Viktor Tsyhankov has also been superb for Dynamo Kiev this term and could flourish for Ukraine. A couple of Europe’s most exciting young forwards look ready to impress at their first finals. Speedy Dutch winger Donyell Malen scored 19 goals in just 26 Eredivisie starts for PSV this season and Alexander Isak is a solid favourite to be top Sweden goalscorer after a prolific campaign for Sociedad. Who needs Zlatan? Can I answer this in a different way? There will be a player that nobody expected to do well who plays brilliantly then signs for a bigger club for an inflated fee, after which he slips back into obscurity. Transfers inspired by standout tournament performances generally turn out to be bad deals. What’s your group nap? I’d lay Germany as favourites to win Group F. Yes, they play all three of their matches on home turf but that is reflected in the odds and I prefer the chances of both France and Portugal. Germany were stunned by North Macedonia in March’s World Cup qualifier and things appear to have turned stale under Joachim Low. Italy seem to be going under the radar despite winning all ten games in qualifying and should dominate Group A. The Azzurri do not have an abundance of star names in their squad but they are well coached by Roberto Mancini and have the advantage of playing each of the group fixtures in Rome. Belgium – no matter what Kevin de Bruyne’s boat race looks like. In fact, what befell De Bruyne in Porto is the sort of thing that unites sides, though Belgium shouldn’t have any difficulty seeing off Denmark, Finland and Russia. Group F may not be as tough to call as the majority think. Defending champions Portugal look stronger than they did five years ago while World Cup winners France have the best squad. The same can’t be said of Joachim Low’s Germany, which makes a France-portugal dual forecast a superb bet. Belgium to win Group B. Their odds are bumped up by the fact that they play Denmark in Copenhagen and Russia in St Petersburg but they look a cut above their section rivals and their competitive away record is rock solid. They have won eight of their last nine group matches at European Championships and World Cups. I think the groups are harder than ever now. Having said that, many traditional powers will be playing at home which should help them, even with smaller crowds than usual. I will take Italy to win Group A. What’s your best match pick for the group stage? Sweden to beat Slovakia at a shade of odds-on. The Swedes, who were World Cup quarter-finalists three years ago, are a well-drilled unit under Janne Andersson and should be fighting for a top-two finish in Group E. Slovakia, on the other hand, are lacking firepower and look prime candidates for the wooden spoon. Wales were the surprise package at Euro 2016 and I wouldn’t be greatly surprised if they got off to a winning start against Switzerland in Baku. Gareth Bale has been a massive player for Wales in recent years and he finished the season strongly for Tottenham, teeing him up perfectly for the summer. Lay Ukraine at odds-on against North Macedonia. Ukraine haven’t impressed recently and are a bunch of serial underachievers on the big stage. Their opponents are going to be fighting their cotton socks off and have the ability to pick up at least a point in that contest. Denmark draw no bet against Belgium. The Danes were the only side to avoid defeat against France in the 2018 World Cup and boast a solid core featuring Kasper Schmeichel, Andreas Christensen and Christian Eriksen. They look capable of troubling Belgium when they welcome them to Copenhagen. Gareth Bale’s strong finish to the club season is great news for Wales and they are a tempting bet to win their opener against Switzerland. The Welsh have been racking up clean sheets and if their star man is firing then they could upset a Swiss side who won only two of their eight games at Euro 2016 and 2018 World Cup. Look at the 90-minute prices now and wait for possible over-reactions to the first or second round of results. As Tony Pulis has said: “People get too carried away when you win and too carried away when you lose.” Including bettors – and, for an international tournament, even bookmakers. How will England v Scotland play out? Scotland are improving and playoff wins over Israel and Serbia highlight that, but England should still be able to carve out a victory at Wembley. The Scots are armed with plenty of Premier League talent, but they can’t match the Three Lions for attacking quality. England to win by exactly one goal appeals at around 3-1. Wily Scotland manager Steve Clarke will have a plan to stop England but the gap in class could be just too much, allowing Gareth Southgate’s side to snatch a low-scoring success. England may not get much space to play but I anticipate a moment of match-winning quality from the Three Lions. 1-0 England. England should win but I absolutely expect Scotland to prove difficult to break down. Steve Clarke won’t be taking many risks, whatever happens in their opener, because he knows they’ll be cut to ribbons by the pace of the Three Lions. England to win 1-0 looks a likely outcome. On paper, England have the quality to blow Scotland out of the water but that rarely happens at a major tournament and I think it will be tight. The Three Lions scored more than two goals in just one of their World Cup games three years ago so England to win and under 2.5 goals looks the best bet. I’m expecting Steve Clarke’s improving Scots to trouble Croatia and the Czech Republic in Group D but their lack of cutting edge up front leaves them vulnerable against England. The Three Lions have a wealth of attacking threats so a repeat of England’s 2-0 win at Euro 96 could be a decent correct-score bet. England to win 2-0, the same as at Euro 96, though then it could easily have been different. This time, I think, 2-0 is the most likely outcome, just ahead of 1-0, though neither is that likely.



Euro 2020

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