By Lucien Betancourt and Diego De Souza
Club football and the Champions League have come to an end, and now it’s time for international tournaments. The biggest international tournament this side of the World Cup will occur from June 11th through July 11th, and that’s the UEFA Euro 2021, Europe’s national championship.
The teams of Euro 2021 are split into 6 groups of 4 teams each, of which the top two of each group and the four best 3rd-place teams will move on to the knockout stages. Let’s break down the six groups.
NOTE: We’ve listed each group in order of our predicted finish in the standings.
Group A: Italy, Switzerland, Turkey, Wales.
Italy is the clear favorite in this group, if not one for the whole tournament. The Italian national team has always been great, winning 4 World Cups – good for second all-time- and have made the Euro finals 3 times, winning once in 1968. Today’s group is a mix of old and young, Roberto Mancini has done a great job as manager after the team’s failure to make the last World Cup under Gian Piero Ventura. Some of the team’s top young players include goalkeeper Gianluigi Donarumma, midfielders Manuel Locatelli and Nicolo Barella, and a pair of forwards named Frederico with Chiesa and Bernardeschi. Some of the more experienced players include defenders Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, midfielder Marco Veratti, and forward Ciro Immobile. Mancini has found a formula that works with a 4-3-3 formation that has them competing at a high level again and has earned him a contract extension through 2026.
Key player: Ciro Immobile. Italy has lots of talented players but lacks a superstar, so many players could have been picked here. Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne will be leading the front line and will have to contribute a lot if this team is to go far in this tournament. Immobile is a great striker playing for Lazio and should be the starting number 9, which is usually a pure striker role and one of the most important attackers on the team, if not the most important. If he scores at a high rate as he has for the past 5 seasons, then he is a dark-horse candidate to be the best player of the tournament.
Switzerland is a team that is always tough to play against and always boasts a competent team that can match up against anyone in a standalone game. The defense should be solid with Yann Sommer in goal, the experienced Ricardo Rodriguez at left wing back, with Fabian Schar, Manuel Akanji, and Nico Elvedi at the center back spots, and Kevin Mbabu possibly the starter at right wing back. The midfield and attack also have lots of quality players, the main ones being Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri, Denis Zakaria, Remo Freuler, Steven Zuber, Djibril Sow, Hans Seferovic, Admir Mehmedi, and Breel Embolo. This team should be set to make a deep run and could even cause a few major upsets.
Key player: Hans Seferovic. There could be many players that we include here, but we picked Seferovic because he could be the most crucial in deciding the fate of the team. He will likely be the starting number 9, and has a lot of responsibility if that is the case. Seferovic is very much a hot and cold player, and Switzerland will need to hope that he doesn’t disappoint.
Turkey will likely end up in the fight for 2nd place, or as one of the 3rd place qualifiers. The team, like Italy, has a good mix of old and young players and could surprise a lot of people by going deep in the tournament. The defense has been shaky in recent fixtures but boasts quality players such as Caglar Soyuncu, Zeki Celik, Ozan Kabak, Kaan Ayhan and Merih Demiral. The best midfielders and forwards for Turkey are Cengiz Under, Yusuf Yazici, Hakan Calhanoglu, Burak Yilmaz, and Enes Unal. This is all without mentioning the dozens of players from their domestic league. Manager Senol Gunes has the tough task of playing a balanced system that can fit in all the good attacking options whilst remaining solid at the back. If the team hits form at the right time, it can go past the group stage and even into the second or third round.
Key player: Burak Yilmaz. A player that deserves a shout-out here is AC Milan attacking midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu, a skilled player that is outstanding at set-pieces. But we have chosen Burak Yilmaz as the key player because he was the top scorer in Lille’s unexpected win of the Ligue 1 title. An experienced player who always fights extremely hard, Yilmaz could be a player that becomes the hero of a deep Turkey run in the tournament.
Wales was the Cinderella team of the 2016 Euros, reaching the semifinals after upsetting Belgium 3-1 in the quarter-finals. This was a wonderful run and one that the team will no doubt hope to repeat. But it will be much more difficult, as they have been drawn in quite a tough group. Wales will probably have an outside chance of second place, but more realistically will look to get a spot as one of the best third-placed teams. The squad is mostly average but boasts a few very good players like Ben Davies, Aaron Ramsey, and Gareth Bale. Wales also has experienced players such as Wayne Hennessey, Chris Gunter, and Joe Allen as well as promising players for the future like Joe Rodon, Neco Williams, Ethan Ampadu, Rabbi Matondo, and Daniel James. There is a big question mark going into the tournament, and that’s manager Ryan Giggs, who has been charged with assaulting his ex-girlfriend. If this is a distraction that impacts them, it will be tough to get out of this group.
Key player: Gareth Bale. The easiest choice so far, Wales’ hopes in the tournament depends on how Bale plays. If he plays extremely well like in his early Real Madrid days, then the team can get out of this group and even cause an upset in the knockout rounds. If he plays poorly, like he has in large parts of the last three seasons, then there is really no hope for Wales to go anywhere. There is a huge responsibility on Bale to perform and we’ll have to see if he delivers.
Group B: Belgium, Denmark, Russia, Finland.
Belgium isn’t a team of many traditions, but is currently filled with talent and ranked #1 in the world by FIFA. Manager Roberto Martinez has the responsibility of coaching the so-called “golden generation” of Belgium and trying to lead them to their first-ever major trophy. The reason this feels like a crucial tournament for Belgium is that their core of important players is aging and it feels like it could be their last opportunity to win big. The squad is filled with world class players, starting with Thibaut Courtois in goal and the back three of Jason Denayer, Jan Vertonghen, and Toby Alderweireld. The likely starters in the midfield are Axel Witsel, Youri Tielemans, and Kevin de Bruyne. On the wings and fullbacks, there is Thomas Meunier, Timothy Castagne, Leandro Trossard, Nacer Chadli, Yannick Carrasco, Eden Hazard, and his brother Thorgan Hazard. The two up top will likely be Romelu Lukaku and Dries Mertens. Again, many quality players and ridiculous depth across the board, the question is if it will all come together. But for now, they should have no problems topping this group.
Key Player: Kevin de Bruyne. De Bruyne is the best player on this Belgian team and is arguably a top 5 player in the world. His vision is incredible and his intelligence is elite, and he should be the most influential player in a potential run to the title. Honorable mention goes to the wild card Eden Hazard, who a few years ago was one of the best players in the world for Chelsea, but after joining Real Madrid has struggled mightily with injuries. Belgium also needs Hazard at the top of his game to win the Euros.
Denmark are an underrated squad in this tournament and are another one of those teams that can make a deep run if everything breaks right. They have a phenomenal defense, with Kasper Schmeichel in goal alongside Simon Kjaer, Andreas Christensen, Jannik Vestegaard, Joakim Maelhe, Daniel Wass and Joachim Andersen at the back. In the middle, they will probably start Thomas Delaney, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, and Christian Eriksen, a trio of quality players who will be essential to this team. In the rotation for the midfield and attack they have Mikkel Damsgaard, Martin Braithwaite, Yussuf Poulsen, Andreas Cornelius, Kasper Dolberg, and Jonas Wind. The team is stacked and should be tough to score against, but we question whether they have enough going forward to make a deep run. They will be the favorites to come in second however, and are a tough team to play.
Key Player: Kasper Schmeichel. Schmeichel will need to be on top of his game for Denmark to make a deep run in this tournament, with the goalkeeper being probably the most important position on the field. He is a phenomenal keeper and the son of Man United legend Peter Schmeichel, and is also known for leading Leicester City to their improbable Premier League title in the 2015-16 season. Honorable mention to Christian Eriksen, who needs to be decisive and generate chances for goals for this team.
Russia was host in the 2018 World Cup and went on a great run, losing on penalties in the quarterfinals to eventual finalists Croatia. They remarkably beat Spain in the round of 16, and while the home fans helped no doubt, this was an incredible run by Russia either way. The roster is not incredibly talented, with almost all of the players playing domestically. Manager Stanislav Cherchesov has done a great job in getting the most out of this group. The goalkeeper spot is uncertain, and at the back the main players will be Mario Fernandes and the experienced Yuri Zhirkov. In the midfield and attack, they will once again look for a spark from guys like Denis Cheryshev, Aleksandr Golovi, and Artem Dzyuba in addition to players like Aleksei Ionov, Roman Zobnin, Daler Kuzyayev and Aleksei Miranchuk. These guys will be the leaders if the Russians are going to repeat what they did in the 2018 World Cup.
Key Player: Artem Dzyuba. He is the captain and top goalscorer of the current squad but also finished as top goalscorer of the Russian league the past two seasons, as well as twice finishing as the top assist provider. At the age of 32, Dzyuba is still performing consistently as Russia’s main number 9 and true striker and shows no signs of slowing down.
Finland enters as the clear underdogs of this group, as this will be their first major international tournament ever. They have nothing to lose, so we expect them to be a harder team than most expect, but also lose out in the end because of lack of talent and experience. Anything for them at this point is a bonus. They should have a quality starting goalkeeper, with Lukas Hradecky in goal. Their hope in the attack will be with Norwich striker Teemu Pukki. Other than those two, there aren’t many known players in that squad, but the Euros will be a spotlight on young and experienced players to show the world who they are.
Key Player: Teemu Pukki. Pukki is a 31 year old striker who has been around several clubs, but settled in very well at Norwich City. There he has an amazing 66 goals in 120 games, scoring consistently both in the Premier League and the Championship, England’s second tier. His record for the national team isn’t bad either, with 30 goals in 90 games. Expect him to be the main focus for Finland up top.
Group C: Netherlands, Northern Macedonia, Austria, Ukraine
The Netherlands has gone through a tough rebuild that has lasted 6 years. But it’s been worth it, as the Dutch national team has been loading up with young talent, with the majority of their team being younger than 28 years old. They are stacked on defense with Matthijs De Ligt, Stefan De Vrij, Joel Veltman, Danny Blind, Denzel Dumfries, and Nathan Ake, have a stellar midfield led by Georginio Wijnaldum, Frenkie De Jong, Marten De Roon, Donny Van De Beek, Teun Koopmeiners, and amazing forwards in Donyell Malen, Memphis Depay, Luuk De Jong, Wout Weghorst, Steven Berghuis, and Quincy Promes. Although they are going through a big rebuild and have missed out on two major tournaments in a row, we think the Dutch will do well. The only question mark is how manager Frank de Boer does. He is not a proven manager, and early results haven’t been promising, but the players are there– so it’s on him if they don’t get the results the country is looking for.
Key player: Memphis Depay. Depay is a great goal scorer and assister and is the team’s essential player. They will be very reliant on his skill throughout the tournament.
Northern Macedonia is the newest entry to the Euros. Although they are debutantes, they have put forth a pretty solid team, with Egzijan Alioski and Stefan Ristovski on defense, Eljif Elmas, Boban Nikolov, and Enes Bardhi in midfield, and their forwards are led by captain Goran Pandev and his partner Aleksandar Trajkovski. They will do well if everyone plays their part. This could be a repeat of Iceland in 2016, a team who in their first Euro appearance made it all the way to the quarterfinals. Macedonia will be the underdogs of the group, but their belief and hard work could be what takes them through to the knockout stages.
Key player: Eljif Elmas. He can score, assist, and has played with Napoli for a fair share of Champions League, Europa League, and Serie A football. If he plays at his best, making key passes and turning them into assists, Macedonia can do well. The only downside is that he is fairly young, so experience is a question mark. Still, Elmas is a vital piece to Macedonia’s World Cup qualifiers success and could do the same here.
Austria is a team who is under the radar despite having a lot of talent. First off, their defense and midfield is absolutely stacked with talented players like David Alaba, Aleksandar Dragovic, Stefan Lainer, Andreas Ulmer, Martin Hinteregger, Valentino Lazaro, Julian Baumgartlinger, Stefan Ilsanker, Florian Grillitsch, Marko Arnautovic, and Alessandro Schopf. Their forward line is a bit weaker, with Marcel Sabitzer and Michael Gregoritsch as the only stars up front.
Key player: Marcel Sabitzer. Sabitzer is the Swiss army knife of this stacked Austria side. Although he is a traditional center-attacking midfielder, he is used as a forward here. If he gets the ball and consistently takes chances, Austria will progress to the knockout stages.
Ukraine is a once glorious team that has declined sharply and are also rebuilding, bringing in talent from their major academies in Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk, the two biggest club teams in Ukraine. A whopping 23 of the players in the squad are below the age of 28. They don’t have many talents that have a good reputation in domestic leagues outside Ukraine’s own. This could be a problem for them, as many of their players don’t have experience in the biggest stages.
Key player: Ruslan Malinovsky. He’s a young but skilled midfielder playing for Italian club Atalanta, with similar experience to Elmas playing against European giants in the Champions League and Serie A. He is mainly a standard midfielder but has the leg power to bang in goals from afar.
Group D: Croatia, England, Czech Republic, Scotland
Croatia is one of the favorites for this year’s Euros. The 2018 World Cup finalists have with an all-around team with defenders such as Dejan Lovren and Duje Caleta-Car, midfielders such as Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic, and a dominant forward line led by Ivan Perisic, Ante Rebic, and Andrej Kramaric. This team should go far in the Euros, and their rematch against England after beating them in the 2018 World Cup semifinals should be a highlight of the group stage.
Key Player: Luka Modric. Modric is an absolute beast in the midfield and was a key factor in Croatia’s 2nd place World Cup finish. If he plays like he did in his Ballon d’Or-winning 2018 campaign, Croatia will be a force to be reckoned with. Without dominant play from Modric, their stability may crumble.
England are a rather weak team, taking into consideration their key players and their comparison to other great football teams like Belgium and Croatia, who both bested England in the World Cup. Still, England will likely do rather well. They have a good defense with Harry Maguire, John Stones, and Tyrone Mings, a solid midfield with Jordan Henderson, Jack Grealish, and Phil Foden, and an outrageously exciting forward trio in Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, and Jadon Sancho.
Key Player: Jadon Sancho. Sancho may be a little bit under the radar for this team, which is crazy considering he is one of the top young players in the world, but we’re choosing him over the many other talented players we could put here. Look for him to score and assist in high numbers throughout the tournament.
Czech Republic are on-the-rise and could challenge the favorites in this group. They have a pair of solid defense and midfield duos with Vladimir Coufal, Pavel Kadeřábek, Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Darida, plus an amazing forward in Patrick Shick. This team has potential to do well, especially better than their 2016 Euro campaign where they went home early.
Key Player: Patrick Shick. He’s a dangerous forward that can score goals from practically anywhere. If he gets the ball enough from the midfielders, he can get the Czechs some vital wins.
Scotland are a fairly average team that has good players in every position but don’t have that edge most contenders have. It’s quite simple: put enough pressure on Scotland and they will crumble. It was seen in 2018 World Cup qualifiers against England, where they got an early lead but couldn’t hold on as England kept attacking and attacking. This appearance is Scotland’s first major tournament since the 1998 World Cup, and thus probably won’t be a very surprising team.
Key Player: John McGinn. He’s a skilled and deadly midfielder, this team’s Swiss army knife. As long as he plays to his best, Scotland have a chance to do well and maybe steal a 3rd place qualifying spot from the Czech Republic. Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney, and Scott McTominay are also players to watch out for in this Scotland team.
Group E: Spain, Sweden, Poland, Slovakia
Spain is another favorite for the tournament, they have put forth a very strong squad for the Euros. With key players like Unai Simon, Jose Gaya, Pau Torres, Sergio Busquets, Koke, Marcos Llorente, Alvaro Morata, and Gerard Moreno, they can go very far. This is the first time in history where no Real Madrid player has been featured on the squad, not to mention the shocking news of Aymeric Laporte switching nationality from French to Spanish to get some playing time and immediately getting the call-up. This could be because Luis Enrique, Spain’s current head manager, coached bitter Real Madrid rivals Barcelona 5 years ago. Enrique also left out great players like Sergio Ramos, Isco, and Iago Aspas on the Euro roster, leading to a quite unspectacular roster. This team has fallen mightily from the glory years where they won the World Cup and two Euros in a five year span, from 2008 through 2012. Still, they’re favorites here.
Key Players: Gerard Moreno and Alvaro Morata. Both are in good form, especially Gerard Moreno, who finished as joint top scorer in the Europa League and led Villareal to their first major trophy ever, upsetting Manchester United in the final– and they both need to stay consistent for this team to truly contend.
Sweden made the World Cup quarterfinals three years ago but have since lost lots of talent. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s muscle injury is the biggest blow to their chances in this particular tournament. They have stars in Alexander Isak, Victor Lindelof, and Emil Forsberg but they will struggle and might even exit in the group stages.
Key Player: Emil Forsberg. Forsberg is one of their most underrated players, a deadly midfielder who can do well under stress. The question is if he will be consistent enough to pull Sweden through. If they had Zlatan it would have been easier to advance, but his absence is a major issue and makes Forsberg all the more important.
Poland are constant competitors in the Euros, and made the quarterfinals in 2016. They have a good offense and midfield led by Robert Lewandowski, Kristof Piątek, Piotr Zieliński, Mateusz Klich, Kamil Glik, and Arkadiusz Milik. They can do well in the tournament if the loaded attack can mesh together well.
Key Player: Robert Lewandowski. He is the best striker in the world at the moment. If he stays in form in the Euro, Poland will be deadly.
Slovakia has very few stars outside of Marek Hamsik and Stanislav Lobotka. They won’t have high expectations this year and have a very weak squad. What makes these tournaments magical are the underdog stories, but this one seems quite unlikely.
Key Player: Marek Hamsik. He’s the team’s creative playmaker, and has to carry this team on its back or they won’t get out of the group stage. Formerly of Napoli, Hamsik now plays for Sweden’s IFK Goteborg.
Group F: France, Portugal, Germany, Hungary
Germany will play their last major tournament with manager Joachim Low before turning the page to the next manager Hansi Flick. They will try to look past the 2018 World Cup group stage exit and embarrassing 6-0 and 2-1 losses to Spain and North Macedonia, respectively. They still have an amazing squad that should compete in this tough group and for the tournament as a whole. Hungary will be the heavy underdogs in this group and it will be surprising if they get past this stage.
France is another favorite for this year’s Euro and will likely top this tournament’s Group of Death. They have the strongest squad in the world and are current World Cup Champions so there are naturally very high expectations. Their talent and squad depth is unmatched by any nation worldwide, with key defenders in Raphael Varane, Benjamin Pavard, Lucas Hernandez, and Jules Kounde. They also have a frightening midfield in Paul Pogba, N’golo Kante, and Moussa Sissoko, and a near impossible to defend offense with forwards like Kylian Mbappe, a returning Karim Benzema, Antoine Griezmann, Wissam Ben Yedder, Kingsley Coman, and Marcus Thuram, son of 1998 world cup winner Lilian Thuram. This team is the Euro favorite without a doubt.
Key Players: Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema. They are a pair of skilled and dangerous strikers, and will spearhead the attack well in the likely event that this team wins. Honorable mention to N’golo Kante, the backbone of this team’s defense.
Portugal are also favorites to win this tournament, as they won the 2016 Euro against France and are thus the reigning champions. Although they underperformed in the World Cup, they have new talent as well as some in their prime. They are full to the brim with superstars, with Jose Fonte, Ruben Dias, and Joao Cancelo on defense, and Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, and Renato Sanches in midfield, and Joao Felix and Andre Silva up front. Finally, Cristiano Ronaldo needs no introduction. This team will do well.
Key Player: Bruno Fernandes. Fernandes ended his season with 28 goals and 17 assists in 58 games. If he performs as well as he did for Manchester United this year, Portugal will be incredibly successful. Ronaldo is the best player on this team, but Fernandes could be the key to them winning the whole tournament.
Germany is a sleeping giant that has been wounded beyond repair. They are still haunted by their early World Cup exit, losing two games in the group stages. But this year is looking bright. They have brought in new talent, and are back on track. Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels led their 2014 World Cup victory and are back, and that’s incredibly important. They have talent in defense, with Hummels, Matthias Ginter, and Niklas Sule, and their midfield is out of this world with Muller, Joshua Kimmich, Toni Kroos, Ilkay Gundogan, Leroy Sane, and Leon Goretzka all involved. Finally, their trio of strikers up front will be Serge Gnabry, Kevin Volland, and Timo Werner,
Key Player: Thomas Muller and Toni Kroos. They are easily the best players on this stacked German team. Thomas Muller has the most assists in the Bundesliga with 18, and Kroos came in 3rd in La Liga with 10. If both of these two can feed Volland and Gnabry through balls towards the goal on a consistent basis, Germany will do quite well.
Hungary is a team rich in history that has sunken mightily over the years. Many say that Hungary has no chance– and that’s likely true, but it’s largely the fault of the stacked group they find themselves in. They do, however, have a lot of players that could squeeze them through to the knockout stage. A skilled goalkeeper in Peter Gulacsi, good defenders in Gergo Lovrencsics, Willy Orban, and Attila Fiola, a midfield team of Adam Nagy, Laszlo Kleinheisler, and Dominik Szoboszlai, and the captain Adam Szalai with his right hand men Nemanja Nikolic and Roland Sallai up front. There is a chance this team manages to get through, and while it’s unlikely, it would be incredible if it does happen.
Key Player: Adam Szalai. The captain of this team is a consistently solid forward. Although Hungary might not get past the group stage taking into account the group they are in, they might have a chance if Szalai hits his shots– provided he gets enough chances.
That will do it for our preview of the 2021 European Championship. Lots of interesting storylines and fun games right from the get-go, especially with the headliner in Group F. International tournaments are always fun, as we see big upsets and crazy moments every year. It’ll be exciting to see what the group stage brings when it opens on June 11th.