To be completely frank when Group H was first drawn I did not expect Turkey to qualify – Şenol Güneş inherited a side in complete disarray. But they surprised just about everybody and even managed to take four points from the world champions France, booking a place in Euro 2020 with a game to spare. After years of defensive trauma it is strange to see Turkey so strong at the back. Çağlar Söyüncü is the standout name but there is intense competition to be his centre-back partner with Juventus’s Merih Demiral, Fortuna Düsseldorf’s Kaan Ayhan, Ozan Kabak of Schalke and Roma’s Mert Çetin all competing for a spot. And they are all young, the oldest being the 25-year-old Ayhan. The midfield do not exactly play aesthetically pleasing football but they are industrious and protect the back four. There are not a lot of options up front with an ageing Burak Yilmaz and Cenk Tosun in the forward line. The main attacking and creative spark will be the Roma winger Cengiz Ünder but there is a lot of young talent coming through and Güneş is not afraid to give them a chance.
Emre Sarigul, Turkish-football.com
The Renaissance returns. Roberto Mancini took over as Italy’s coach in May 2018, six months after the elimination against Sweden in a cruel, ugly World Cup qualifying play-off. Mancini chose to rebuild the team on new pillars: attacking football, technical players, youth. Against all odds, everything worked immediately. Italy won all their matches in Group J, scoring 3.7 goals per game and conceding only four. Italy now play with a 4-3-3 formation based on pressing, possession and speed. The team may lack structure (Marco Verratti, Lorenzo Insigne, Nicolò Barella and Jorginho are not heavyweight champions) but seem ready to impress Europe with a new generation of talents such as Nicolò Zaniolo – who was called up before he had even made his Serie A debut – Gianluigi Donnarumma, Stefano Sensi, Sandro Tonali and Federico Chiesa. “We’re not far off the best European teams,” said Mancini. He could be right.
Luca Bianchin, La Gazzetta dello Sport
After an arduous 57-year wait to reach a major tournament, Wales will attend their second in four years next summer. Until reaching Euro 2016, Wales were defined by their failures but there is something refreshingly fearless about this new generation, even if they did make hard work of qualifying. A slow start under Ryan Giggs provided them with an uphill challenge but, after beating Hungary in a winner-takes-all match in Cardiff, they finished this year unbeaten in six matches. Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey continue to provide the pizzazz for a nation that flourished at Euro 2016, reaching the semi-finals and, with seemingly more depth than ever, Wales will fancy their chances of going deep into the competition.
Ben Fisher, The Guardian
Switzerland didn’t play well in qualification for Euro 2020, but ended up topping their group thanks to Denmark’s failure to beat the Republic of Ireland. A big problem was Xherdan Shaqiri’s absence – the Liverpool man didn’t play a single minute of qualification because of injury. So the Swiss team were short of creativity but still had enough quality to qualify. Another problem is Granit Xhaka’s situation at Arsenal. So Switzerland have to solve the problems surrounding Xhaka and Shaqiri before the Euros start. There is also uncertainty over the future of the national coach, Vladimir Petkovic, whose contract ends after the tournament. But the team are talented and the key players such as Xhaka, Shaqiri, Yann Sommer, Ricardo Rodríguez, Fabian Schär or Haris Seferovic have played together for a long time. So after three consecutive eliminations in the round of 16 in major tournaments the goal is the quarter-finals this time.
Andreas Böni, Blick
It’s been an odd qualification campaign for Denmark. The team scored goals like never before and didn’t lose any of eight group outings but still only just managed to secure their place at Euro 2020. That said Denmark fully deserved their ninth appearance at the European Championship finals, which they won so memorably in 1992. This national team have gone 34 matches without defeat since October 2016 – not enough to always satisfy fans and media who have demanded more adventurousness and entertainment, much to the annoyance of Åge Hareide, the Norwegian manager. He is very proud of a team that seldom make mistakes and have a world-class keeper in Kasper Schmeichel. As a negative counterweight Christian Eriksen is surrounded by much uncertainty. He needs to become a regular at Spurs or find a new club in January – without him at his best Denmark stand almost no chance of progressing from their group.
Thomas Møller Kristensen, Jyllands-Posten
Finland did not win a single game in 2016 under Hans Backe, the former assistant coach to Sven-Göran Eriksson at Manchester City. This prompted the Finnish FA to give the job to Markku Kanerva, who had held a caretaker-manager role twice previously. Not much was expected from Kanerva, a former school teacher and once a national team centre-back with almost no coaching experience at club level. But Finland started to win games. First they won their Nations League group and then qualified for the first time in their history for the European Championships. The core of the team is the same as that which qualified for the Under-21 Euros in 2009, under Kanerva, but it took them almost a decade to blossom at senior level. Although these are not the best individual players Finland have ever had, this is definitely the best team, one with a special bond and team identity on and off the field. Only four of Finland’s players (Teemu Pukki, at Norwich, Lukas Hradecky with Leverkusen, Fredrik Jensen at Augsburg and Jesse Joronen of Brescia) earn their salary in one of the top five European leagues.
Saku-Pekka Sundelin, Ilta-Sanomat
A truly easy ride. Belgium wrote history in a flawless qualification campaign with 30 points out of 30, 40 goals scored and only three conceded. When Roberto Martínez walked to school with his five-year-old daughter Lula the day after Belgium had thrashed Cyprus 6-1, she asked: “How many goals did you make last night?” When he answered “six”, she said “oh”, as if she thought it wasn’t good enough. Belgium and their fans have been spoilt over the past few years – the heavy defeat in the Nations League against Switzerland serving as the only wake-up call. With three of the best players in the prime of their career – Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku – and an ageing defence this feels like the last chance for the Golden Generation to claim a trophy. When you talk to the players the lost semi-final against France at the World Cup in Russia always gets a mention. They want to put things straight.
Kristof Terreur, HLN
Russia’s team has almost completely changed in the 18 months since they opened their World Cup campaign against Saudi Arabia. Three players from that starting XI retired from international duty (Igor Akinfeev, Sergei Ignashevich and Aleksandr Samedov), two have been out this year because of injuries (Alan Dzagoev and Yuri Gazinskiy) and two more lost their places in the squad (Fyodor Smolov and Ilya Kutepov). Mário Fernandes, Aleksandr Golovin, Roman Zobnin and the ageless Yuri Zhirkov are the only players who have survived. The key character in this team is certainly Zenit’s striker Artem Dzyuba. Fans love the captain for both his human qualities and footballing ones. Dzyuba is the most prolific striker in the team (scoring nine goals in 10 qualifiers). Golovin is another star man, who made a breakthrough at the World Cup. The goalkeeping spot is Russia’s weak link. The team are struggling without the retiredAkinfeev: Andrey Lunyov (Zenit) and Guilherme (Lokomotiv Moscow) have not impressed.
Gosha Chernov, Sport-Express
There have been two years of progress under Ronald Koeman. We have seen young players such as Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt burst onto the world scene, the coming of age of Memphis Depay and Daley Blind as well as Georginio Wijnaldum and Virgil van Dijk winning the Champions League with Liverpool. This team reached the final of the Nations League before losing against Portugal. In Euro 2020 qualifying they had to deal with Germany along with a resilient Northern Ireland. They reached the finals after a “German-style” win, coming from 2-0 behind to win 4-2 in Hamburg against their arch rivals. There are some weak areas but talented players keep popping up. In addition to those mentioned above we may well see the best of Donny van de Beek, Donyell Malen, Calvin Stengs, and others next summer.
Bart Vlietstra, de Volkskrant
It was the country’s best ever qualifying campaign – eight games, six wins, two draws. This was firstly down to the goalkeeper’s Andriy Pyatov ability but the defensive line is quite strong with young players such as Mykola Matvienko, Vitaliy Mykolenko and Eduard Sobol and the experienced Serhiy Kryvtsov and Oleksandr Karavaev. Shevchenko has a very competitive midfield with Taras Stepanenko in a defensive role and Marlos, Ruslan Malinovskiy, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Viktor Tsyhankov and Andriy Yarmolenko in attack. The main strength of these players is footballing intelligence and creativity. Malinovskiy is perfect at free-kicks and corners, while Zinchenko acts as a nuclear engine for the team. The best forward, Roman Yaremchuk, can conjure a goal even during poor performances. The power of the squad is in mutual understanding and hard work.
Olha Zorina, FootballHub
What was meant to be a walk in the park in qualifying turned into a rollercoaster ride. When the draw for Group G was announced, Austria had every reason to be happy. Besides the top seeds Poland, Franco Foda’s side were the other clear favourites to get throughahead of Slovenia, Latvia, North Macedonia and Israel. But defeat in the first fixture, against Poland at home, was followed by a disastrous 2-4 defeat in Israel and pressure began to mount. But Marco Arnautovic and co started delivering some better performances, and crucial wins against Slovenia and North Macedonia followed. The pressure slowly started to ease when the team showed what they are capable of. Nevertheless Foda was criticised for stubbornly sticking to his system and not getting everything out of a squad which is undoubtedly capable of very good football.
Andreas Hagenauer, Der Standard
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After the carefree run to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup expectations will be higher next summer. It will feel like a home tournament at times for England, who will play all their group matches at Wembley, and they will start as one of the favourites after dominating a weak qualification group. The possibilities feel endless for Gareth Southgate’s young, exciting side and plenty of England’s rivals will be casting envious glances at their attacking riches. Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford form one of the best forward lines in the world, with competition provided by Tammy Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Jadon Sancho, and there are goals from midfield as well. Yet Southgate will be wary of the hype. The manager is yet to settle on his starting XI and issues in defence and midfield have been exposed during defeats by the Czech Republic in qualification and the Netherlands in the Nations League. As ever England have much to prove against the very best.
Jacob Steinberg, The Guardian
The captain Luka Modric still reigns supreme in midfield and with far more consistency than on club level. Internazionale’s Marcelo Brozovic has grown into a fine defensive midfielder of the type this side lacked for years. The squad has been infused with fresh blood: Everton “flop” Nikola Vlasic, now at CSKA Moscow, was a hero of the qualifiers, while Dinamo Zagreb’s Bruno Petkovic surpassed expectations to fill Mario Mandzukic’s shoes, already scoring five times in eight appearances since his debut in March. On the minus side, Ivan Rakitic missed half of the qualifying campaign as he contemplated his fading status at Barcelona; the manager, Zlatko Dalic, has been very patient over his withdrawals, but Rakitic may have lost his starting place to Vlasic. Croatia hit a few bumps on the road to the Euros, but will again be a force to be reckoned with come the tournament.
Aleksandar Holiga, Telesport
Qualifying for their seventh European Championship in row is a remarkable achievement for the Czech Republic, especially given as only a few Czechs currently play for major European clubs. The key point in the most recent qualifying campaign was the change of manager in September 2018, when the unpopular Karel Jarolim was replaced by Jaroslav Silhavy, who improved the mood in the squad and identified a core for the team quite quickly – based around Tomas Vaclik, Ondrej Celustka and Vladimir Darida. Team spirit and good organisation will be probably their biggest strengths. But will be it be enough? The Czech Republic really need Patrik Schick to be in good shape at the tournament. Reaching the last 16 is a basic target.
Karel Häring, Football Club football magazine
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At his presentation upon returning as Spain manager, Luis Enrique was asked if they could win the Euros. The question was laced with pessimism, an awareness that the generation that won it all has almost all gone and that this is a team that have now gone three tournaments in a row without winning a knockout game, but Luis Enrique didn’t hesitate. “Yes,” he said. Spain’s qualification had shown that, he said: the selección were unbeaten. It was a qualification finally clinched by his assistant Robert Moreno, who took over when Luis Enrique was forced to step aside because his nine-year-old daughter was seriously ill and subsequently died. His return hasn’t been smooth – Moreno has gone, accused of disloyalty by Luis Enrique – but he is back now. And while he admits that Spain don’t have an XI (“I would love us to”), and much as this generation certainly isn’t that one, they do have players – and good ones.
Sid Lowe, The Guardian
By Swedish standards reaching the 2018 World Cup quarter-finals was a success, and Sweden’s best campaign since coming third in 1994. The coach, Janne Andersson, has continued to build on that success with most of the team intact. After the World Cup Sweden won their Uefa Nations League group ahead of Turkey and Russia, and in the qualifiers they lost only once, away to Spain (3-0), and finished second in their group. The Mainz forward Robin Quaison has shouldered some of the goalscoring responsibility and was Sweden’s top scorer in qualifying with five goals. Sweden’s game is built upon a well-organised collective. Apart perhaps from Victor Lindelöf (Manchester United) and Emil Forsberg (RB Leipzig) Sweden do not really have any superstars, although Dejan Kulusevski (Parma) and Alexander Isak (Real Sociedad) are highly regarded for the future.
Ludwig Billengren and Sven Bertil Liljegren, fotbollskanalen.se
Jerzy Brzeczek replaced Adam Nawalka after their failure at the World Cup and there were plenty of question marks over whether he was a suitable man for the job. Their Nations League campaign and friendlies prior to the Euro 2020 qualifiers only added to those doubts but fans need not have worried. Brzeczek has done exactly what the Polish FA chairman, Zbigniew Boniek, wanted him to do – win the group but also rebuild and refresh the squad with some new faces. The 20-year-old Sebastian Szymanski can be a first-choice winger for years. Krystian Bielik proved that his fine performances during the European Under-21 Championship were not a fluke. And there was also Krzysztof Piatek, a revelation in the 2018-19 season in Serie A. But Lewandowski has to be at the top of his form. His contribution in his three big tournaments? Only two goals.
Tomasz Włodarczyk, Przegląd Sportowy
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Portugal will be at Euro 2020 defending the title won in France in 2016. Qualification was guaranteed only in the last game, with a modest victory in Luxembourg, but the Seleção still had the play-offs as plan B, thanks to their victory in the first Nations League in the summer. The performances were not always convincing, butwith Fernando Santos in charge, Portugal have achieved good results and won two trophies. Cristiano Ronaldo is set to be the first player in history to play in five European Championship finals, and now with Bernardo Silva taking on a more relevant role (and players such as João Félix, Bruno Fernandes and Rúben Neves), Portugal can dream big again.
Nuno Travassos, Maisfutebol
Simply because they had a bad day at the office in June in Turkey where they suffered their only defeat of the year (0-2), the 2018 world champions and 2016 Euro finalists did not make the top seeding pot. No big deal, though. France have reached their eighth Euro finals in a row rather comfortably and qualified untroubled by a raft of major injuries. Consequently Didier Deschamps had to use 29 players, among them a few newcomers such as Clément Lenglet, Léo Dubois, Ferland Mendy, Tanguy Ndombelé and Jonathan Ikoné, but his strongest possible lineup looks very similar to the one that won the World Cup, with only Lenglet having edged out Samuel Umtiti in central defence. The team rely heavily on set pieces , tournament experience and defensive nous. And at 28 Antoine Griezmann remains their undisputed technical leader and main inspiration. Anything but a place in the last four next summer would be considered a failure.
Patrick Urbini, France Football
After the team crashed out of the 2018 World Cup at the group stage, an overhaul was inevitable. Former key players such as Jérôme Boateng, Mats Hummels and Thomas Müller were told that they were surplus to requirements, while Mesut Özil retired in the wake of the debate triggered by his photo with Turkey’s president, Recep Erdoğan. The remaining stalwarts are the goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and playmaker Toni Kroos. Add to that Marco Reus or Ilkay Gündogan, who have plenty of experience but have not yet been able to win any trophies with the national team due to injuries. The bulk of the side, however, is made up of players born between 1994 and 1997, foremost among them the Bayern striker Serge Gnabry, whose record on the international stage is astonishing: 13 goals in as many games. Joachim Löw thinks his team are too young to be one of the tournament favourites. Then again, life as a dark horse can be quite enjoyable.
Jens Kirschneck, 11 Freunde
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