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About Euro 2021
Unlike previous tournaments, there is no host or joint-host nations, with games spread across 11 cities each from different countries. London features prominently, with two of the Last 16 matches, both semi-finals and the final itself set to be held at Wembley.
Teams are allowed a 26-man squad and the use of five substitutes in matches, though can only make changes on three occasions. Should knockout games go to extra time, a sixth substitute may be used, and the number of times a manager can switch things up increases to four.
That could certainly benefit those with deeper reserves of talent, as should the fact the four of the six best third-placed sides will still make it through to the knockouts.
There are certainly some winners and losers from the year-long delay to this tournament. England in particular will feel the extra time has been beneficial with a number of younger players emerging, though fitness doubts over Harry Maguire, Jordan Henderson and now Trent Alexander-Arnold have given cause for concern.
Of course, virtually every team has their own fitness setbacks ahead of the tournament. Spain will be without veteran centre-back Sergio Ramos and young starlet Ansu Fati, the Netherlands will be cursing the absence of Virgil van Dijk, Italy’s Nicolo Zaniolo’s injury nightmare continues, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been denied one last hurrah with Sweden on the European stage.
Euro 2021 Group Stage Favourites
Belgium may have more reason than anyone to rue injuries, with captain Eden Hazard and vice-captain Kevin De Bruyne included in the squad, but entering the tournament with some doubts attached.
The former has endured a torrid time since signing for Real Madrid, scoring just five times in two seasons at club level, while the latter suffered facial injuries in the Champions League final.
Fortunately, De Bruyne will probably be available by the latter stages when they’ll need him most, with a wealth of talent able to step into the void during the group stages.
Although FIFA’s number one ranked side, Belgium’s golden generation are yet to reach a final and in Roberto Martinez, they perhaps lack an elite level coach to go all the way.
There must be some concern that the opportunity for silverware will pass them by, especially given that at the back, Vincent Kompany is no longer around and the trio of Thomas Vermaelen, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen are ageing.
Further, Belgium haven’t been dismantling sides in the same manner as they were before. Indeed, in 2019 they scored three or more in 80% of their matches, which has dropped to just 33% since the end of that year.
That said, they’ve won eight of their last nine group games in major competitions, losing only to Italy in Euro 2016, and will expect to top their pool with Denmark, Russia and Finland.
They could also potentially be saddled with the third-placed team from the Group of Death in the Last 16, which includes heavyweights France, Germany and Portugal.
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The Netherlands are another side that will fancy their chances of winning their group, despite this being their first appearance at a major tournament since finishing third at the 2014 World Cup.
Austria and the Ukraine provide the main competition, while North Macedonia will exceed all expectations should they avoid last place.
Only two players, back-up goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg and midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum have 50 caps for the national side. With that in mind, and with Virgil van Dijk sidelined, there’ll be a heavy reliance upon the likes of Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong and Memphis Depay.
Frank de Boer only took the reins in September 2020, but so far, he’s just W4-D4-L2 before their final warm-up game with Georgia.
Three of those victories came over Bosnia, Latvia and Gibraltar, while their recent stalemate with Scotland hardly encourages either. Depay scored both goals in the 2-2 draw, and with he and Wijnaldum the only regular sources of goals, we’d be wary about their chances of going far.
That’s especially the case as at the other end, clean sheets have been hard to come by, with Latvia and Gibraltar the only attack’s they’ve suppressed across their past eight fixtures.
Although there are no pushovers in Italy’s group, they’ll expect to top a selection featuring Switzerland, Turkey and Wales, which would most likely set up a favourable Last 16 tie against either Austria or the Ukraine.
After the debacle of falling to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Roberto Mancini has brought a winning mentality that saw them complete a perfect qualifying campaign, as they registered 37 goals and conceded just four times in 10 matches.
Further evidence of progress could be seen in the Nations League, where an unbeaten campaign saw the Azzurri pip the Netherlands to the semi-finals, to be held in October.
Younger talents such as Federico Chiesa and Manuel Locatelli look set to replace the old guard, but there’s still significant experience and especially at the back, where Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci remain an integral part of the setup.
Marco Verratti provides control in midfield, and a well-balanced squad leaves them as strong dark horses in the betting. They also benefit from playing each of their group stage matches in Rome, so should avoid a second-place finish in the group.
The Azzurri have now won a hugely impressive 17 of 21 unbeaten competitive matches, registering 15 clean sheets in the process and never conceding more than once. That defensive resolve should keep them competitive when they do eventually reach the stronger outfits, as they appear to have gone under the radar slightly.
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Spain are gunning for a third European crown in four attempts, though of course there are very few of the old guard remaining.
That’s especially the case after Sergio Ramos was omitted, despite Luis Enrique only naming a 24-man squad, while in fact it’s the first time they’ll ever enter a major tournament without any Real Madrid players.
However, although the current setup can’t boast the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, it’s not as though there’s a paucity of talent either.
Veteran midfielder Sergio Busquets will captain the side, Gerard Moreno enters the tournament off the back of a fine domestic campaign where he bagged 30 goals across La Liga and the Europa League, but there is a lack of experience with just eight players earning 15 caps or more.
La Roja can also point to a favourable draw, even if Sweden and Poland both represent potential banana skins.
They’ll expect to overcome Slovakia and should they top their group, a kind Last 16 encounter beckons as they’d face the third-best side from any of Groups A-D.
Prior to their final warm-up games against Portugal and Lithuania, Spain have only suffered defeat once in 22 outings going all the way back to November 2018.
However, a W7-D7-L1 record across their most recent fixtures isn’t so special, while they’ve netted more than once in just three of their past nine matches, with two of those coming against much weaker sides Georgia and Kosovo.
England should comfortably navigate a group featuring Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic. Although the latter two shouldn’t be underestimated, especially given the derby feel to the clash with Steve Clarke’s men, the Three Lions undoubtedly possess superior quality and it’s the meeting with Croatia that should ignite more interest.
However, the 2018 World Cup finalists are not quite as formidable now, with key players either retiring from the international scene or growing old.
Indeed, since collecting their runners-up medals in Russia, Croatia have struggled versus elite teams. Up against Spain, England, France and Portugal, they hold a W1-D2-L6 record across their Nations League fixtures and a single friendly, including defeats in each of the past five (all competitive) as they conceded 15 goals.
With England clear favourites to top their own pool, that could actually represent a problem as they’d encounter the runners-up of the Group of Death.
France, Germany and Portugal are all teams Gareth Southgate would prefer to avoid early on, while beyond that they’d likely encounter Spain in the quarter finals, should Luis Enrique’s men meet expectations.
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With four of the six best third-placed teams set to advance, there’s no reason why France, Germany and Portugal can’t all make the knockouts.
All three will expect to prove too much for Hungary, and three points would likely carry them through, especially if the likes of Finland, North Macedonia or Scotland struggle to pick up points in their respective groups.
France enter the tournament as favourites and it’s hard to argue with that assessment. The 2018 World Cup winners possess a talent-laden squad and cover all over the pitch.
A midfield duo of N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba catches the eye, but most striking of all is the attacking tools at Didier Deschamps’ disposal.
Kylian Mbappe is the star act, but Antoine Griezmann has enjoyed a much better second season with Barcelona and has been lethal on the international stage too.
Club teammate Ousmane Dembele provides further forward power in the wide areas along with Bayern Munich’s Kingsley Coman, while Karim Benzema’s return only serves to highlight their potency.
Les Bleus were beaten in 2016’s final by Portugal and much of the latter’s squad remains intact, though veterans such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Pepe have been supplemented by rising talents such as Joao Felix and Ruben Dias.
Ahead of their friendlies with Spain and Israel, Portugal have lost just twice in 27 appearances since the 2018 World Cup and only once across their past 13. Even that recent defeat was a narrow 1-0 against France, and they’ll pose a strong test for anyone they encounter.
Indeed, Portugal are a very even W2-D6-L2 against elite outfits Belgium, France, Italy, Netherlands and Spain since the start of Euro 2016. These have been ridiculously low-scoring affairs, as eight of the 10 clashes featured a maximum of one goal.
Even when including the likes of Croatia, Poland, Mexico, Chile, Switzerland and Uruguay, they’re W7-D13-L3 over this period, as 15 out of 23 featured a maximum of two goals.
Germany are perennial winners on the international stage, but their early exit from the 2018 World Cup was a rude wake up call for manager Joachim Low and there are few remaining players from their triumph in 2014. There aren’t many world stars in the squad, but it’s a strong group collectively and as ever, can’t be discounted from the running.
However, a major concern has to be their lack of clean sheets. Prior to their final warm-up friendly with Latvia, they’ve shut their opponents out in just three of 13 matches, coming against the Czech Republic, Iceland and Romania. A 6-0 humiliation away at Spain in November hints that not all is well, and it’s difficult to see them going all the way.
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Euro 2021 Betting Tips
The draw certainly hasn’t been kind to France, Germany or Portugal, but with the possibility for third-placed sides to advance, that doesn’t unduly put us off those teams.
England are perhaps the biggest losers of the draw, as should they meet expectations and top their group, a hard path to the final looks inevitable.
Gareth Southgate’s men should have momentum in the final stretch if they get there, with the semis and final to be held at Wembley, but doubts persist over their quality at centre-back and they’ll probably find there are just too many hurdles to paper over that chink in their armour.
The odds also make England unattractive, while it’s not too dissimilar to Belgium’s case. Fitness doubts surrounding key players threatens to undermine their chances, as does the ageing of their centre-backs, while a drop off in form hints that the golden generation is going to pass them by.
Spain, Germany and the Netherlands all appear to suffer from a lack of real high-end talent, as well as experience, and we wouldn’t want to get behind any of them either.
Portugal certainly have the talent, but with a tendency to draw so many games with elite level opponents, they may struggle to get the points to top a hard group, which should lead to difficult knockout games early.
They can’t be discounted to repeat their heroics from five years ago, but Spain are the only side to ever lift back-to-back European Championships, and too many stalemates leaves the margin of ever too fine.
Italy are impressive dark horses for this tournament with their home advantage in the group stages, clear progression under Roberto Mancini and a seemingly favourable draw.
However, world champions France look set to rule the roost, and deserve their billing as favourites with the most complete squad.
Les Bleus have lost just two of 30 competitive matches since the start of the 2018 World Cup, winning 13 of their last 16 unbeaten such outings.
Up against top sides Argentina, Belgium, Croatia, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Uruguay, they’re W12-D3-L1 over 90 minutes since July 2016 and will take some stopping this summer.