Euro 2020 Special

Euro 2020: Beware Dark Horses in Group A!

Four nations, two key places but who can make the knockout stages of the delayed European Championship?

2006 World Champions and beaten finalists at Euro 2012, there is no doubt that Italy (officially ranked as the seventh best team in the world) begin as Group A favourites at Euro 2020.

The Azzurri are traditionally one of the big hitters of international football, even though a European crown has regularly eluded the four-times World Champions with the exception of 1968.

Switzerland, Turkey and Wales – ranked 13th, 39th and 17th respectively in the FIFA Rankings – are their opponents and all have points to prove.

Turkey hope to dominate and rise in the Group A of Euro 2020
Turkey players celebrate after winning against Andorra during the Euro 2020 Qualifiers in September 2019

Switzerland made it to the last 16 at Euro 2016, even holding eventual finalists France to a draw, only to disappointingly go out to Poland at the last 16 stage.

At the World Cup in Russia two years later, they held Brazil in the group stage but again flattered to deceive, bowing out to Sweden.

The key question now is can they reach at least the last eight or are they destined for more last 16 mediocrity.

Since coach Vladimir Petković took over in 2014, the Swiss have been consistent and have qualified for every tournament.

However, while they have successfully negotiated every group stage under Petković, they are yet to taste victory in a knockout match: at either of the last two World Cups, Euro 2016 or the UEFA Nations League.

Their player to watch could be Breel Embolo

He has proven an exciting talent at Borussia Mönchengladbach and this summer could provide an idea shop window if he is to take his game to the next level.

In a group which should produce Euro 2020 highlights, I expect Switzerland to claim second place behind an Italian national side which has recovered well from the shock of failing to qualify for the World Cup in Russia three years ago.

The Azzurri begun their preparations with a 7-0 romp against minnows San Marino, when Matteo Politano and Matteo Pessina scored two each in the second half.

Manager Roberto Mancini admitted that game didn’t help him decide how to whittle down his squad – hardly a surprise that little was learnt from such a one-sided encounter – but he does want his players to rest after such a congested campaign.

Players will now have a short break before returning to Coverciano on June 1 to begin the ‘real’ training retreat.

By then, Mancini will have reduced his squad from 32 players to 26.

After a flawless qualifying campaign which concluded with a 9-1 win against Armenia in Palermo – a national-record 11th straight victory which earned them 10 wins in a calendar year for the first time – Italy certainly have an impressive record.

The main test of their credentials, though, will surely be if they face a major nation after the group stages – I expect them to top Group A.

Wales are an interesting case.

Memorable semi-finalists at Euro 2016, the Welsh failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and their most famous footballing figure, Ryan Giggs, subsequently replaced the popular Chris Coleman.

Unfortunately, after guiding them to the tournament, Giggs won’t be there as he awaits a court appearance with former captain Robert Page replacing him as caretaker boss.

Whether the Football Association of Wales felt the forthcoming trial would have been too much of a distraction, this Sbotop writer believes Giggs not being there goes against the premise of being innocent until proven otherwise and will prove a disadvantage – even if a recent World Cup qualifying success against the Czech Republic suggests their spirit is undiluted.

That leaves Turkey who didn’t make the World Cup in 2018 and failed to progress beyond the group stages at the last European Championship.

This time, however, they have Şenol Güneş who coached the country to third place at the 2002 World Cup and won two championships in charge of Beşiktaş before returning to the national side in 2019.

He is the one who led the team to Euro 2020 qualification, beating world champions France 2-0 along the way.

On the pitch, their elder statesman is Burak Yılmaz. Now 35 and fresh from a Lique 1 success with Lille, I expect Turkey to cause problems for both Switzerland and Wales and, while I don’t think they will make the last 16, I think they will take points off at least one of them.

So, it’s Italy and Switzerland to progress from Group A for me but don’t just take my word for it, make sure you study our Euro 2020 betting odds first.