The much-awaited Euro 2020 Championship tournament is set to be held this summer after a delay caused by the Pandemic. While critics and fans alike expect one of the continental heavyweights – Portugal, Germany, France or England to win the tournament, there are sleeping Davids who can upset one of the Goliaths.
English fans know this all too well – the shocking defeat in the hands of minnows Iceland in the Euro 2016 Championships is still too fresh in memory.
We look at five such ‘sleeper teams’ who could emulate Iceland and upset one of the giants this summer.
#5: FINLAND – GROUP B
As Finland beat Liechtenstein 3-0 to qualify for the Euros for the first time in their history, a banner rolled out above across the stadium: “Suomi: aika meidän tullut on”. Finland, our time has come. That captures the turnaround that the Finnish team had under Markku Kanerva.
Although there are no individual names that are exciting on their own, the team as a unit has blossomed. The squad is more or less the same under-21 team that played under Kanerva in under-21 Euros in 2009. This helped the team build an identity and a passion – which were clearly under display throughout last year.
#4: SWITZERLAND – GROUP A
Switzerland have slowly transformed their side over the last decade, thanks to the talent of second-generation immigrants and local talent. They have reached knock-out stages in the last three major tournaments they have appeared at. They already shocked Belgium 5-2 in the UEFA Nations League in 2018 to reach the finals, showing their penchant for generating upsets.
Much will depend on whether Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka perform their roles – the former’s absence in the qualifying stages has hurt the team’s results. The team has quality in its depth however, the likes of Yann Sommer, Ricardo Rodríguez, Fabian Schär and Haris Seferovic provide cohesion to the team.
After being stalled at the round of 16 multiple times, they will be looking to break the barrier and reach the quarterfinals this time, beating some giants along the way.
#3: POLAND – GROUP E
Poland have played in the past three Euros, but they have never progressed beyond the quarter-finals. Since his appointment in 2018, taking over after a dismal World Cup where they finished bottom of their group, coach Jerzy Brzeczeck has rebuilt the team and added fresh faces to the squad, if only at the expense of results.
Poland’s hopes rest on the form of their captain Robert Lewandowski, whose contribution in the past three big tournaments at the world stage was limited to a couple of goals. Lewandowski is arguably one of the best strikers of his generation, and the expectations from the team will be similar to what Cristiano Ronaldo is all too familiar with at Portugal.
They boast further attacking firepower in the shape of AC Milan’s Krzysztof Piatek. The 20-year-old Sebastian Szymanski has secured his place as the winger for the team, and there is always the assuring presence of veteran midfielder Jakub Błaszczykowski.
#2: TURKEY – GROUP A
Turkey is a country full of football-mad fans that have been eagerly waiting for their team to win big on the world stage. After a disappointing 2016 campaign for the Turks that ended with a third-place group stage exit, this could be the year they secure their glory at the world stage.
The team is led from the front by Cengiz Under with his fearless style, complementing the more traditional approaches of Ozan Tufan and Dorukhan Toköz. Caglar Soyuncu and Merih Demiral have emerged as outstanding defenders, while the young talent Zeki Celik and midfielder Yusuf Yazici can both defend and kickstart surprising counter-attacks.
Challenging giants is not a new thing for the Turks, they finished third in the World Cup in 2002 and again in the Euro 2008 Championships, shocking the world both times.
WALES – GROUP A
Wales have waited 57 years to reach a major tournament, and once they did in 2016, they have shown the world that they deserved their spot. They finished as runners-up in their group, before surprising everyone to reach the semi-finals, beating Belgium 3-1 in the quarter-finals.
Wales enter Euro 2020 as runners-up of the qualifying group E – after beating Hungary in a winner-takes-all match in Cardiff, they finished last year unbeaten in six games. The stars of the show for Wales have been Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale, the duo being key for Wales hopes in the tournament once again.
But Wales have two other dark horses in their group – both Turkey and Switzerland can throw up surprises, and they have a rough road ahead if they wish to repeat their previous run. Out of the five teams that we mentioned, Wales have the highest probability of generating an upset this season, given their phenomenal form heading into the Euros – they have ended 2020 with a eleven-match unbeaten run in competitive games.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT?
The tale of major international tournaments is all too familiar – one of the heavyweights goes on to lift the trophy. A minnow successfully challenging the established teams is an occurrence every true fan of the game loves to watch, and the Euros have been host to such surprises before.
The achievements of Greece in 2004 and Iceland in 2016 can give confidence to these minnows to challenge the bigger nations.
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