France’s forward Kylian Mbappe looks on during the friendly football match between France and Bulgaria at Stade De France in Saint-Denis, on the outskirts of Paris on June 8, 2021, ahead of the UEFA EURO 2020 European Championships.
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Euro 2020 is finally here, but who will win the tournament? Sky Sports football writers give their verdicts…
Ben Grounds: Format favours Azzurri
The path could become clear for England should they generate momentum heading into a semi-final at Wembley in front of their supporters, but a lot of work will be needed before then. The circumstances have to some degree conspired against Southgate, with a host of players facing a race against time to declare themselves fit. Another valiant quarter-final exit would represent par.
The pressure is again on this golden generation of Belgium to deliver while Didier Deschamps has addressed the one slight weakness in his France squad by recalling Karim Benzema, who will provide an upgrade on Olivier Giroud as a focal point.
But I’m tipping Italy as surprise winners. I watched Roberto Mancini’s side dismantle Czech Republic at the weekend, and the way in which they approached the warm-up game was in stark contrast to how England’s two friendlies in Middlesbrough played out.
This is the best-looking Azzurri side in years, arriving off the back of a perfect qualification campaign, and the format favours them. They will win Group A having played all three games in Rome, and then face the third-placed team in Group C – the so-called weakest group involving the Netherlands, Ukraine, Austria and North Macedonia – for a place in the quarters.
Gerard Brand: Portugal to repeat 2016 heroics
France are rightly favourites, but I fancy Portugal to continue their impressive record at European Championships, without the need to stink their way through the four weeks to quite the same degree as five years ago.
At both ends, this side is far stronger than the 2016 winners, who won just one of their seven games in 90 minutes.
Manchester City trio Ruben Dias, Joao Cancelo and Bernardo Silva have had fine seasons, as have Bruno Fernandes across Manchester, and Diogo Jota in fits and starts in his debut year with Liverpool.
They have depth in midfield; Danilo Pereira and William Carvalho can offer protection at the base, and Wolves pair Ruben Neves (20 caps) and Joao Moutinho (130 caps) are pass-masters at opposite ends of their careers. That midfield is flanked by quality at full-back by Cancelo and Dortmund’s Raphael Guerreiro, who registered 11 assists in 25 Bundesliga starts last season.
Cristiano Ronaldo, now 36, still netted 36 goals in 44 games for Juventus last season and suits tournament football, and beyond the household names, Portugal have promising youth in Pedro Goncalves, Joao Felix and Nuno Mendes.
The last eight major tournament winners have possessed extraordinarily tight defences, on average conceding 3.5 goals and keeping clean sheets in around half of their games. The signs are positive for Fernando Santos’ side, who have conceded just 12 goals in their last 20 games, registering 11 clean sheets.
Granted, Group F is daunting alongside Germany, France and Hungary, perhaps justifying Portugal’s rather long odds. But this side are set up to soak and pounce, and are more than happy to give up possession. In fact, in each of their last eight wins at tournament level – including the 2019 Nations League win – they’ve had less possession than the opposition.
Oliver Yew: Italy’s resurgence can continue
Euro 2020 promises to be an extremely competitive tournament, and that’s an extremely exciting prospect for all football fans!
It will be hard for many to look past France. “They are not the favourites, they are the super favourite,” said former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger and it’s difficult to argue when you look at the squad the 2018 World Cup winners possess.
England also have plenty of attacking potency and have their admirers, while Belgium and Portugal also have superb squads and you can just never write off Germany. However, I like the chances of Italy, who have recovered in fine style from failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Under the guidance of Roberto Mancini, Italy enjoyed a 100 per cent record of 10 wins from 10 qualifying group matches for Euro 2020, scoring 37 goals and conceding just four. They are also unbeaten in their last 27 matches.
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They have an extremely strong squad which boasts an excellent blend of youth and experience, something which is crucial when it comes to major tournaments. Defensively solid, as with most Italian sides, they will also want to dictate the pace of their games and with the Marco Verratti, Jorginho and Nicolo Barella in the middle of the park, they will certainly be a tough nut to crack.
The Euros will certainly be the acid test of Italy’s resurgence and, but with three games at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome in Group A and what looks like a decent route to the quarter-finals, they look to have a decent chance of lifting the trophy at Wembley on July 11.
Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal in action during the international friendly football match between Portugal and Israel, at the Jose Alvalade stadium in Lisbon, Portugal, on June 9, 2021, ahead of the UEFA EURO 2020 European Championship.
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Nick Wright: France to power home
I struggle to see past France. They’ve been handed a tough draw, of course, pitting them against Germany, Portugal and Hungary in Group F, but everything else is in their favour.
It is only three years since Didier Deschamps steered them to World Cup glory, and while the outcome was ultimately disappointing at the Euros two years before that, it should not be forgotten that they reached the final then too.
That tournament pedigree is invaluable and what’s most worrying for their rivals is that this squad, while replete with World Cup winners such as N’Golo Kante, Raphael Varane and Paul Pogba, actually looks even stronger than the one that triumphed in Russia.
That’s largely thanks to the return of Karim Benzema, back in the frame after a five-year hiatus to provide a world-class focal point up front, but he is not the only exciting inclusion.
Kingsley Coman is back and so is Adrien Rabiot, while Wissam Ben Yedder and Marcus Thuram add yet more quality to a frightening attack that already includes Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele. The squad depth is such that even their second-choice XI would have a chance of going all the way.
Concerns that Benzema’s return could upset the balance in the camp have been overplayed, in my opinion, and even if the Real Madrid man doesn’t hit the ground running on his return, Olivier Giroud is still more than capable of delivering in big games. They are the side to be feared and I can’t see anyone stopping them.
Richard Morgan: Football’s finally coming home
History shows how home advantage can propel teams deep into their own tournaments and playing in front of even a reduced number of their supporters should provide England with the catalyst to finally end their 55-year wait for a major international trophy this summer.
True, Gareth Southgate’s team will still have to navigate at least one knockout game outside the capital should they progress as Group D winners, but either way, no one will fancy facing England at fortress Wembley.
This is an England side with all the ingredients to go one better than the semi-final appearance in their last tournament at Russia 2018 and who would bet against them once in the final, at the home of football, whoever they were facing?
Do not forget the core of the squad who surprised many by nearly making the World Cup final three years ago are still around, only more experienced, while Southgate can also now call upon a crop of Europe’s most exciting and talented young forwards to complement them.
And should the England manager get key players like Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson fit for the knockout phase, then expect the Three Lions to go from strength to strength as the tournament progresses.
But if football really is coming home this summer, then prepare for some penalty shoot-out drama along the way folks…!
Peter Smith: All the pieces in place for Italy to bounce back with a bang
France are rightly favourites with their quality-packed squad looking to back up their World Cup win, while Belgium will be a real threat with Romelu Lukaku up front, and we should never write of Germany, with Joachim Low restoring experienced stars to his squad as they look to put their Russia 2018 debacle behind them.
But Italy, who failed to qualify for that tournament, are revived and have real momentum under Roberto Mancini.
The former Man City boss has fostered both team spirit and belief among the Azzurri fans, with Italy unbeaten in 27 games going into the Euros, having won their last eight on the spin.
A highly-rated keeper, experienced centre-backs, skilful midfielders and, in Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile, goal-rich attackers: Italy have all the ingredients and a favourable draw.
Charlotte Marsh: France’s depth simply incredible
France will be made to work at Euro 2020, drawn against Germany, Portugal and Hungary in the ‘Group of Death’. But their mind-boggling depth makes them not just Group F favourites, but my pick for the tournament.
Their 26-man squad is packed full of serial winners at club and country level. N’Golo Kante, Olivier Giroud and Kurt Zouma come into the tournament as freshly-crowned Champions League victors, four of the squad won another Bundesliga title with Bayern Munich while Thomas Lemar helped Atletico Madrid to the La Liga title.
This is before we even touch on players from Real Madrid, Barcelona and Paris-Saint Germain, who all struggled in a truncated season. Kylian Mbappe remains one of Europe’s best young players, but all eyes will be on the returning Karim Benzema.
His form for Real Madrid this season made him impossible to ignore, having not featured for France in over five years. He was La Liga’s joint-second top scorer, scoring 23 goals in 34 goals, and registered nine assists – level with Golden Boot winner Lionel Messi.
But the fact of the matter is, whichever 11 players Didier Deschamps starts in France’s opening group game against Germany on June 15, there will be a further 15 players on the bench who will also be a force to be reckoned with.
After disappointment in the final on home soil at Euro 2016, France will be looking to go one better this time around – beating Group F rivals and reigning champions Portugal along the way – and I wouldn’t bet against them.
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Ron Walker: France to earn 2016 revenge
I’ve taken the fool-proof route of ranking the outcome of each group – including best third-placed teams – in a tournament predictor to work out their respective routes to the final.
While there’s good news for Group D’s second-placed side England, who play Poland in the last-16, France then stand in their way – and unfortunately, they sweep past the Three Lions on their way to adding the European Championship trophy to their World Cup from 2018, completing the double just as they did at Euro 2000 after France ’98.
Looking at the teams on paper, Les Bleus have got to be in there. They know how to win tournaments. Fourteen of the 23 who went to Russia are here, and one of those who wasn’t, Karim Benzema, returns to the fold on the back of a 30-goal season for Real Madrid.
France’s strength in depth is intimidating in itself and many of their squad players would walk into other countries’ first XIs.
Even in a group containing Portugal and Germany, who have both tasted international success in the past decade, France should triumph and with one of Belgium or Italy probably their only real tough test en route to the final if they do, the only thing stopping them lifting the trophy is themselves.