The beauty of Euro 2020 in the current climate is that we’re celebrating 60 years of the tournament by playing games across 11 different countries. Full credit to UEFA for organizing the whole thing, the opportunity to host games across the continent gives a lot of countries a chance to be involved. It’s all really beautiful. I was involved in the Euro 2020 launch which happened about four years ago and it’s been nice seeing the whole tournament take shape over the last week or so.
Portugal are the defending champions and are obviously one of the favorites to win Euro 2020, but we’re no closer to finding out who’ll win the competition. My job as a pundit is to look at all the teams in close focus and analyze which one of them can come out on top, but if we know which team is going to win, we wouldn’t even need to play! We can just hand them the trophy and move on.
One thing I’ve observed is that over the years, eight teams have won all their group stage games, but only one of them has gone on to win the tournament - Spain in 2008. Momentum is a very commonly used phrase in the world of football, but it’s the separation time between games that will influence proceedings the most. You can win all your group games in Euro 2020 and gather a lot of momentum as you do so, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to win the competition.
You have to learn day on day and keep on improving as games come thick and fast - this applies to managers as well as players. Before I rank the top five favorites for Euro 2020, I’d like to apologize to England as Gareth Southgate and co are not first on my list. It goes without saying that I’m an England fan, but I see some of the other sides at Euro 2020 and think they could be stronger at this point in time.
On that note, here are my top five favorites to win Euro 2020 ahead of what promises to be an intriguing few weeks.
I write this after England’s 0-0 draw against Scotland, but as I said before, you don’t need to win every group stage game to win the competition. You could even argue that England drawing is a result that was needed, so that they can re-evaluate ahead of the knockout stages. You look at the squad and it’s clear that they are more than capable of winning football matches. They won’t be overconfident about their abilities, but they did do a few things right in the draw against Scotland that took them a step closer to the Euro 2020 knockouts.
There is quality across the squad and they’ve got important players like Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson returning to full fitness. I met some of the players before the tournament and the feeling I got from the interaction was so, so good. They are such a wonderful bunch and I have reason to believe that the squad has a wonderful balance and harmony.
If this is what the camp is like currently, the harmony will get them to a place where they need to be ahead of the Czech Republic game. They have players like Kalvin Phillips, who was outstanding against Croatia, but it was a slightly different game against Scotland. He wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but expectations have naturally increased since his showing against Croatia in England’s Euro 2020 opener.
Another player who I really like is Jude Bellingham, who became the youngest player in the history of the European Championships for England when he came on as a substitute in their first game. The important thing to note is that unlike the years that have gone by, where you’ve looked at the likes of David Beckham and Wayne Rooney and thought he is the player, England don’t have that at the moment. They don’t have someone who they look at as the savior, so the load is shared amongst the squad at Euro 2020.
Furthermore, if they top the group, they will come up against the third-placed team from Group F, which is likely to be one of France, Germany or Portugal. That obviously isn’t the best draw on paper, but England will embrace it.
If you’re facing one of the big boys at some point, you might as well knock them out in the Round of 16, as opposed to meeting them later in the competition. When I won the FA Cup with Portsmouth in 2008, we beat Manchester United in the quarterfinals and that set the tone for the games that followed. The fact that we eliminated the biggest threat gave us a lot of confidence, and England could look to do the same if the draw works out that way.
You can’t plan for the perfect victory, but they play just one game away from Wembley and will look to make it count. It’ll be interesting to see what Gareth Southgate does for the last group stage game against the Czech Republic.
Will he look to change it up after his attack misfired against Scotland? Only time will tell.
Also read: Jim Beglin's column - 5 players who could impress in unfamiliar positions at Euro 2020
The reigning European champions, Portugal, are a fascinating team. Cristiano Ronaldo is undoubtedly their talisman, but you take him out and they are still a fantastic side with quality players across the pitch. The mixture of talent from across the football spectrum epitomizes Euro 2020 and the teams taking part in the competition.
We have to talk about Cristiano Ronaldo and his record-breaking feats. He is so close to becoming the most decorated goalscorer in the history of international football. Add the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, Ruben Dias and Diogo Jota, who are all coming on the back of outstanding seasons for their respective clubs - that’s a team that can go toe to toe with any other side in the competition.
Portugal recorded just one win in normal time at Euro 2016, which is absolutely staggering considering they went all the way. They were the best team that year because they won the competition, you can’t argue with the fact that they were crowned champions. Their squad wasn’t as good as it is now, but that’s a testament to their determination and organization.
When Cristiano Ronaldo came off in the Euro 2016 final, a lot of people wrote them off and thought they wouldn’t win it because their talisman was subbed off, injured. However, they proved that they are more about combined quality than over-dependence on one player. Portugal don’t play the best football, but the only thing that matters in a major tournament is winning.
Greece defied the odds in 2004 and shook the world to win the competition, but they didn’t do so by playing the best football. It was more about stubbornness and wanting to win at all costs, and in my opinion, Portugal are of the same ilk.
A lot of players from their European Championship-winning squad in 2016 are still in the mix and they know how to win without being the most exciting team in the competition. They are definitely one of the favorites at Euro 2020 for me, the 4-2 defeat to Germany notwithstanding.
Belgium, when they get things right, are capable of winning Euro 2020. They haven’t won a trophy in their history, but they’ve been the #1 ranked side for a long time and have so many quality players from the top-five European leagues.
Having represented the country across a handful of major tournaments, I can recall our squad being referred to as the golden generation at the time. For Belgium, though, this is their golden generation and their record under Martinez is a stirring example of why people are right to think so. They’ve only lost three competitive games under him over the years and that is a staggering record that shows how good they are.
The likes of Thibaut Courtois and Romelu Lukaku are coming on the back of outstanding seasons for their respective clubs, while Youri Tielemans has also enjoyed a lot of success with Leicester City in the Premier League.
Kevin De Bruyne had a bit of a stop-start season by his lofty standards, but he showed his quality against Denmark with a match-winning performance in the second half. Eden Hazard, who I hadn’t even mentioned, is a world-class footballer who is slowly returning to peak physical condition ahead of the knockout stages. He looks much more comfortable playing for Belgium than he has for Real Madrid over the past two seasons and will look to make a big impression in the games ahead.
I’ve seen a lot of people refer to the average age of the Belgium squad and say it could prove to be detrimental to their hopes of winning Euro 2020, but it’s important to understand that at a major tournament, you only have to be at your best for four to five weeks. The likes of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld should get the job done at the back and they have the experience to do so for Belgium at Euro 2020.
They may not be the favorites, but their quality is apparent and their record under Martinez speaks for itself.
You look at France’s squad and the success they’ve had over the years, but this youthful Italian side is a force to reckon with and have won ten games on the bounce without conceding a single goal. They’ve looked confident at Euro 2020 so far and haven’t even used the likes of Marco Verratti and Federico Chiesa to their full potential. The latter came on against Switzerland and made a massive impression, indicating that they have the strength in depth required to go all the way and win the tournament.
Under a manager like Roberto Mancini, they’ve found the right balance. You look at the squad and it’s a scary team, with Gianluigi Donnarumma between the sticks and the experience of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci ahead of him. There is quality throughout the side and they even have players who can come off the bench to make significant contributions, as I mentioned with Chiesa earlier.
Mancini has tremendous experience as a manager and a player and that will be crucial to Italy’s hopes of winning Euro 2020. They are unbeaten in their last 29 matches and have recorded ten successive shut-outs, but Mancini will have to ask his team to play the game and not the occasion. If they continue performing well and winning games, the records will keep coming, there is no doubt about that.
There’s a lot of football to be played and a wonderful rollercoaster of emotions involved as games prepare to come thick and fast in the knockout stages. I don’t want to get drawn into the momentum argument, but Italy have every chance of going all the way to win Euro 2020.
The reigning world champions France have lived up to their billing as the competition favorites. I look at their squad and think they have no glaring weaknesses, it’s phenomenal, really. They have so many world-class players and matchwinners across the pitch, this team is so, so good.
With N’Golo Kante in midfield, who is one of the favorites for the 2021 Ballon d’Or as things stand, they have an incredible player at the center of the park. He is coming on the back of an outstanding season with Chelsea and has already proved to be a force to be reckoned with. Paul Pogba, on the other hand, seems to enjoy his football a lot more with France than he does for Manchester United and ran the show against Germany with an outstanding display.
When you look at the attack, you’ve got Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe, who is undoubtedly one of the hottest properties in world football currently. Karim Benzema earning a recall to a side that won the World Cup three years ago is the icing on the cake, and they’ve even got the likes of Raphael Varane and Presnel Kimpembe at the back, who are fantastic players in their own right.
I look at Didier Deschamps’ squad and as an England fan, it bothers me a little bit. They have the tools to go all the way and it’s important to remember that this team reached the Euro 2016 final and won the FIFA World Cup in 2018. Spain’s golden generation won three major competitions between 2008 and 2012 and they did so by getting their hands on the European Championships 13 years ago.
For France, though, it could be the other way around. They won the World Cup three years ago and are favorites to win Euro 2020, and it’s hard to look past them when you think about the World Cup in Qatar next year. They are that good and have it in them to emulate Spain’s feat from nearly a decade ago.