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Here are 5 bold predictions for Euro 2020

is finally around the corner, kicking off on 11 June at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico. Eleven host cities from all corners of Europe will stage one of the sporting world’s most beloved international competitions.

Much of the build-up to matchday one – featuring Turkey vs Italy – has been characteristically dominated by the biggest talking points. France, with its enormous depth of quality, is everyone’s favorite to steal Portugal’s crown. Germany, with eccentric manager Joachim Löw taking up his post for the final time as top boss in the country. And England, with the hopes of a nation pinned to the notion that the Three Lions will finally come good.

But the Euro and its international relatives the World Cup, Copa America, and the African Cup of Nations, have a habit of shocking us all.

From Greece’s improbable triumph in 2004 to Denmark’s miracle in ’92, one has to wonder what is in store for the first pan-European Euro in the competition’s history.

In that light, here are five bold predictions for Euro 2020.

Bold Prediction #1: France’s best player at Euro 2020 will not be Kylian Mbappe

Yes yes…blasphemous, I know. Given just how brimming with talent the French national team is this summer, many still sit back in excitement to see Kylian Mbappé dazzle on the international stage once more. The Les Bleus prodigy has already put countless opponents to the sword for his country, banking the Best Young Player award at World Cup 2018 while also being nominated to the dream team of the tournament.

SALVADOR, BRAZIL – JUNE 20: Karim Benzema of France (2nd L) celebrates scoring his team’s fourth goal with Olivier Giroud during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group E match between Switzerland and France at Arena Fonte Nova on June 20, 2014 in Salvador, Brazil. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

But as Mbappé’s star has continued to rise, another celestial giant has quietly gone about his career and is now back in the national team fold; Karim Benzema.

Embroiled in controversy on multiple occasions and ostracized from the national team camp since 2015, Benzema never slowed down at club level.

To date, his goal-per-game ratio for Spanish giants Real Madrid (279-goals in 559-appearances across all competitions) has been stellar. But it has been his willingness in the past to take a secondary role to a bigger ego that made him so vital for Los Blancos when he lined up in attack alongside Cristiano Ronaldo . It stands to note that out of the last six European Championships from 1996 to 2016, four out of the six tournament winners did not feature the tournaments top goalscorer. The likes of Alan Shearer (1996), Patrick Kluivert (2000), Milan Baroš (2004), and Antoine Griezmann (2016) all fell short of the mark despite topping the goal chart. Only Spanish duo David Villa and Fernando Torres (joint-top), top-scorers in 2008 and 2012 while helping Spain to back-to-back tournament wins, can make such a claim.

While many have praised the reintroduction of Benzema into the France fold, it’s not simply his ability to score goals that should give France yet another cutting edge over the tournament field. That same willingness to perform for the collective could do wonders to ensure both Mbappé and Griezmann sustain a level of play capable of pushing Frane to tournament success for the third time in the nations rich footballing history. If the expected front-three click from the off, France is in with a real chance of making their third final in a row at a major tournament, and winning back-to-back international competitions for the second time in their history.

Bold Prediction #2: Germany will finish third in Group F

5 bold predictions for Euro 2020

DUESSELDORF, GERMANY – MARCH 23: Joachim Low, Manager of Germany looks on prior to the International friendly match between Germany and Spain at Esprit-Arena on March 23, 2018 in Duesseldorf, Germany. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Bongarts/Getty Images)

The group of death suffers no fools. Three of Europe’s top eight nations in the FIFA rankings feature in a group that none of the participants, including the once-influential Hungary, will be looking forward to. And with a fixture list that sees Germany open group play against favorites France, the writing could be on the wall early on for Die Mannschaft.

It was a terrible 2018 for Germany in Russia, when the perennial powerhouse failed to make it out of a World Cup group featuring Sweden, Mexico, and South Korea while finishing bottom on goal difference. But the writing was on the wall two years earlier at Euro 2016. Though they reached the semi-finals in France while subsequently losing to the host nation, Germany was hardly at the races during the tournament that had many alarm bells sounding. It was then where Joachim Löw’s approach began to be questioned heavily, and two years later provided the proof for the pudding.

Things have hardly genuinely improved the Germany since then either. Walking their group in Euro 2020 qualifying – one that contained the likes of Estonia, Belarus, and Northern Ireland – was always expected and headlined an expected 2019. But their performance in the UEFA Nations League in the aftermath of the World Cup debacle still showed a Germany that struggled against considerable opposition when they failed to win a single match while posting a 0-2-2 record in a group with rivals France, and the Netherlands.

2020-21 has not gone any better either for Löw’s men. With the resumption of play in September in the wake of Covid-19, Germany went on a run of 11-fixtures that saw them net a mediocre 5-4-2 record. Even when a win was the result, Germany hardly impressed. But two results stood more than the others; a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Spain, and a 2-1 humbling by minnows North Macedonia. For the first time in quite a long while, Germany enter a major tournament without the pressure of being one of the headline favorites. While this could very easily work in their favor, coupled with the will to give Jogi Löw the send-off he deserves given this being his last hurrah, recent results dictate that they could truly struggle against France and then Portugal four days later. Should this occur, and their tournament lives be put on the line against a pesky Hungary, Germany could be staring down the end of the barrel once again.

Bold Prediction #3: Italy to reach the Euro final at Wembley

With one tournament win and two runner-up finishes, Italy is one of the more successful nations at the Euro’s behind only Germany (3/3), Spain (3/1), France (2/1), and the former Soviet Union (1/3). But Gli Azzurri, widely known as one of the biggest names in international football, have hardly parlayed the reputation they have built on World Cup success into European dominance in the same mold as Germany, or Spain. That could be about to change, however.

Beginning on 10 October of 2018 with a friendly 1-1 draw against Ukraine in the aftermath of their failure to qualify for the World Cup, Italy has gone on an adventure that has seen them go undefeated in 27-matches across all competitions and friendlies, while only surrendering 7-goals in the process. This is an Italy side that not enough people are talking about, but perhaps many more should be genuinely wary of.

5 bold predictions for Euro 2020

BERGAMO, ITALY – NOVEMBER 08: Nicolo Barella of FC Internazionale in action during the Serie A match between Atalanta BC and FC Internazionale at Gewiss Stadium on November 8, 2020 in Bergamo, Italy. (Photo by Claudio Villa – Inter/Inter via Getty Images)

Headlined by the risen phoenix that is Ciro Immobile, and featuring a midfield comprised of talented options the likes of Marco Verratti, Nicolò Barella, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Manuel Locatelli, and Matteo Pessina, Italy are a dark horse if there ever was one. Despite Immobile’s ascendency into the best center-forward in Europe conversation, the balance and experience that sweeps through Roberto Mancini’s side is impressive as any other in the tournament.

One of the most impressive aspects of this Italy side is their historic trend of the national team selections being mostly – even entirely – comprised of players that ply their trade in Serie A. Mancini’s latest squad as of 28 May and their 7-0 demolition job against neighbors San Marino features 28 of 32 players that are based domestically. Only Marco Verratti, Alessandro Florenzi, Moise Keane (all Paris Saint-Germain), and Vincenzo Grifo (SC Freiburg) reside outside the boot for most of the year. That technical and tactical togetherness could prove invaluable, and with a chance for Roberto Mancini to equal or better Vittorio Pozzo’s 30-match unbeaten record for Italy that has stood since the 1930’s, Italy could be a force to be reckoned with this summer.

Bold Prediction #4: England will fail to replicate semi-final run at World Cup 2018

5 bold predictions for Euro 2020

TIRANA, ALBANIA – MARCH 28: Harry Kane of England celebrates with team mates (L – R) Declan Rice, John Stones and Mason Mount after scoring their side’s first goal during the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar qualifying match between Albania and England at the Qemal Stafa Stadium on March 28, 2021 in Tirana, Albania. Sporting stadiums around Europe remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

Well…I’m not paid to always say what is popular, and I suspect that quite a few people may have this same fear but perhaps do not want to speak it into existence. Let me be clear; when the England squad was announced, there are few that could sit by, look at the team in full and possible XI combinations and think the Three Lions do not have the talent level to make another deep run at an international tournament.

World Cup 2018, though anything but perfect in terms of the teams overall performance, showed just how close England were – and still are – to getting it right on the international scene. The desire to win the nations first major trophy since 1966 is very real, and that passion in the country came to the fore during that summer in Russia that ended in extra-time heartbreak at the hands of Croatia. Similar can be expected from a very talented group of players under Gareth Southgate this summer, but the problem is, well, Gareth Southgate.

Despite the level of ability that resides in the English talent pool, especially in both midfield and further forward, Southgate continues to champion a back-three/back-five deployment that does little to get the maximum out of players who – mostly – play for Premier League clubs that operate in a far more expansive manner on a tactical level. While a run to the semi-finals three years ago in Russia looks good on paper, the manner in which England struggled to see themselves past the likes of Tunisia in the group stage and hardly looking the part against Colombia in the round of 16, could rear its ugly head once more.

With sides like France, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, and Italy in the mix at the very least, can England perpetrate a level of performance across their whole tournament good enough to see them through a more difficult minefield that the Euro so often can provide? One never knows, and much of their success will also rest on just how efficient and effective Harry Kane will be. If the [current] Tottenham center-forward can put on his best impression of Alan Shearer at Euro ’96, then England have a chance. But with England only reaching the semi-finals twice in the competitions history, the odds do not seem to be in their favor.

Bold Prediction #5: Croatia to go winless during group play

If you have gotten this far (thank you, by the way) then naturally you would have expected the boldest prediction to come last…and its a doozy. Many would look at Croatia (a nation that just reached a World Cup final) in simple terms and never say they would expect the Balkan nation to have such a reversal of fortunes in comparison to their storied run to the final at Russia 2018. And it was a similar story perpetrated by Vatreni at France ’98 when they finished third in their first-ever World Cup appearance after becoming an independent nation and a member of FIFA. But in Croatia’s three other World Cup appearances they never made it out of group play, and have a mix bag of results at the five Euro’s they have featured in.

There is not much that can be assumed from the past, but the harsh reality of the current landscape paints a picture that is not encouraging. Croatia earned just one win in their recent UEFA Nations League group (comprised of France, Portugal, and Sweden) while finishing 13-points behind the group-topping French. World Cup qualifying got off to a rocky start as well with a shock 1-0 loss against Slovenia, but wins against Cyprus (1-0) and Malta (3-0) did well to put points on the board despite not being entirely comfortable on the scoresheet.

Luka Modric

MOSCOW, RUSSIA – JULY 15: Luka Modric of Croatia receives the adidas Golden Ball award following the 2018 FIFA World Cup Final between France and Croatia at Luzhniki Stadium on July 15, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

In the last 12-18 months, Croatia have also dealt with the retiring of Ivan Rakitić, multiple injury concerns, and the introduction of younger players into the fold. The nation could well be at a crossroads, with iconic figure Luka Modrić (35-years-old and the nations all-time leader in caps) winding down his international career and influential forward Ivan Perišić (32) also getting on in years. But the cycle will always continue, with the likes of Josip Brekalo, Mario Pašalić, Nikola Vlašić, Luka Ivanušec, Joško Gvardiol, Domagoj Bradarić, and Duje Ćaleta-Car all ready to step into the breach and keep the nations footballing traditions alive.

But there is always part of a reality which brings us back to humility, and Croatia netting just four wins in their last-eleven fixtures (4-1-6) and could make for poor omens when they open their Euro campaign against one of the tournament big boys in England, only to then have to negotiate a tricky Czech Republic in the aftermath. With England out for revenge, and a Czech outfit that have some credible results on their CV in the last two years (including against England and Belgium), this could potentially be a summer to forget.

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SportJudges
SportJudges
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