Euro 2021 preview groups A – C

Whilst Rovers are busy licking their wounds, re-grouping for next season and seemingly signing the cast of Bread – The remake.. there’s the small matter of a European Championship on the horizon. The wallcharts will be up, the flags will be swaying in the wind and people are ready to waste thousands of gallons of alcohol in an England goal celebration that will eventually be ruled out by VAR. Let’s see the contenders.

Group A

Turkey

Nickname – The Crescent Stars

Manager – Senol Gunez

Star man – Burak Yilmaz

Young star – Orkun Kokcu

Best finish – Semi Finals (2008)

Turkey come in to the tournament in a far stronger position than in recent years. Senol Gunez has ensured a consistent spine within the team and are spearheaded by experienced striker Burak Yilmaz, fresh from his goals leading Lille to an unlikely dethroning of PSG in France. They have creation in midfield through the likes of Hakan Calhanoglu and Ozan Tufan and are marshalled defensively by Premier League duo, Ozan Kabak and Caglar Soyuncu.

This year alone Turkey hold competitive wins over Holland and Norway and will fancy their chances in a fairly even group A. They held a very respectable Euro record in the noughties, reaching the quarter finals in 2000 and the semi finals in 2008 – Two of their five qualifications to the finals. Last time out they could only manage a third place group finish and lost out on goal difference in the best third place finish table.

Italy

Nickname – The Blues

Manager – Roberto Mancini

Star man – Marco Verratti

Young star – Moise Kean

Best finish – Winner (1968)

Gli Azzurri will be wanting tournament success after their shock failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Mancini has seen something of a resurgence since his reign began in 2018, his blend of young stars such as Moise Kean, Manuel Locatelli and shot stopper Gianluigi Donnarumma provide the flair under the supervision of wiser heads Lorenzo Insigne and Leonardo Bonucci.

Italy tend to thrive more historically in the World Cup rather than the Euros but did reach the final in 2012 and will be hoping for a challenge almost a decade on, perhaps Eurovision was just the beginning of a prosperous year for Italy?!

Wales

Nickname – The Dragons

Manager – Ryan Giggs

Star man – Gareth Bale

Young star – David Brooks

Best finish – Semi Final (2016)

Wales love being the underdogs they always seem to be labelled and they’ll be aiming high this time around. Gareth Bale is back smiling and fresh off a respectable season at Spurs, Aaron Ramsey provides quality in midfield and youngsters David Brooks and Matt Smith could seize their time to shine. Former Rovers captain Tom Lockyer will also don the Welsh shirt this summer.

Wales may never ever forget last time out, despite being tournament debutants, they lit up France 2016 with some dazzling displays, reaching the Semi finals with wins over Russia and Belgian before losing to eventual champions Portugal. Can they earn another heroes welcome home this time around?

Switzerland

Nickname – Red Crosses

Manager – Vladimir Petkovic

Star man – Xherdan Shaqiri

Young star – Ruben Vargas

Best finish – Round of 16 (2016)

Switzerland are always tricky opposition for any team. A stable squad who have been together for a long time. They are captained by Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka and led by Liverpool’s Xherdan Shaqiri. They score plenty of goals and if they can stay strong defensively they will make a real go of this group.

Switzerland never qualified before 1996 but have subsequently reached the finals on every occasion but one since. They have successfully qualified from their group at the last two major tournaments and have every chance of making it three in a row this summer.

Group B

Denmark

Nickname – The Red and White

Manager – Kasper Hjulmand

Star man – Christian Eriksen

Young star – Andreas Skov Olsen

Best finish – Winners (1992)

Denmark have a lot of extremely talented players. Thought to be in the final throws of a golden generation, this could be one of their last chances for a really successful summer. They have a midfield to rival most with the likes of Christian Eriksen and Thomas Delaney and have several forwards fighting for a starting role.

Denmark have arguably the finest story in European Championship history. They failed to qualify in 1992 yet due to unforeseen circumstances they secured a place in the finals, expected to just make up the numbers, the Danes went on to win the whole tournament, beating Germany 2-0 in the final. Recently they’ve failed to qualify for majors before finally making the World Cup in 2018, where they actually went unbeaten yet lost out on penalties in the second round.

Finland

Nickname – Eagle Owls

Manager – Markku Kanerva

Star man – Teemu Pukki

Young star – Onni Valakari

Best finish – Debutants

Finland have finally made their first ever major tournament finals and won’t be just here to make up the numbers. Norwich goal machine Teemu Pukki leads their attack after his 10 goals in qualification. They have experience in defence through the likes of Paulus Arajuuri and Thomas Lam and Rovers’ very own shot stopper Anssi Jaakkola is in their 26 man squad for the summer.

Finland will be looking to make a mark on their Euro debut having narrowly missed out on two occasions this century. Can Pukki fire them to an unlikely knock out stage?

Belgium

Nickname – The Red Devils

Manager – Roberto Martinez

Star man – Kevin De Bruyne

Young star – Jeremy Doku

Best finish – Runner up (1980)

Many believe this could be Belgian’s golden generations last chance to capitalise on a squad full of talent. The Belgian’s are led by Seria A winner Romelu Lukaku, Madrid star Eden Hazard and Premier League duo, Kevin De Bruyne and Youri Tielemans. They have question marks defensively but their attack is up there with anything in world football.

Belgium will be looking to overcome the disappointment of their shock loss to Wales at Euro 16 and are fresh from a World Cup 3rd place finish last time out. They have reached the final once before and many have them as real contenders this time out.

Russia

Nickname – Our Guys

Manager – Stanislav Cherchesov

Star man – Alexandr Golovin

Young star – Andrei Mostovoy

Best finish – Semi finals (2008)

Russia have a very experienced side and will be hoping that will help to another successful tournament. Midfield duo Alex Golovin and Roman Zobnin will provide assistance to big striker Artem Dzyuba. Winger Denis Cheryshev caught the eye in 2018 and will be hoping to again.

Russia are fresh from a hugely successful hosting World Cup in 2018 and spirits are high. They have lost in back to back group stages in the European Championships and will be desperate to not make that streak continue this year.

Group C

Ukraine

Nickname – The Yellow and Blue

Manager – Andriy Shevchenko

Star man – Ruslan Malinovsky

Young star – Mykola Shaparenko

Best finish – Group stage (3 times)

Ukraine are going through a prosperous period in their history, all time top goal scorer Andriy Shevchenko is now in the managerial hot seat and he’s getting the most out of the next generation. They have a solid midfield pairing of Ruslan Malinovsky and youngster Mykola Shaperenko and have Man City man Oleksandr Zinchenko flying down the left.

Ukraine have never reached a European Championship knock out phase, despite making the finals three times in it’s history. This year presents their best chance of making it, particularly after they actually beat holders Portugal in the qualification, including beating them on the final day.

Netherlands

Nickname – The Flying Dutchman

Manager – Frank De Boer

Star man – Memphis Depay

Young star – Ryan Gravenberch

Best finish – Winners (1988)

Holland are never a country you rule out. They may me missing influential captain Virgil Van Dijk but with defenders Matthijs De Ligt, Stefan De Vrij and Nathan Ake for cover, they should be more than capable for a challenge. Frankie De Jong will be key in supplying forwards such as Memphis Depay.

The Flying Dutchmen failed to qualify for the first time since 1984 last time out and will be looking to prove a point this year. They tend to do well in the finals they do make, but it is almost 30 years since their one and only European Championship victory.

Austria

Nickname – The Boys

Manager – Franco Foda

Star man – Marcel Sabitzer

Young star – Christoph Baumgartner

Best finish – Group stage (twice)

Austria are another country in the middle of a promising generation. Defensively sound with the likes of new Real Mardrid signing David Alaba and experienced centre-back Alexandar Dragovic. Marcel Sabitzer and skipper Julian Baumgartlinger will be key both defensively and attackingly in the heart of the Austria side.

Austria hadn’t qualified for the finals before co-hosting in 2008 and they qualified in their own right in 2018. Despite huge disappointment last time out, Austria remain very optimistic and have every change of successful tournament here.

North Macedonia

Nickname – The Lynxes

Manager – Igor Angelovski

Star man – Goran Pandev

Young star – Elif Elmas

Best finish – Debutants

Debutants North Macedonia aren’t just here to make up the numbers, experienced forward Goran Pandev, who’s goal won a dramatic play off for their spot in the finals, is the nations leading appearance maker and goal scorer. He will be supplied by the highly exciting Elif Elmas amongst a string of other talented midfielders.

North Macedonia hold a recent competitive win away at Germany and are going well in both World Cup qualifying and the Nations League. They are certainly here on merit and will be keen to challenge those who think they will be the whipping boys this year.