With the postponed 2020 UEFA European Championship now a week away, attention to the tournament is starting to intensify. Teams are playing the last of their pre-tournament friendlies and there is the usual frenzy of speculation on whether players will be fit, who should start for each country, and who will, ultimately, win the tournament.
The Euros are often perceived as more difficult to win than the World Cup, due to the strength of every side in the tournament. The likes of France, Portugal, England and Belgium are all heavily tipped to be successful in the weeks that follow. However, what about the sides with less expectation from outside their own nation. The dark horses of the tournament, who could cause a shock and travel deep into the latter stages of the tournament. Is there a team that could emulate the heroics of Greece in 2004, who navigated their way to the final, and stunned the world by beating host-nation, Portugal, 1-0 in their own tournament. This post explores the country’s that could have the capability of being the dark horses of the competition this summer.
Turkey should be entering the tournament full of confidence, having qualified ahead of Iceland, and only two points off of World Champions, France. Their tournament curtain raiser against Italy will provide a real test and will be an indicator of whether they can cause the big teams problems this summer. Four points against France in qualifying would emphatically suggest they very much can, and they will be looking to recreate unforgettable moments, such as the 2-0 home win over the French in qualifying, against Italy.
They are by no means guaranteed to qualify from a tough group involving Switzerland and Wales, as well as Italy. Though, if they manage to successfully navigate the group stage, then they should provide a stern test for whoever they face in the knockout stages. The current crop will be looking to recreate the magic of 2008, where Turkey reached the semi-final of the Euros, before a heartbreaking 90th minute Philipp Lahm goal saw them lose 3-2 to Germany. They were dubbed the comeback kings of the tournament and they will need to show similar resilience to succeed in their efforts this time around.
Burak Yilmaz will lead the line, following an impressive season for Lille. In his maiden season in France, at the ripe old age of 35, the striker managed 16 goals and five assists in the league en route to securing an unlikely league title. Hakan Calhanoglu will provide creativity and flair in midfield, and is finally starting to realise his potential after impressing for AC Milan this season. In defence Leicester City stalwart Caglar Soyuncu will likely be partnered by Juventus’ Merih Demiral, which has the foundations of a solid partnership. Turkey’s strength comes in their unity as a squad and they could well be one to watch in the tournament.
Led by former AC Milan striker and icon of Ukrainian football, Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine stormed to first place in their qualifying group. A feat made all the more impressive by the fact that they finished ahead of much-fancied Portugal, and a Serbia side that boasts a host of top players. It is difficult to decide between a 2-1 home win over Portugal or a 5-0 rout of Serbia as the country’s finest moment in qualifying. The results were equally impressive for different reasons, and show that Ukraine could be a real threat this summer. The win over Portugal showed their desire to do the less glamorous parts of the game and ability to go toe to toe with the big boys, while the thrashing of Serbia showed their attacking prowess. In a group that includes Netherlands, Austria, and North Macedonia, Ukraine will have to show both sides of their game to advance.
Manchester City’s Olexandr Zinchenko is the biggest name in the squad, and was a key part of their memorable qualifying campaign. Fans of the Premier League have grown accustomed to seeing Zinchenko play as a left back, however he is naturally a midfielder, and plays this role for his country. With his ability on the ball he plays either as an attacking midfielder or centre midfielder where he can dictate the tempo for his side. However, there are threats elsewhere in the team. Striker Roman Yaremchuk scored 20 goals and provided seven assists in the league for Gent in Belgium this season, while English fans know all about Andriy Yarmolenko’s left-foot. Shevchenko scored a remarkable 48 goals in 111 appearances for his country to secure hero status. Could this summer be the time for a new hero to emerge for Ukraine?
It may seem strange to label Italy a dark horse for a major tournament. However, their failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup has meant that few are speaking of them as being in contention to win the Euros this summer. Since Roberto Mancini took charge, following the disappointment of missing out in 2018, the Azzurri’s fortunes have changed.
Italy stormed through qualification. They achieved the maximum possible points by winning their ten games, scoring 37 goals and conceding just four in the process. Their defensive resilience will be crucial if they are to be successful this summer. Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci are battle-hardened veterans, who know all there is to know about the art of defending. The midfield is full of quality, with Marco Verratti, Jorginho, and Nicola Barella likely to be the three chosen. In attack, Federico Chiesa and Lorenzo Insigne should provide the width, with Lazio talisman, Ciro Immobile, expected to be the main striker. If Immobile can recreate his club form he could be a lethal threat in the tournament. However, at 31, he is yet to replicate his club form at international level. The striker scored 20 league goals for his club this season, but has only managed 12 in 45 appearances for his country since his debut in 2014.
While Italy will undoubtedly be very difficult to beat and have quality throughout their side, their downfall could be their lack of creativity. The midfield has players who keep the ball moving and perform very well but neither Verratti, Jorginho, nor Barella offer much in terms of goals and assists from deep. Therefore, it will be down to Insigne and Chiesa to provide the supply line if Immobile is to flourish in front of goal. Italy are not hotly tipped to win the tournament, but no one will be keen on the prospect of facing the 2006 World Cup winners this summer.
In 1992, Denmark caused one of the greatest underdog stories in major tournament history by winning Euro 92. This success was made all the more remarkable by the fact that Denmark hadn’t actually qualified for the tournament initially and were only involved due to the dismantling of Yugoslavia and their subsequent disqualification.
The current side limped to qualifying, with a 0-0 draw with Georgia a particularly poor result en route to finishing second in their group. They ultimately finished one point short of leaders Switzerland and three points ahead of Ireland to secure qualification and will be looking to improve in the main event this summer. The quality of their players was not reflected in their qualifying campaign, and recent victories over England and Iceland in the UEFA Nations League, and a draw with Germany in their first pre-tournament qualifier, show signs that they are now performing at a higher level.
With Kasper Schmeichel in goal, and a central defence that could include two of Simon Kjaer, Jannik Vestergaard, and Champions League winner Andreas Christensen, they should be difficult to break down. In midfield Tottenham Hotspur’s Pierre-Emile Höjbjerg and Borussia Dortmund’s Thomas Delaney should form a solid base to allow Christian Eriksen to play with more freedom and create opportunities. After a difficult season at Inter Milan, Eriksen could revive his career with a good tournament to his name.
Goals could be the problem for the Danes. Barcelona’s Martin Braithwaite has only scored two league goals for Barcelona this season, and only managed three in qualifying. RB Leipzig’s Yussef Poulsen and Nice’s Kasper Dolberg have also struggled in front of goal this season, with five and six goals respectively. Expect Denmark’s games to be tight contests with fine margins separating them from their opponents. Belgium will be favourites to win their group, but Russia will also pose a threat, and it is likely Denmark will have to beat both them and Finland to prevail.