EURO 2020: Group F

France (2), Portugal (5), Germany (12)*, Hungary (37)*

I never understood how the soccer-heads could always dub some group as a “Group of Death.”  How can every tournament have one RIDICULOUS group?  And, yet, it does seem that way every single time.  And, EURO 2020 is no different.  The official Group of Death is Group F.  This group is absolutely insane.  The defending EURO champs AND each of the LAST TWO World Cup champs!!!  Nuts.  If you didn’t know the groups and were asked to blindly pick the four semifinalists, wouldn’t France, Portugal, and Germany be three of the most likely choices – if not THE three most likely (all due respect to Belgium and others)?  And, they’re all in the SAME GROUP?!?  Awesome!  The most salient insight I can offer here is:  Poor Hungary…

France, the defending World Cup champs and 2016 EURO runners-up are the odds-on favorites to win a second straight major tournament this month.  This team is absolutely LOADED.  Doogan can speak to these guys below more than I can, but the forwards are disgustingly good, particularly Mbappe (who is in the conversation for Best Player in the World), Dembele, Griezmann, and Benzema, the backline is flooded with major club defenders like Pavard, Varane, Zouma, Kimpembe, among others, and the midfield has Pogba, Sissoko, and maybe the greatest player in the history of the sport, Ngolo Kante.  I don’t know if I agree or disagree, but that’s just what people are saying…  The one possible wrinkle in this group is that the Frenchmen open the tournament with a game against Germany in Germany, which will obviously be tough, and then they face Hungary in Hungary, which won’t be as tough, but coming off of the Germany game and looking ahead to the Portugal game, they better get themselves 3 points there on the road.

While La France is the defending World Cup champs, Portugal is the reigning champ in this event, having defeated the French in the 2016 finals, 1-0, without an injured Ronaldo.  But, Ronaldo is healthy again and, even at age 36, he is still world class.  He is now just 6 goals shy from tying the all-time record goal for country (some dude named Ali Daei scored 109 for Iran…) and could get it this month.  But, Ronaldo’s incredible Portugal career started surrounded by elite talent, then carried the team in his prime and now seems to be ending just as the country welcomes another wave of talent.  38-year old Pepe is still there, but the Portugese team has added some young guns including the Man City trio of Ruben Dias, Bruno Fernandes, and Bernardo Silva, Diogo Jota from Liverpool, and Joao Felix from Atletico – all five of whom are 26 or younger with Joao clocking in at a mere 21 years of age.  Ronaldo is still here, so they the sky’s the limit this year, but the post-Ronaldo future for Team Portugal is also rather bright.  Like France, though, the Portguese are not hosts in this group, so they open the tournament in Budapest against Hungary and then travel to Munich to face Germany.  Then, finally, they will get a “break” from road games with just a little friendly against France back in Budapest.  Wow!

The great Yergey Love is still at the helm of Germany (even though any article you read will talk about some dude named “Joachim Low,” don’t worry about that – Yergey Love is still the German coach).  The 61-year old Low has been the German head man for 15 years now – a run that included the highs of the 2014 World Cup title and the lows of the disastrous 2018 follow-up campaign that was ugly on the field (last place in their group) and even uglier off the field (widespread reports of a Remember the Titans level of racial divide inside the locker room).  It was about as ugly a performance as could be possible for a country as historically great as Germany is.  But, the comeback for the Germans has not been made easy by placement in this group and having their first two matches be against France and Portugal…ouch!  Fortunately, for them, they get to play all three Group Stage matches in Munich, and, even if they lose their first two, they get Hungary in the finale of the last group, so they should know how much they need to run up the score to get through, even as a 3rd-place team.  Low has gone back to the well for one more run with veterans Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels, and feature some up-and-coming stars like the Chelsea pair of Antonio Rudiger in the back and Timo Werner up front.  They also roll out, essentially the entire Bayern midfield, including Joshua Kimmich, who has quickly become one of the world’s elite central midfielders.  This team may be different and a little wobbly for typical German teams (see a 2-1 loss to North Macedonia in March), but count ‘Ze Gerrrrmans out at your own risk.  Not only do they have 4 World Cup titles to their names, but they have also won this tournament three times (1972, 1980, and 1996) and finished runners-up three more times (1976, 1992, and 2008).  The last game they played at the EUROs was a semifinal loss to France in 2016…and the next game they will play at the EUROs is again against that French team here in 2020 Group play.  Wow!

With the group they drew and the injury to their best player, there is not a lot to be optimistic about for Hungary entering this tournament.  But, there are a couple small reasons for a modicum of hope.  First, they play their first two matches in Budapest (shhh…we don’t have to mention that the two opponents are the defending EURO champs followed by the defending World Cup champs).  And, rumor has it (I will not reveal my sources…okay, yes, I will, it’s Doogan) that their homefield advantage will be aided by the fact that Hungary is the only European nation allowing full attendance at these games.  Second, they seem to be on form even without Szoboszlai, having only lost once in their last 11 games.  But, it’s safe to say that the competition has ratcheted up a bit here, so their talented keeper Peter Gulasci will be tested, and they will have to get something from 33-year old veteran Adam Szalai, who has 23 international goals on his resume, but has had a very disappointing club season.  A point, any point, has to be considered a success for the Hungarians.

Doogan’s Thoughts:

-Karim Benzema is one of the world’s best strikers but hasn’t played with France since 2015 after some off-field stuff. So…the World Champions have ADDED one of the world’s best strikers and none of the key players have had any age decline. You almost try to figure why this team  WON’T win the tournament. About all I can come up with is: do they have the hunger to go and prove themselves again (after a LONG club season) when they’ve already done it?

-As a Premier League fan, it will be fun to see this Portgual team come together and potentially be elite. Ruben Dias was the best center back in the Prem this year. Joao Cancelo was probably the best right-back in the league. Bruno Fernandes was top 3 in the league in goals and assists. These are Prem stars. I’ll also throw in a mention for Andre Silva, who scored 28 Bundesliga goals this year, which was only topped by Lewandoski.

-Feels like Germany is being dismissed a little bit for this tournament. They still look pretty great! I’ll mention Bayern’s Serge Gnabry and Man City’s Ilkay Gundogan as two particularly dangerous and creative attacking midfielders.

-#ChelseaWatch: Aside from those mentioned by Bry, I’ll note that Olivier Giroud and Kai Havertz (France and Germany, respectively) will both have key roles to play for their teams at some point, even if they’re not starting, which I don’t expect they will be. Havertz, after all, scored the lone goal in the Champions League final two weeks ago (had to throw in one more mention!)

EURO 2020: Group E

Spain (6)*, Sweden (18), Poland (21), Slovakia (36)

This group is very interesting, as the favorite is a Spain team that is talented, but very young.  Sweden and Poland would be really close for that #2 spot with Sweden trying to move on to the post-Zlatan Era and Poland trying to maximize the Lewandowski Era.  Slovakia is the biggest ‘dog here, but they are no slouches and can definitely throw this group for a loop.  The opening Spain-Sweden match should be excellent and then Sweden-Poland to end the group on June 23 could be a de facto elimination game.

I was introduced to international soccer in 1994 when the World Cup was on American soil, but I fell in love with international soccer in 2006 when I had just come back from living in a tiny African country called Togo only to see my former home country make the World Cup for the first time ever.  Les Eperviers!!!  But, while I was obviously fixated on the Togolese (and a failed American campaign), I completely fell head over heels for the grace and style of the team from Spain.  They went out in the Round of 16 to Zinedine Zidane and France (who famously went on to headbutt his way to a runner-up to Italy that year), but I was hooked on Spain.  And, it turned out to be for obvious reasons, as they were really, REALLY good.  That team went on one of the greatest runs in international soccer history, winning the 2008 EUROs, the 2010 World Cup, and the 2012 EUROs.  Now, obviously the 2021 Spanish team has almost nothing to do with the team I fell in love with, as a decade has passed, and this team is now stuck in a rut of notorious flame-outs (didn’t get out of the Group Stage in the 2014 WC and lost in the Round of 16 in the 2016 EUROs and 2018 WC), so it’s time to rekindle some Spanish magic!  This is a very young and inexperienced team, but also a very talented one, led by Gerard Moreno, who scored 30 times for Villareal this year and Juventus’s Alvaro Morata, who has scored 19 times for his country.  The loss of Barcelona’s future star, Ansu Fati, to injury will hurt, but there is talent here, and they should be considered the favorites to win a tough group.

Maybe their biggest threat here will come from Sweden, a team they are very familiar with having edged them out for the top spot in the same qualifying group.  The Swedes are coming off of a quarterfinal appearance in the 2018 WC, but had a disappointing EURO 2016, finishing last in a tough group.  This will be the first Swedish team I have ever seen without their transcendent star, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who came out of retirement for this tournament, but got hurt in qualifying (which is no surprise since he’s thirty-freaking-nine).  But, this team was solid without him and could be dangerous, particularly if they hand the keys to a couple of 21-year olds, midfielder Dejan Kulusevski and striker Alexander Isak.  This group opens with Spain vs. Sweden on Monday!

Another threat to Spain in this group is Poland, who had their best-ever EURO finish in 2016, making it to the quarterfinals before losing – on PKs – to the eventual champ, Portugal.  But, they flamed out of the 2018 World Cup, finishing last place in a group that many picked them to win.  The Polish attack will revolve around one of the greatest players on the planet, Robert Lewandowski.  One of the best players in long history of Polish football, Lewandowski has scored 53 goals in 46 games for club and country this year, including a record-setting goal-scoring campaign for Bayern.  He good…

A decided underdog in this group, Slovakia, will try to repeat their 2016 feat of turning underdog status into Knockout Stage qualification – which was their first ever appearance in a major tournament.  They have a star in Milan Skriniar, a supremely talented midfielder who helped Inter Milan win Serie A.  After beating Northern Ireland in a playoff to get here, the Slovaks are on good form, having already knocked off Scotland and Russia just in the past couple of months.  They are the most likely in this group to go home, but “dark horse” isn’t a poor title for them here.

Doogan’s Thoughts:

-Unfortunately, some COVID issues popping up in this group. Spanish captain Sergio Busquets and Sweden’s Kulusevski both tested positive in recent days which throws their status into doubt moving forward.

-It’s random that Man City’s Aymeric Laporte is on the Spanish team. He’s from France. Has a French name. Played for France youth level teams up through age 21. Then this year he decided to switch countries and play for Spain.

-Marek Hamsik always a fun player to watch for Slovakia. Good player and usually a nice mohawk.

-#ChelseaWatch- The fearless captain Cesar Azpilicueta will surely offer the Spanish team a reliable performance no matter where they decide to deploy him.

EURO 2020: Group D

England (3)*, Croatia (14), Czech Republic (40), Scotland (44)*

This is one of the best England teams ever…oh wait, we say that in advance of every international tournament.  And, they haven’t won a World Cup since 1966 and have never won a EURO Championship.  Is this the year?  It could be…  Their group is not easy, per se, but navigable, and they should win it.  Croatia is always good – and has been a thrown in the English side, including beating the Three Lions in the World Cup semis in 2018 on a 109th-minute goal by Mandzukic.  The Czechs are never an easy out, and there’s nothing that Scotland would rather do than beat England.  But, this is still the English group to lose.

If anyone can underachieve with a loaded roster, it’s England, but even the GOATS of disappointing, heart-breaking flameouts might not be able to screw this one up because this iteration of the Three Lions is really, REALLY good.  At 11/2 odds to win it all, England is oddsmakers’ second choice to win it all behind only France at 5/1.  They have a stout defense loaded with top Premier League talent (Maguire, Stones, James, Chilwell, Shaw, Walker) a strong midfield (led by emergent Chelsea star and a personal favorite, Mason Mount, and Liverpool captain, Jordan Henderson), and a ridiculously talented group of forwards (Rashford, Saka, Sterling, Foden).  And, of course, there is Harry Kane, the reigning Golden Boot winner, who was the top-scorer (12) for the second-highest scoring team in all of qualifying (37 total goals behind only Belgium with 40).  The question marks are the tactical ability of manager Southgate and the immense pressure that is always placed upon the Three Lions.  And, the fact that they always fall short in this event, having only made the semis once (1996) and never played in a EURO final.  But they are coming off a semifinals at the WC, so this team might be ready.

Easily the biggest threat to England winning their group is Croatia, the team against whom they open the tournament.  The World Cup runners-up in 2018 won a really tough qualifying group and should be considered legit contenders to go pretty deep in this tournament.  However, there are concerns.  The Croats are still very talented, but also aging, particularly, their all-everything midfielder, Luka Modric, who is now 35 and apparently showing some signs of decline.  There are a slew of solid midfielders around Modric (Croatia always seems to produce great middies), including Chelsea’s Kovacic, a pair of Milan men in Perisic and Brozovic, and a potential future star in Vlasic, so it’s not all on their star, but they do need him to do Modric things if they are to go far this month.  Sunday’s opening game against England should be really good.

If the Croats show their age, they could be challenged for #2 in this group by the Czech Republic, who, while rarely talked about, have been a fixture in this event – making every EURO since 1996.  They made the semis in 2004 and the finals in 1996.  They struggled in 2016, losing all three of their matches, and they aren’t really seen as a real threat to do much this year, but it’s a proud program with a breakout Premier League star in Tomas Soucek, who has scored 10 times for surprising West Ham this season.  They probably don’t have enough around Soucek to challenge England, but their match against Croatia a week from today should be interesting.

Of all the teams that could have shown up at the #4 spot in England’s group, the most interesting happened – Scotland.  The Scots have not made a EURO since 1996, but they beat Israel on PKs in a playoff semifinal and then beat Serbia in PKs in the playoff final – going 5-for-5 in both shootouts.  And, now, they will try to get to the Knockout Stage here for the first time ever.  There are actually a good amount of Premier League players on this roster, including Aston Villa midfielder John McGinn, who scored 7 times in qualifying (no one else on the team had more than 1).  No matter what happens in the other matches, the June 18 showdown at Wembley Stadium against England is going to be must-see TV, and, if the Scots can pull off the upset, it could be a “remember where you were” soccer moment.

Doogan’s Thoughts:

-When your soccer focus is on the Premier League, the England team always looks like an All-Star squad, but moreso now than like 5 years ago. I’m still not totally sold, but hard to the Czechs or Scots giving them too much trouble. On top of all the stars Bry mentioned above, there are two other attacking options who have long been rumored for big club moves: Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish and Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho. They both might be finally making those moves this summer and maybe what they do here will play a role in where they end up.

-The retirement of Mandzukic looks tough for Croatia because I don’t see a striker option that can compare. But, maybe there’s some guy I just don’t know about.

-#ChelseaWatch: On top of the Chelsea men Bry mentioned, Billy Gilmour is in the Scottish squad. The 20-year-old (who looks like he’s 14) got some run for the Blues this season, and while I don’t think he’ll be starting it will definitely pique my interest whenever he gets on the field in this tourney.

 

EURO 2020: Group C

Netherlands (16)*, Austria (23), Ukraine (24), North Macedonia (62)

What a dream group for the Dutch, as this is clearly the weakest group and should be a pretty smooth path for the Orange to the Knockout Stage.  The question is who will get that #2 spot and whether the North Macedonians can pull off an upset similar to their win over Germany in March.

The big winners of the lottery draw seems to have been The Netherlands, as the Dutch are only the 8th most likely team (according to oddsmakers) to win the tournament, but they are the biggest favorite to win their group of any team in any group.  And, maybe they need to ease into this as this historic soccer powerhouse failed to qualify for the 2016 EUROs and the 2018 World Cup.  In fact, they haven’t played a single game in this tournament since 2008…which is REMARKABLE for a team with such a rich soccer history.  It remains to be seen if this new crop of Orangemen can find “it,” but if they do, they may be led by the former ManU wing, Memphis Depay.  But, the soccer gods gave them a cushy group, so they should set themselves up nicely here.

The second spot in this group is wide open, and it might just be the upstart soccer program from Ukraine.  Coached by former Chelsea striker, Andriy Shevchenko, the Ukrainians were very good in qualifying and are led on the field by another Andriy – West Ham’s Andriy Yarmolenko – and a Ruslan – Atalanta’s Ruslan Malinovskyi.  Another feather in Ukraine’s cap is that most of the team plays club together Dynamo Kyiv, and it’s always interesting when a team just brings their best club team to an international tournament.  A lot of times, it works.

The other team that in strong contention for the other auto-bid to the Knockout Stage is Austria.  This team is very defense-oriented team without a ton of international talent, but they do have Bayern Munich’s David Alaba, who should be used as more of an offensive weapon for the Austrians than he is at Bayern.  The Austrians have a good shot to make it to the Knockout Stage for in this tournament for the first time ever – in fact, they have never even won a match in this event.

And, finally, this group is rounded out by the lowest-ranked team in the whole tournament, North Macedonia.  They finished third in their qualifying group (behind Poland and fellow-Group C member, Austria), but beat Georgia in something called a “Path D playoff” or something like that.  It wouldn’t be unnatural to overlook this team, but it might not be wise either, as just three months ago, they shocked Germany – yes, GERMANY – with a 2-1 win in World Cup qualifying.  It snapped a 35-game unbeaten streak for the Germans in WC qualifying, and it wasn’t entirely a fluke.  North Macedonia had more shots on target (3-2) and more corners (5-2) than ‘Ze Mighty Germans.

Doogan’s Thoughts:

-Weak group but I think an interesting one. The Dutch team was looking like they’d be a real threat in 2020 but they’ve lost the world’s best center back, Virgil Van Dijk, to injury, and a lot of their guys have just had somewhat disappointing seasons. Matthijs de Ligt (center back, Juventus) and Frenkie de Jong (midfield, Barelona) are seen as two of Europe’s future super-stars after they helped lead Ajax to the Champions League semifinals two years ago. And I’m intrigued by this Wout Weghorst, who I knew nothing about but has averaged 18 goals a season in the Bundesliga over the past three years.

-Oleksandr Zinchenko a man to watch for Ukraine. He’s established himself at starting left back for Prem champs Man City. Believe he’ll be in a midfield role for this team.

-David Alaba actually just departed Bayern for Real Madrid like last week. Him and Zinchenko both examples of guys that have certain roles for their club teams and then very different ones for their country. Alaba clearly the Austrians best player so they will probably look to get him involved in ways he won’t for a Bayern or Real. For Austria, also interested to see Sasa Kalajdzic, who netted 16 Bundesliga goals this year and is 6’7″. You don’t see many non-keepers that tall!

-For the Macedonians, Ezgjan Alioski had a solid Premier League season for Leeds and Elif Elmas is the young gun who has established himself as a 2-year starter for Napoli at just 21-years-old. Clearly the minnows here but they have some real players.

-None of the players in this group won the Champions League this year. #ChelseaWatch

 

EURO 2020: Group B

Belgium (1), Denmark (10)*, Russia (38)*, Finland (54)

Group B is a bit top-heavy here, as they feature the World #1 in Belgium as well as another legit contender in Denmark.  The one thing that could throw this group for a loop is the unknown of the Russians, who are hosting.  But, the Finns seem like a squad that is just happy to be here, as they have qualified for a major international tournament for the first time ever.

Belgium’s “Golden Generation” might be slightly on the downslope in 2021, but they are still close enough to the pinnacle to be ranked #1 in the world and the one of the three favorites along with France and England (according to oddsmakers) to win this tournament.  Their 3rd place at the 2018 World Cup was seen as somewhat of a disappointment, which should tell you all you need to know about just how much talent has come out of this tiny country in recent years.  Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne may both be on the “back nine,” but they’re much closer to the 11th tee than the 17th green…if you will allow me to overplay a metaphor.  They also have Milan’s Romelu Lukaku (who scored 4 goals in the 2018 World Cup) and the Real Madrid keeper, Thibaut Courtois.  This is a relatively navigable group, and the Red Devils are the clear favorites here with a shot to win their first ever major international tournament.

But, Group B isn’t going to be easy, particularly with a very dangerous Denmark team lurking.  The Danes are red hot, winning three 2022 WC qualifiers by the combined score of 14-0 (pay no attention to the fact that it was Israel, Moldova, and Austria).  They also beat England at Wembley Stadium in October, which was only the 3rd time in the last 50 games that the English national team has lost on their home soil.  Plus, they are hosts in this tournament, so their Group Stage games will be played in Copenhagen.  As long as I’ve been alive, they’ve had a Schmeichel in goal, so that’s a familiar sight, and they have Milan’s star playmaker, Christian Eriksen, leading the outfield.  This is a very good team and their match against Belgium on Thursday is one of the best Group Stage matches of the entire tournament.  The Danes did win this thing back in 1992, so there is a history here, as well.

The one thing we know about Russia here is that we really don’t seem to know much at all, do we?  It appears as if they have completely flipped their roster from the last time we saw them on the international stage (when they made the Final 8 as the host of the 2018 World Cup).  But, apparently, there are reasons to be optimistic.  First of all, they are hosting, and they are notoriously tough at home (see: 2018 World Cup reference in previous sentence).  But, they have a promising striker named Arten Dzyuba, and they have shown some offense potency in qualifying, but it has had to be as their defense has been somewhat shoddy (only 2 clean sheets and 18 goals conceded in just 11 games since the start of 2020).  The combination of host venues and the presence of a weak Finland could get the Ruskies through to the Knockout Stage, and the unknown of this roster could be unknown “great,” but it could also be unknown for a reason.  I see no reason to think that this team could challenge their best ever EURO finish of a semifinal appearance in 2008.

While Finland is probably just an also-ran here this year, it will be a fantastic month for the Finns, who will be playing in the first major tournament in their nation’s history!  In EURO qualifying in 2016, Finland didn’t win a single game, going 0-9-2.  And, just five years later, they finished second in their group (behind only Italy) to allow them to be the debutants of the EURO 2020 Ball.  Their coach is a 57-year old former school teacher who has absolutely no club-level coaching experience.  Led by Norwich’s Teemu Pukki (great name!), this team is reminiscent of the Icelandic emergence of the last half-decade.  So, if you like underdogs, this collection of blond-haired, blue-eyed gentlemen might just be your team.

Doogan’s Thoughts:

-I’m hopeful De Bruyne is able to be himself after having his face broken by Chelsea in the Champions League final two weeks ago (oh, in case anyone missed it, CHELSEA WON THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE). De Bruyne is a transcendent talent and probably the right answer to: “Who is the best player in the Premier League?” It would be nice to be able to watch him without having to root against him like I do when he’s playing for Man City.

-Eden Hazard will always be one of my all-time favorites, but he’s done basically nothing the last two years for Real Madrid due to injuries. He is a giant X factor for this tournament. Will we see the real Hazard or even something close to it?

-#ChelseaWatch: Andreas Christensen will be the key presence in defense for Denmark after coming on as a sub and turning in a very nice performance in the Champions League final (which Chelsea won, by the way. Champions of Europe. No big deal.)

-All I have on Russia is that Dzyuba, mentioned above, was dropped from the team temporarily this past year because of….well, you can see for yourself.

EURO 2020: Group A

Group A:  Italy (7)*, Switzerland (13), Wales (17), Turkey (29)*

This is a fun and balanced group that has a clear favorite (Italy) and a clear underdog (Wales) alongside a vulnerable #2 (Switzerland) and a dark horse contender (Turkey).  The tournament kicks off with an interesting Italy-Turkey match today at 3:00.

The host nation, Italy, is the clear favorite here as this international powerhouse is back after a bit of a down period, including the ignominious 2018 World Cup where they failed to qualify for the first time in 60 years.  They have only won one EURO ever and that was in 1968, but they have a shot here this year to end that drought.  The Azzurri went 10-0 in qualifying (and unbeaten in their last 27 matches!!!), including a combined 17-0 difference in their last 7 matches.  They have their typical stout defense along with very Italian-style midfielder (including Milan’s Nico Barella, Chelsea’s Jorginho and PSG’s Marco Verratti) that runs the show with creativity and flair.  They are tough to score on and, if they can continue to find offense, they will be a really tough out.

The Italians will open the tournament on Day One against one of the popular dark horses, Turkey.  The Turks made the semis in the 2008 EUROs and the 2002 World Cup, and while they are not picked to equal that success this year, they weren’t picked to do it in either of those years either.   They have a star midfielder in Hakan Calhanoglu and a legit goal-scorer in Burak Yilmaz.  They are probably #3 in the pecking order here behind Italy and Switzerland, don’t be surprised if they make some noise and could even finish top-2 here and not need a wild card to advance.

Switzerland is the consensus #2 in this group (though, I think Turkey is right there with them) having won 6 straight entering the tournament, but the competition hasn’t been all that stiff.  This team might be vulnerable here with that June 20 match against Turkey potentially being the difference between advancing and not.  The Swiss made it to the Round of 16 in 2016, but, surprisingly, that was the first time they’d ever made it out of group play in this event.  It’s a wide-open group, which is both good for and because of Switzerland’s potential vulnerability here as the projected #2.

And, finally, we’ve got Wales.  Don’t be fooled by the FIFA rank of 17, this isn’t a great team.  But, they do still have Gareth Bale and they also have the memories of a magical run in 2016 where, somehow, they made the semifinals – a run that included a shocking knockout of #1 Belgium – in their first ever EURO appearance.  If they are going to make another run, they will likely need results in each of their first two matches – tomorrow against the Swiss and Weds against Turkey – because Italy awaits on the Final match day of Group A.

Doogan’s Thoughts: 

-First off, great start here Bry! You know I am ready for this tournament after a 5-year wait since the last one and 3 years now since the last “major tournament” with the 2018 World Cup.

-As you say, it’s a wide-open group and I think I like Wales more than you do. To me, Italy are clear favorites but I wouldn’t be surprised by the order for any of the other three behind them.

-I’m interested to see this striker Yilmaz for Turkey. 35-year-old but has never been on the radar of this Premier League-centric fan. But he led the line for a Lille team that just beat out mighty PSG for the Ligue 1 title in France, so he’s clearly legit.

-The nucleus of this Swiss team has been together for a long time now, which is a good thing but…they also haven’t accomplished all that much. It feels a little like a college basketball team that brings everyone back but you’re left wondering: is that really a good thing?

-Anyone who pays any attention to international soccer is familiar with Italy’s legend goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. After two decades, the 43-year-old is still playing club ball but has finally retired from the national team. That’s opened the door for another Gianluigi: Donnarumma. A 22-year-old who has all the makings of taking this role for the next 15 years or so. He took over as AC Milan’s starter at age 17 and has just secured a move to PSG, so his profile is really on the rise. Will be interesting to see how he does replacing Buffon this month.

-Finally, on the #ChelseaWatch, 20-year-old Ethan Ampadu will be in contention for a starting spot for Wales. He’s been out on loan from Chelsea the last couple years and likely will be again but he is seen as a possible future contributor to the Blues and has versatility to play either defensive midfield or center back.