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.
-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.