The Group Of Death: EURO 2020 Group-F Roundup

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FRANCE

SQUAD UPDATE: Didier Deschamps’ France are widely regarded as the favourites for the tournament. The only surprise is, that they aren’t viewed as even stronger favourites, although their group stage opponents partly explain that. This is, by a distance, the most impressive squad at Euro 2020, boasting serious quality in every position in the first team, and impressive depth everywhere, with the slight exception of right-back. The major surprise is the return of Karim Benzema up front, although Deschamps had already shocked everyone by recalling Rabiot in midfield having previously declared his international career over. Benzema’s comeback is bad news for Olivier Giroud, who has been a stalwart in the French attack since 2017. Benzema is a greater goalscoring threat while also offering Giroud’s ability to bring others into play. It seems unlikely Benzema has been recalled to play a back-up role, but Giroud is always an effective Plan B given his prowess as a reliable super sub with Arsenal and Chelsea.

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The midfield of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante is unchanged from three years ago. Pogba plays a more reserved, conservative role than at club level alongside Kante, who has been sloppy for France at times, such as the dreadful game he endured in the World Cup final. Their defence is undoubtedly the strongest in the tournament with Presnel Kimpembe and Raphael Varane, and the Bayern duo of Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez on the flanks, both capable of defending and attacking well.

FORM: France come into the tournament in great form, sitting atop their Nations League group undefeated as a semi-final match up with Belgium beckons in early October. France managed to ease past Hungary and Bulgaria in their 2 recent warmup friendlies winning both 3-0. Benzema is coming off a great season, scoring 29 and assisting 9 in his recent campaign with Real Madrid. But it is undoubtedly Kylian Mbappe, who will be the talisman for this French attack. Scoring 35 goals last season with PSG, Mbappe is one of the favourites to top the scoring charts at the tournament.

PREDICTIONS: There’s no settling in period for France as they begin their campaign with a “knockout caliber” showdown with Germany. France are well equipped to finish top of this group, and will be more battle tested going into the knockouts, because of the quality of opponent they faced in the group stages. France are the bookies favourites, the fans favourites and the pundits favourites to win the competition, and given the talent they have, elimination anytime before the Final will be seen as a disappointment.

GERMANY

SQUAD UPDATE: Joachim Low going into his final tournament with Die Manschaft, still has a squad blessed with technical quality, especially in midfield. The midfield of Toni Kroos, Ilkay Gundogan and Leon Goertzka is one of the best in the competition. Goretzka however, might miss the first game against France due to injury. Low has had a problem at full-back since the retirement of Philipp Lahm, and even before it, considering his brief determination to deploy him in the centre of midfield. Joshua Kimmich is now in that Lahm situation, probably best in midfield, but likely to play right-back because of Germany’s plentiful options in the engine room and lack of them on the right of defence. Mats Hummels has also been recalled and is likely to play alongside Antonio Rudiger in a partnership that looks good on paper.

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There’s no shortage of talent in attack either, with Leroy Sane and Serge Gnabry providing the width, Timo Werner up front after coming off an indifferent season at Chelsea, and the recently recalled Thomas Muller providing the positional intelligence in his role behind the striker.

FORM: Despite having all this talent, things have not really clicked for Germany in the past few years. They come into the tournament unbeaten in the last 4 including a 7-1 thrashing of Latvia, but seemingly with no momentum. Such has been the nature of their performances, at time effective yet always thoroughly uninspiring. Although whenever up against a well established side, they seem lost on the pitch and often outplayed as seen when they were pulled apart by Spain in a 6-0 demolition as recently as last November.

PREDICTIONS: Germany face a tough task to finish in the top 2 spots of the group, however given the nature of qualifying they could make it to the Knockouts as one of the best 3rd place teams. This era of German dominance looks likely to end with a whimper as anything beyond the round of 16 stage seems improbable.

PORTUGAL

SQUAD UPDATE: Portugal come into the tournament with seemingly a much more talented squad than the all conquering one in 2016. The Defending champs have a wealth of attacking talent with Manchester United talisman Bruno Fernandes, Manchester City and Liverpool stars Bernardo Silva and Diogo Jota providing the firepower next to Cristiano Ronaldo. They have a solid midfield pairing of William Carvalho and Ruben Neves who sit in front of defence of recently crowned Premier Player of the Year, Ruben Dias and Pepe who brings a wealth of experience into a relatively young Portuguese defence.

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The solid spine of Neves, Carvalho, Pepe and Dias allows Cancelo and Raphael Guerreiro to push up the flanks. This Portugal side will be one of the most effective at defending their penalty box, and also one of the more entertaining sides to watch in this tournament. They also have great strength in depth, with Andre Silva and Joao Felix available to come off the bench. Fernando Santos’ side come into the tournament as one of the more cohesive and settled sides.

FORM: Portugal come into the tournament as one of the most inform teams, on the back of winning the inaugural Nations League tournament, they are also undefeated in their last 13 games. They have proven themselves to be a very tough outing for any caliber of opposition, extremely effective in nullifying top European opposition, and being ruthless against the lower ranked nations. With the duo of Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes scoring a combined total of 60 goals between them, Portugal come into the tournament on red hot form.

PREDICTIONS: Portugal certainly have the talent to beat anyone, but with the nature of their group and their tendency to draw in the bigger games, the group could be very tightly packed. This could benefit Portugal as they could possibly grab top spot from France if they get a positive result from their head-to-head matchup. Finishing second could lead to an early meeting with England, but if the draw is favourable in the early rounds another possible run to the Final beckons.

HUNGARY

SQUAD UPDATE: Undoubtedly the minnows of this group, neither the draw nor injuries have been kind to them. Hungary do have a decent spine, however, dominated by a couple of RB Leipzig players, goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi and centre-back Willi Orban. However, their club team-mate and Hungary’s best, Dominik Szoboszlai, is out through injury. Up front, Adam Szalai allows Hungary to play more directly into the strikers, with Roland Sallai likely to play off him making continuous runs in behind, albeit without offering much of a goal threat.

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FORM: Hungary finished 4th in their qualifying group and hence went into a one-legged playoffs against Bulgaria who they moved past comfortably winning 3-1, into a matchup against Iceland. They won that too after great last minute drama, when staman Dominic Szoboszlai weaved past the the Icelandic defence to score the decisive goal to send Hungary to the European Championships.

PREDICTIONS: The big 3, all expect to beat Hungary, but should they manage to take a point of just one of the other three, things promise to get ever-more interesting. With a very tightly packed group Hungary can maybe hope to come 3rd if Lady Luck is on their side, however any position but 4th seems unlikely. But then again as the great Joel Goldman once wrote “If a man doesn’t dream, he has nothing. A man whose dreams will never come true still has nothing”

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