With Euro 2020 now just around the corner, GiveMeSport shines a light on Group B, assessing the chances of Belgium, Denmark, Russia and Finland.
FIFA ranking: 1
Best Euros finish: Runners-up (1980)
Best player: Kevin De Bruyne
The 2018 World Cup was great as the Belgians finished third. Roberto Martínez impressed – especially in matches against Japan and Brazil and they followed that up with a perfect record in qualification: 30 points from 30.
The squad going to the Euros is much of the same. Fifteen of the 23 that went to Russia will take part in this tournament as well, which is why this feels like Belgium’s best chance for this generation to win a major trophy.
Their defence is a worry. Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen haven’t been the same since Russia, while there has been no emerging talent to back them up.
In midfield, Youri Tielemans and Kevin De Bruyne have been in the best form of their careers, while up top, Romelu Lukaku will go into the tournament on the back of his first title-winning season with Inter. Belgium’s record scorer has a knack of stepping up on big occasions, and this is another chance.
It’s a shame Eden Hazard won’t be the same. He was their best player in 2018 and one more spark this year would be very much welcomed.
Based on the draw, a quarter-final run should be the bare minimum. Beyond that, it’s hard to see them getting the better of the likes of France, Portugal, England and Italy.
FIFA ranking: 10
Best Euros finish: Winners (1992)
Best player: Kasper Schmeichel
There’s a feel-good factor around this Danish side. Qualification for the Euros may have posed a challenge but their results since have been impressive – finishing above England in the Nations League and a fine start to their World Cup qualifying campaign has given this team a boost of encouragement before the main tournament.
In coach Kasper Hjulmand, they have one of the most innovative thinkers in Danish football, and this is his biggest test.
The Danes’ strength lies at the back, where Leicester City’s Kasper Schmeichel and Milan’s Simon Kjær. In qualifying, they conceded just six and in three World Cup qualifiers in 2021, they’re yet to be breached at the back.
The improved form of Christian Eriksen, their most gifted midfielder, in 2021 will be a positive. He was given a greater role in Inter’s title challenge and will come into the tournament as a Serie A champion. Eriksen will form a solid midfield alongside Tottenham’s Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Borussia Dortmund’s Thomas Delaney. In attack, Martin Braithwaite and Yussuf Poulsen provide options.
Denmark will get to play their group games at home and that could benefit them. Getting through the groups should be doable. Beyond that, they will be fun to watch.
FIFA ranking: 38
Best Euros finish: Semi-finals (2008)
Best player: Artem Dzyuba
Russia making the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 2018 was unexpected. Home advantage may have given them a boost, and they’ll have that again for the group stages as Belgium and Finland will visit Saint-Petersburg.
Coach Stanislav Cherchesov has a few problems to deal with, however. Their form since the glory of 2018 has stumbled and players haven’t done too well since. Recent results have included 5-0, 3-2 and 2-1 defeats to Serbia, Turkey and Sweden while they even struggled to get the better of Moldova in a friendly, drawing 0-0.
The flamboyant Artem Dzyuba will lead the line having pushed Zenit St. Petersburg to yet another Russian league title, while behind him, Aleksandr Golovin, one of the brightest stars at the World Cup who’s move to Monaco hasn’t gone as planned, will pull the strings.
Brazil-born Mário Fernandes will be at right-back and he’s one of their best players having had a stellar campaign with CSKA Moscow while Yuri Zhirkov is probably in his last tournament on the other flank. Their defense is a worry, and after Igor Akinfeev called time on his international career, they have a gap in the nets, too. That could be their biggest problem.
The Russians could qualify from the group – especially as one of the four best third-place teams – but anything after that seems unlikely.
FIFA ranking: 54
Best finish: Tournament debut
Best player: Teemu Pukki
It’s always good to have a tournament debutant, and Finland fully deserve their place at the Euros this summer. They’ve been forced to wait an additional year for this opportunity, but it’s finally here and they will surely enjoy it.
There wasn’t much expectation surrounding them for the qualifiers, but they finished second behind Italy, four points clear of Greece in third.
Recent games have raised optimism around this team. They beat World Cup holders France 2-0 in a friendly last November at the Stade de France, while they were only four points behind Wales in their Nations League group. The signs are encouraging.
In terms of their talent, Teemu Pukki has been a threat in the Championship again, while Lukáš Hrádecký has shown his form in the Bayer Leverkusen net. Others such as Brentford’s Marcuss Fross, Rangers’ Glenn Kamara and AEL’s Tim Sparv will be hoping to contribute heavily too.
Coach Markku Kanerva is hugely popular in Finland and he’ll be hoping to raise that in this tournament. Belgium and Denmark will prove to be difficult opponents, but Russia are beatable. The fact that the four best third-placed teams qualify adds an interesting element to the Euros – it’s possible that Finland can surprise a few.News Now - Sport News