Euro 2020-at day ten offers peek at contenders

Portugal's coach Fernando Santos
Portugal's coach Fernando Santos

Euro 2020 has given us 26 matches and enough evidence to begin to see where we are headed down the road past the Euro Group stage.

In Euro Group A, Italy has moved on as the top team and Wales has come in second, with Switzerland in a good position for a progressing third-place slot, while Turkey with three losses and -7 goals has been eliminated.

What we have learned is that Italy is a stronger team than most might have thought but not the juggernaut others make it out to be as they have yet to meet top opposition and seem susceptible to fast counters and any attack that makes it past the midfield and forces the goalkeeper and the pure defenders to work on their own. Yet, at this early stage, they seem a contender.

In Euro Group B, Belgium will progress, and all of the remaining teams have a mathematical possibility of moving on.

What we have learned is that Belgium can be for real. They are a championship contender, if Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, and Axel Witsel are available for extended action.

In Euro Group C, the Netherlands will progress, while Ukraine and Austria play out who comes in second and who might get enough positive statistics to compete for a third-place slot that could move on. North Macedonia with two losses against their rivals for a third-place slot, and a -3-goal differential, are eliminated.

What we have learned is that the Netherlands are back as a national power but not yet there as a Euro contender. They did well against their weaker competition and have a potentially weak couple of rounds ahead, but they do not seem ready to take on one of the other true European powerhouses.

In Euro Group D, England and the Czech Republic will meet knowing that a win or draw places the Czech’s in first place while a loss will likely move them no worse than second unless Croatia wins big (+4 goals) over Scotland. Meanwhile, Scotland must beat Croatia or they will end up being eliminated.

What we have learned is that England is still yet not ready for prime time but is close to becoming a contender. Croatia, on the other hand, is playing like a tired group of veterans without a mission. It will take a great performance for them to get the win they need to get out of the group and if they meet superior competition while continuing to play as they have, their tourney will soon be over.

In Euro Group E, Sweden can advance with only a draw against Poland and if they lose, they will still be coming in third. Slovakia can advance with a win over Spain or a draw if Sweden wins or draws against Poland. Spain, though need a win over Slovakia to ensure passage as a draw leaves its future to how others perform. Poland needs to beat Sweden and hope Slovakia and Spain do not draw.

What we have learned is that willy Sweden is still tops among the second tier of European nations while Spain is slipping into that category in this tourney because of their lack of experience and reliance on new talent. If Spain fail to qualify, Coach Luis Enrique may well be packing his bags.

In Euro Group F, Germany will advance by beating Hungary and Portugal will advance by beating France all other scenarios allow multiple possibilities.

What we have learned is that Fernando Santos has painted his team into a corner—by losing to Germany themselves, Portugal now needs to defeat the team who beat Germany. France has barely won one and drawn the other, so they will be primed to bring their A-game to their final group match against Portugal.

If Portugal is to win that match, it will have to tinker with its defense while adding a bit more offensive firepower given their need to win. This will be the toughest of tests for the Iberians because if Santos cannot figure out how to settle his defense while simultaneously giving free rein to his offense his team may not progress. Unfortunately, what needs doing goes against the grain of the coach’s philosophical slant. Fortunately, if he is able to get over his proclivities, Portugal may produce the biggest repeat victory of its history, over a superior France, and then be psychologically poised to make a real run at the trophy.

 

Photo: Fernando Santos  35346183 © Cosmin Iftode | Dreamstime.com

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