I’m confused. It has been an exhausting season for couch-based football watchers like me and, to be perfectly honest, I still haven’t got my breath back. And now I see Euro 2020 is about to start. Despite the fact I’m almost certain we are in 2021…
Further compounding my confusion, the geniuses over at UEFA have decided to make Euro 2020ne a bloated, pan-European competition, which will flop inelegantly onto our beach of a summer like a groaning, gasping, moribund blue whale. In the overall ranking of poor administrative decisions made by the former head of UEFA, Michel Platini, it sits somewhere around 378th.
Will I ever learn to love this overweight step-child of a tournament? Yes. Yes I will. Probably within about 10 seconds of it kicking-off. Right up until England start playing…
An issue for England, uniquely among the major footballing nations, is the knowledge that if there is a weakness somewhere in the squad, no matter how infinitesimal, on the biggest stage it will be exposed in the most brutal fashion. Slightly inferior left back? He’ll be giving away a clumsy penalty in the 89th minute. Goalkeeper who flaps at crosses now and again? At a key moment he’s going to flap so hard he’ll fly out of the stadium. A feint, nebulous feeling of ennui within the squad? Iceland will pull your pants down and repeatedly smack your bottom.
The weakness of the current squad is arguably in central midfield, where international experience is thin on the ground. This likely means that England will meet France in the last 16 and N’Golo Kanté will bewilder and bamboozle the boys to such an extent they will feel they like have just gone 12 rounds with Tyson Fury. And that will be just during the warm-up.
There is also a gargantuan over-reliance on the Chingford Pelé, Harry Kane. No group has ever been quite so dependent on a striking Harry since Blondie started scoring hits in the late 70s.
England should emerge from Group D – though it may not be pretty – where the highlight will be an emotional clash with an increasingly balanced and confident Scotland on June 18th.
France arrive at the tournament with the strongest squad. Outrageous talent in all departments. In fact, the only outfit realistically capable of beating the French is the French themselves, which is why it is surprising to see Real Madrid stalwart Karim Benzema back in the fold – a player whose relationship with his national teammates has been fractious to say the least. As long as he doesn’t pick which film will be shown to his fellow players on movie night, though, they should be OK.
Belgium are almost entirely unchanged from the last World Cup, which automatically puts them amongst the favourites. With Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard, and a Romelu Lukaku in rollicking form, creativity and goals are unlikely to be an issue. But one wonders if the three wisened men at the back – Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Vermaelen – have maybe played one game too many?
This year’s hipsters choice could be Turkey. Managed by Şenol Güneş, who oversaw the successful World Cup campaign in 2002, The Crescent Stars qualified in impressive fashion. With Leicester City’s Çağlar Söyüncü as their poster boy, and a berth in Group A alongside Wales, some Turkish delight is sure to be on the menu.
Look, there are simply far too many teams for me to go through them all in any kind of granular detail – again, blame Platini for that, not me – but Spain, Italy, and Portugal will also be playing football somewhere. And Germany are approaching the tournament in a slightly subdued fashion, which means they’ll probably win the whole damn thing. Also, Denmark have a striker called Jonas Wind. This is all the important information you could possibly need to know at this stage…