The stage is set for the 2020 European Championship. Here are the five most compelling storylines from Saturday’s draw:
Pressure on Italy right away
At first glance, Group A tips heavily in Italy’s favor. The Azzurri avoid travel in the opening round, while their opponents face 3,000-plus kilometer treks from Rome to Baku.
But it’ll be far from a walkover for the Italians. Their first game of the tournament is against Turkey, which finished qualifying with the joint-fewest goals conceded (three) in 10 matches. Merih Demiral and Caglar Soyuncu have a tremendous understanding at the back, and their teammates are more than capable of going forward. Turkey will point to June’s famous 2-0 win over France as evidence it can topple the favorites.
Italy won all 10 of its qualifiers, but the pressure is back on the resurging football nation. The Italians are not only expected to win, but they need to do it in style, too. Roberto Mancini’s side tore up the usual defensive blueprint and banged in a ridiculous 37 goals during qualifying.
The ultimate group of death
All they could do was laugh. As Joachim Low, Didier Deschamps, and Fernando Santos reacted to the draw – which placed Germany, France, and Portugal together in Group F – the world frothed at the mouth.
How could the reigning European and World Cup champions meet each other as early as the group stage?
Maybe it was meant to be, as these three teams share recent history. France dumped Germany in the semifinals of the 2016 Euros, and Portugal upset Les Bleus to win the whole thing. Germany hasn’t beaten France since it won the 2014 World Cup, while France boasts nine wins and one loss in its last 10 outings against Portugal. It’s a dizzying love triangle.
Germany does have the benefit of playing all three group matches at home. The odd team out, however, could find a way to the knockout round as the best third-place finisher.
But there’s a fantastic reward for the best of the three. Finishing atop Group F means avoiding another group winner until the semis.
England’s shot at revenge
Who knows what would’ve happened if England beat Croatia in the 2018 World Cup semis. Maybe the Three Lions would’ve put up more of a fight in the final than their Balkan counterparts, who collapsed 4-2 at the feet of the French.
There’s a lot of tension between the two countries. Remember, it was Croatia that knocked England out of Euro contention in 2007 with a late goal at Wembley. England will now get a chance to avenge that defeat at the very same stadium.
The team is arguably better than it was a year-and-a-half ago, but the expectations for England are greater than they’ve been in some time. Several exciting players are at Gareth Southgate’s disposal, including Jadon Sancho, a thrilling dribbler coming into his own, and Raheem Sterling, who’s one of the best in the Premier League. Failing to get the best out of them could result in Southgate’s dismissal.
Even if England gets by Croatia and claims first in Group D, it will face one of Germany, France, or Portugal in the round of 16. Watch out.
Netherlands’ path is clear
Following years in the wilderness, the Netherlands returned to being a powerhouse. Manager Ronald Koeman ushered in a new generation of players with pace and technique, and after so much tactical frustration, he found success the traditional 4-3-3. Fielding robust defenders in Matthijs de Ligt and Virgil van Dijk has helped, too.
Now that it’s back among the elite, the Netherlands will get a significant shot at redemption at the Euros. The Dutch are sure to navigate the rather painless Group C, with Ukraine and Austria likely vying for second best against one of the four playoff winners.
The knockout stage doesn’t offer much more resistance. If the Netherlands qualifies as the winner of Group C, it would then play a third-place team in the round of 16. If the Dutch win that, they’d square off with the runner-up from Group A or B. Easy does it.
Group C gives outsiders hope
Let’s spare a thought for the forgotten participants in Saturday’s draw. Four of the remaining 16 hopefuls will join the tournament as playoff winners. Some will be luckier than others.
Group C, D, E, and F are open to the field. For obvious reasons, Group F is the one to avoid. If one of Iceland, Bulgaria, or Hungary emerge victorious from Path A – one of four playoff quartets – that team would serve as cannon fodder in the group of death.
Romania is the only country from Path A that would escape imminent danger. One of the tournament’s 12 host nations, Romania would be rerouted to the much more manageable Group C, as three of its games are taking place in Bucharest. The country to make it out of Path D – any one of Georgia, Belarus, North Macedonia, or Kosovo – would then swap places with Romania and grovel for forgiveness in Group F.