The UEFA European Championships has been held every four years since its inception in 1960, with 2020 being the only exception no thanks to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The tournament is contested by 24 of the 55 senior men’s national team registered under UEFA. Germany and Spain remain the most successful countries in the competition’s history with three trophies apiece, while the host of the previous edition in 2016, France has two winners medal to their name. Portugal, who are the current holders of the Henri Delaunay Trophy (which is awarded to the winners of the Euros), secured their only triumph in 2016, following a 1-0 victory over France in 2016. Other countries the Soviet Union, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Netherlands, Denmark, and Greece have also have one title to their name.
From the exceptional brilliance of Denmark in 1992 to the sheer resilience of Greece in 2004, the Euros have provided memorable football moments not just to fans in Europe, but across the world. The quality of European players across the continent suggests that the 2021 edition will be just as exciting, if not more so, but not everyone is pleased. Professional athletes and their family members are now prohibited from participating in any form of betting, both online and offsite, according to Jouerenlignefr.org. The ban is the result of leagues and federations trying to prevent players from being tempted to get involved in match-fixing. This is a good initiative that will help the sport in the long run, but it’s understandable that some people will be critical because betting on UEFA matches is a big part of the fun. With that said, let’s look at some of the early favorites for this summer’s tournament.
Head Coach – Didier Deschamps
Key Player – Kylian Mbappe
The current world champions are currently the odds-on favorite to win this summer’s tournament and go on to secure their third overall title. Didier Deschamps’ troops reached the finals on home soil in 2016, where they narrowly lost to Portugal in the final. Buoyed by their World Cup triumph in Russia in 2018, France will be looking to go one step further than the last time by claiming glory -their first since David Trezeguet’s Golden Goal winning triumph in 2000.
With players like Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, Raphael Varane to mention but a few, to look forward to, France has a squad of players like no other national team across Europe, but no player is more important to the French cause than Kylian Mbappe. The 22-year-old was one of the best players in Russia, helping his country to success, and remains one of the best players in the world. Didier Deschamps will be hoping to become the first man to lead his country to both World Cup and Euros’ success as a player and head coach -after captaining France to the trophy back in 2000.
Head coach- Roberto Martinez
Key Player – Kevin De Bruyne
If France is trying to add to their success, then they might need to overcome Belgium again, who is still in the hunt for their first major trophy. The Belgians were eliminated in the semis of the World Cup in Russia in 2018, where they lost 1-0 to eventual champions, France. The current crop of Belgian players is the best the country has ever produced, and if this “Golden generation” is to leave behind a long-lasting legacy they need to win a major trophy.
Head coach, Roberto Martinez has made the Belgium national team a more consistent one since taking over after the Euros in 2016 and will be hoping to lead them to glory in his first outing as a national team coach in the continent. Eden Hazard is Belgium’s captain and had a stellar outing three years ago in Russia, but with his struggles with injury and form since moving to Real Madrid in 2019, the Belgians might look to Kevin De Bruyne for leadership. The Manchester City talisman is one of the best midfielders in the world, and his imperious creative ability to unlock goal-scoring opportunities for players like Romelu Lukaku and Dries Mertens.
Head Coach – Fernando Santos
Key Player – Cristiano Ronaldo
The defending champions will go into this summer’s tournament with a crop of more talented players than they did back in 2016. With young, outstanding players like Joao Felix, Diogo Jota, Ruben Dias, and experienced heads like Joao Mourinho, Pepe, Bernardo Silva to name but a few -Portugal has the right balance to defend their crown. Unlike previous years where the hopes of the country rested on the shoulders of Cristiano Ronaldo, the Selecao have a team that needs the leadership of their talisman as well as his goal-scoring abilities to become the cherry on a wonderfully baked cake.
Head coach, Fernando Santos knows the reigning UEFA Nations League champions can’t think too far ahead -as they have a daunting task in the group stages, after finding themselves thrown into a group that includes France and Germany. Portugal would fancy their chances of making it into the second round, and who knows, the Portuguese team might just equal Spain’s record of becoming back-to-back Euros champion in 2012.
Head Coach – Roberto Mancini
Key Player – Gianluigi Donnarumma
After missing out on the 2018 World Cup, Italy is back in a major tournament for the first time since 2016. The Azzurri had an impressive go round the last time in 2016 despite being eliminated in the quarterfinals by Germany -eliminating defending champions convincingly on the way. Roberto Mancini’s side are a more expansive team compared to the Italian sides of the past, thanks to their impressive midfield trio of Marco Verratti, Jorginho, and Nicolo Barella. 2019-20 Serie A top scorer, Ciro Immobile has yet to translate his club form for the national, and the Italians have struggled to score as much as they would like so far -but with Gianluigi Donnarumma between the sticks, Italy has one of the best goalkeepers across the continent- which makes them difficult to beat.
The Azzurri are in Group A along with Switzerland, Italy, and Wales, and should fancy their chances of making it into the later rounds of the tournament.
Head Coach – Gareth Southgate
Key Player – Harry Kane
The golden generation of players like Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes, and Steven Gerrard may be well past The Three Lions, but this current crop of players is as talented as the country has seen for a while. Southgate’s men finished fourth at the World Cup finals in Russia three years ago and will be looking to go a step further this summer. With players like Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho, and Marcus Rashford to go along with the imperious goal-scoring ability of Harry Kane, England have quite a team -at least in terms of going forward. The improvement of John Stones this season could be key to the team, the defender is having a career year at Manchester City and Southgate would be hoping his form translates to the national team level. Drawn into a group with Croatia, Czech Republic, and neighbors, Scotland, England will fancy their chances of coming out tromps and with an eye on the trophy.
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