Euro 2020: Group F preview

By Jonny Tiplady

This summer we at Palatinate Sport will be releasing regular content relating to Euro 2020. Here we preview Group F, which consists of France, Portugal, Germany, and Hungary. For more detailed discussion and analysis, listen to Jonny TipladyMatt StylesGeorge Simms, and Ollie Phillips on the podcast (below).

France

The World Cup winners go into this tournament with just as much reason for optimism as three years ago. Didier Deschamps has a serious pool of talent at his disposal in every position, and the younger players they called upon in the World Cup have only grown stronger since then.

The likes of Kylian Mbappé, Presnel Kimpembe and Adrien Rabiot have three more years of experience under their belts. With the depth they have at their disposal, this squad is built to last the competition.

N’Golo Kanté will be the crucial cog in the midfield that keeps them chugging. Fresh from a Champions League triumph with Chelsea, he continues to prove that he can improve any side he plays in, on a quest to cover every blade of grass in all stadia across Europe.

And Deschamps’ Euro 2020 squad was notable for the inclusion of Karim Benzema for the first time in six years. His experience in the French frontline could prove key, with a partnership with Mbappé in the offing. It also means the role of Antoine Griezmann, who has struggled for consistency since joining Barcelona, will be called into question as well. He will most likely drop into a number ten role.

If there is one area you could argue is a potentially soft underbelly, it is the goalkeeping department. Hugo Lloris made a high-profile error in the World Cup final against Croatia, and still flatters to deceive at times. Mike Maignan, who recently had a brilliant title-winning season with Lille would be a better-suited option, but Deschamps prefers loyalty to the Spurs’ goalie.

Key Player: Kylian Mbappé. A terrific striker whose career has only gone from strength to strength, and at the age of 22, the sky is the limit for him. Electric pace and fantastic dribbling with both feet make him a nightmare for even the most reputed of defenders. He could learn a thing or two from Benzema in what certainly looks like a partnership to watch. Averaging almost a goal per game for Paris Saint-Germain, he carries a serious threat.

Player to watch: Marcus Thuram. Still a relative unknown on the international stage, this powerful winger is certainly one to keep an eye on. After two strong seasons in the Bundesliga with Monchengladbach, he could offer France a different option out wide. He has big shoes to fill, being the son of 148-time France international Lilian Thuram.

Germany

Nearly a decade ago, Germany was celebrating having lifted the most prestigious of international trophies in Brazil. Fast-forward seven years, one Euro semi-final and a dismal World Cup campaign later, and they seem like a side very much in transition.

The of Joachim Löw’s resignation from international management has dominated proceedings so far. And while players will be safe in the knowledge that Hansi Flick is waiting around the corner, there are still many question marks around the squad itself.

At the back, they have the ever-present Manuel Neuer in goal, a pair of steady hands with international pedigree coming out of his ears. His fitness will be crucial though, with two less than ideal understudies waiting in the wings in Bernd Leno and Kevin Trapp.

Löw recalled Mats Hummels for the first time in two years, which suggests some doubts about his current defence. While Antonio Rüdiger has enjoyed a good season with Chelsea, Niklas Süle has struggled for games over the last two seasons. Central defence could well be their weak spot.

Another man recently called back from the cold was Thomas Müller, another forward option that calls into question Löw’s faith in Timo Werner. Despite having struggled in front of goal for Chelsea, the striker’s movement off the ball would still help move defences around and unlock them.

Die Mannschaft boast possibly the strongest midfield options of the whole competition: Joshua Kimmich could start alongside Toni Kroos and İlkay Gündoğan in a 4-3-3, although he will likely also slip into the wing-back role in a back-five. Gündoğan comes off the back of a fine season with Manchester City, proving his value both offensively and defensively.

Key Player: Joshua Kimmich, a player who has more than taken the mantle of Phillip Lahm for both club and country. No matter what role he slots into, his all-around ability will allow this German side to push on with speed.

Player to watch: Jamal Musiala. It will be interesting to see how the 18-year-old fares in his first international competition at senior level. Despite representing England at under-21 level until just last year, he opted for the German national side. After a stunning season for German champions Bayern Munich, including 7 goals from attacking midfield, he now has the chance to make himself a true household name.

Portugal

The current European Championship holders will have a lot of optimism to take into this summer’s competition, mainly from the fact that their squad is so much stronger now. Led still by Fernando Santos, they have more formidable offensive options than 2016, meaning they can afford to adopt a less conservative approach if need be.

Joao Felix and André Silva are just two young talents that have added to the Portuguese ranks, and could both prove useful going forward. Bernardo Silva has enjoyed even more success with Manchester City and will likely line up on the right of a front-three. And, as ever, it will of course be difficult to leave out the evergreen Cristiano Ronaldo from this side.

In defence, Santos has a year’s postponement to thank for Rúben Dias coming into form just on time. His ability on the ball will allow the full-backs to push on slightly higher. Alongside him, there are the experienced heads of Pepe or José Fonte, both still enjoying domestic successes in the latter stages of their careers.

Bruno Fernandes, a pivotal figure in Manchester United’s second-place finish, will hope to provide an attacking edge to Portugal’s midfield. Danilo Pereira and a rejuvenated Renato Sanches offer the energy and defensive nous behind him to balance the team.

Key Player: Cristiano Ronaldo. It is hard to look past him here, a man who will play his sixth European Championship tournament. On a personal level, he has enjoyed another stellar season in Italy with Juventus, though he could not help them retain a tenth successive Serie A title. His direct running and fantastic killer instinct are still the envy of the world at the ripe age of 36. He is also a fine leader – who can forget his side-line encouragement in France.

One to watch: Nuno Mendes. This young left-back from Sporting Lisbon, at just 18, has had a fine first full season in his native Portugal. He has showcased a raw pace and ability on the ball, and it looks ever more likely that he will displace Raphaël Guerreiro in this Portugal side.  

Hungary

This Hungarian side goes into the group as serious underdogs, understandably so when compared with the three giants they have been unlucky enough to be grouped with. After 44 years without qualifying for a European Championship, Hungary now have their second to enjoy in just 5 years. However, it will take much more to repeat their feat of beating the group stage last time out, due to the sheer calibre of opponents.

They qualified in spectacular fashion, coming from behind to beat Iceland 2-1 with goals in the 88th and 92nd minute, a winner from Dominik Szoboszlai. However, they will be without their 20-year-old talisman, which means they will be lacking in the offensive department.

Their goal threat will fall to the boots of Ádám Szalai and Roland Sallai, two names Bundesliga fans may be familiar with. Chances will be at a premium, so Szalai’s ability to take clearances down and hold the ball for others in support will be crucial.

In midfield, the form of András Schafer and Ádám Nagy will be key to making sure the team isn’t overrun. Nagy has a wealth of international experience to pair with his partner’s relative inexperience, but they could complement each other.

Their strength is undoubtedly concentrated in the defence, with captain Willi Orbán and Attila Szalai just ahead of Péter Gulácsi in goal. Possibly with the most important job of any in the Hungary team, they know any lapse in concentration at the back could gift the opposition a chance.

Set piece plays will also be paramount considering the limited chances that will come their way. Orbán has 5 goals from 21 international appearances and loves to attack corners. His role in the heart of a three-man defence will be key for Marco Rossi’s side.

Key Player: Péter Gulácsi. In a group where his side will likely have their backs to the wall each game, the goalkeeper will have his work cut out for him. But the man from Red Bull Leipzig, who had the most clean sheets in the Bundesliga last year with 15, will be key in shutting out three strong attacks.

One to watch: Attila Szalai. It says a lot that our eyes should be firmly on their defence, but this young centre-back, a regular in Turkey for Fenerbahce, could have the opportunity to stand out alongside Willi Orbán.

The Verdict:

The ‘group of death’ is certainly shaping up to be as exciting as the name suggests. You cannot help but feel sorry for Hungary being drawn alongside France, Germany and Portugal. Any points on the board will be a good job for them against these sides. France, meanwhile, one of the tournament’s favourites, will hope to top the group and give themselves the best route towards the final. Portugal have much more about them than in 2016, and Rubén Dias could prove a crucial final piece of the jigsaw. It remains to be seen if Germany will have enough to put their World Cup disappointment behind them. Despite boasting the strongest midfield of the tournament, their slow defence and shaky striking options mean they don’t carry quite the same threat as their opponents. They should, however, benefit from four third-place sides being able to qualify from the group stage. But in a group as tight as this, anything can happen. Bring on the group stage…

Image: Sergey Aleshchenko via Flickr

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