A year later than the competition’s official title might suggest, Euro 2020 is finally kicking off this week.
Delayed, like just about every other competition was in one way or another by the coronavirus pandemic, the Euros will go ahead somewhat as planned a year later as a pan-European quest to crown the continental champion. Two of the initial host sites, Dublin and Bilbao, were forced to back out, but 11 cities across UEFA’s regional territory will stage matches, from Friday’s opener at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome to the July 11 final at Wembley Stadium in London.
Of the 24 teams taking part, there’s been plenty of focus on France, which is the reigning World Cup champion and looks as strong as ever, at least on paper. Portugal is the reigning European champion, though, and has since added a UEFA Nations League trophy to its list of achievements, while a slew of other contenders should make for a dramatic and dynamic competition.
So how will the tournament play out, and who will be the last team left standing, all while making a massive statement a year and a half out from the next World Cup? Our panel of experts sorts it all out with our predictions and bracket picks below.
As a refresher, here are the groups for this summer’s competition, with the top two finishers in each group going through and the four best third-place sides joining them in the knockout stage:
Group Winners: Italy, Belgium, Ukraine, England, Spain, France
Group Runners-Up: Turkey, Denmark, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Poland, Portugal
Top Third-Place Finishers: Switzerland, Russia, Sweden, Germany
France has by far the strongest squad in the tournament, a coach in Didier Deschamps who is experienced in grinding out results and, perhaps most importantly, a relatively straightforward draw after it tops a difficult group. England, by contrast, should have an extremely difficult knockout draw and, while the advantage of playing at Wembley could see the Three Lions reach the quarterfinals, a resurgent Spain in Rome may be too much—even if England has just eliminated the defending champion in the last 16.
Italy has settled under Roberto Mancini, whose approach seems ideal for international football, and it may have too much in the quarterfinals for a Belgian side that always seems to under-deliver for its talent. Germany has a gifted squad but is in chaos, and even home advantage may not help there, while Denmark, with a solid structure and a relatively straightforward draw, could be the dark horse. Its last-16 game against Turkey, another emerging side, has the potential to be an unexpected classic.
Group Winners: Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, England, Spain, Portugal
Group Runners-Up: Switzerland, Denmark, Ukraine, Croatia, Sweden, France
Top Third-Place Finishers: Turkey, Austria, Poland, Germany
For the sake of a planet that might not be that excited about watching France ease its way to another trophy, coach Didier Deschamps has introduced a beguiling wild card: Karim Benzema.
What was the one element Les Bleus lacked three years ago in Russia? A striker who scored goals. Who can be that, while also potentially torpedoing the chemistry and cohesion Deschamps established with a notoriously fragile team? Also Benzema. It all fits with France’s traditional status as clown show or contender. But Deschamps has earned the benefit of the doubt. The 2018 World Cup was a masterclass in team-oriented, tournament-winning football, and Benzema should be in his best form and on his best behavior after a long exile. This team is just too deep and talented. France’s primary title rivals, Portugal and Belgium, will meet in the opposite semifinal. Perhaps if Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne were at their very best, the top-ranked Red Devils would have enough. But France has no weaknesses, and it’ll find a way.
Group Winners: Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, England, Poland, Germany
Group Runners-Up: Switzerland, Denmark, Ukraine, Croatia, Spain, France
Top Third-Place Finishers: Turkey, Russia, Sweden, Portugal
The biggest surprise in my bracket may be Germany topping the group of death, but I’m banking on Die Mannschaft squeezing a point from the comforts of home in Munich in the group opener against France. But in the end, I can’t find it in me to anoint anyone but Les Bleus as the next European champions, especially after their devastating extra-time final loss in Paris in 2016. No group has the same combination of firepower, depth and big-game experience as the French, especially with the return of Karim Benzema. The only team that can eliminate France is France, and after its 2010 World Cup fiasco, that isn’t necessarily out of the question. But here’s to hoping that we get the France-Belgium final that the 2018 World Cup deserved.
Group Winners: Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, England, Spain, France
Group Runners-Up: Turkey, Denmark, Austria, Croatia, Sweden, Portugal
Top Third-Place Finishers: Switzerland, Finland, North Macedonia, Germany
North Macedonia? Finland? Let’s get weird. (And lest we forget that North Macedonia and Finland have somewhat recent friendly wins over Germany and France, respectively.) With third-place teams going through, there’s always room for some Cinderella runs. They won’t go long, though—save for a surprise jaunt to the semifinals for Turkey that includes the final gut-punch defeat of Jogi Löw’s run as Germany manager.
Ultimately, France and Belgium are again slated for a semifinal that should be the final, but this time Belgium—current injury concerns aside—ekes out the result and goes on to deny a better-than-you-think-they-are Portugal side a second straight title for the crown jewel of the Red Devils’ golden generation. And a bonus prediction: Last-16 defeats spell the end for Gareth Southgate at England and Frank de Boer with the Netherlands before World Cup qualifying resumes.
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