With the UEFA Euro 2020 set to kick off soon, we bring you the lowdown of Group B, which comprises of Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Russia.
After a year-long wait, the UEFA Euro 2020 is finally upon us. Europe’s quadrennial footballing extravaganza was supposed to go down in 2020 but the coronavirus pandemic meant that the tournament had to be postponed by a year.
The competition will be hosted at 11 venues across 11 countries, with things kicking off on June 11 as 24 teams compete to be crowned the Champions of Europe. With the group stages less than a fortnight away, The Hard Tackle will take you through an extensive analysis of each group and what can be expected from the teams in it.
Having taken a thorough look at Group A, the focus now shifts towards Group B where one of the tournament favourites Belgium have been drawn alongside an in-form Denmark side, along with 2018 FIFA World Cup quarter-finalists Russia and Finland.
Group B – Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Russia
June 12: Denmark vs Finland; Belgium vs Russia
June 16: Finland vs Russia
June 17: Denmark vs Belgium
June 21: Russia vs Denmark; Finland vs Belgium
The No.1 ranked team in the world, Belgium have stayed at the top of the FIFA World Rankings for almost three years now and enter the Euros as one of the early tournament favourites and rightly so, considering how they blew past teams during the qualification phase. Indeed, Roberto Martinez & co. picked up ten wins in ten games in a qualifying group that had tricky opponents like Scotland and Russia, plundering goals for fun while hardly letting in any.
Under Roberto Martinez, led by the Golden Generation of players, Belgium have grown leaps and bounds over the past four years or so. But a trophy continues to elude the Red Devils. Quarter-finalists in the previous edition of the Euros in 2016, Belgium came away with the bronze medal in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. That is something that Martinez and the team will be keen on addressing over the next month or so.
Speaking of form heading into the tournament, Belgium have lost just one of their last 11 games – a 2-1 defeat to England in the UEFA Nations League September last year. An 8-0 win over Belarus in the World Cup Qualifiers in March showed just what the Red Devils are capable of when they are at their devastating best.
Martinez’s squad does not come bearing any major surprises either, with the roster being full of familiar faces led by superstar-on-the-wane Eden Hazard, whose form will be of concern for Belgium heading into the tournament.
Youngsters such as Jeremy Doku and Youri Tielemans provide a good balance to the experience of Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Dries Mertens while there are also some world class stars in Thibaut Courtois, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne.
Key Players: Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne
Eden Hazard would have been an automatic pick any other time but after the season that he has endured at Real Madrid, the Belgian wing-wizard will need to step up in a huge way if he is to make a difference. Given Hazard’s decline, the extra onus will be on the superstar duo of Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne to lead the Red Devils all the way in the tournament.
Lukaku is coming on the back of one of his best-ever seasons in club football, having led Inter Milan to the Serie A title when De Bruyne’s status as the best attacking midfielder in the game currently is unquestioned. There are a few concerns after the Manchester City man suffered a horrific-looking injury in the Champions League final but he is expected to be fit, available and firing for Belgium.
Having failed to qualify for the Euros in 2016, Denmark return to the tournament and do so in fine fettle under the tutelage of new manager Kasper Hjulmand. The Danes sealed their berth in Euro 2020 on the back of an unbeaten qualifying campaign that saw them finish runners-up in a group that also had Switzerland and Republic of Ireland, with former manager Age Hareide still at the helm.
The Euros were meant to be the Norwegian’s last project with the team before his contract ran out. But with the competition being postponed, it is Hjulmand, who took over from Hareide last year, that will lead the Red and Whites into the competition. The 49-year-old has already done some fine work and got the team playing positive, attacking football that has started to reap rewards.
Denmark, currently the tenth-ranked team in the world, have lost just one of their nine games since October 2020 and warmed up for the Euros in fine fashion by winning three in three in their World Cup qualifiers in March, scoring 14 times and letting in no goals – with the 8-0 thrashing of Moldova being the highlight.
Led by AC Milan’s veteran defender Simon Kjaer, Denmark have some quality operators in the ranks like Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Andreas Christensen, along with star man Christian Eriksen, while the promise shown by youngsters like Mikkel Damsgaard and Andreas Skov Olsen bodes well for the Red and Whites.
The lack of a prolific goalscorer, though, could pose an issue, with Martin Braithwaite, Kasper Dolberg and Yussuf Poulsen coming on the back of ordinary seasons for their respective clubs.
Key Players: Christian Eriksen, Kasper Schmeichel
Christian Eriksen will undoubtedly be the main man for Denmark heading into the Euros. The Inter Milan playmaker might well be relieved over the fact that the tournament was postponed by a year as he was going through a torrid phase around this time last year. But, having enjoyed a rejuvenation of sorts over the past ten months, he will be raring to show his quality on the biggest of the stages.
While Eriksen will offer the flair and creativity at the top, it will be up to Kasper Schmeichel to keep things tight and organised at the back. The Dane is coming on the back of a trophy-winning season with Leicester, having captained them to the FA Cup and will be pushing to achieve success with the national team as well, to follow in his father, Peter’s footsteps, who was part of the Denmark side that won 1992 European Championships.
For Finland, the Euros will mark a historic occasion as it is the first time ever that they have qualified to the finals of a major tournament. Indeed, the Huuhkajat have never appeared any of the past editions of the European Championships of the World Cup but were able to break the hoodoo under Markku Kanerva who has been at the helm of the team since 2016.
Finland’s qualification for the Euros came about after they finished second in Group J behind Italy, while beating the likes of more fancied teams such as Greece and Bosnia and Herzegovina for the spot. While they did show some positive signs during the UEFA Nations League campaign towards the end of the last year, their form has been quite poor in the lead-up to the big tournament.
Indeed, Kanerva’s men are without a victory in their five games (D2 L3), that includes back-to-back defeats against Switzerland (March) and Sweden (May) in friendlies. It will certainly take something special for Finland to make it out of the group stages, but the motivation of a maiden major tournament can work wonders.
As for the squad, Finland will largely rely on star striker Teemu Pukki, although the fact that he has been out with an injury since last month is a cause for concern. There is some promise offered by youngsters like Onni Valakari and Marcus Forss but seniors like Tim Sparv will have to step up, although he too is battling fitness issues.
Key Players: Teemu Pukki, Glen Kamara
As iterated earlier, Finland’s hopes will largely be on the shoulders of one Teemu Pukki, who dragged them through the qualifiers on the back of his prolific form, scoring ten goals in ten games. Just two shy of the legendary Jari Litmanen’s tally of 32 goals, the 31-year-old, if he is able to get back to fitness in time, can go on to topple that record and become the nation’s all-time leading goalscorer.
Another player who can be a standout for the Huuhkajat is Rangers’ midfield mainstay Glen Kamara. The Finnish ace played a key role in helping the Gers win the Scottish Premiership, on the back of which, has been linked with a move to Arsenal. A hard-nosed, tough central midfielder, he will need to be at his best to shield a vulnerable backline.
Following the promise that was shown during the FIFA World Cup 2018 in which they made it all the way to the quarter-finals, things have somewhat hit a standstill for Russia. They achieved qualification to the Euros without much of a stress, finishing second in their group behind Belgium, losing just two of the ten games – both vs the group winners, winning the remaining eight fixtures.
However, not much progress has been made as Stanislav Cherchesov failed to lead them to promotion in the UEFA Nations League on two occasions already while things appear tricky with regard to their World Cup qualifying hopes as well following the defeat to Slovakia in March. Just two wins in ten games leading up to a major tournament does not makefor good reading for Russia.
But the fact that they will be playing two of their three group stage games at home in front of over 30,000 fans could turn the tides in their favour. Russia had one of the oldest squads in the last World Cup and are likely to do so again in the Euros with Cherchesov still trusting the experienced heads of Yuri Zhirkov, Artem Dzyuba, Fedor Kudryashov, Mario Fernandes among others.
One major miss for Russia, though, will be former captain Igor Akinfeev who has hung up his boots. Up and coming stars like Aleksandr Sobolev, Aleksei Miranchuk and Rifat Zhemaletdinov, among others, do offer some hope.
Key Players: Aleksandr Golovin, Artem Dzyuba
In a side that is not stocked with flair and individual talent, a certain Aleksandr Golovin sticks out as someone to keep an eye out for. The 25-year-old had been one of Russia’s top performers during their impressive run in the World Cup and will once again have to step up and take over the creative mantle, following a decent season with Ligue 1 side AS Monaco.
At 32, he may not be the youngest, but big man Artem Dzyuba still knows how to score the goals and is coming on the back of a 20-goal campaign with Zenit St. Petersburg. With Russia set to play their two home games at the Gazprom Arena, Zenit’s stadium, the veteran forward will be in familiar territory and keen to make an impression.
Likely to qualify: Belgium, Denmark
Heading into the tournament, it will be a huge shocker if Belgium fail to top Group B. Even though Eden Hazard has struggled, Roberto Martinez’s men have quality in huge abundance to see off any threat from their opponents, especially given the form that Romelu Lukaku has been in.
As for the second spot, Denmark seem like a good shout considering how well they played during their World Cup qualifiers in March. They have a stable backline, a reliable goalkeeper and solid midfielders in Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Thomas Delaney. Christian Eriksen has found his groove again and even though goals could be an issue, they should find a way through.