Euro 2020 is right around the corner and there are 24 contenders vying for the crown. Gareth Southgate’s England will be desperate to be there on home soil while Scotland, back in a major tournament for the first time in more than two decades, will be hoping to do themselves justice on the biggest stage.
Wales, so brilliant last time out in 2016, would love for more of the same this time around while the likes of World Cup holders France, defending champions Portugal and two-time winners Spain all expect to contend at the sharp end.
Here’s everything you need to know about this year’s favourites and dark horses.
Lost in the final five years ago and want to add this title to the World Cup in 2018. The spine of the team – Hugo Lloris, Raphaël Varane, N’Golo Kanté and Kylian Mbappé – looks pretty unbeatable on paper. Will the return of Karim Benzema in any way upset the equilibrium – on and off the pitch – that the team have had for the past five years?
Key Player: Kylian Mbappé | Striker | Rating: 97/100
“I have the future Ballon d’Or winner right in front of my eyes,” said David Lasry, a scout for second-tier Caen, when he saw an 11-year-old Mbappé playing in his native Paris. Caen came close to signing the prodigy but could not convince authorities to relax rules about signing scholars who live more than 50km away. All Caen could do was congratulate themselves for being among the first to spot a talent now admired by the whole world. Mbappé revealed in 2018 that his arms-folded goal celebration was the idea of his then 11-year-old brother Ethan, who came up with it after scoring goals in Fifa. “Ethan told me: ‘Kylian, you could do that in a match.’ So I did.” Ethan’s reward was a chance to be mascot at Monaco’s Champions League semi-final first leg against Juventus. “It was a great moment,” said Kylian. “He was breaking my head at home. He said: ‘Take me, take me,’ so I said: ‘OK, I’ll take you, come on.'”
The top-ranked team in the world have one aim and that is to win the tournament. Read a tactical analysis here. Roberto Martínez has an impressive array of attacking talent with Kevin De Bruyne (fitness permitting), Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens feeding Romelu Lukaku up front. A defence with Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Thomas Vermaelen is ageing and could struggle against speed, and Axel Witsel’s injury is worrying.
Key Player: Kevin De Bruyne | Central Midfielder | Rating: 96/100
Belgium wasn’t the only option available to De Bruyne when it came to international football. His mother, Anna, grew up in Burundi before moving to Europe when she married his father, Herwig, although the Red Devils were always likely to be his main option. To negotiate his new contract at City, he didn’t use an agent and instead commissioned data analysts to assess his influence, resulting in a significant pay rise.
With the group stage and the last knockout rounds at Wembley hopes are high for the Three Lions. The form of young players such as Mason Mount and Phil Foden has given Gareth Southgate plenty of choice going forward. Southgate has been criticised for being too defensive against other top sides and needs to get the balance right in the big games.
Key Player: Harry Kane | Striker | Rating: 96/100
England’s squeaky clean captain had his traditional pre-tournament injury scare but his troublesome ankle seems to be fine and he remains a phenomenon. There are signs of a tumultuous summer ahead – this seems certain to be his last tournament as a Spurs player. His sporting talent doesn’t end with football – he loves his gridiron (his dogs are named after quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Tom Brady) and he has long talked about his plans to play in the NFL once his career ends. He also earned praise from India’s cricket captain, Virat Kohli, after a video of him showing off his batting skills in the gym went viral.
Not as star-studded as in recent tournaments but there is a huge amount of talent in the 24-man squad. Aymeric Laporte has finally been called up and in the 18-year-old Pedri they may just have – whisper it – found a new Andrés Iniesta. Having left out Sergio Ramos at the last minute there is a lack of leadership.
Key Player: Thiago Alcântara | Central Midfielder | Rating: 92/100
Since the retirements of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, Thiago stands out as perhaps Europe’s most technically accomplished midfielder. The son of World Cup-winner Mazinho and professional volleyball player Valeria – she gave up sport aged 19 to move to Europe with her husband and raise their children – and brother of Rafinha, now at Paris St-Germain, used to try to emulate his father’s moves in the family living room. “I put the table here, the chair there, and I’d dribble round them,” he said. “They had cones, I had chairs.” Thiago has gone on to win nine league titles in Spain and Germany and two Champions Leagues, and when Pep Guardiola moved to Bayern Munich he famously said his transfer priorities were “Thiago or nothing”. “He has no fear. He always thinks everything is possible,” says Guardiola, and for Thiago most things have been.
Joachim Löw is stepping down after this tournament, which is three years too late for many. As always a hugely talented squad with comeback kids (men) Mats Hummels and Thomas Müller adding much-needed leadership. There are question marks over whether the squad is still responding to Löw’s methods and the 6-0 defeat to Spain and 2-1 reverse against North Macedonia have not helped.
Key Player: Joshua Kimmich | Central Defensive Midfielder | Rating: 96/100
“He is like a strict dad,” Niklas Süle says of Kimmich, and the Bayern midfielder has always been mature beyond his years. A talented youngster he says he grew up when playing a year above in Stuttgart’s Under-17s. “I was always on my teammates shouting at them and so on,” he told 11Freunde. “If we’d lost I’d be gone, shouting and even crying. I carried on doing that with the Under-17s until I noticed that I wasn’t playing any more. I was on the bench. Then I started doing extra sessions and won my place back in the team.” After a spell at RB Leipzig he joined Bayern in 2015. Has six Bundesliga titles, three German Cups and one Champions League win – and he is only 26.
The reigning champions have a better squad on paper than when they won it in France. The fact that André Silva, who scored more Bundesliga goals than Erling Haaland in 2020-21, may not start says all about the quality up front. There is a growing concern that the team are playing “too much” for Cristiano Ronaldo when other players can be decisive too.
Key Player: Cristiano Ronaldo | Striker / Winger | Rating: 98/100
He described 2018 as his “most difficult year of all, on a personal level”, mostly because of Kathryn Mayorga’s legal case against him. That was also the year he decided to sign for Juventus and show that he could be a phenomenon in calcio. He became the first player to be league champion in England, Spain and Italy, as well as the first player to score 50 goals in those three leagues. Most recently, in March 2021, he broke Pelé’s record to become the greatest goalscorer in the history of football (although the Czech FA maintains that Josef Bican scored more goals). He has failed to win a Champions League with Juventus, and this season the ‘Old Lady’ broke its cycle of nine scudettos, yet Cristiano continues to accumulate achievements. And despite the controversy generated by throwing his captain’s armband to the ground after a winning goal against Serbia was ruled out in March, Ronaldo will be leading Portugal at Euro 2020. He has his eye on defending the European title and another on Ali Daei’s record of 109 international goals.
Wales reached the semis five years ago but few experts predict a repeat. Wales have a superb generation of young players coming through, such as Daniel James, Neco Williams and Ethan Ampadu. In a collective that relies on a bit of magic Aaron Ramsey’s injury problems are a concern and losing James Lawrence on the eve of the tournament was a blow.
Key Player: Gareth Bale | Right Midfielder | Rating: 90/100
Once the world’s most expensive footballer, Bale unquestionably remains his country’s trump card despite his bit-part role on loan at Tottenham this season. Made friends in Wales and enemies in Spain after celebrating qualification in Cardiff by cavorting with a flag that read: “Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order.” The leader of Spurs’ “Welsh mafia”, alongside Rodon and Davies, and his commitment to Wales since making his debut at left-back at the age of 16 cannot be doubted. Bale has formally taken on the captaincy following the retirement of Ashley Williams and is closing on 100 caps. Has won the Champions League a remarkable four times and has two La Liga titles to show for his seven years in the Spanish capital.
Back at a major tournament for the first time in seven years but form has been erratic. The Dutch have two of the best young players on the continent in Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong and a rejuvenated Memphis Depay up front. The loss of Virgil van Dijk to injury is a blow not only to the defence but when it comes to leadership.
Key Player: Memphis Depay | Centre Forward | Rating: 95/100
His time at Manchester United didn’t amount to much, but Depay’s form at Lyon has been a reminder of what he can do, and Barcelona are watching this summer. He made his international debut in 2013, then became the youngest Dutchman to score at a World Cup in 2014. Away from football he released his debut hip-hop music video, LA Vibes, in 2017, and his debut album, Heavy Stepper, last year, featuring one track, Big Fish, which takes aim at United’s owners: “I be planning to make some statements, I need money like the Glazers.” He caused controversy last year by posing with a liger in Dubai, prompting threats of legal action from animal rights groups.
Roberto Mancini has rejuvenated Gli Azzurri. They are a team without stars but hope to go far. This is a hard-working group who enjoy playing together. They have a very clear idea of how they want to play and, as always, the defence is strong. Italy need one of their strikers to have the month of their lives but a lack of physicality could be a problem in midfield.
Key Player: Ciro Immobile | Striker | Rating: 94/100
Surely the most misleading surname at the Euros. In Italian, immobile means motionless, but Immobile is constantly in motion, a king of the counterattack. “As a boy, once I got past a defender by running under his legs,” he said in an interview. A former Juventus youngster, he made his Serie A debut in 2009 replacing Alessandro Del Piero. Now a Lazio veteran, he won the 2019-20 golden boot with 36 goals, a Serie A record. He shares with the former Lazio captain Alessandro Nesta a passion for video games.