EURO 2020 Preview: Group B

Welcome to part 2 of our Euro 2020 preview series, where we dissect the 24 participants, one group, at a time, trying to predict who will succeed or flop at this summer’s tournament.

group-b-euro-2020

In this preview, we will be looking at Group B, a group where the gap in talent between some of the teams is far more obvious than in many of the other groups. With a tournament debutant, rising stars and the world’s best ranked team, Group B has all the ingredients for some scintillating football and intriguing storylines

Group B Breakdown

Belgium

Belgium vs Russia euro 2020

How did they get here?

Group B begins with Belgium, the third-placed team from World Cup 2018 who still retain their position as the number 1 side on the planet in the official FIFA rankings. In qualifying the certainly lived up to that reputation, finishing top of Group I with a flawless record of 10 wins and just three goals conceded. A resounding double over Russia underlined the Red Devils’ quality.

History in the tournament

This will be only Belgium’s 6th appearance at the European Championships, but second in a row thanks to the remarkable talent of the golden generation. It was this group of players who made the quarter-finals last time around in 2016, although a shock defeat to Wales at that stage halted what many thought would be a head-on charge for the trophy itself. For Belgium’s finest Euro result, you need to go back to the summer of 1980 where the team finished as runners up to West Germany.

The Star Player

If you win Premier League player of the season twice in a row, chances are that you’re a pretty incredible footballer, and that’s exactly what Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne is. Now well and truly in the prime of his career, De Bruyne scored four times for his country in qualifying, and although he hasn’t yet fully shaken off his injury from the Champions League final, you expect that he’ll still have a huge role to play in this side.

How will they fare?

There are no easy paths in tournament football, but Belgium’s route through this tournament may be particularly tricky. Win the group and a relatively easy tie against one of the third placed teams will be the next challenge, before the potentially daunting task of facing Italy in the last 8. It would be a close match-up if it were to happen, but could well be the end of the line for the Red Devils in this tournament.

Russia

Russia euro 2020

How did they get here?

Facing Belgium first will be their aforementioned Group I rivals, Russia. Still energized by their fantastic World Cup performance as hosts in 2018, the continued momentum saw the Russians rip through qualifying with a record of 8-0-2, beating all opponents except for the far stronger Belgium side. So convincing was their overall performance in the group that they finished a resounding nine points clear of third placed Scotland.

History in the tournament

This will be Russia’s 6th appearance at the Euros as an independent nation, or 12th if you include the days when they used to compete as part of the Soviet Union. The nation’s finest footballing moment came during the Soviet era when the USSR won the very first edition of the Euros back in 1960. Modern Russia has had its moments too though, like when the team reached the competition’s semifinals in 2008. The last time out was a miserable affair, however, finishing bottom of their group at Euro 2016, and Stanislav Cherchesov will be hoping that the World Cup momentum is maintained in this competition.

The Star Player

Russia may appear a bit thin on the ground when it comes to star players or household names in European football, but a handful of Russian players have stepped up massively for the national team in recent years, Artem Dzyuba chief among them. The big striker scored nine times in qualifying, making him one of the top scorers in UEFA qualifying, and Dzyuba will be hoping to follow up his three World Cup goals in 2018 with some more fine performances at EURO 2020.

How will the team fare?

With Belgium seeming highly likely to top the group, chances are it’ll be a straight shootout between Russia and Denmark for second place, and a tough one to call at that. If Russia do claim that second spot, they’ll be up against the runner-up of Group A, potentially Turkey. Progress from that tough fixture and the Netherlands could be lying in wait in the quarter finals, which would be a huge ask. However, making the last eight should certainly be considered a successful tournament for Russia.

Denmark

denmark euro 2020

How did they get here?

Taking up the next spot in Group B we have Denmark, a surprise absence from the last edition of the European Championship. It was a disappointment that they were clearly eager to correct, though, as they finished second in qualifying Group D albeit with an underwhelming record of 4-4-0. Still, it was enough for the Danes to finish three points clear of the Republic of Ireland in third.

Team history at the Euros

Although not always feared in this tournament, Denmark are the proud protagonists of one of the greatest stories in the history of the Euros. Having snuck in the back door of Euro 1992 as a result of Yugoslavia’s disqualification, the Scandinavian side shocked the world by winning the tournament, beating southern neighbours and then-world champions Germany. Their last Euros appearance wasn’t quite so impressive though, when they finished third in a group of death at Euro 2012 and crashed out as a result

The Star Player

He may have endured a difficult time since moving to Inter Milan 18 months ago, but for Denmark, Christian Eriksen’s influence hasn’t waned one bit. The Danish captain scored five goals in qualifying, and sits as his nation’s fifth highest all-time scorer despite being a midfielder. A match-winner in crucial moments, expect him to be pulling the strings once again for Denmark.

How will they fare?

As mentioned previously, Russia and Denmark are likely to contest second place in the group, although of course there is a 2 in 3 chance that either of them could qualify as one of the third placed teams as well. Should Denmark finish second, they’ll be on a similar journey to what we outlined for Russia, facing off against Turkey in the knockouts, a tough game for both sides. Regardless of the result there, you feel that a potential match-up against the Netherlands in the following round could be a step too far for the Danes.

Finland

finland euro 2020

How did they get here?

We round off Group B with Finland, one of just two debutants at this tournament. With Italy finishing as the runaway winners in Qualifying Group J, the array of other teams – namely Finland, Bosnia and Greece, were left scrap it out for second place. Despite an even record in their head to head games with the Finns, Bosnia slipped up against some of the lesser opponents in the group, teams that Finland beat in matches that would ultimately seal the team’s place at the Euros. A record of 6-0-4 was enough to get the job done.

Team History at the Euros

As previously mentioned, not only is this Finland’s debut at the European Championships, it’s also their first appearance at any major football tournament. Like a handful of teams around Europe since the 2016 tournament expansion, Finland have grasped the opportunity to make history, and the fact that they have even made it to this tournament is a colossal achievement for Finnish football.

The Star Player

Guess who? It’ll be no surprise to see we’ve picked Norwich City hitman Teemu Pukki as Finland’s key man, following what was almost a one-man show in the qualifying campaign. Finland’s talisman scored 10 goals in qualifying, netting well over half of his country’s total goals in these matches and becoming one of only five players to reach the double-digit goals milestone in this campaign. He is just three strikes away from becoming his nation’s all-time top goalscorer, and a goal or two at the Euros would be the icing on the cake for Pukki following this monumental effort.

How will they fare?

There was never going to be an easy set of fixtures for Finland at this tournament, but being placed in Group B looks to be a very challenging assignment indeed. Denmark, Russia, and of course Belgium are all stronger on paper, and it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Finland escape from the group. In truth, any points on the board should be seen as a triumph by the tournament debutants.

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