EURO 2020 Preview: Group C

Welcome to part 3 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 C euro 2020

We now move on to looking at Group C, another set of teams that is somewhat tricky to predict albeit this time with a much clearer gulf in quality between the four sides who make up the group.

Group C Breakdown

Netherlands

The Netherlands euro 2020

How did they get here?

After the double heartbreak of missing out on both Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup, the Dutch were never going to be kept out of the third tournament in a row. They were undoubtedly heavy favourites to finish in the top two of qualifying Group C and that’s exactly what they did. Achieving runners up spot with a record of 6-1-1, Oranje finished a comfortable six points clear of third placed Northern Ireland.

Team history at the Euros

The Netherlands have an illustrious history in this competition, but one that has also been plagued by inconsistency. Their finest result was of course the triumph of 1988, in which the Dutch powered past the Soviet Union to win the trophy, courtesy of Marco Van Basten’s legendary volley. In their last appearance at the tournament, in 2012, they crashed out in the group stage and lost every game, highlighting the team’s Jekyll-and-Hyde like history in this competition.

The Star Player

With star defender Virgil Van Dijk ruled out of the tournament following a horrendous injury last October, attention will likely shift to the other end of the pitch for the Dutch, where forward Memphis Depay is expected to play a key role. The forward scored six times in qualifying, and has just come off the back of an excellent season with Lyon – his goals will likely be key to the Netherlands ambitions.

How will they fare?

Even with Van Dijk out, The Netherlands still possess the strongest squad in Group C and should finish top relatively comfortably, in spite of their unpredictable record in tournaments. If they achieve that, they’ll be rewarded with one of the third placed teams in the last 16, and then, should they get past that stage, one of the group runners up in the last eight, paving a clear way through to the semi-finals. This path holds a lot of promise for the Oranje, now they’ll have to deliver on it.

Ukraine

Ukraine euro 2020

How did they get here?

Up next in Group C we have Eastern European giants Ukraine. Although qualifying always looked quite likely for them in UEFA Group B, they greatly impressed and even surprised a few people by topping the group, finishing three points clear of Portugal. Other than an undefeated record of 6-2-0, A 5-0 hammering of Serbia and 2-1 triumph over the Portuguese were two of the team’s highlights.

Team History at the Euros

Since achieving independence in the 1990’s, it’s taken Ukraine a bit of time to find their place at the Euros, although this is now their third tournament in a row since making their debut in 2012 as joint-hosts. Both of those attempts ended in a group stage exit, with a particularly disappointing one in 2016 in which the team failed to score at the tournament.

The Star Player

Winger Andriy Yarmolenko may be the current top scorer in the squad, and by some distance, but in recent times fellow forward Roman Yaremchuk has started to dislodge him as Ukraine’s key man up top. Yaremchuk was the team’s top scorer in qualifying with four goals, and he has just achieved a 20-goal season for the first time with Gent in the Belgian Pro League. He may not be well known right now, but he could certainly make a name for himself in the coming weeks.

How will they fare?

Ukraine’s experience of the Euros has been miserable up until now, of that there’s no question, but this time things might be different. Andriy Shevchenko’s men will feel they have a decent chance of progressing for the first time given the opposition in Group C. However, a runner up spot would likely pit the Eastern Europeans up against Italy, which could well be the end of the line. Still though, this looks to be a tournament of progress for Ukraine.

Austria

Austria euro 2020

How did they get here?

Taking up the third spot in the group, we have Austria. Much like the other sides so far in Group C, Austria would’ve been expected to progress to this tournament with a relatively high degree of confidence, and managed just that by claiming second place in Qualifying Group G. It may not have been the most convincing qualifying campaign in the world, with a record of 6-1-3, but it was enough to see Das Team finish five points clear of third place.

Team history at the Euros

Similar to Ukraine, Austria are also a team that haven’t enjoyed much success in the European Championships, albeit in a much longer timespan than the former. This will be the team’s third appearance, following their 2008 debut as joint-hosts and their 2016 appearance in France, both of which ended in a group stage exit. They’ll be desperate to avoid the same fate again.

The Star Player

A relatively easy pick this time around – team captain David Alaba remains by far and away Austria’s finest footballer. The versatile seven-time Austrian footballer of the year led his team through qualifying successfully, scoring a goal against North Macedonia in the process. He’ll be hoping to lead his side through to the knockouts for the first time, one way or another.

How will they fare?

Austria certainly aren’t bereft of good quality footballers, but at the same time it’s quite difficult to envision them finishing in the top two spots. There’s certainly a chance that the team can qualify from Group C as one of the allocated third placed teams, but the prospect of them going any further than that seems quite unlikely. Still, this tournament is known for its habit of surprises.

North Macedonia

north-macedonia-euro-2020

How did they get here?

Last but not least we have North Macedonia sitting in the final spot in Group C. Interestingly, the Balkan nation made their way to this tournament, their first ever, via a completely new method of qualification – the Nations League. Despite finishing third behind Austria in the regular qualifying group, the fact that North Macedonia had won their group in the inaugural Nations League back in 2018 entitled them to a spot in the EURO 2020 playoffs, in which they came out on top in a playoff path that contained the likes of Georgia, Kosovo and Belarus. An intriguing road to the tournament, but a successful one nonetheless.

Team History at the Euros

As mentioned, this is North Macedonia’s debut at the Euros, making them one of two debutants, excluding the days when they used to compete as one part of the former Yugoslavia. Relative minnows by European standards, they have done amazingly well to get to the tournament and succeed where some much more established footballing nations have failed

The Star Player

37-year-old talisman Goran Pandev remains by a distance the biggest name in North Macedonian football, but some inspiration in this tournament may well come from a different source, namely Leeds United’s Ezgjan Alioski. Efficient and dynamic as both a fullback and a winger, Alioski has proven his versatility against top opposition in recent months, and has enjoyed an overall successful season with The Whites. North Macedonia’s number 8 scored once in qualifying, and will be looking to leave his mark on this tournament as well.

How will they fare?

You never want to be too harsh in a tournament prediction before a ball has been kicked, but as the lowest-ranked side at EURO 2020, it’s difficult to see anything other than a group stage exit for North Macedonia. In spite of this, they proved in qualifying that an upset is not beyond their capabilities, and the fact that they even reached this tournament when all of their neighbours floundered should rightly be seen as a generational achievement in North Macedonian football.

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