Euro 2020, Group C preview: Netherlands set to dominate, Ukraine a force

Had Euro 2020 gone ahead according to schedule last year, the Netherlands would have been among the clear favourites. A year on, the world has changed with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Forward Memphis Depay will be key in attack for the Netherlands.   -  REUTERS

The team that defeated a four-time world champion just two months ago is expected to finish last, and that isn’t the only thing that makes Group C interesting.

The Netherlands

Any group that features the Netherlands is bound to attract attention. This is the first major event for the Dutchmen since the 2014 World Cup, and had Euro 2020 gone ahead according to schedule last year, they would have been among the clear favourites. A year on, the world has changed with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Netherlands football team too has changed. The man who brought it back to world football’s elite, Ronald Koeman, is no longer the coach. He quit to take up the job at Barcelona. Frank de Boer, another former Dutch international with a long career as a player behind him, has taken over.

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It is quite a challenge to take up an assignment like the Euros just months before kickoff, more so when the team has to deal with the absence of Virgil van Dijk, regarded by many as the world’s best central defender, the injured Liverpool star having ruled himself out of the tournament.

Van Dijk will surely be missed, but the Netherlands still has the resources – in defence it features the likes of Stefan de Vrij, Daley Blind and the young Matthijs De Ligt – to mount a serious challenge for the big prize. The side qualified by finishing runner-up in its group to Germany, which it defeated 4-2 in the away leg.

Lyon striker Memphis Depay was one of the stars of the Dutch campaign with six goals. Barcelona’s gifted midfielder Frenkie de Jong is another player the Netherlands banks heavily on, as it hopes to move to the round of 16 — as the likely group winner — and beyond.

Squad: Goalkeepers: Marco Bizot, Tim Krul, Maarten Stekelenburg; Defenders: Nathan Ake, Daley Blind, Matthijs de Ligt, Stefan de Vrij, Denzel Dumfries, Patrick van Aanholt, Joel Veltman, Owen Wijndal; Midfielders: Frenkie de Jong, Marten de Roon, Ryan Gravenberch, Davy Klaassen, Teun Koopmeiners, Quincy Promes, Jurrien Timber, Georginio Wijnaldum; Forwards: Steven Berghuis, Luuk de Jong, Memphis Depay, Cody Gakpo, Donyell Malen, Wout Weghorst.

Manager: Frank de Boer

FIFA ranking: 16

Last 3 Euros: 2016 did not qualify; 2012 group stage; 2008 quarterfinals

Last 5 matches: Wins 4, losses 1, goals for 16, goals against 6

Ukraine

Ukraine is another team that stands an excellent chance of taking one of the two ensured spots from Group C. The team could take heart from its unbeaten performance in the qualifiers, as it finished on top of its group ahead of Portugal and Serbia.

A 2-1 win against Portugal was the highlight of its campaign. Roman Yaremchuk scored both goals inside the half-hour mark before Cristiano Ronaldo struck from the spot in the second half.

Andriy Yarmolenko’s performance for Ukraine, especially in the counterattacks that the team is known for, could be vital.   -  Getty Images

 

But it is another striker the rival defence could be even more wary of — West Ham United’s Andriy Yarmolenko, who is second in the all-time scoring list for Ukraine with 38 goals, behind national team coach Andriy Shevchenko. Yarmolenko’s performance, especially in the counterattacks that Ukraine is known for, could be vital. In the midfield, Ruslan Malinovskyi holds the key, while at the back, Mykola Matvienko is a formidable presence. Further behind is the towering presence of the seasoned goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov.

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Much is expected from the balanced Ukrainian side, considered by some as the dark horse of the competition. Shevchenko’s boys could only do better than what their predecessors did at the Euros; Ukraine was eliminated at the group stage in both 2012 and 2016.

Squad: Goalkeepers: Georgiy Bushchan, Andriy Pyatov, Anatolii Trubin; Defenders: Oleksandr Karavaev, Serhiy Kryvtsov, Mykola Matviyenko, Vitaliy Mykolenko, Denys Popov, Eduard Sobol, Oleksandr Tymchyk, Illia Zabarnyi, Oleksandr Zinchenko; Midfielders: Roman Bezus, Yevhen Makarenko, Ruslan Malinovskyi, Marlos, Mykola Shaparenko, Taras Stepanenko, Heorhii Sudakov, Serhiy Sydorchuk, Viktor Tsygankov; Forwards:Artem Besedin, Artem Dovbyk, Roman Yaremchuk, Andriy Yarmolenko, Oleksandr Zubkov.

Manager: Andriy Shevchenko

FIFA ranking: 23

Last 3 Euros: 2016 group stage; 2012 did not qualify; 2008 group stage

Last 5 matches: Wins 2, draws 2, losses 1, goals for 8, goals against 9

Austria

While Ukraine has at least one win to boast of from its two campaigns at the Euro finals, Austria, which has also played twice, has none. A second straight Euro had looked in doubt as Franco Foda’s boys were beaten by Poland and Israel in back-to-back matches at the beginning of the Group G ties. But they bounced back in admirable fashion, winning their next three on the trot, which included a 6-0 rout of Latvia. They finished second in the group behind Poland, despite being avenged 0-1 by the Latvians in the last match.

Austria will want Marko Arnautovic to continue from where he left off in the qualifiers, where he scored six goals.   -  Getty Images

 

Austria must be hoping to advance to the round of 16. Since four third-placed teams will also go through, the Austrians have reason to be confident of their chances. Austria’s fortunes could centre around the versatile David Alaba. The Bayern Munich star, who was named the Austrian player of the year for an astonishing seven times in the last 10 years, could make telling contributions in both defence and midfield. He will be joined in the midfield by Marcel Sabitzer. When you add Julian Baumgartlinger, you have one of the most formidable midfield lineups in the tournament.

Up front, Marko Arnautovic is the main man. Austria will want the former West Ham United striker, who moved to Shanghai Port FC in the Chinese Super League two years ago, to continue from where he left off in the qualifiers, where he scored six goals.

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Squad: Goalkeepers: Daniel Bachmann, Pavao Pervan, Alexander Schlager; Defenders: David Alaba, Aleksandar Dragovic, Marco Friedl, Martin Hinteregger, Stefan Lainer, Philipp Lienhart, Stefan Posch, Andreas Ulmer; Midfielders: Julian Baumgartlinger, Christoph Baumgartner, Florian Grillitsch, Stefan Ilsanker, Konrad Laimer, Valentino Lazaro, Karim Onisiwo, Marcel Sabitzer, Louis Schaub, Xaver Schlager, Alessandro Schopf, Christopher Trimmel; Forwards: Marko Arnautovic, Michael Gregoritsch, Sasa Kalajdzic.

Manager: Franco Foda

FIFA ranking: 23

Last 3 Euros: 2016 group stage; 2012 did not qualify; 2008 group stage

Last 5 matches: Wins 2, draws 2, losses 1, goals for 8, goals against 9

North Macedonia

While Austria has a long, proud history in international football, having finished third in 1954 in one of its seven World Cup appearances, the team it was grouped together in the qualifiers, North Macedonia, is making its debut at an important tournament. The Balkan nation was part of Yugoslavia before making its international debut in 1993.

Not surprisingly, North Macedonia’s qualification route wasn’t easy. It finished third behind Poland and Austria in Group G, but came though after beating Georgia 1-0 in the playoff. The winning goal — and the most important one in the history of North Macedonia — was netted by Goran Pandev. The 37-year-old striker, in fact, holds the Macedonian record for most appearances (117) as well as goals (37). The Genova forward is as good at creating chances as he is at converting them. He is backed from the midfield by the likes of Levante’s Enis Bardhi, a free-kick specialist, and Napoli’s Eljif Elmas.

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Igor Angelovski’s boys may be the underdogs in Group C, but they are no pushovers. Germany would vouch for that – the side was humbled 2-1 at Duisburg in a World Cup qualifier in its first defeat in the competition since 2001.

Squad: Goalkeepers: Stole Dimitrievski, Risto Jankov, Damjan Siskovski; Defenders: Egzijan Alioski, Egzon Bejtulai, Visar Musliu, Kire Ristevski, Stefan Ristovski, Darko Velkovski, Gjoko Zajkov; Midfielders: Arijan Ademi, Enis Bardi, Darko Churlinov, Eljif Elmas, Feran Hasani, Tihomir Kostadinov, Boban Nikolov, Milan Ristovski, Stefan Spirovski; Forwards: Daniel Avramovski, Goran Pandev, Marjan Radeski, Vlatko Stojanovski, Aleksandar Trajkovski, Ivan Trickovski, Krste Velkovski.

Manager: Igor Angelovski

FIFA ranking: 62

Last 3 Euros: 2016, 2012, 2008 did not qualify

Last 5 matches: Wins 3, losses 2, goals for 11, goals against 6

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