EURO 2020, Group D preview: England & Croatia in a group of dark horses

Euro 2020 has an entire group of dark horses – Group D, featuring England, Croatia, the Czech Republic (which won the title in 1976 as Czechoslovakia) and Scotland.

Captain Harry Kane, who recently claimed his third Premier League Golden Boot with Tottenham, was the top scorer at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.   -  Getty Images

Every tournament has dark horses who can churn out surprises and go a long way. Euro 2020 has an entire group of dark horses – Group D, featuring England, Croatia, the Czech Republic (which won the title in 1976 as Czechoslovakia) and Scotland.

England

England has been a perennial underperformer in world football. Ever since it won the 1966 FIFA World Cup, it has not reached another final in a major tournament. The Three Lions have made the semifinals twice each at the European Championship (1968, 1996) and the World Cup (1990, 2018), while also finishing third in the inaugural UEFA Nations League in 2018-19.

Even England’s Golden Generation, which featured the midfield trio of David Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, did not attain success in major competitions and failed to qualify for Euro 2008.

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The current side managed by Gareth Southgate has been compared to the golden era at times, with the Premier League’s top six teams — Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal — making several Champions League and Europa League finals in recent years.

Captain Harry Kane, who recently claimed his third Premier League Golden Boot with Tottenham, was the top scorer at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, his goals playing a big part in England securing fourth place at the grandest stage. Kane will lead a young and slightly inexperienced England outfit, whose oldest players are the 30-year-old Kyle Walker, Jordan Henderson and Kieran Trippier. Surprisingly, the most capped player in the squad is Man City winger and Premier League champion Raheem Sterling, who has 61 appearances.

With so many youngsters around, Southgate has an exciting team under his helm. Kane and Sterling will be complemented by Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford and Dominic Calvert-Lewin up front, while Harry Maguire and John Stones will head the backline. The Borussia Dortmund duo of Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham could be the X-factors for the Three Lions.

Vice-captain Henderson will be at the forefront of a dynamic midfield that boasts the likes of Mason Mount, Declan Rice and Jack Grealish. These players might not have featured in a lot of games together, but their chemistry is palpable. Not long ago, Southgate’s men defeated Euro 2016 semifinalist Wales and the No.1-ranked team Belgium in back-to-back encounters.

The advantage for England this year is that it plays all its group stage matches at home at Wembley Stadium, London. If the team finishes on top of Group D, there is a possibility of it playing all but one knockout game (a quarterfinal in Rome) in its backyard as well. Euro 2020 is a glorious opportunity for the English squad to make a statement at the continental stage.

Squad: Goalkeepers: Dean Henderson, Sam Johnstone, Jordan Pickford; Defenders: Ben Chilwell, Conor Coady, Reece James, Harry Maguire, Tyrone Mings, Luke Shaw, John Stones, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker: Midfielders: Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Jordan Henderson, Mason Mount, Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice, Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho; Forwards: Dominic Calvert-Lewin,Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling.

Manager: Gareth Southgate.

FIFA ranking: 4

Last 3 Euros: 2016 Round of 16, 2012 Quarterfinals, 2008 Did not qualify

Last 5 matches: Won 4, drew 0, lost 1, goals for 13, goals against 3

Croatia

Croatia, the runner-up at the 2018 World Cup, has seen the highest of highs and lowest of lows in the last few years. After the silver-medal finish in Russia, Zlatko Dalic’s men confirmed their spot in Euro 2020 after comfortably sitting on top of qualifying Group E. Fast-forward from 2019 to 2020, Croatia was only a shadow of its former self. After avoiding relegation to the second division of the Nations League by a whisker, the team registered its worst annual result in its history, with just two wins in eight matches. Frustrated fans called for the sacking of coach Dalic.

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The retirement of key players Mario Mandzukic, Danijel Subasic and Vedran Corluka seems to have affected the Croat. The team slipped 10 places in the FIFA rankings, having reached No. 4 just two years ago.

Croatia skipper-playmaker Luka Modric has proven with his performances for La Liga club Real Madrid that he can inspire others by leading from the front. PHOTO: Getty Images

 

However, 2018 Ballon d’Or winner and Croatia skipper-playmaker Luka Modric has proven with his performances for La Liga club Real Madrid that he can inspire others by leading from the front. He’ll have ample support from Inter Milan’s Serie A-winning pair of Ivan Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic. In addition, Ante Rebic, Andrej Kramaric, Mateo Kovacic, Milan Badelj, Dejan Lovren and Sime Vrsaljko have the experience necessary to turn around Croatia’s fortunes.

Squad: Goalkeepers: Dominik Livakovic, Lovre Kalinic, Simon Sluga; Defenders: Borna Barisic, Domagoj Bradaric, Duje Caleta-Car, Josko Gvardiol, Josip Juranovic, Dejan Lovren, Mile Skoric, Domagoj Vida, Sime Vrsaljko; Midfielders: Mateo Kovacic, Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic, Milan Badelj, Nikola Vlasic, Mario Pasalic, Ivan Perisic, Mislav Orsic, Luka Ivanusec; Forwards: Josip Brekalo, Ante Budimir, Andrej Kramaric, Bruno Petkovic, Ante Rebic.

Manager: Zlatko Dalic.

FIFA ranking: 14

Last 3 Euros: 2016 Round of 16, 2012 Group stage, 2008 Quarterfinals

Last 5 matches: Won 2, drew 0, lost 3, goals for 7, goals against 6

Czech Republic

Czechoslovakia was a footballing powerhouse in the 20th century. After the dissolution of the nation into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, the former was recognised as its successor.

The Czechs reached the final of their first international competition — Euro 1996 — where they lost 1-2 via a Golden Goal to Germany in the summit clash. But since then, the country has struggled to make an impact in world football, slumping to group stage exits at most major tournaments.

Tomas Soucek

West Ham's Tomas Soucek will be crucial to the Czech Republic’s chances at the upcoming Euros. PHOTO: AP   -  AP

 

However, a promotion to the top division of the Nations League in 2020 has been a huge boost for Jaroslav Silhavy’s men, who had defeated group-mate England 2-1 in a Euro qualifying fixture in 2019. The West Ham United duo of Vladimir Coufal and Tomas Soucek will be crucial to the Czech Republic’s chances at the upcoming Euros. Burnley striker Matej Vydra and Bayer Leverkusen forward Patrik Schick will lead the attack, while Tomas Kalas will head the defence alongside goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik. Manager Silhavy had named only a 25-member squad for the tournament, leaving a space open for Slavia Prague centre-back Ondrej Kudela, who had appealed against a 10-match ban for racially abusing Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara. The appeal was turned down and Michal Sadílek was named to the squad instead.

Squad: Goalkeepers: Ales Mandous, Jiri Pavlenka, Tomas Vaclík; Defenders: Jan Boril, Jakub Brabec, Ondrej Celustka, Vladimir Coufal, Pavel Kaderabek, Tomas Kalas, Tomas Holes, Ales Mateju, David Zima; Midfielders: Antonín Barak, Vladimir Darida, Jakub Jankto, Alex Kral, Lukas Masopust, Jakub Pesek, Michal Sadilek, Petr Sevcík, Tomas Soucek. Forwards: Adam Hlozek, Michael Krmencik, Tomas Pekhart, Patrik Schick, Matej Vydra.

Manager: Jaroslav Silhavy

FIFA ranking: 40

Last 3 Euros: 2016 Group stage, 2012 Quarterfinals, 2008 Group stage

Last 5 matches: Won 3, drew 1, lost 1, goals for 10, goals against 4

Scotland

Scotland, the only other home team in Group D, has not made it past the first round in eight World Cups and two Euros. The 24-team format, where even the third-placed side in the group can advance, might be the best chance for the Scots to reach the knockouts. Moreover, this may be the strongest Scotland squad, comprising a combination of Premier League and Scottish Premiership players and coached by former international Steve Clarke, who will be managing the country in its first major tournament since 1998.

Captain Andy Robertson of Liverpool, Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney and Norwich City’s Grant Hanley will command a spirited Scotland backline. Southampton players Stuart Armstrong and Che Adams, Man United midfielder Scott McTominay and his Aston Villa counterpart John McGinn are expected to provide the balance needed for the outfit to succeed.

Scotland captain Andy Robertson is the most experienced outfielder in the squad. PHOTO: Getty Images

 

Entering the round of 16 will be the primary objective for Clarke’s Scotland, which plays a couple of games at Hampden Park in Glasgow. But this squad is also capable of surprising top teams and writing its own underdog story.

Squad: Goalkeepers: Craig Gordon, David Marshall, Jon McLaughlin; Defenders: Liam Cooper, Declan Gallagher, Grant Hanley, Jack Hendry, Scott McKenna, Stephen O’Donnell, Nathan Patterson, Andy Robertson, Greg Taylor, Kieran Tierney. Midfielders: Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Christie, John Fleck, James Forrest, Ryan Fraser, Billy Gilmour, John McGinn, Callum McGregor, Scott McTominay, David Turnbull; Forwards: Che Adams, Lyndon Dykes, Kevin Nisbet.

Manager: Steve Clarke.

FIFA ranking: 44

Last 3 Euros: 2016, 2012 & 2008 Did not qualify

Last 5 matches: Won 1, drew 2, lost 2, goals for 7, goals against 5

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