With the UEFA Euro 2020 set to kick off soon, we bring you the lowdown of Group A, which comprises of Italy, Switzerland, Turkey and Wales.
It has taken an entire year for the world to find any semblance of normality in the midst of COVID-19 rampage. The very coronavirus pandemic brought the entire world to a grinding halt last year, which forced all the major sporting events to either be pushed forward by a few months or by one whole year, as is the case with UEFA Euro 2020.
In less than a fortnight’s time, the long-awaited, month-long 24-team extravaganza will finally get underway. The group stage will be the very first round of the competition, and before it all kicks off, The Hard Tackle will bring you a preview of each of the groups.
Today, we take a look at Group A, which comprises of one of the dark horses to go all the way Italy, a reinvigorated Turkey and the ever intriguing Switzerland and Wales. Here’s an analysis of each of the teams and their chances of making it to the Round of 16.
Group A – Italy, Switzerland, Turkey, Wales
June 11: Turkey vs Italy
June 12: Wales vs Switzerland
June 16: Turkey vs Wales; Italy vs Switzerland
June 20: Switzerland vs Turkey; Italy vs Wales
It was only three years ago that angst and agony were the running emotions when one spoke about Italy. One of the giants of international football, the Azzurri had missed the ticked for the FIFA World Cup 2018, which had rocked the foundations of the country’s national side.
However, under the tutelage of Roberto Mancini, the only way has been up for Italy, losing just twice in 31 games since he took charge in 2018. During this time, they have only conceded 14 goals while having a superb goal difference of +61. Indeed, the rebuild has been on the back of a playing style that is more fluid and attractive than ever before whilst still retaining the defensive solidity.
The same is reflected in their output in the qualification campaign, as Mancini & co. blitzed through the Qualifiers with a perfect record, finding the back of the net at a fabulous rate of 3.7 goals per game while letting in a mere 4 goals all campaign long.
With such impressive numbers to back them heading into the group stage, one has to say that Italy are the dark horses to win the Euro for the second time in their history. Roberto Mancini certainly appears to think so, and it will hardly be a shocker if Italy do go all the way after possibly topping Group A.
Key Players: Giorgio Chiellini and Marco Verratti
Two players that have witnessed the absolute hurt that Italy went through after failing to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup are also two players who might hold the key for the Azzurri. While old warhorse Chiellini might not be a spring chicken anymore, he could be critical heading into the final stages of the campaign, while Verratti will hold the fort in midfield, from where the base for success will be built.
A team that often promises a lot but almost always ends up reaching its ceiling as soon as the first knockout round is reached. And, heading into UEFA Euro 2020, Switzerland are once again in a position wherein they are only likely to make it to the Round of 16 at best.
This time around, though, a talented generation of footballers is reaching its twilight, as far as the international stage is concerned, with next year’s World Cup likely to be the final competition they all play together in. At the Euro, however, Vladimir Petkovic will aim to bow out with a high, if he is indeed let go of once his contract runs out at the end of this summer’s competition.
Switzerland, though, did not really impress much during their qualifying campaign, even though they did top a tricky group that also included Denmark and the Republic of Ireland. However, it is also important to note that the Nati were missing Xherdan Shaqiri through the Qualifiers due to an injury.
While the maverick forward is back for the finals, he could well be rusty after barely featuring for Liverpool over the course of the 2020/21 campaign. The onus will, therefore, be on Granit Xhaka to galvanize his teammates, which include talented individuals like Denis Zakaria, Nico Elvedi and Ruben Vargas, among others. Can Switzerland step up, though? That will be the big question for them.
Key Players: Granit Xhaka and Yann Sommer
As iterated earlier, Xherdan Shaqiri could well become a victim of rust, although Vladimir Petkovic will still look towards the 29-year-old for inspiration in attack. The key players for Switzerland, though, will be captain Granit Xhaka, who will have a lot riding on him in both the phases of the game, and Yann Sommer, who will need to be at his inspiring best in goal to keep the opposition at bay time and again.
From one unpredictable team to another, albeit for the good reasons this time, we move towards Turkey. The Crescent-Stars have the tendency of being the surprise package at a big tournament every now and then, having reached the semi-finals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup while also going through to the latter stages at the UEFA Euro 2000 and Euro 2008, where they won the bronze medal.
At the helm currently is Senol Gunes, who famously oversaw the run to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup. Under the tutelage of the 68-year-old, Turkey have been a solid unit that is extremely hard to beat, which is illustrated by the fact that they have been beaten just thrice in 25 games since he took charge in 2019.
There have been quite a few notable wins during these last couple of years as well, including two this year, over Netherlands and Norway to kick-start their FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying campaign. As far the Qualifiers for Euro 2020 is concerned, Turkey surprised France by claiming four points against them before narrowly missing out on the top spot in their group.
Thereofre, going into the group stages of the finals this summer, Turkey are certainly a team that can spring a surprise or two and perhaps, even go a little deep into the tournament. With a healthy mix of youth and experience at the disposal of Gunes, one can definitely expect some sprightly performances from the Crescent-Stars.
Key Players: Caglar Soyuncu, Hakan Calhanoglu and Burak Yilmaz
In a side that is brimming with a lot of quality, it is hardly surprising that there are a number of key performers for Turkey. At the back, Caglar Soyuncu will look to shore things up and continue his upward trajectory after a memorable 2020/21 campaign. Hakan Calhanoglu might have his future at club level being up in the air, but will be crucial with his creative output. Finally, the ageless wonder Burak Yilmaz will hope to continue being at his best after inspiring Lille to Ligue 1 glory.
We talked about one potential surprise package and the final team up for discussion as far as Group A is concerned are the surprise package of UEFA Euro 2016 in France. We are, of course, talking about Wales, who went all the way to the semi-finals half-a-decade ago.
This time around, though, their chances of doing a repeat act appear to be slim to none, with a lot of the talk in the build-up to the tournament being centered around Ryan Giggs and the trial he is set to face for assault charges. In place of the Manchester United legend, Robert Page has taken charge as the caretaker boss and has largely been solid so far.
In fact, Wales have only lost once under the tutelage of Page while keeping clean sheets galore. So, despite all the unnecessary background noise, there are still a lot of positives about the Dragons. Not to mention the improving form of Gareth Bale, who tends to reserve his best football for his national side, and Wales could be the dark horses in Group A.
Indeed, with their defensive solidity, Wales ought to make things hard for each of their three opponents in the group stages while pinning their hopes on captain to produce the goods in the final third. Certainly a team to keep an eye on.
Key Players: Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey
The two names are quite obvious here. Bale will, of course, hold the key in the final third, where his direct approach ought to come in handy. Ramsey, on the other hand, will provide the support act from the middle of the park and will aim to thread open the opposition defences to set up Bale while also being in contentio to score a goal or two himself.
Likely to Qualify: Italy and Turkey
Judging by the quality on display from Italy over the past three years, there is no denying that they will likely romp through Group A, possibly unscathed. Behind them, Turkey are shaping up to be the likeliest candidates to be the runners-up, riding on the brilliance of Hakan Calhanoglu and the classy captain Burak Yilmaz.
That leaves Switzerland and Wales to vie for the coveted third spot, which could send them through to the Round of 16, if they beat two other teams on the basis of their record in the group stage. But, with both the teams expected to rather take points off of each other, they could well end up missing the boat to the knockout stages.