With the UEFA Euro 2020 set to kick off soon, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at Group C, comprising Austria, Netherlands, North Macedonia & Ukraine.
Following a long and bizarre 2020/21 campaign, the footballing world will turn its attention to the international stage as the UEFA Euro 2020 gets underway in less than two weeks time.
The tournament was initially scheduled for last year but had to be postponed until this summer, in light of the Coronavirus pandemic that had a telling impact in the world of football. It will be a welcome sight for many fans, as spectators will be allowed in most of the matches and feature a much lighter schedule, after a strenuous campaign.
The competition will be hosted at 11 venues across 11 countries, with things kicking off on June 11 as 24 teams compete to be crowned the Champions of Europe. With the group stages less than a fortnight away, The Hard Tackle will take you through an extensive analysis of each group and what can be expected from the teams in it.
We have already taken a closer look at Group A and Group B, and in this feature, we are about to dissect Group C that features the returning Netherlands, Austria and Ukraine as well as first-timers North Macedonia.
Group C – Austria, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Ukraine
June 13: Austria vs North Macedonia; Netherlands vs Ukraine
June 17: North Macedonia vs Ukraine; Netherlands vs Austria
June 21: Ukraine vs Austria; North Macedonia vs Netherlands
Netherlands are widely regarded as the most successful international team to have not won the FIFA World Cup. Their fortunes haven’t favoured them in the European championships either, as they have a habit of disappointing in big tournaments.
The Oranje most notably missed out on both the 2016 Euro and the 2018 FIFA World Cup, failing to qualify for either of those competitions. Now, under the leadership of former Ajax manager Frank de Boer, they will have the opportunity to right the wrongs, as they look to take the 2020 Euro by storm.
After their disappointing start to the European qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup with a 4-2 defeat to Turkey, de Boer’s men have done well to bounce back. They have secured back-to-back wins, including a 7-0 thrashing of Gibraltar that sees them trail league leaders Turkey by just one point in their qualifying group.
Netherlands, though, have most recently drawn 2-2 with Scotland in an international friendly earlier this month. They are surely not among the best of teams in Euros this year but are tagged as favourites in Group C, primarily because of the fact that the Dutchmen play all three of their group games at the Amsterdam ArenA, in front of at least 12,000 spectators.
It should serve as a massive boost, as this rather young team, led by Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay, hopes to restore their nation’s glory after their debacles in qualifying stages in major tournaments in 2016 and 2018.
Speaking of their roster, Netherlands do possess some exciting talents like Owen Wijndal, Donyell Malen and Ryan Gravenberch, while experienced heads like Maarten Stekelenburg, Daley Blind and Wijnaldum will hope to add the stability needed, for this team to advance further into the knockout stages.
Key Players: Frenkie de Jong, Memphis Depay
There is much hype surrounding Frenkie de Jong heading into this tournament as the Barcelona midfielder has enjoyed a rapid rise to prominence over the past couple of years. This is going to be his first major international tournament with Netherlands, and the onus will be on him to form a solid midfield partnership alongside Wijnaldum that will go a long way in improving his team’s chances in the competition.
Depay, on the other hand, made his name in Netherlands’ last competitive tournament – the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Seven years later, the former Manchester United star will be tasked with the responsibility of spearheading the Dutch attack. His productivity and form in the final third will dictate Netherlands’ fortunes in this competition.
The Austria team is a treat to any Bundesliga fan as their strongest starting eleven could be comprised entirely of players who play in the top division in German football. It is hardly surprising considering the geopolitical connection between Germany and Austria, who are bracing themselves for only their third participation in the European championship.
The Austrians, though, have had a disastrous start to their European qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup. They have only one of their three games, including a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Denmark. Their only victory also came against the lowly Faroe Islands, meaning Franco Foda’s men are certainly not in the best of form heading into this tournament.
Foda does have a quality squad, though, and should perform well than their results suggest. Newly-signed Real Madrid defender David Alaba is the undisputed leader of this team, but the former Bayern Munich star is rarely utilised as a defender. In fact, he might operate in a wing-back position, hoping to his use his experience to good effect.
The midfield department is the one worth keeping an eye on as Austrians have a couple of absolute workhorses in Xaver Schlager and Konrad Laimer. It blends well with the more attack-minded Marcel Sabitzer, Christoph Baumgartner.
Austria does indeed have one of the most hard-working roster in the competition. It might be a good thing as they might appear as one of the more athletic teams in the competition, but the lack of too many experienced figureheads could prove to be an issue. They are, nevertheless expected to do well, perhaps even compete with Netherlands for the top spot.
Key Players: David Alaba, Sasa Kalajdzic
As mentioned earlier, Alaba’s experience of playing in big tournaments will be invaluable for Austria. It will also be interesting to see how he is utilised by Franco Foda. Austria’s primary hopes, however, will be their new striker Sasa Kalajdzic.
With crossers like Christopher Trimmel in the team, the Stuttgart forward’s tall frame and heading ability should serve as the focal point of the Austria attack as they look to pip Netherlands for the top spot in Group C.
Ukraine have high hopes in Euro 2020, especially after a successful qualifying campaign that saw them finish ahead of defending champions Portugal and the Golden generation of Serbia in their group.
As for the ongoing 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers are concerned, the Ukrainians are in an interesting situation. They are second in Group D behind France but are yet to win any of their first three matches, including a draw with minnows Kazakhstan and even Finland.
Led valiantly by former Chelsea striker Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine have the fourth-youngest team in the European championship this year. They will be hoping to use that to their advantage, knowing they will be far more pacy and athletic than their competitors.
The defence, in particular, is under a massive transition and is going to rely heavily on the services of Ilya Zabarnyi, Anatoliy Trubin, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Vitaliy Mykolenko among many others.
Shevchenko does have a few old heads at his disposal in Andriy Yarmolenko, Marlos, Sergiy Sydorchuk. However, Ukraine’s main weakness will be the lack of a true leader and the overreliance on youth, which never seems to work in a tournament with such high stakes.
That said, Ukraine does have one of the best teams on paper in Group C, and will be expected to at least finish second behind either Netherlands or Austria. A lot will depend on how they manage to maintain their composure up against more experienced teams.
Key Players: Oleksandr Zinchenko, Ruslan Malinovskiy
Oleksandr Zinchenko might be a mere young star in the making in the books of Manchester City. But he is a real asset for his country, and his experience of playing a high level of football under Pep Guardiola could serve as a useful guide, as the 24-year-old hopes to add more quality into this Ukraine side.
Ruslan Malinovskiy, meanwhile, is Ukraine’s best creative weapon. He has the ability to do the unpredictable and is blessed with impressive technical quality that may come in handy. Furthermore, the Atalanta winger is expected to link up well alongside the likes of Yarmolenko, Marlos, Roman Yaremchuk, as Shevchenko’s men hope to take the opposition defences by storm.
North Macedonia are one of only two nations to be participating in the European Championship for the first time this year, along with Finland, who are in Group B.
Under the leadership of Igor Angelovski, the team has reached new heights, thanks to the emergence of up and coming stars. They finished third in Group G qualifiers for Euro 2020, behind Poland and Austria and had to beat Georgia in the playoff final to secure an entry to the tournament.
North Macedonia have done well even in the European qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup, securing two wins in their first three matches, including a sensational 2-1 upset over Germany.
As far as their squad is concerned, North Macedonia are led valiantly by veteran striker Goran Pandev, whose decisive goal against Georgia helped his country book tickets for Euro 2020.
Apart from him, the former Yugoslavia state has a few aggressive attacking players like Leeds United’s Ezgjan Alioski, Napoli’s Eljif Elmas and Levante’s Enis Bardhi. They boast flair and aggression that could help North Macedonia create chances for their central striker Pandev.
There is a slight weakness in the defensive department, as there are no certified top-class centre-backs to lead the backline. Angelovski will hope to motivate his back-four to play with a low defensive block, hoping to frustrate their opposition while playing on the counter. They are the dark horses in this group, hoping to oust the three other teams and sneak into the knockout rounds.
Key Players: Ezgjan Alioski, Goran Pandev
Ezgjan Alioski is, without a doubt, the most in-form player for North Macedonia at the moment, having starred in Leeds United’s phenomenal Premier League campaign. Although he was mostly utilised as a left-back, Alioski plays a more attacking role for his country. It will, nonetheless, be interesting to see how the Leeds United star fares in the Euro this year.
Goran Pandev, on the other hand, is the most experienced player for North Macedonians. The 37-year-old striker has almost 500 Serie A appearances to his name and has won the UEFA Champions League. He has also won the cap 116 times for his country and is their all-time leading goalscorer – making him the most important player for North Macedonia in this Euro.
Likely to Qualify: Netherlands, Austria
Despite returning to major competitions after a significant seven-year gap, it will be a huge surprise if the Netherlands fail to make it through to the knockout rounds. They have the strongest team in the group and are playing all of their three matches at home, in the Amsterdam ArenA – making them the favourites to win this group.
Following Netherlands could be Austria, who get the nod ahead of Ukraine due to their better-balanced squad. Although Osterreich always tend to disappoint in big tournaments like these, they do indeed have an exciting blend of youth and experience that might even make them one of the dark horses of this tournament, along with Denmark.