With just a week left until the start of UEFA Euro 2020, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at Group F, comprising France, Germany, Portugal & Hungary.
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.
The Hard Tackle has already explored the first five groups, and we have saved the best for the last, as in this feature, we take a closer look at the notorious Group of Death that is Group F, involving world champions France, defending European champions Portugal, a resurgent Germany and unpredictable Hungary.
Group F – France, Germany, Portugal & Hungary
June 15: Hungary vs Portugal; France vs Germany
June 19: Hungary vs France; Portugal vs Germany
June 23: Portugal vs France; Germany vs Hungary
For a footballing giant like France that has produced many top quality players over the years, it is not easy to be deemed the Golden generation. However, the current contingent of Les Bleus might just qualify as one, having enjoyed stellar success under the leadership of Didier Deschamps.
European championship finalists in 2016 and champions in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, France, are heading into this tournament as the undisputed favourites. They have the most balanced side in the competition, led by experienced figures like Hugo Lloris, Antoine Griezmann and Raphael Varane.
In addition to experience and quality, they have the youthful exuberance and the talent of Kylian Mbappe, Jules Kounde and Ousmane Dembele – making them the most complete side in the tournament.
Deschamps has also managed to retain a number of players, including N’Golo Kante, Paul Pogba, Moussa Sissoko, Lloris and Griezmann, that played in both the 2018 World Cup and 2016 Euro, retaining the core of the side rather than opting for new faces such as Theo Hernandez, Houssem Aouar and Dayot Upamecano.
The 52-year-old has faced a lot of criticism for his selection policy, but it might just be a wise move. France have shown good form as well, topping the group H of the Euro 2020 Qualifiers with eight wins in ten matches while securing two wins in three in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. Les Bleus also performed well in UEFA Nations League and are set to play Belgium in the semi-final later this year.
That said, being drawn in a group consisting of Germany and Portugal means France are not guaranteed to qualify for the knockout stage, although they are certainly expected to top the group given the quality of their side. A lot will depend on how Deschamps manages to rally his troops after a long, strenuous campaign in European club football.
Key Players: Karim Benzema, Raphael Varane
France have arguably the best attack in the tournament, boasting players like Griezmann, Mbappe and Kingsley Coman. However, the spotlight will be on Karim Benzema, who has made his return to the national team following a successful season at Real Madrid. A lot will be expected of the veteran forward, who is set to spearhead the French attack, and his partnership with Mbappe and Griezmann is one to keep an eye on.
While the attack is certainly a strength for France, the defensive unit needs some work. The onus will be on Raphael Varane to marshall the backline like he did in the 2018 World Cup. The Real Madrid star is now his country’s most experienced defender, so his performance will go a long way in helping Deschamps’ men clinch the Euro this year.
Germany are the fallen giants hoping to rekindle their spark after a couple of disappointing performances in major tournaments, in the 2018 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 European champions.
Although the nation did reach the semi-final of the 2016 Euros, a 2-0 defeat to France drove in criticism from the world of football. It was followed by the World Cup debacle in Russia, where the Germans were knocked out from the group stages for the first time in their decorated footballing history.
Joachim Löw’s gamble with a new, young core of the German team did not work out at all, especially in the UEFA Nations League as well as the early stages of the European qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Die Mannschaft notably lost 2-1 to North Macedonia, not long after being humiliated 6-0 by Spain in the Nations League.
The poor form forced Löw to announce his resignation after the Euro, with Hansi Flick set to take over as his replacement. The former Stuttgart coach, though, has called up a few of the experienced players in Mats Hummels and Thomas Muller after being heavily criticised for his gamble with young players.
Heading into this tournament, it is perhaps fair to point out that Germany do have a better squad than they have had over the past couple of years. However, they do lack the services of a proper goalscorer, as neither of Thomas Muller, Timo Werner and Kevin Volland are conventional number nines, though the latter enjoyed a productive season with Monaco, scoring 16 goals.
While the creative and midfield department is solid, there are also question marks over Germany’s defence, especially in the full-back department. The likes of Lukas Klostermann, Robin Gosens and Marcel Halstenberg are not quality enough to make Die Mannschaft the tournament favourites, though all of them do have the talent to impress.
Key Players: Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Muller
Joshua Kimmich is undoubtedly the most important player for Germany heading into this year’s Euro. The Bayern Munich star has established himself as a real leader in the middle of the park. However, he might have to take one for the team and operate in the right-back position due to the lack of options in the said position.
Kimmich’s performances will go a long way in dictating the fate of the German side. The same can be said for Muller as well, as the onus will be on the Bayern attacker to offer productivity going forward. Whether or not he will be employed in his favoured number ten position or as a centre-forward is something worth keeping an eye on.
Managed by the only coach in this tournament who has actually won the European Championship in his career, Fernando Santos’ Portugal side are heading into the competition as one of the favourites, with a team led by the evergreen Cristiano Ronaldo.
In 2016, the nation won its first major international competition by beating France to lift the Euros. They were knocked out of the Round of 16 in the subsequent 2018 FIFA World Cup but have constantly improved in regards to the overall quality of the side.
Portugal were outperformed by Ukraine in the qualifiers for Euro 2020, though, finishing second in their group. They also fell short in the UEFA Nations League, finishing second to France, while a draw with Serbia served as a dent to the starting phases of their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Santos, nonetheless, boasts a team that has an excellent balance of youth and experience. The likes of Ronaldo, Pepe and Jose Fonte are automatic leaders in this group, with their years of experience at the highest level of football while Ruben Dias, Joao Felix, Pedro Goncalves and Nuno Mendes will be desperate to make their mark in the competition.
Portugal have many versatile players in their ranks as well including Manchester City duo Joao Cancelo and Bernardo Silva, as well as LOSC Lille’s Renato Sanches.
The Seleccao, in fact, have one of the best teams in the tournament, and fans will be hoping for nothing less than a top-two finish in the Group of death. They are expected to outperform Germany, at the very least, if not France. A lot will depend on how they perform against Hungary and Die Mannschaft.
Key Players: Ruben Dias, Cristiano Ronaldo
When Portugal were playing in the 2016 Euro, Ruben Dias was heading into the tournament as a newbie with only one cap to his name. Five years later, the Manchester City star is widely regarded as one of the best defenders in Europe and the undisputed leader of the Portuguese backline that will look to keep things neat and tidy against the likes of Germany, France and Hungary.
Cristiano Ronaldo, on the other hand, might be playing his last Euro. The veteran forward had a key role to play in Portugal’s triumph in 2016. The 36-year-old will once again be critical to his nation’s chances of doing well, especially in this Group of death.
Hungary’s qualification to the European Championship was quite an impressive feat by Marco Rossi and his men. Although the nation did play in the 2016 Euro, even reaching the Round of 16, they weren’t expected to secure qualification this time around after finishing fourth in the qualifying group.
However, in the qualification playoff, they beat Bulgaria 3-1 before facing Iceland in the final, where a very late goal from Dominik Szoboszlai earned them a ticket to Euro 2020. After their unexpected qualification, though, Hungary will now have to pay the price as they are now the minnows of the most difficult group in the competition.
Although the Magyars aren’t expected to go through to the knockout rounds, they will be certainly be aiming for that third spot. Rossi has the team capable of doing so, although star player Szoboszlai has been ruled out due to injury. He has been unfortunate throughout this past season and is yet to even make his debut for RB Leipzig after joining the club in January.
In his absence, the onus will be on SC Freiburg’s Roland Sallai to offer that spark going forward, alongside the likes of Gergo Lovrencsics and Kevin Varga. They do have a solid defence, though, led valiantly by Leipzig duo Willi Orban and goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi. Expect Hungary to cause a few upsets purely due to their resistance at the back this summer.
Key Players: Willi Orban, Roland Sallai
Willi Orban was one of Bundesliga’s performing defenders this past season. He is a real leader at the back for Hungary due to his experience and ability to marshal the backline. His leadership will go a long way in dictating the fate of his nation in the Euro.
Similarly, Roland Sallai will be expected to replace the injured Szoboszlai. The 24-year-old was quite the find for SC Freiburg, having been involved in 14 goals this past season. It will be interesting to see how the attacker performs in this big stage, though.
Likely To Quality: France & Portugal
France are the undisputed favourites to quality from this Group of Death. As mentioned earlier, they have arguably the best squad in the competition, boasting talent in every single department from defence to attack. It will be surprising if Didier Deschamps’ men fail to secure the top spot from Group F or at least finish second.
The other team expected to directly advance through to the knockout stages, according to The Hard Tackle, is Portugal. The defending champions have a better, more well-rounded team than Germany as well as X-factor players like Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix and Cristiano Ronaldo. This gives them the edge over Die Mannschaft, who are way too reliant on teamwork.
The Germans, though, might still qualify through to the knockout rounds as the four best third-placed groups. It will, nevertheless, be a surprise to see Joachim Löw’s men do well in the competition.