Group B Preview
Belgium recorded a 100% record in their qualifying games for Euro 2020 with an incredible goal difference of 37, and head into this summer’s tournament hoping to banish the nightmare of their 2016 quarter-final defeat to Wales.
Since qualifying, they have won 8 out of 11 games with their only defeat coming against England in the Nations League. But they have only kept 3 clean-sheets in that period, having previously kept 7 during qualification.
It should be noted that since the start of qualification they are yet to blank in a game.
Roberto Martinez succeeded Marc Wilmots in 2016, and took Belgium to 3rd place in the 2018 World Cup. The turnaround of form under the new boss could be down to the consistent use of the 3-4-2-1 formation that the Catalan manager uses, although that could change to a more attacking 3-4-3.
After winning the Golden Glove at the 2018 World Cup, Courtois (FT: £7m / EO: £6m) went to play all but one of Belgium’s qualifiers (he was rested for the last game against Cyprus) but he left the Belgium camp for undisclosed reasons when Belgium were due to play their first two matches in the recent Nation League campaign. Prior to the next squad being announced, he picked up a knock but has since returned to international duty, playing the last of the Nations League games and the opening two World Cup qualifiers.
The three centre-backs are pretty much set in stone with Tottenham’s Alderweireld (FT: £6.5m / EO: £5.5m) and ex-club teammate Vertonghen (FT: £5.5m / EO: £5.5m) flanking Lyon’s Denayer (FT: £6m / EO: £4.5m) with Dortmund’s right-back Meunier (FT: £5.5m / EO: £5.5m) being played out wide right of the four-man midfield.
An outside chance of selection could be Leicester’s Castagne (FT: £5.5m / EO: £5.5m) who could operate on the left-hand side of the four-man midfield.
However, Castagne’s hopes of playing for Belgium would depend on the fitness of Thorgan Hazard (FT: £10.5m / EO: £8m) who has played limited minutes in the Bundesliga this season due to three periods of injuries that has seen him miss 19 games in total.
Due to Axel Witsel’s Achilles tendon rupture, which will see him miss Euro 2020, the door has been opened for Wolves’ Dendoncker (FT: £6.5m / EO: £5.5m) to partner Leicester’s Tielemans (FT: £7m / EO: £6.5m) in central midfield, with Man City’s de Bruyne (FT: £12.5m / EO: £10.5m) nailed to play in one of the two supportive forward spots.
The remaining supportive forward spot will be between Napoli’s Mertens (FT: £9m / EO: £9m) and Real Madrid’s Eden Hazard (FT: TBC / EO: £10m). Mertens has form on his side, having been involved in 17 goals in 25 matches in Serie A this season; whilst Hazard has seen his season disrupted by injuries, having played just 11 games in La Liga. It should also be worth noting that the latter has not played for the national team since the end the Euro 2020 qualifiers, but he is listed as a midfielder in the Official game.
Spear-heading the attack, there can only be one man… Inter Milan’s Lukaku (FT: £11.5m / EO: £11m). In Serie A this season, he has scored 21 goals in 33 games and assisted a further 9. He also has 7 goals in his last 6 Belgium appearances.
Denmark qualified for Euro 2020 after they finished as unbeaten runners-up behind Switzerland in Group D, winning 4 and drawing 4 games.
Many people will talk about the national team’s heroics at Euro 1992, and with only two defeats in their last 23 matches (both against current FIFA ranked number one, Belgium), this Danish team should not be underestimated…. especially as they will play all three group games in Copenhagen.
They have kept 8 clean-sheets in their last 11 since qualifying (including two against England), and have hit 14 goals in their opening three World Cup qualifiers.
After Euro 1992 winning manager Richard Moller Nielsen stepped down in 1996, Denmark have only had three permanent managers, with current manager Kasper Hjulmand being the fourth in charge having taken over from Age Hareide in 2020 when the latter’s contract was surprisingly not extended after Euro 2020 qualification. The former Mainz manager has tinkered with various formations, and although he has seemingly settled on a 4-2-3-1 setup, he does have the option to switch to a 4-3-3 attacking formation.
Leicester’s Schmeichel (FT: £5.5m / EO: £5m) is the undisputed no.1 for the Danes, with him only missing one game since Euro 2020 qualification began (a 2-0 friendly win v. Sweden).
National team captain Kjaer (FT: £5m / EO: £4.5m) will offer experience and leadership at the back who, like Schmeichel, has played in every game since qualification began, bar the friendly win over Sweden. His likely partner will be Chelsea’s Christensen (FT: £5.5m / EO: £5.5m) who has started in 8 out of the last 11 games, despite limited time at club level.
Valencia’s Wass (FT: £6m / EO: £5m) seems to be preferred at right back to Udinese’s Stryger Larsen (FT: £4.5m / EO: £4.5m), whilst Atalanta’s right back Maelhe (FT: £4.5m / EO: £4.5m) is the go-to choice at left back.
There are not that many options to select from in the Danish midfield.
The back four has protection provided by the double-pivot of Tottenham’s Hojbjerg (FT: £6.5m / EO: £5.5m) and Dortmund’s Delaney (FT: £6.5m / EO: £5.5m), allowing the team’s talisman, Inter Milan’s Eriksen (FT: £7m / EO: £9m), to take up position as the number 10.
However, up top there are a few questions to be asked with Barcelona’s Braithwaite (FT: £7.5m / EO: £7.5m) being the only Danish forward who is guaranteed of a place, and will play on the left side of the supporting front three.
On the right side of the supporting three, RB Leipzig’s Poulsen (FT: £6.5m / EO: £8m) is the likeliest option, but faces competition from Bologna’s Skov Olsen (FT: TBC / EO: £6.5m). Up top, FC Copenhagen’s Wind (FT: £6.5m / EO: £6m) seems to have been given the nod, but he is yet to complete 90 minutes for the Danes.
Despite losing four games in qualification, Finland finished second behind Italy to qualify for their first major tournament. Remarkably, their other six qualifying games wielded six clean-sheets.
Since qualifying, they have had mixed bag of results ranging from a 5-1 loss against Poland, to a 2-0 victory over current World Cup holders, France (both of which were friendlies).
Their recent Nation League campaign was bookended with defeats against Wales, but included four victories in which they kept three clean-sheets; and their start to World Cup qualification has been a bit disappointing, drawing their opening two matches against Bosnia and Ukraine.
Markku Kanerva took over the Finnish senior team in 2011 for various assistant and interim roles, before being permanent in December 2016. The former teacher and Helsinki centre-back usually opts for either 5-3-2 or 3-5-2 formation, but has been known to go for a no-frills 4-4-2 formation with a double 6 central midfield.
Bayern Leverkusen’s Hradecky (FT: £4m / EO: £4m) is the undisputed no. 1 for Finland, having been the mainstay for a good part of 10-years. He missed the latest squad due to injury, but he will go into the tournament having had a good season in the Bundesliga.
Regardless of formation, it seems certain that the experienced duo of Toivo (FT: £4m / EO: £4m) and Arajuuri (FT: £4m / EO: £4m), who play for Hacken and Pafo FC respectively, will play in the centre-back positions. The versatility of Minnesota FC’s Raitala (FT: £4m / EO: £4.5m) will be crucial as he can fit in anywhere along the back-line and could step in from right back to centre back in a 3-5-2, or play as a wingback on either side of a 5-3-2. Although Genk’s Uronen (FT: £4.5m / EO: £4.5m) has less versatility, he should play on the left-hand side of a back four or as a left wing back.
Should Finland opt for a 5-3-2/3-5-2 formation, you could see Raitala move inside to central defence with one of either MTK Budapest’s Alho (FT: TBC / EO: £5m) or Stal Mielec’s Granlund (FT: £4m / EO: £4m) operating at right back/right wingback, with the former being listed as a midfielder in the Official game.
Rangers’ Kamara (FT: £4m / EO: £6m) will partner national captain Sparv (FT: £4m / EO: £5.5m) in the defensive central midfield area which would allow Finland’s fullbacks to get forward and support the attack. A valuable asset for the Fins could be Minnesota’s Lod (FT: £5m / EO: £5.5m) if he is deployed up front in the 3-5-2/5-3-2 formation, but he would provide the attacking threat down the right hand side with support from his club teammate Raitala in a 4-4-2. Meanwhile, Brann’s Taylor (FT: £5m / EO: £5m) should play in a central attacking role but would move to the left wing in the 4-4-2.
There is no doubt that Norwich’s Pukki (FT: £5m / EO: £7m) will be the main focal point of the Finnish attack (Pukki does mean GOAT in Finnish after all). It remains to be seen if Union Berlin’s Pohjanpalo (FT: £4m / EO: £6m) is picked to partner Pukki up top as he did in the opening three games of the Nations League, and he does have some form having broken his duck for the national team by scoring twice in their last game against Switzerland
Russia will be looking to build on the back of a decent 2018 World Cup campaign where they beat Spain in the round of 16 before losing to finalists Croatia on penalties in the quarterfinals.
They qualified for Euro 2020 by winning 8 out of 10 games, losing twice to Belgium who finished ahead of them in the group. Out of the 8 goals they conceded in the group, 7 were scored by Belgium.
Following their opening two victories in the Nations League, Russia went on a winless run of 6 games. Despite ending that run with two unconvincing wins over Malta and Slovenia in their World Cup qualification group, their last match ended in a 2-1 defeat in Slovakia.
Having kept 7 clean-sheets in qualifying, the only two they have kept since were in back-to-back goalless draws with Hungary and Moldova.
Stanislav Cherchesov replaced Leonid Slutsky after Russia’s winless group-stage exit at Euro 2016, having won the double with Legia Warsaw. However, he is now facing scrutiny himself after Russia’s poor run of form and will be hoping that home advantage in two of their games in St Petersburg will give his team a boost. He has recently shown favour with a 4-2-3-1 formation, but has meddled with three at the back in 3-4-3 or 3-4-2-1 formation.
Despite only playing one game during qualifying, Shunin (FT: TBC / EO: £5m) has played all but one of the recent Nation League campaign, and has started the latest trio of World Cup qualifiers.
One of Russia’s star players for the tournament will undoubtedly be CSKA Moscow’s Brazilian-born right back, Fernandes (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5.5m), who would play on the right hand side of a back four or move up to the right hand side of midfield five, with Zenit St-Petersburg’s Zhirkov (FT: £4.5m / EO: £6m) deployed on the left hand side. The 37-year old could also play on the left-hand side of the supporting front three, and is listed as a midfielder in the Official game.
Spartak Moscow’s Dzhikiya (FT: £4.5m / EO: £5m) seems to be the only nailed option in the centre of defence, but he is more than likely going to be partnered by Akhmat Grozny’s Semenov (FT: TBC / EO: £4.5m). Antalyaspor’s Kudryashov (FT: TBC / EO: £4.5m) could also play in the back four as his versatility allows him to play at both centre-back and left back.
In central midfield, Zenit St. Petersburgs Ozdoev (FT: £5m / EO: £6m) has his place seemingly cemented and he could be partnered by club teammate Kuzyaev (FT: £4.5m / EO: £6.5m) who has started the last 8 games. However, Spartak Moscow’s Zobnin (FT: £4.5m / EO: £6m) missed the last squad call due to a hip injury and should he replace Kuzyaev in central midfield, then the latter could move to the right-hand side of the supporting front-three.
The star man in midfield will surely by Monaco’s Golovin (FT: £6m / EO: £7.5m) who has 12 goal involvements in 18 Ligue 1 games this season, despite missing the first 11 games of the season with a hamstring injury. This injury meant that he missed the first two national squads of the Nations League campaign.
Atalanta’s Miranchuk (FT: £5.5m / EO: £6.5m) could play on either the right or left-hand side of the supporting three, and is listed as a forward in the Official game. However, with his club minutes limited then Valencia’s Cheryshev (FT: £5m / EO: £8m) would offer serious competition for either side, despite having missed the last squad call through injury.
Zenit St Petersburg’s Dzyuba (FT: £5.5m / EO: £8.5m) will lead the front line, and will come off the back of a decent season in the Russian Premier Liga having been involved in 24 goals in 26 games. He also scored 3 goals in Russia’s opening 3 World Cup qualifiers after scoring 9 goals in the Euro 2020 qualifiers.
When Dzyuba was omitted from the squad last Autumn it was up to the likes FC Sochi’s Zabolotny (FT: £5.5m / EO: £5.5m) and Spartak Moscow’s Sobolev (FT: £4.5m / EO: £6m) to fill to try and fill the void, with the latter more likely to do so this summer should anything happen to Russia’s veteran striker.
Group B Summary:
Using a budget of £80m on the Official game and a restriction of three player’s maximum per team, here is my best XI for Group B: