Euro 2020: What are the odds?
With Europe currently gripped by the pulsating drama of club football, it’s possible that the upcoming European Championships are not at the forefront of every fan’s minds. But as it creeps further into our collective horizons, the opposite will be true – everyone will be focused on one thing and one thing only: international glory.
The first pan-European edition of the competition – which will be hosted across 12 different countries rather than just one or two, as is customary – has been thrust back into the limelight somewhat by the outbreak of the pernicious coronavirus which has affected some European countries particularly strongly – Italy, for example, has more confirmed cases than any other country except South Korea and China. There has been some talk that, because of the inter-continental nature of this summer’s competition, it could be postponed. However, the very human instinct to get on with the mundane in the face of adversity will surely prevail and we will have a month’s worth of scintillating, top-level football to keep us entertained – even if most of us are watching it from our homes rather than from the stands.
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Success for Southgate?
The latter seems like a good place to start. England have been riding the crest of a wave since their success at the World Cup in the summer of 2018. Reaching the semi-finals of a major tournament for the first time in over 20 years has reinstated their self-belief that they can take what their public believes is their rightful place at the very top table of the international game.
They reached the semi-finals of the inaugural Nations League last June and, although they were disappointing in Portugal, can take heart from another positive experience in competitive football. For so long, England’s problem has been seen to be the fact that they breeze through qualification for the World Cup or the European Championships without being adequately tested by suitably strong opposition. The same can be said of any European team, of course, but England seem to be especially negatively affected by the situation. It is one analogous to PSG’s woes over the past 5-10 years: they have stormed Ligue 1 with their bunch of mega-rich and genuinely world-class footballers – but when it comes to the business end of the Champions League, their most coveted prize, they falter.
England must find a way to prepare themselves for the rough-and-tumble of competitive tournament football if they are to win their first trophy since 1966 this summer. The best place to start would be by sorting out once and for all what their strongest starting 11 is. At the moments there are not many nailed-on starters in Gareth Southgate’s side – Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are the only men who can say with any degree of confidence that they will be starting England’s first game against Croatia in June.
Two in a Row for Ronaldo and Co?
England are far from the only side with selection headaches, however. Portugal – holders of the trophy after their 2016 success and 14/1 to retain their crown with Betfair, Sportingbet and Marathon Bet – also have not settled on their most effective team. Like England, they have a number of sure-bets to be in the starting 11. The likes of Ronaldo, Bernando Silva and new Manchester United recruit Bruno Fernandes will definitely be appearing but there are still questions over the likes of youngsters Joao Felix and Renato Sanchez.
If manager Fernando Santos can strike the right balance between youth and experience then the Portuguese stand a good chance of taking home silverware for the second time in their history. If they are to do so, however, they will need to improve on their qualifying form which saw them squeak through in a relatively weak group, just three points ahead of Serbia.
Spain: Ever-Strong but Lightweight Up-Front
Another country one can always be confident are a relatively safe bet is Portugal’s Iberian cousins, Spain. The Spaniards have had something of a comedown since the end of their golden era team which featured the likes of Iniesta, Xavi, David Villa and Casillas. There’s no doubt they still have a remarkably strong squad – especially in their back four which is comprised of Jordi Alba, Gerrard Pique, Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal – but they lack some firepower in the attacking positions.
Pablo Alcacer has been their go-to option in recent years but the former-Borussia Dortmund and Barcelona striker now plying his trade back in La Liga with Villarreal has always been considered more an off-the-bench player than someone who leads the line from the start. Alvaro Morata, Iago Aspas and the uncapped Raul de Thomas are all options – but with none in goalscoring form at the moment, Luis Enrique may be forced to try something different. Striker or no striker, however, with odds of 8/1 they’re definitely worth a punt at this year’s Euros.
Dutch Cup Courage
Enjoying a resurgence akin to Spain’s but with someone of the same shortfalls is the Netherlands. Under the stewardship of Ronald Koeman, the Oranje sauntered through the qualifying stage, beating arch-rivals Germany along the way. But, although they averaged three goals a game in this time, they also are lacking a true number 9 who can help them score a goal in a desperate situation against a top defence. PSV’s Luuk de Jong and Lyon captain Memphis Depay have been used in the role by Koeman but, good players as they are, they do not meet the lofty standards set by the rest of the team.
A strong midfield three comprised of Gini Wijnaldum, Frenkie de Jon and Donny van de Beek is backed up by a famed defence with Virgil van Dijk and Mathijas de Ligt at its heart. Whatever they do at this summer’s Championships will be an improvement on their record from the previous two major tournaments where they failed to qualify entirely. The best odds you can get on the Netherlands to lift the trophy at Wembley Stadium are 8/1 and with them considered many pundits’ dark horses this year, it might be worth a flutter.
Low’s High Aspirations
A nation who can almost always be relied on in a betting situation is Holland’s rivals Germany. And, with Joachin Low’s side humiliated at the World Cup by being dumped out in the group stages, you can wager that revenge is on their minds. They are undergoing something of a rebuilding process at the moment and have dumped the likes of Thomas Muller and Jerome Boateng in favour of new blood – it’s a risky strategy when you consider what the old-timers have done for German football, but one which could well pay dividends. Actually, you can get Germany to win the competition outright from odds as good as 9/1 – this would have been unthinkable in recent years.
The New Look Italia
Another fallen giant of the international game is Italy. Their squad is nowhere near as strong as it has been during some stages in the history of international football but they are proving to be an enterprising, cohesive unit in the build-up to their first major tournament in four years. In their most recent game, they put nine goals past Armenia and before that they kept clean sheets four games on the trot. The Italians’ defensive paranoia and aptitude is hardly newsworthy but their seemingly enhanced firepower up-top certainly is. Ciro Immobile is in incredible form for title-chasing Lazio in Serie A (he’s scored 27 in 26 at the time of writing) and if he can reproduce this form on the international stage then Italy, at 14/1, are arguably one of the best value bets in the competition this year.
Now we come to the real heavyweights of Euro 2020 and the pundits’ overwhelming favourites to take home the coveted international prize: France and Belgium. In terms of odds, there is almost nothing to separate these two sides. William Hill will give you a very generous 7-1 for Belgium to be victorious while you can’t get better than 6/1 for France to win outright.
France will come into the tournament with an air of superiority that being World Champions affords them. They beat their Belgium rivals 1-0 in the semi-finals of that competition and their challengers are surely seeking vengeance. It is perhaps the last chance manager Roberto Martinez will have to make the most of a once-in-a-lifetime golden era of Belgian talent. De Bruyne, Hazard and co. will all be looking to make sure they have an international medal on their mantlepiece come the end of their careers in addition to the many prizes they have won in the club game.
There’s an argument that, even if they put out their second team, France would still be among the favourites to win in July. Either way, they’ll be there or thereabouts.