Gini’s big stage, tournament debutants & boss Shevchenko – Euro 2020 Group C

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We reach the midway point of our Euro 2020 previews with a look at one of the most exciting and potentially open quartets, which would have had a firm Liverpool eye on it if not for certain circumstances.

Into the third group, the key draw are of course the Netherlands, which in more perfect years would have had a Liverpool captain, a Liverpool vice-captain and maybe even another addition along the way, given how many we’ve been linked with.

But it hasn’t worked out that way and the Dutch have issues to work through of their own making – while the others in this group make it a fascinating four-way battle which could bring the most storylines, surprises and shocks in the entire group stage at the Euros.

Here’s a look at everything Reds-related and the key participants in Group C.


Group C Liverpool links

2EA09Y9 EMMEN, NETHERLANDS - FEBRUARY 6: Donyell Malen of PSV during the Dutch Eredivisie match between FC Emmen and AZ at De Oude Meerdijk on February 6, 202

Gini Wijnaldum! He skippers the Dutch, but he’s no longer a Red, sadly. We’ve been linked with Dutch young ‘uns Ryan Gravenberch and Donyell Malen, and Stefan de Vrij might take first place this summer in the league table of ‘number of transfer rumours about a player we never sign’.

The Reds have also been linked with Austria’s Marcel Sabitzer, which seems improbable, and David Alaba, who has since joined Real Madrid.

Our final Group C link from the past? Andriy Shevchenko, who missed the decisive penalty to see the Reds win the Champions League in 2005.

Fixtures

June 13 – Austria vs. North Macedonia
June 13 – Netherlands vs. Ukraine
June 17 – Ukraine vs. North Macedonia
June 17 – Netherlands vs. Austria
June 21 – North Macedonia vs. Netherlands
June 21 – Ukraine vs. Austria


NETHERLANDS

jubilation 2: 4: goalkeeper Georginio Wijnaldum (Netherlands). GES / Soccer / EURO Qualification: Germany - Netherlands, 06.09.2019 Football / Soccer: European Qualifiers: Germany vs Netherlands, Hamburg, September 6, 2019 | usage worldwide

It was all going so well. Ronald Koeman had them organised, a tight-knit unit, getting the best out of previously flaky talents like Memphis Depay and building around a fearsome centre-back unit.

But Koeman went to Barcelona, and the KNVB chose serial failure Frank de Boer as his replacement, who has had precisely one good season (in MLS) since leaving Ajax in 2016.

So far, he’s won fewer than half his games in charge, has messed with the team tactics and is a bigger question mark over the side than losing first-choice goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen to a positive Covid test on the eve of the squad being announced.

And, above all else, there’s no Virgil van Dijk.

Key personnel and ones to watch:

  • Gini Wijnaldum, obviously. Has a ludicrous recent strike rate with the Dutch side, playing just off the front man more often than not. They need him to shine!
  • Matthijs de Ligt has suddenly become the must-perform member of the squad. No Virgil in defence, no Cillessen in goal – the Juve centre-back will have to run the show with consistency and leadership.
  • Donyell Malen, let’s go with a wildcard option. Won’t definitely start, but might be first off the bench as an attacking option. Lethal finisher, lots of talent, linked with Liverpool.

Prediction: Even De Boer can’t mess up this group, surely? They’ll go through and we’ve got them facing Germany in the last-16, two nations with potential but problems…and we’re going Dutch. So it’s a respectable quarter-final exit.


AUSTRIA

SWANSEA, WALES - Wednesday, February 6, 2013: Austria's David Alaba in action against Wales during the International Friendly at the Liberty Stadium. (Pic by Tom Hevezi/Propaganda)

A very strong squad in some areas, but it isn’t perhaps the most balanced – or head coach Franco Foda just hasn’t found his most reliable starting XI yet.

There are definite issues with goalscoring for Austria, despite a fair amount of creativity from the second line, and they have a habit of not beating teams they should – like Slovenia and North Macedonia in qualifying. Remember that latter one when the two meet in this group.

A very, very Bundesliga-heavy squad – only five of the 26 don’t play in Germany.

Key personnel and ones to watch:

  • David Alaba, of course. He could play left wing or left-back for them, though centre midfield still appears most likely. Will need to be on it to help them go far.
  • Sasa Kalajdzic. The in-demand Stuttgart striker has the potential to finally provide the end product this Austrian team have badly needed.
  • Xaver Schlager is a steady, non-stop runner in midfield who doesn’t lack for technical ability. Can be a match-winner or a match-saver on his day.

Prediction: Have to improve in front of goal to make it out of the group, but we’ll back them to do so. Last-16 exit.


UKRAINE

KIEV, UKRAINE - Easter Monday, March 28, 2016: Ukraine's Andriy Yarmolenko celebrates scoring the first goal against Wales during the International Friendly match at the NSK Olimpiyskyi Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Once the main striker, national icon and hero goalscorer, Andriy Shevchenko now leads the nation from the dugout and is doing a pretty good job.

Ukraine aren’t exactly free-flowing and a delight to watch, but their 3-5-2/3-4-3 is well-organised, tough to break down and gets the best out of key individuals.

The problem comes on the attack, where they can simply be far too passive and wasteful for the few chances they create. They topped their qualifying group ahead of Portugal, without a single defeat, which speaks volumes for their consistency when it goes right.

But they also scored only 17 goals in a group containing Luxembourg and Lithuania, which takes some doing.

Key personnel and ones to watch:

  • Mykola Matviyenko is one of the defensive leaders, likely to play on the left side of the three. Picture a stereotypical eastern European defender’s best traits in your mind and it’s probably 90 percent accurate.
  • Andriy Yarmolenko has become one of those players who does largely nothing week-to-week at club level, but is still the trusted star on the international scene. The Ukrainian Shaqiri!
  • Heorhiy Bushchan or Anatoliy Trubin. Either one could be the starting goalkeeper but we’ll guess the five-cap veteran rather than the two-cap teenager. Either way, they have to be an upgrade on flapping, bumbling, error-prone Andriy Pyatov…who is also still in the squad.

Prediction: They’ll promise so much and deliver so little. Out at the group stage.


NORTH MACEDONIA

CARDIFF, WALES - Friday, October 11, 2013: Wales' Hal Robson-Kanu in action against Macedonia's Ezgjan Alioski during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Qualifying Group A match at the Cardiff City Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A first appearance at a major finals since the days of the former Yugoslavia. There can’t be any doubt that this is an enormously poignant and meaningful appearance, for both the culture and the corporate.

In the first instance, the last time national team supporters from the region would have been anticipating an international tournament, Yugoslavia qualified for Euro ’92 – then were expelled, Denmark replaced them and won it. This is a full circle a long time coming for people from that area of the world.

For the latter, UEFA will be watching on to see how the debutants fare; they qualified through the weird and wonderful Nations League Group D pathway, basically the lowest spot for the worst team who couldn’t get through the traditional route.

Key personnel and ones to watch:

  • Goran Pandev. He’s already a legend, given what he has done, but probably achieved god-like status for scoring the goal to seal North Macedonia’s spot at the Euros. Most goals and caps.
  • Ezgjan Alioski had himself a very good season with Leeds and in a squad full of players from AEK Larnaca, Ujpest, Charleroi and Shkendija, a little sprinkling of Premier League talent goes a long way.
  • Enis Bardhi has all the skills and creativity of your go-to wide playmaker but lacks stature and consistency. Could fashion something out of nothing for them, or be entirely bypassed for 75 minutes before being subbed off.

Prediction: Any goal or win is basically history-making, so they can’t lose. Out at the group stage.

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