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Key Reds, summer targets & England’s hyped-up chances – Euro 2020 Group D

For fans in the home nations it’ll be all eyes on Group D at the Euros, with football’s oldest rivals going head-to-head and trying to bypass World Cup finalists along the way.

England and Scotland contested the world’s first-ever (officially recognised) international match back in 1872.

A mere 149 years later, they come together again and it’ll hopefully be more enticing an affair than it sounds like the original game was: 0-0 with 4,000 fans.

Maybe it was the first game back with limited crowds after a plague had run amok?

Anyway, there should be stories enough on the other sides too, given it was the Euros which brought us exotic overseas talent like Patrik Berger and Karel Poborsky (boo), from Group D outsiders Czech Republic.

Feels as though the Reds should have more players involved in this quartet of nations, doesn’t it?

Here’s everything to know about Group D.


Group D Liverpool links

England's Jordan Henderson during the FIFA World Cup Group G match at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium

Our captain Jordan Henderson wears the No. 8 for England and will be vice-skipper, after proving his fitness in a 45-minute warmup outing against Romania.

Also included for England are Raheem Sterling and Conor Coady, joined in the ex-Reds watch by Dejan Lovren of Croatia.

Andy Robertson proudly captains Scotland, meanwhile.

Linked players? Just a few. Duje Caleta-Car was a January target, Declan Rice is a fairly lazy one we don’t believe and Jadon Sancho will see Reds rumours every window until he goes somewhere.

Fixtures

June 13 – England vs. Croatia
June 14 – Scotland vs. Czech Republic
June 18 – Croatia vs. Czech Republic
June 18 – England vs. Scotland
June 22 – Croatia vs. Scotland
June 22 – Czech Republic vs. England


ENGLAND

LONDON, ENGLAND - Thursday, October 8, 2020: England's Dominic Calvert-Lewin (R) celebrates with team-mate Jack Grealish after scoring the first goal during the International Friendly match between England and Wales at Wembley Stadium. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK Government’s social distancing laws prohibiting supporters from attending events inside stadiums as a result of the Coronavirus Pandemic. England won 3-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It’s coming home! As in, the final will be at Wembley. Will England be there? Probably not.

The group shouldn’t really present any challenges to get through but it’s so hard to see the Three Lions beating a top side, because they rarely do – not in qualifying, friendlies or the Nations League.

There are some elite-level talents in this squad, no question. There’s also a defence with some decidedly not-international-calibre inclusions and a manager who appears reluctant to play his match-winners at times.

England haven’t been to the semis in this tournament since ’96, when the manager himself was a starting centre-back who missed the decisive penalty in the shootout.

Poetic burying of the demons incoming? Not likely.

Key personnel and ones to watch

  • Harry Kane. Like it or not, he’s a top-tier striker who can create as well as score by the bucketload. England must get the best out of him and provide plenty of service.
  • Jadon Sancho might just be the best support act if he can convince the manager to actually play him. Rashford and Sterling are regulars but woefully out of form – the Dortmund star couldn’t stop hitting the back of the net at the end of the season.
  • John Stones, weirdly. With Maguire injured, all three holding midfielders coming off injuries and, well, Jordan Pickford in goal, it falls to the back-in-form Stones to be the defensive rock. Which might not be ideal.

Prediction: A fairly routine passage to the last 16, but the way the groups have gone, that immediately pits England against a big favourite. They probably won’t win it. Defeat in the last 16.


CROATIA

CARDIFF, WALES - Sunday, October 13, 2019: Croatia's captain Luka Modri? is helped off the pitch with an injury during the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying Group E match between Wales and Croatia at the Cardiff City Stadium. (Pic by Laura Malkin/Propaganda)

From the World Cup final to mostly overlooked, it has been a quick drop in fortunes for the Croatia national team.

Part of that is natural; they did arguably overachieve by getting so far in 2018 and the likes of Ivan Rakitic have retired from duty now, but performances and consistency have also dropped off significantly.

They topped their qualifying group but only won five of eight against less-than-stellar rivals, and a warmup draw with Armenia only underlines that they’ve lost some of their aura and confidence.

Key personnel and ones to watch

  • Luka Modric remains influential in midfield. Now 35, their plan is to protect him by having extremely hardworking – and no less talented – players around him, leaving the Real man to scheme and probe as he sees fit.
  • Marcelo Brozovic will be one of those alongside him. Has had a brilliant year with Inter Milan and will hold fort in front of the defence. Protector, aggressor, capable of the spectacular.
  • Andrej Kramaric has his detractors, but when on form he can score relentlessly. His hot streaks are very hot and if he finds one at the Euros, Croatia will do some damage.

Prediction: They should progress with ease but as fate has it, our predictor sees them meet their 2018 nemesis in the last eight. They lose again. Out in the quarter-finals.


SCOTLAND

Scotland's Andrew Robertson - Martin Rickett/PA Archive/PA Images

There will be no lack of effort, pride and guts, but will there be goals? That’s the big concern for Scotland.

In qualifying, they hit a meagre 16 in 10 games, six of which were against Cyprus, Kazakhstan and San Marino.

It took a Nations League playoff to get them to the Euros finals and we can be sure they’ll make the most of their chance, but Steve Clarke hasn’t found the right blend in attack yet.

Only one player in the squad has 10 international goals; 11 of the 26 have fewer than eight caps. Did the boss change his mind very late on with a few? It seems that way, with three uncapped players named.

Key personnel and ones to watch

  • Kieran Tierney, just because we assume you’ll already be watching Robbo and already know he’s really the key. Tierney is very good, too, and they make a good pair on the left of defence, the Arsenal man being left-centre in the back three.
  • John McGinn. The Aston Villa man is the midfielder with the capacity to break forward and shoot, goddamnit, shoot. Could make himself a national hero with a belter.
  • Scott McTominay is one of the few playing at the highest level in European competitions and he’ll try to dominate, but also ensure Scotland play, when they can, from the back. They need every ounce of his energy and commitment.

Prediction: A sad early exit but perhaps with a morale-boosting, optimism-inducing win along the way. Group stage exit.


CZECH REPUBLIC

CARDIFF, WALES - Monday, March 29, 2021: Czech Republic's Tomáš Sou?ek during a training session at the Cardiff City Stadium ahead of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifying Group E game against Wales. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A squad with a cosmopolitan blend in terms of where they play: 11 are in the Czech league, four in England, plus there’s Greece, Italy, Spain, Poland and Germany.

Where, if not the Czech Republic squad, could you put a Leverkusen striker with a Burnley backup?

There are scatterings of talent here, but it’s also about industry and organisation if they want to cause an upset.

Qualifying was suitably low-key: second behind England, but also six points behind England after losing three times in eight games. They did beat Southgate’s team once, though…

Key personnel and ones to watch

  • Tomas Vaclik has mostly impressed with Sevilla; the goalkeeper is a safe pair of hands, reliable, a good reach, a fine one-on-one figure and a decent shot-stopper.
  • Tomas Soucek might rival Nat Phillips in most headers per 90 minutes this season. Scores loads off set-plays, very tough to get past in his defensive midfield role.
  • Vladimir Darida. The Hertha Berlin midfielder does a bit of everything and is the national team captain – he’ll be the one furious at everything and trying to take on the world at one stage or another.

Prediction: Progression! But not too far. Beaten in the last 16.

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