World-class talent, former Reds & a nation making history – Euro 2020 Group B

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Euro 2020 should provide a much-needed respite from matches with a lack of atmosphere, lack of supporters and lack of real excitement – even with an expanded list of nations.

Group B is perhaps one where there’s a country which has benefited from the bigger tournament, in Finland: never qualified for a major finals before, be it European Championships or World Cup, yet now preparing for the biggest stage of the summer.

Good luck to ’em. They are up against one of the world’s strongest squads and a couple of reliable nations trying to improve their own records, in a quartet that could yet provide a surprising candidate in the latter stages.

Here’s everything you need to know and all the Reds-related individuals in Group B.

 

Group B Liverpool links

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - Wednesday, March 3, 2021: Leicester City's Youri Tielemans during the FA Premier League match between Burnley FC and Leicester City FC at Turf Moor. The game ended in a 1-1 draw. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Former stopper Simon Mignolet is the Belgium No. 2 goalkeeper, while our ex-striker Christian Benteke is in the squad too. The Red Devils hoard our linked names from this group: midfielder Youri Tielemans and winger Jeremy Doku are the prominent ones from the last 12 months.

Further back in time, Liverpool were ‘definitely’ signing Danish duo Kasper Dolberg and Christian Eriksen at some stage, as well as Finnish then-talented-youngster Joel Pohjanpalo. The Reds’ links with Finland are deeply rooted in the past, of course.

Fixtures

June 12 – Denmark vs. Finland
June 12 – Belgium vs. Russia
June 16 – Finland vs. Russia
June 17 – Denmark vs. Belgium
June 21 – Russia vs. Denmark
June 21 – Finland vs. Belgium


BELGIUM

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - Saturday, June 23, 2018: Belgium's goal-scorers Romelu Lukaku (x2) and Eden Hazard walk off at half-time during the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 Group G match between Belgium and Tunisia at the Spartak Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Depending on your point of view, Belgium either have a world-class team and a clown of a coach, or a golden generation who have yet to make good on their promise.

Roberto Martinez has undoubtedly made them more exciting to watch than Marc Wilmots did, but they just haven’t taken those final steps to make the best use of a wild mix of talents…yet.

Cruised through qualifying with 10 wins from 10…ahead of Russia, interestingly enough.

Key personnel and ones to watch:

  • Kevin de Bruyne. Best midfielder in the world? He might well be. He’s often given a free-roving attack role with the national side, but he also has a bit of a broken face after the Champions League final and faces a race to be fully fit here.
  • Eden Hazard, but which version? There’s no question Martinez will call on him to start but he has been injured and useless for two years in Madrid. Can he turn it on for a few weeks without pulling a hamstring, busting an ankle or straining his back? If so, there’s the match-winner. If not, it’s 10 men on the pitch.
  • Yannick Carrasco is the final pick. Amid a fair few question marks over the ‘stars’, Carrasco’s form and talent put him very near that group, plus he fills a vital tactical role as a hard-working wing-back. They’ll need him to keep playing at his best to overcome shortfalls elsewhere.

Prediction: Undoubtedly a really good squad, but it could be that there are too many knocks and doubts going into the tournament to let them all flourish. Quarter-finalists, beaten by Italy.


DENMARK

CARDIFF, WALES - Friday, November 16, 2018: Denmark's goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel during the UEFA Nations League Group Stage League B Group 4 match between Wales and Denmark at the Cardiff City Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Denmark are a strange old side: they got to Euro 2020 without losing a single game in qualifying, yet didn’t top their group. That should tell you much of what to expect.

They happily thrashed the minnows, but against teams of around their own level there was a tendency to revert to being safe, compact, counter-attacking – really playing the underdog effectively.

That approach might help them bypass the group stage since three could potentially go through, but it isn’t made for a fantastically exciting run.

Key personnel and ones to watch:

  • Kasper Schmeichel has had himself a great year, by and large, and he’s consistently difficult to beat (when not putting corners into his own net on the final day of the season – cheer, Kas). He’ll be the rigid last line of defence and is capable of being a stand-out keeper of the tournament.
  • Robert Skov. Not a star, but a versatile and occasionally brilliant individual, crucial from set-pieces and with a really good strike rate at international level. Could play anywhere from left-back to No. 10.
  • Kasper Dolberg just over Joachim Andersen. Ultimately, the Danes need someone to be able to score semi-regularly more than they need their defence to be above and beyond the usual level, so can the Nice forward step up here?

Prediction: Through the group phase, but then pointlessly out at the first time of asking in the KOs. Beaten in the last 16.


RUSSIA

TOULOUSE, FRANCE - Monday, June 20, 2016: Russia's Aleksandr Golovin during the final Group B UEFA Euro 2016 Championship match against Wales at Stadium de Toulouse. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

A hugely domestic-heavy squad this time around, with just four non-Russian Premier League-based players in the squad. There are still some familiar names from the Russian side which seemed to stay exactly the same for about 12 years, but a lot of regeneration has happened under the watch of Stanislav Cherchesov.

Russia finished six points behind Belgium in the qualifiers: they beat everyone else, but lost to them twice.

Key personnel and ones to watch:

  • Artem Dzyuba. Captain, warhorse, made of granite and boulders, strike rate on the international scene of almost 0.6 goals per game. A very simple striker who is very tough to stop.
  • Aleksandr Golovin, one of the breakout stars of the last World Cup. He’s back to form and fitness and will be a vital creative spark in an often functional and attritional side.
  • Aleksei Miranchuk didn’t have an outrageously good season with Atalanta, but took plenty of steps in his first season outside of Russia to suggest he’ll be another big success story. Provides goals from deep and has a lot of quality in possession.

Prediction: Ultimately it’s tough to see them attacking with enough consistency and variety to beat Denmark, which is what the group could come down to. Third, but in our predictions they don’t have a top record among other third-placed teams so…group-stage exit.


FINLAND

Norwich City's Teemu Pukki celebrates scoring his side's third goal of the game vs Man City (Steven Paston/EMPICS Sport)

A moment of national pride at kick-off in their opener, as a team of history-makers will write themselves into Finnish footy folklore.

Will it get much better than that? There is, of course, always the chance they could surprise and upset teams in a one-off encounter, and they did qualify by finishing ahead of Greece and Bosnia-Herzegovina, so they are far from also-rans.

But as much as this group could provide the opportunity for a first positive result at a major finals, it probably also doesn’t have a ‘weak’ option that Finland can go through ahead of.

Key personnel and ones to watch:

  • Markku Kanerva is the national team manager, having previously been with the U21s and assistant at senior level, so he certainly knows the environment and has built the squad as he wants. A former international himself as a player, but only ever plied his trade around Finland, Sweden and Estonia.
  • Teemu Pukki served notice of his goalscoring capacity two seasons ago in the Premier League and he’ll be back up next term with Norwich. With Finland, he has 30 in 90 – a very admirable goalscoring rate. A good bet to make history with their first goal at a tournament.
  • Lukas Hradecky. Might be the most well-known player in the squad, with the goalkeeper having spent six years in the Bundesliga. Will likely be busy.

Prediction: More focus to be paid by commentators to Anglo-sounding names (Daniel O’Shaughnessy, Glen Kamara and Robert Taylor are all in the squad) than the actual talent in the team. Oh, the other kind of prediction? Group stage exit.

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