Following its Covid-19 postponement, Euro 2020 is being played in 2021 with Free Live Streaming on BBC iPlayer and ITV Sport. Need a Euro 2020 Football VPN?
Ahead of “Euro 2020 to be played in 2021” we thought it would be good to take a look at the competition for the point of view of the home nations. England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland failed to quality, both losing to Slovakia as part of the “Path B” in the rather convoluted play-off system that followed the group stages, so thanks for coming to all from the superior Island, we won’t be talking about you anymore.
⚽ Euro 2020
📺 Free Live Euro 2020 Streaming on BBC & ITV + Catchup on BBC iPlayer & ITV Hub
📅 11 June – 11 July 2021
England and Scotland have been drawn in the same group, Group D, and we’ll take a look at their group in another article but for today let’s focus on the men of Wales, the Dragons. Drawn in Group A they will take on Switzerland, Turkey and Italy in a four team group that will see the two top advance to the knock-out phases with the team in third place potentially sneaking through as well if they are one of the four best third place finishers.
Group A will be hosted by the cities of Rome and Baku, making it a less than convenient arrangement for at least two of the countries involved. Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, built for the 1960 Olympics, rebuilt for Italia 90 and now home to AS Roma and Lazio, is no stranger to major events having been the stage for plenty over it’s lifetime. Baku’s Olympic Stadium is named more in hope that reality. Baku has not hosted the modern Olympia and seems unlikely to ever do so. The stadium itself is an outstanding facility though and played host to the 2019 Europa League Final between Arsenal and Chelsea.
Wales head into the tournament without manager Ryan Giggs, taking a leave of absence to deal with legal matters, and will instead be managed by Rob Page. The former Under 21 manager, Page became Giggs’ assistant in 2019 before being asked to take over the managing of the senior team in November 2020 when Giggs was first arrested. Page has managerial experience outside of his time within the national set-up, having taken charge of Port Vale and Northampton Town, but hasn’t enjoyed much success as the lead man in the dug out boasting a career win percentage of just 36.2% from 149 career matches in charge.
There’s plenty of experience in the squad, Chris Gunter has over 100 caps, Gareth Bale and Wayne Hennessy both have over 90, and in Bale and Aaron Ramsey they do have their two biggest stars. The problem for Wales is that their biggest names, Bale and Ramsey, have not been very good over the past couple of years and none of their goalkeepers, Hennessy, Danny Ward or Adam Davies have played regularly this season. Hennessy and Ward are the backups at Crystal Palace and Leicester respectively, and while Davies can lay claim to being first choice at Stoke, he missed 29 league matches this season between injury and rotation.
Wales strength is their defence, with Ben Davies, Chris Mepham, Joe Rodon. Connor Roberts and Gunter all highly capable players. Their issue is at the other end of the pitch. Only Bale and Ramsey have scored more than five goals for Wales and of the 23 outfield players in the squad, 13 have never scored a single goal for their national team. Worse still, neither Bale nor Ramsey has scored since 2019. Ramsey has only played two games in that time, but that again is reason for concern. He and Bale have had careers severely hampered by injuries and if they aren’t are 100% for this competition, Wales will struggle greatly.
There is attacking talent in the squad, even if they aren’t prolific goal scorers. David Brooks of Bournemouth is an outstanding player who could grace most teams, Daniel James has speed for days, Harry Wilson has a great left foot and is a set piece specialist and Tyler Roberts enjoyed the best season of his career for Leeds United this past campaign. If the Dragon is to roar across Europe this summer, Wales will need at least a couple of those young attackers to step up and provide support to Bale and Ramsey.
As mentioned above, it’s a difficult group and Wales will need to get off to a fast start because there are no easy games for them in this group and every point will count. First up will be Switzerland, ranked number 13 in the world, in Baku on June 12th. Head Coach Vladimir Petkovic has been able to select a full strength squad that’s a good blend of youth and experience. Strong in defense, powerful in midfield and dangerous in attack, the Swiss can rely on Premier League stars Fabian Schar, Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, along with main goal threat Haris Seferovic. Their star man is midfielder Denis Zakaria who should hopefully be fully fit after a stop start campaign for Borussia Monchengladbach. Zakaria, a powerful box to box presence, has been linked with Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City in the past and will cause Wales problems with his marauding runs from the centre of the park. Alongside him will be Xhaka, the team captain, and potentially the excellent Remo Freuler of Atalanta. The Swiss will provide a very difficult first test for Wales, one that they can’t afford to fail as things don’t get any easier.
Up next will be a Turkish team eager to make their mark on the big stage. Head Coach Senol Gunes finds himself at the helm of one of the most exciting groups of Turkish players ever, especially in terms of defenders. Caglar Soyuncu has established himself as one of the Premier League’s best defenders with Ozan Kabak, Merih Demiral and Kaan Ayhan all very capable, with the former duo holding great potential for development. Right back Zeki Celik is highly sought after and is coming off a fantastic season with Lille where he, along with midfield Yusuf Yazici as well as captain and striker Burak Yilmaz were at the forefront of a magnificent title win.
Yazici, Hakan Calhanoglu, Ozan Tufan and former Premier League loanees Okay Yokuslu and Cengiz Under provide strong options in midfield, while it’s worth keeping an eye out for the wonderfully gifted Abdulkadir Omur who could be a breakout star if given the opportunity. Turkey will rely heavily on their midfield to supply goals in support of Yilmaz and former Manchester City striker Enes Unal.
Turkey will provide a stiff test for the Welsh when they meet in Baku on June 16th.
The organizers did save the best for last as far as Wales are concerned because despite the quality of their first two opponents, there can be no doubt that their toughest test will come in the final game of the group when they face Italy on June 20th in Rome. While this may not be an Italian team on the level of those in the 80s, 90s and 00s it should not be dismissed too quickly. In 31 games under Roberto Mancini they have lost only twice, against 22 wins for a 71% win ratio. They’ve only conceded 14 goals in those 31 games showing that some things never change. Eat, Sleep, Clean Sheet, Repeat is still relevant to Italy and it’s not hard to see why.
Gigi Donnarumma may have doubts hanging over his future but there should be none about his ability between the sticks. The 22 year old successor to the great Gigi Buffon is one of the best goalkeepers on the planet, which is incredible given his age. It’s easy to forget that he established himself as AC Milan’s number 1 at 16 and made his international debut at 17 so despite his youth, he actually carries quite a bit of experience with him. In the defense there are the wise old heads of Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Alessandro Florenzi, as well as they brilliant young Inter Milan defender Alessandro Bastoni, fresh off winning his first Serie A title. Italy will be strong at the back but may just lack a slight bit of pace that could be exploited by somebody like Gareth Bale. But that’s IF Wales can ever get hold of the ball. Italy’s real strength lies in their midfield. Marco Verrati, Nicolo Barella, Manuel Locatelli and Lorenzo Pellegrini give Italy potentially the best midfield unit in the competition with an ability to control games as well as the physical capacity to simply outwork their opponents when necessary.
They’re not lacking in talent upfront either, with Andrea Belotti, Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile all proven match winners. There aren’t any superstars in the squad and Marco Verrati may be the only one worthy of the tag “world class” but there are a huge bunch of top class players working for a manager they believe in. A manager who has recently signed a new contract that will keep him in charge until 2026. With that type of longevity secured, Mancini can be as demanding of his players as he sees fit and they will have to respond or risk exile.
Three tough games, they different types of tests for a Welsh team potentially lack in form and elite talent. If they progress through this group, it may warrant the building of a statue to honour Rob Page.
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