EUROPA 2020: Now it get’s real.

My Uncle Benny, when a football match reached its critical stage, used to rub his hands together and gleefully declare: “Jetzt geht’s um die Wurst”. (Now, it’s about the sausage). Euro 2020, as the delayed tournament is still called, has now reached that stage. No longer will games be played where draws will do, or where results are relatively meaningless, as qualification has already be achieved. From now on, the phoney war is over and only victories will count.

The Winner of Euro 2020 will have had to play 7 matches and win the last four. In a tournament involving 24 teams, where 16 teams progress from the qualifying groups, one victory and a draw is sufficient to reach the knockout phase. Though teams will value the momentum of a morale-rating performance, squad management will be at the fore of the consideration of any team that believes it has a chance of progressing deep into the tournament. This notwithstanding, though all the favoured teams have shown us something as to why they are worthy of consideration, no team has shown itself without frailties so far:

BELGIUM: 2020 Europa Champions?

BELGIUM: have class in every position but seem only capable of delivering when De Bruyne is on the field. As long as he stays fit, Belgium are my favourites to be the winner. And, as per the below, I have put my money where my mouth is on them.

ENGLAND: have conceded no goals, but have been far from potent and have, rightly, been criticised as being one-paced. However, the draw has worked very nicely for them and, if they can find some sort of moxie, a pathway to The Final seems possible. They have the players but is the manager up to the task? England expects.

FRANCE: Quite rightly, tournament favourites as World Cup winners, entered the tournament on the back of some impressive performances. In Mbappé they have the most dynamic player of this tournament but they have only won one of their 1st Round games. Mbappé has failed to score so far and, IMHO, he needs to start netting if France is going to deliver.

GERMANY: A lacklustre opening loss against France, may have suggested otherwise but never write off the German football team. For my money their 4-2 win over Portugal was a most impressive performance and though the draw against Hungary appears underwhelming, one should not underestimate the character of a team that scores in the last 10 minutes when it is necessary.

ITALY: Despite extending their record-breaking string of results, I don’t quite buy this ‘new’ Italy. Yes, their football seems somewhat more progressive and they are a very organised side, who maintain a ‘pragmatism’ in their tackling. However, they have yet to be really tested and may lack a potency up front when goals are absolutely required.

NETHERLANDS: Have an uncanny history of fielding great individuals who don’t combine to be great teams. I can’t see that in this tournament they even have the individuals, let alone the team quality to buck that trend

PORTUGAL, on paper, look awesome. If somehow they can unleash a confidence to play with freedom, they would be the opponent that every other team would fear. But, for some reason, they don’t and this current squad seems to be built of the same stuff. Ronaldo still is a force to be reckoned but this Portugal team will need Bruno Fernandez to produce more if they are to succeed.

SPAIN still talk the ‘tiki taka’ but they no longer walk its walk. There’s no Iniesta, and without a similar play maker even remotely close to that quality it’s hard to make a case for Spain. Don’t get me wrong, the Spain squad is full of talent but it seems to lack the X-factor that produced for them in the past and, with Morata up front, Spain look to be unlikely winners.

I can’t recall another major tournament where the outcome has been so open. Perhaps it’s due to Covid that no team is without its frailties, capable of being their undoing. As tournaments reach their final stages, injuries occur and fatigue sets in. At some time, it very likely that the eventual winner will be tested and will have to show that they are determined not to be denied and that they have the quality to prevail. With regards to the former, Germany singularly and typically have shown this aspect their game but in my estimation it is Belgium that has the overall quality of champions. Belgium v Portugal will tell us a lot as to whether this estimation is correct. Whether they can make it pay is another matter. No disrespect to Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden, Ukraine or Wales but I just don’t see any of these countries reaching The Final. I do, however, foresee a couple of upsets before the final denouement.

As will be his wont, The Ericle, has placed a number of wagers on this matter. However, football is a game of loyalties & passions. My heart will always hope for England (& Fulham) even when my head tells me otherwise and I make no apologies that I will be betting on England until the bitter end. So, currently, I am betting on a Belgium v England Final with Belgium coming out as Winners. (If/when England beat Germany, I will also be on them as Winners)

(And if Germany win next Tuesday, my intentions would be to bet on them to reach the Final)

I have also placed bets on all of the Round Of 16:

Wales v DENMARK

ITALY v Austria

Netherlands v CZECH REPUBLIC (!!)

BELGIUM (?) v Portugal

CROATIA (!!) v Spain

FRANCE v Switzerland *(inc. a bet that France will be up at HT)

ENGLAND (??) v Germany

SWEDEN (?) v Ukraine

As it is said, a fool and his money …

I will post again before the Quarter Finals with updates on my finances and, for what they are worth, my predictions going forward.

Europa 2020 has delivered so far and more of the same is in prospect. Enjoy!

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