With Euro 2020 now just around the corner, GiveMeSport shines a light on Group C, assessing the chances of the Netherlands, Ukraine, Austria and North Macedonia.
FIFA ranking: 16
Best Euros finish: Winners (1988)
Best player: Matthijs de Ligt
If this piece was written a year earlier, perhaps there would be a different outlook on things.
In the last 12 months, the Netherlands have lost their head coach, Ronald Koeman, who helped his nation rise from the depths of missing two successive major tournaments (Euro 2016 and World Cup 2020) and also their captain and star man, Virgil van Dijk, who will miss this tournament to recover from his injury.
Frank de Boer took over as coach and his inconsistent start combined with struggles at club level in previous jobs after leaving Ajax has reduced optimism. Qualification was completed by Koeman, so the only real indicator of De Boer’s work is the Nations League, where the Dutch finished second in the group behind Italy.
Their group at the Euros is favourable and should see them through, especially with the squad they have. At centre-half, there’s an abundance of quality in the form of Matthijs de Ligt, Stefan de Vrij, Daley Blind and Nathan Aké, while in midfield, the likes of Frenkie de Jong, Marten de Roon and Georginio Wijnaldum should fill the spots. Memphis Depay has been a leader in this side, and he will be amongst their most important players.
On their return to a major tournament, the Dutch have the quality for at least a quarter-final run.
FIFA ranking: 24
Best Euros finish: Group stage (2012, 2016)
Best player: Oleksandr Zinchenko
It wasn’t very long ago that many called for Andriy Shevchenko, the coach, to be sacked from his role at the helm of the national team. Now, he’s preparing Ukraine for the Euros after a stellar qualifying campaign where they finished top of Group B, above reigning champions Portugal.
Perhaps, if the tournament was held in 2020, they’d have more confidence, as their form has slumped since. They were relegated from their Nations League group, having beaten Spain once and were unfortunate to have forfeited a match against Switzerland due to COVID.
However, they can take encouragement from the fact that they had one of the best defences in the qualifying campaign, conceding just four. In goal, the experienced Andriy Pyatov, 36, will be hoping for one last hurrah.
Manchester City’s Oleksnadr Zinchenko could play in midfield and he’ll be entering the tournament as a Premier League winner. Up top, there’s more experience in the form of Andriy Yarmolenko, who has been in all three Euros squads for Ukraine since 2012.
Shevchenko postponed retirement to take part in Euro 2012 – the country’s first Euros. He’ll be leading them as a coach in their third, and there’s a good chance they make it to the last 16.
FIFA ranking: 23
Best Euros finish: Group stage (2008, 2016)
Best player: David Alaba
Red Bull gives you wings and it’s certainly given the Austrian national team that.
This squad will consist of players like Marcel Sabitzer, Martin Hinteregger, Stefan Lainer, Konrad Laimer, Xaver Schlager and more – all of whom have learned from the Red Bull way and who provide the squad with a bit of quality. This is arguably the best generation of Austrian footballers in decades, and they have a chance to prove their worth at the Euros.
Coach Franco Foda has often been criticized for his conservatism with a talented and young group. Recent results, including a 4-0 loss to Denmark and 2-2 draw against Scotland in World Cup qualifying hasn’t helped his case, which is why there is a worry for this competition.
They weren’t encouraging in qualifying, either, making a slow start before getting the job done in the end. It is possible to get out of this group, especially when one factors in that the four best third-placed teams qualify, and it’s arguable that on paper, the Austrians have the second-best team amongst the four. How they’ll manage it will be interesting.
Getting out of this group behind the Netherlands is a big possibility. Beyond that, as in every international tournament, it’s a case of luck and management.
FIFA ranking: 62
Best Euros finish: Tournament debut
Best player: Eljif Elmas
There’s a fairytale story attached to this North Macedonia team. They got to this point through the Nations League and UEFA’s decision to award a League D team a spot in the finals. North Macedonia took full advantage of that.
They finished third in their qualifying group, but beat Kosovo and Georgia in the play-offs to qualify. The nation’s hero, Goran Pandev, a Champions League winner with Inter, was joyous after securing qualification, and in his first and final tournament with his country, a lot of the attention will be centred around him.
They may be the weakest team in the tournament on paper, but they aren’t any pushovers, and their 2-1 victory against Germany in their World Cup qualifiers proved that.
They’re here to make a mark, and through their exciting 21-year-old winger Elif Elmas, it’s a possibility. Behind him, Leeds United’s Ezgjan Alioski and Levante’s Enis Bardhi could make a difference too.
There aren’t great things expected off North Macedonica, which could perhaps work in their favour, but a respectable display at the Euros could boost their footballing profile. It’s a fairytale for some, a dream for the fans, the perfect send-off for Pandev…what’s not to like about North Macedonia?