Qualifiers for the Union of European Football Associations Championship are heating up, with just over seven months remaining until the tournament starts. Currently there are 20 teams qualified for the tourney, many of which are familiar to fans of international soccer.
France is the reigning World Cup Champion and runner-up of the previous edition of the European Cup. They have a squad filled with such a wealth of talent that Manchester City star center back Ayermic Laporte has not gotten a single international appearance for France yet.
Their style of play is very pragmatic, making them hard to break down and beat. They are capable of soaking up tons of pressure and striking teams on the counter with the blazing pace of strikers Kylian Mbappe and (when fit) Kingsley Coman.
In Oliver Giroud, they have a striker with a very unique skill set. He will not score too many goals — but that is not his job in this particular set-up. His hold-up play and clever movement allows his extremely talented attacking peers to shine.
If not for how the World Cup was drawn, we might have seen Belgium play France in the 2018 World Cup final. Instead, we saw the two best teams on paper play in the semi-finals, with Belgium falling narrowly short and ultimately coming in third.
The upcoming Euros might prove to be the last possible realistic shot at silverware for their “Golden Generation.” They usually set up in a three-man formation, which is a considerably different tactical set up from most European teams.
Their wing backs are very aggressive, creating major overloads with world class wingers Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens. Compared to his usual standards, midfielder Kevin De Bruyne had a quiet World Cup. An upturn in his form would only make Belgium more dangerous.
Given the manner of their performances and extremely pragmatic style of play, it might be easy to forget that Portugal is the reigning Euros and Nation’s Cup Champions. They are known to win by small margins, wear teams down with their hard to break defense and make the most of opposition errors through striker Cristiano Ronaldo’s clinical finishing.
Since the previous Euros, midfielder Bernado Silva has grown into one of the most important players for Portugal, through whom most attacks flow. Similarly, midfielder Bruno Fernandes has become one of the most sought-after midfielders and his keen eye for goal could help take off the goal scoring pressure from Ronaldo.
The Dutch have gone through a dark period in their recent soccer history. They failed to qualify for the 2016 Euros for the first time since 1984. This poor form continued into their World Cup qualifying campaign, which they failed to qualify for in 2018.
Under the guidance of manager Ronald Koeman, they have slowly and surely gotten back to play the level of soccer pioneered by former player and legend Johan Cruyff. This resurgence has in part been due to the meteoric rise of center back Virgil Van Dijk, whose leadership and commanding presence has resulted in only seven goals conceded in their qualifying campaign so far.
The recent rise of the Dutch team Ajax cannot be underestimated as a factor for the revival of the national team. Midfielders Frenkie De Jong and Donny van de Beek along with defender Matthijs De Ligt were core to the success of the Ajax team last year and they will be very important players come next summer.
During the 2018 World Cup, manager Gareth Southgate was able to do the impossible. He united the country to back their team wholeheartedly, with none of the usual contrasting opinions and questions of “Can Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard play in midfield together” or “Who is best suited to partner Wayne Rooney”.
Last summer, England exceeded expectations and had a concrete style of play. Southgate has now changed his team’s formation to a 4-3-3 due to an ever-increasing wealth of talent at his disposal. Few countries have the speed and clinical nature of England’s front three of Harry Kane, Jadon Sancho and Raheem Sterling. Both Kane and Sterling will be competing for the Premier League Golden Boot this season and Sancho has the pace, directness and decisiveness to put chances on a plate for his compatriots.
Whereas in the past England has struggled to break down smaller teams who are defensively compact, they now excel at it. The true test will come against top quality opposition, such as the ones mentioned above. Their qualifying campaign did not allow them such matchups and the limited record they have against top sides is not the best.
Finally, there are the potential wildcards in Germany and Spain. Both teams had extremely underwhelming World Cups and will be looking to bounce back. Germany was infamously knocked out of the World Cup at the group stage, which caused a mass exodus of experienced players, such as midfielders Mesut Ozil and Mats Hummels along with forward Thomas Müller. Similarly for Spain, a Round of 16 elimination and subsequent managerial issues leave it with a very talented squad, but not much experience. However, both of these teams have been hurt recently and will be looking to eradicate some of those painful memories.