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Thursday, 6 June, 2019

Racing Post Sport's football experts offer their best bets for Euro 2020

Who will win Euro 2020 and who will be stars of this summer's tournament?

Gerard Moreno (right) could make a big impression for Spain
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We asked our top team of writers for a number of Euro 2020 predictions and this is how they answered...

Who wins Euro 2020?

Aaron Ashley: Portugal were shock winners of Euro 2016 but their current crop of stars give them a real shot at retaining their crown. They are housed in a tough section but it shouldn’t stop them reaching the latter stages and manager Fernando Santos has remarkable strength in depth with talisman Cristiano Ronaldo supported by the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, Joao Felix, Ruben Dias, Joao Cancelo, Diogo Jota and Andre Silva.

Dan Childs: Belgium were not far away from succeeding at the 2018 World Cup and I think they will seize what could possibly be their last big chance of winning a major trophy. Veteran defenders Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen are probably past their best but Youri Tielemans and Kevin De Bruyne are two of the best midfielders on show and Romelu Lukaku can deliver the goods in attack.

Steve Davies: France. I love their wine, their cheese, N’Golo Kante, Kylian Mbappe, even Paul Pogba in an international shirt. They’re the reigning world champions and super-confident. They have goals
in them from so many sources and look to be at their peak.

Liam Flin: With the deepest squad and a manager in Didier Deschamps who is happy to sacrifice flair for success, it is hard to look past France winning Euro 2020. Karim Benzema is an upgrade on Olivier Giroud in the starting lineup, N'Golo Kante runs the show in midfield and they have a settled back four. Kylian Mbappe is the best young player in world football right now and can help them add to their 2018 World Cup triumph.

James Milton: France won the World Cup in impressive fashion and three years on their squad looks just as strong in defence and midfield with Karim Benzema adding another dimension to their attack. Didier Deschamps has been in charge for nearly a decade but the influx of talented youngsters ensures that things do not go stale and being in a tough group alongside Portugal and Germany should mean there is no complacency in the camp.

Kevin Pullein: Italy tend to be gloriously unpredictable at tournaments. Often they crash out at the group stage, but when they do not they can make a lasting impression. Italy are capable of winning any tournament if they happen to have a few weeks when everything comes together for them. And double-figure odds may understate the chance that it will be now.

Which team looks the best dark horse?

Aaron Ashley: If anyone is to upstage the so-called bigger nations, then it is Denmark who look best-equipped to do so. The Danes boast serious quality and their starting 11 is filled with players who ply their trade in one of Europe’s elite divisions. They picked up four points from two meetings with England in the Nations League last year and in a one-off match would be dangerous opponents.

Dan Childs: I fancy Poland to go well at a big price thanks largely to the brilliance of Robert Lewandowski. Accusations of being a one-man team were previously levelled at Portugal due to Cristiano Ronaldo's high profile but that didn't stop them from going all the way at Euro 2016. The supporting cast behind Lewandowski has improved, giving Poland a decent chance of at least matching their quarter-final effort of five years ago.

Steve Davies: I have a feeling about the Turkey (who, of course, did for France in qualifying) under Senol Gunes. They are going to be bright as a button going forward, look dependable at the back under the stewardship of man-mountain Caglar Soyuncu and can’t complain about their group.

Liam Flin: Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup but won all ten of their qualifying fixtures for Euro 2020 and look as though they are coming out of their transition phase. Few teams can boast a more experienced defence, which is supplemented by impressive youngster Alessandro Bastoni, they can pass teams to death and they are in one of the tournament's softer sections. Roberto Mancini could oversee a strong campaign and they look overpriced in the outright market.

James Milton: Denmark's squad is packed with top-level experience and they would be awkward opponents in the knockout stages but Turkey are a more tempting wildcard selection, especially if they can tighten up at the back. They thumped the Netherlands 4-2 and Norway 3-0 in their first two World Cup qualifiers in March and veteran striker Burak Yilmaz will be buzzing after inspiring Lille's shock Ligue 1 title triumph.

Kevin Pullein: Netherlands did not qualify for the last World Cup or European Championship and come into this one with a manager who in club football was sacked after 85 days by Inter and 78 days by Crystal Palace. This is a poor Oranje generation, and its best member is injured. But any Netherlands squad can come good if fortune smiles on them. Here, too, double-figure odds may understate the prospect that it will.

Who will finish as the top goalscorer?

Aaron Ashley: It is difficult to shy too far away from the head of the market and Romelu Lukaku looks a standout selection. The Belgian fired home 24 goals to help guide Inter to the Serie A title this season and his record at international level is equally spectacular. Lukaku has scored 36 times across his last 31 internationals and group games with Finland and Russia could see him make hay early.

Dan Childs: Romelu Lukaku is Belgium's all-time leading goalscorer and looks the strongest candidate. He was outstanding for Serie A champions Inter this season – scoring 24 league goals – and could do plenty of damage in Belgium's Group B matches against Russia, Denmark and Finland. An alternative at a bigger price is Netherlands attacker Memphis Depay, who takes penalties and could fill his boots in a weak group.

Steve Davies: Memphis Depay could be a spot of value at 20-1. The Lyon striker arrives off a top Ligue 1 campaign in which he bagged 20 goals and he takes penalties. I also think there are goals in Group C and the ex-Manchester United star could build up a few going into the knockouts.

Liam Flin: Romelu Lukaku has rejuvenated his career at Inter Milan, scoring 64 goals in all competitions across two campaigns. He looks fitter and sharper in the final third, having helped his club side to the Serie A title this year, and, unlike others in this market, he has limited competition for his place in the Belgium team with Eden Hazard having endured a frustrating 2020-21 campaign.

James Milton: Backers of Romelu Lukaku for the Golden Boot were getting excited after he scored four times in Belgium's first one-and-a-half group games at the 2018 World Cup but he failed to add to that tally despite the Red Devils reaching the semi-finals. Lukaku's international scoring rate since that tournament is sensational, he had a great season for Serie A champions Inter, and he should be on penalty duty for the free-scoring Belgians.

Kevin Pullein: It is usually someone from a team that goes far, though not necessarily the winners. Of course, we cannot be sure in advance who will go far. Timo Werner played well in his first season at Chelsea but luck was unkind to his shots. It may become kinder. Germany are in a group with France and Portugal but may only have to finish above Hungary to get through, and then who knows?

Who will be voted the player of the tournament?

Aaron Ashley: If Portugal do manage to lift the trophy again, then it probably makes sense to back Cristiano Ronaldo to scoop the award in what would surely be his final European Championship. With 29 goals from 33 games for an underachieving Juventus side this season, the 36-year-old evidently still has plenty to offer. A saver on Manchester City’s rock Ruben Dias is also advised.

Dan Childs: I'm going to stick with the Belgian theme here and plump for De Bruyne, who is absolutely key to them lifting the trophy. The 29-year-old has been outstanding for Manchester City and looked much more of a goal threat towards the end of the season – scoring seven times in his last 11 appearances. He is a joy to watch and could be among the top assist makers at the tournament.

Steve Davies: If France win it then Kylian Mbappe stars. And if Mbappe stars people start to drool and that should lend itself to winning a market like this. He got best young player in Russia three years ago and can go one better over the next few weeks.

Liam Flin: The last three winners of this accolade - Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Antoine Griezmann - have all been top creative outlets and one player who is often as good setting up goals as he is scoring them is Karim Benzema. I fancy France to go all the way and the recalled Real Madrid man, who netted 23 goals and laid on nine assists in La Liga in 2020-21, could be crucial to their success.

James Milton: Lukaku is again of interest given the discrepancy between his odds to be top scorer and player of the tournament. He has proved he is far more than just a goalscorer but I also like Paul Pogba at a big price. He had an excellent 2018 World Cup, put in some eye-catching performances for Manchester United before an untimely injury in February, and, at the age of 28, is primed for a big tournament.

Kevin Pullein: It tends to be a creative player from one of the teams who go far. Okay, this is a real longshot, triple-figure odds. Donny van de Beek. He has started only four Premier League games for Manchester United, but they paid £35 million for him and he arrived with a deservedly good reputation. He may not start for Netherlands, and they may not go far, but if he does and they do he becomes a possibility.

Give us a player going under the radar that could shine this summer

Aaron Ashley: Defenders don’t often get the recognition they deserve, but Luke Shaw has shown he is one of the best full-backs in world football and he may have a starring role to play for England. Injuries have had a real impact on the development of the 25-year-old, but he was a standout performer for Manchester United this season and he is a great weapon to have at both ends of the pitch.

Dan Childs: Villarreal forward Gerard Moreno had a very promising start to his international career – scoring five times in his opening ten appearances - and could make a big impact. Spain have lacked a prolific centre-forward in recent years but Moreno has excelled for the Yellow Submarine this season, scoring 23 La Liga goals, and approaches the tournament full of confidence after picking up a Europa League winners medal.

Steve Davies: Ferran Torres came of age in the Premier League this season and is growing into a role in the Spain side. He scored a hat-trick against Germany last year and impressed whenever Pep Guardiola summoned him. He looks each-way value in the Golden Boot betting.

Liam Flin: Spain's squad looks weaker than it has done in recent tournaments but that could open the door for their younger players to shine and Dani Olmo is an exciting prospect. The 23-year-old attacking midfielder has impressed for Leipzig since leaving Dinamo Zagreb in 2020 and already has three international goals to his name. Dynamo Kiev's Viktor Tsyhankov has also been superb domestically and could flourish at Euro 2020 for Ukraine.

James Milton: A couple of Europe's most exciting young forwards look ready to impress at their first tournament finals. Speedy Netherlands winger Donyell Malen scored 19 goals in just 26 Eredivisie starts for PSV Eindhoven this season and Alexander Isak – 6ft 4in, skillful and with a rocket of a shot on him – is a solid favourite to be top Sweden goalscorer after a prolific La Liga campaign for Real Sociedad. Who needs Zlatan?

Kevin Pullein: Can I answer this in a different way? There will be a player that nobody expected to do well who plays brilliantly then signs for a bigger club for an inflated fee, after which he slips back into obscurity and is never heard of again. Transfers inspired by standout tournament performances generally turn out to be bad transfers.

What's your best bet in the group markets?

Aaron Ashley: I’d lay Germany as favourites to win Group F. Yes, they play all three of their matches on home turf at the Allianz Arena, but that has been overstated in their price and I much prefer the chances of both France and Portugal. The Germans were stunned hosting North Macedonia in March’s World Cup qualifier and things appear to have turned stale under manager Joachim Low.

Dan Childs: Italy seem to be going under the radar despite winning all ten games in qualifying and should dominate Group A at the expense of Turkey, Switzerland and Wales. The Azzurri do not have an abundance of star names in their squad but they are well coached by Roberto Mancini and have the advantage of playing each of the group fixtures at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

Steve Davies: Belgium – no matter what Kevin de Bruyne’s boat race looks like. In fact, what befell De Bruyne in Porto is the sort of thing that unites sides, though Belgium shouldn’t have any difficulty seeing off Denmark, Finland and Russia.

Liam Flin: This year's 'Group of Death' - Group F - may not be as tough to call as the majority think. Reigning European champions Portugal look even stronger than when they won the competition five years ago while 2018 World Cup winners France have the best squad and a diligent manager. Joachim Low, however, still looks unsure of his best Germany starting 11 and a France-Portugal dual forecast looks a superb bet in the final section.

James Milton: Belgium to win Group B. Their odds are bumped up by the fact that they play Denmark in Copenhagen and Russia in St Petersburg but they look a cut above their section rivals and their competitive away record is rock solid. The Red Devils have won eight of their last nine group matches at European Championships and World Cups and the only blot on that record was a 2-0 defeat to Italy at Euro 2016.

Kevin Pullein: I think the groups are harder than ever now. You do not have to win to go through. In fact, two-thirds of all teams will progress. Group winners in theory should get easier round-of-16 opponents, but in practice it does not always turn out that way, and players know. Having said that, many traditional powers will be playing at home which should help them, even with smaller crowds. I will take Italy to win Group A. 

What's your top 90-minute match pick for the group stages?

Aaron Ashley: Sweden look a good bet to beat Slovakia at a shade of odds-on. The Swedes, who were World Cup quarter-finalists three years ago, are a well-drilled unit under Janne Andersson and are growing in talent while a lack of firepower looks problematic for the Slovaks. Sweden should be fighting for a top-two finish in Group E, whereas Slovakia are prime candidates for the wooden spoon.

Dan Childs: Wales were the surprise package at Euro 2016 and I wouldn't be greatly surprised if they got off to a winning start against Switzerland in Baku. Gareth Bale has been a massive player for Wales in recent years and he finished the season strongly for Tottenham, teeing him up perfectly for the summer. Switzerland are a solid side but they lack a top-class attacker and look vulnerable favourites.

Steve Davies: Lay Ukraine at odds-on against North Macedonia. Ukraine haven’t impressed recently and are a bunch of serial underachievers on the big stage. Their opponents are going to be fighting their cotton socks off and have the ability to pick up at least a point in that contest.

Liam Flin: Denmark were the only side at the 2018 World Cup to play winners France and not lose. With a solid core comprising Kasper Schmeichel, Andreas Christensen and Christian Eriksen, they could be worth a selection in the draw-no-bet market when they welcome Belgium to Copenhagen.

James Milton: Gareth Bale's strong finish to the club season for Tottenham is great news for Wales and they are a tempting bet to win their opener against Switzerland. The Welsh have been racking up clean sheets in the past year and if their star forward is firing then they could upset a limited Swiss side who won only two of their eight matches at Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.

Kevin Pullein: Look at the 90-minute prices now and wait for possible over-reactions to the first or second round of results. As the potential future Wales manager Tony Pulis has said: “People get too carried away when you win and too carried away when you lose.” Including bettors – and, for an international tournament, even bookmakers.

Give us your prediction with a scoreline for England v Scotland 

Aaron Ashley: Scotland are certainly improving and playoff wins over Israel and Serbia highlight that, but England should still be able to carve out victory at Wembley. The Scots are armed with plenty of Premier League talent of their own, but they can’t match the Three Lions’ attacking quality and, therefore, may set-up to nullify. England to win by exactly one goal makes appeal at 3-1.

Dan Childs: Wily Scotland manager Steve Clarke will have a plan to stop England but the gap in class could be just too much, allowing Gareth Southgate's side to snatch a low-scoring success. England may not get much space to play thanks to the combative talents of Scotland midfielders John McGinn and Scott McTominay but I anticipate a moment of match-winning quality from the Three Lions, who can seal a hard-fought 1-0 victory.

Steve Davies: England should win but I absolutely expect Scotland to prove difficult to break down. Steve Clarke won’t be taking many risks, whatever happens in their opener, because he knows they’ll be cut to ribbons by the pace of the Three Lions. England to win 1-0 looks a likely outcome.

Liam Flin: On paper England have the attacking quality to blow Scotland out of the water but rarely does that happen at a major tournament and I think it will be tight. The Three Lions scored more than two goals in only one of their World Cup games three years ago and, although they should come out on top, it could be a narrow success. Back an England win and under 2.5 goals.

James Milton: I'm expecting Steve Clarke's improving Scotland side to trouble Croatia and the Czech Republic in Group D but their lack of cutting edge up front leaves them vulnerable against England. The Three Lions have the ruthless Harry Kane, the Golden Boot favourite, as well as plenty of other attacking threats so a repeat of England's 2-0 win at Euro 96 could be a decent correct-score bet.

Kevin Pullein: England to win 2-0, the same as at Euro 96, though then it could easily have been different. This time, I think, 2-0 is the most likely outcome, just ahead of 1-0, though neither is that likely. Scotland is the birthplace of football. But it is a small country with about one-tenth the population of England. Scotland’s best footballers should not be as good as England’s and usually they are not.

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If anyone is to upstage the so-called bigger nations, then it is Denmark who look best-equipped to do so