England kick off their Euro 2020 campaign against a familiar foe, as they face Croatia at Wembley in the opening game of Group D on Sunday.
Like the rest of the world of football, England and their manager Gareth Southgate sent their best wishes to Christian Eriksen on Saturday, following the Denmark player’s collapse on the pitch against Finland.
England were travelling to their hotel when the incident happened and cancelled their pre-match press conference amid uncertainty over his condition. His former Tottenham team-mates Harry Kane, Kieran Trippier, and Kyle Walker – and the rest of the group – will have been relieved to hear he was reported to be awake and stable in hospital on Saturday evening.
That good news allows them to turn their attentions to their tricky opening game of the competition, where they will be looking for revenge after being beaten in the 2018 World Cup semi-final by Croatia, when Trippier’s early free-kick was cancelled out by Ivan Perisic, before Mario Mandzukic sent Croatia to the final.
Since then, the teams have clashed in the Nations League – a 0-0 draw behind closed doors in Rijeka followed up by Jesse Lingard and Kane scoring late goals in a 2-1 Wembley win to send England into the inaugural finals.
All eyes will be on Southgate’s team selection, with Harry Maguire’s fitness and the extent of Jack Grealish’s inclusion hot topics.
Paul Merson’s starting XI includes Raheem Sterling, with Grealish on the bench, but the Aston Villa man makes the most popular XI picked by the skysports.com readers and enjoys plenty of support among the Sky Sports writers making their selections too.
The Netherlands are also in action on Sunday – and have some demons to put to bed at Euro 2020.
After finishing third at the 2014 World Cup, they did not qualify for Euro 2016 or the 2018 World Cup, but after a seven-year absence from major tournaments, are back under Frank de Boer and looking to restore themselves as forces to be reckoned with.
But just like Southgate, De Boer finds himself at the centre of a national debate around his best team – and the pressure is on.
A plane flew over the side’s training ground at Zeist ahead of the game, trailing a banner that read in Dutch: ‘Frank. Just 4-3-3!’
Fans may want to see the sort of attacking football they consider their country’s signature style, rather than what they deem a more counter-attacking 3-5-2 system, though De Boer – coaching the national team at his first major tournament – insists his set-up will see his wing-backs pushed high up the pitch.
The Dutch begin their Euro 2020 campaign against Ukraine at home in Amsterdam but Andriy Shevchenko’s side finished unbeaten in European Qualifiers and finished above Portugal in their group.
Austria and North Macedonia make up Group C, also hoping to reach the knockout stages, and face one another in their opener on Sunday.
Austria are looking for their first win in the competition, having drawn twice and lost four times during previous appearances in 2008 and 2016, while North Macedonia – having gained independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991 – had never come close to appearing on the big stage before a 1-0 win over Georgia in their playoff final via the Nations League propelled them to the tournament.
Who’s playing today?
Group D: England vs Croatia; Kick-off 2pm (London)
Group C: Austria vs North Macedonia; Kick-off 5pm (Bucharest)
Group C: Netherlands vs Ukraine; Kick-off 8pm (Amsterdam)
England vs Croatia: Harry Maguire trained with England on the eve of their Euro 2020 opener against Croatia, though Gareth Southgate has admitted he is a “long shot” to feature.
Austria vs North Macedonia: Marko Arnautovic only recently returned from injury and Austria boss Franco Foda has kept coy on whether or not he will start.
Netherlands vs Ukraine: Frank de Boer has said Netherlands defender Matthijs de Ligt is not ready to return from a groin injury, despite the player reckoning he had a 50-50 chance. Jurrien Timber could step in if De Boer goes with three centre-backs, as expected. Man City’s Oleksandar Zinchenko is expected to play in a central midfield role for Ukraine.
Players to watch…
Harry Kane: With a World Cup Golden Boot already to his name, Kane will be eyeing another major goalscoring award after a fine individual season with Tottenham. He was the pre-tournament betting favourite to add another Golden Boot to his collection – but Romelu Lukaku’s fast start with two goals in Belgium’s win over Russia means the England captain has work to do.
David Alaba: Austria’s strongest asset still comes through Real Madrid’s new signing Alaba, a versatile player who has rarely been able to carry his club form onto the international stage.
A defender at Bayern Munich and most likely under Carlo Ancelotti, the 28-year-old has featured more prominently as an attacking midfielder for his country but he will seek support from Christoph Baumgartner, Marcel Sabitzer and Marko Arnautovic.
Memphis Depay: It is remarkable to think the Netherlands are seeking to win their first European Championship game since 2008 when they open their campaign against Ukraine. The UEFA Nations League has offered the Dutch an avenue for resurgence, finishing as runners-up to Portugal in the inaugural tournament, and Depay has gone from strength to strength.
The former Manchester United winger has found his best form at Lyon having reinvented himself under De Boer’s predecessor at international level. Depay scored six goals across as many qualifiers while providing eight assists, and his two strikes in the 2-2 friendly draw with Scotland suggests he is ready to shoulder the burden of attacking responsibility.
England have never lost at Wembley in a major tournament (World Cup 1966, Euro 1996), winning seven and drawing four of their previous 11 games (penalty shoot-outs excluded).
Croatia have lost against the eventual winner in three of their last four major tournaments (World Cup + European Championships): Spain at Euro 2012 (group stages), Portugal at Euro 2016 (round of 16) and France at World Cup 2018 (final)
This is the first meeting between the Netherlands and Ukraine at a major tournament (World Cup or European Championship). The Dutch are unbeaten in their two previous encounters – both friendlies, winning 3-0 in Rotterdam in May 2008 and drawing 1-1 in Donetsk in August 2010.
The Netherlands have drawn only two of their last 22 games at major tournaments (World Cup and Euros); both were goalless draws that went to penalties at World Cup 2014 (vs Costa Rica and Argentina). They have also lost only one of their last 12 opening games at such major tournaments, a 0-1 defeat against Denmark at Euro 2012.
Ukraine are taking part in their third UEFA European Championship, and their third in a row. They have so far never made it out of the group stages of the competition.
Also at Euro 2020…
The major story at Euro 2020 is the health of Christian Eriksen and the world of football will eagerly be awaiting an update on his condition.
However, preparations for matches go on and Spain have had a less than ideal run-in to their opening game against Sweden on Monday.
Captain Luis Enrique tested positive for COVID-19 last weekend and Spain had called up 17 extra players – six internationals and 11 from the U21 side – to form an alternative squad, in case the virus spread through the camp.
Diego Llorente also tested positive on Tuesday but he has returned to the squad after four consecutive negative results and the extra players were allowed to return home a day after the squad was vaccinated and following three consecutive days of negative tests for the entire group.
The 23-man squad for Euro 2020 practised together for the first time this week.
What are the other home nations up to?
Scotland will be making final preparations ahead of their Euro 2020 opener against the Czech Republic on Monday afternoon, while surely keeping an eye on England vs Croatia at Wembley. After training at their Middlesbrough camp in the morning, they will take a short flight to Glasgow, before Steve Clarke faces the media around 5.45pm – look out for that on Sky Sports News.
Wales will turn their focus quickly to Wednesday’s match with Turkey after their 1-1 draw with Switzerland. They will take part in an open training session in Baku as they build up to face a Turkey side beaten 3-0 in their opener by Italy. A win in midweek is likely to be enough to send Rob Page’s side into the knockouts.
Sky Sports Football Euros Podcast: Gary Neville on England’s chances, why France are favourites, and how Euro 2020 can lift the nation
Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville (5:07) joins Peter Smith on the Sky Sports Football Euros Podcast to build up to the big Euro 2020 kick-off. Neville has his say on England’s strengths and weaknesses, what they’ll need to do to beat favourites France to the title, and how this talented young group of England players can raise the spirits of the entire nation.
During the podcast, we also get the lowdown on how Scotland and Wales (22.54) are shaping up from the Sky Sports News reporters following their campaigns, Charles Paterson and Geraint Hughes. Plus Valentina Fass from Sky Italy and Uli Kohler from Sky Germany (56.39) give us the view from the continent on how their own nations are looking.
Sky Sports deputy football editor Kate Burlaga and football writer Ben Grounds will also be sharing their top tips for the tournament, including who will be lifting the trophy on July 11 – and which players will light up the tournament (1.09:35).
Listen to the Sky Sports Football Euros Podcast on: Spotify | Apple | Castbox
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