Euro 2020 Group C: Doubts remain over Netherlands, Ukraine and Austria look to pounce as North Macedonia make debut
With all three of their Group C fixtures taking place at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam, the stage is set for Netherlands to hit the ground running as they return to a major tournament finals for the first time since the 2014 World Cup.
But the jury remains firmly out on whether Frank de Boer’s squad can re-establish their country’s status as major contenders for the big prizes in international football.
While they are clear favourites to win a group which sees them facing Ukraine, Austria and newcomers North Macedonia, their form has been patchy since de Boer replaced Ronald Koeman as head coach last year.
The absence of injured Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk has been a major blow for the Dutch whose vulnerability at the back was exposed when they lost 4-2 to Turkey in their opening 2022 World Cup qualifier in March.
Much will depend on the form of captain Georginio Wijnaldum in midfield and Lyon attacker Memphis Depay, whose deadliness in front of goal was evidenced by his double in the 2-2 friendly draw against Scotland in Faro.
Netherlands open their campaign against a Ukrainian side regarded by many shrewd observers as potential dark horses in the tournament.
Andriy Shevchenko is proving to be just as gifted as a head coach as he was a player during a brilliant career with Dynamo Kiev, AC Milan and Chelsea.
Ukraine qualified for Euro 2020 in style, finishing above reigning champions Portugal in their group, before their subsequent Nations League campaign was severely disrupted by a Covid outbreak.
Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko is the most recognisable name in a squad which relies on a core of players from domestic powerhouses Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk. Much is expected of Kiev’s exciting winger Viktor Tsyhankov, who is currently attracting interest from a host of major European clubs.
Austria will also feel they can achieve at least a runners-up finish in the group and improve upon a fairly dismal recent record whenever they have appeared at major tournament finals.
Franco Foda’s squad performed well in the recent friendly defeat against England as they continue to address defensive issues which saw them suffer a 4-0 drubbing at home to Denmark in a World Cup qualifier in March.
The Austrians rely heavily on the influence of Bayern Munich’s David Alaba, arguably the one truly elite level player in their squad, while RB Leipzig’s attacking midfielder Marcel Sabitzer will also need to be at his best if they are to make a significant impact at the tournament.
They will look to make a positive start in their opener against rank outsiders North Macedonia in Bucharest on June 13.
It’s a fairytale story for the Balkan country who came through the Nations League play-off path to book their place at a first ever major tournament finals since they gained independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.
All eyes will be on their national hero, 37-year-old striker Goran Pandev, who has scored 37 goals in 118 games for his country. But North Macedonia are no one-man band and Pandev will be well supported by Leeds United winger Ezgjan Alioski and Napoli midfielder Eljif Elmas in a team more than capable of ruffling feathers in Group C.
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.
If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.