So spare a thought for Hungary. who have landed some seriously big fish in Group F in three former champions: France, Germany and Portugal
With four third-placed teams making it into the last 16, there is a reasonable chance the aforementioned trio can all make it to the knock-out stages, but Hungary will be no pushovers. After all, they topped their pool in Euro 2016.
They will also have the benefit of two sell-out home fixtures against Portugal and France. Covid-19 restrictions are different in Budapest and 65,000 fans are expected to rock up at the Puskas Arena to cheer on Marco Rossi’s hopefuls.
Hungary’s cause has not been helped by the withdrawal from the squad from wonderkid Dominik Szoboszlai. The attacking midfielder has been injured for most of 2021 after a big-money move from Salzburg to Leipzig and his absence reduces the chance of an upset against either of the big three.
World champions France are naturally one of the favourites with the bookmakers to land the trophy. Kylian Mbappe is arguably the best forward on the planet right now, and for this tournament he will be assisted by Karim Benzema. The 33-year-old Real Madrid striker has been a persona non grata for French football for nearly six years due to alleged involvement in an attempted blackmail case involving ex-France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena, centring around threats to publicise a sex tape in 2015. Benzema claims a police officer used “dishonest methods” to lure him into the situation and he is due to face trial, but manager Didier Deschamps said it is important to “focus on today and not tomorrow”.
That means France’s forward trio of Mbappe, Benzema and Antoine Griezmann – plus Olivier Giroud, a darling of les Bleus – make them a frightening opponent for most at this event. Paul Pogba often saves his best form for country rather than club, and the nucleus of the World Cup-winning squad remains.
Germany arrive in a little more flux, given that long-serving manager Joachim Low will stand down after the tournament and hand the reins to Hansi Flick. The Germans have not been at their best in 2021, suffering a home defeat to North Macedonia in World Cup qualifying back in March, but they still have some big-hitters to call upon. The ageless Thomas Müller continues to be their talisman and Serge Gnabry’s pace and precision gives them a fighting chance against anyone. Embarrassed at the World Cup, they will want to shine.
As will defending champions Portugal, who beat France in 2016 to win the title. The repeat of the final on matchday three will be fascinating. Then match-winner Eder will not be there, but Cristiano Ronaldo, now 35, continues to spearhead Fernando Santos’s team. Joao Felix, the pretender to Ronaldo’s throne, will want to shine after an excellent season with Atletico Madrid, while Bruno Fernandes offers goals and assists from midfield. Moreover, their defensive unit of Joao Cancelo, Ruben Dias, Pepe and Raphael Guerrerio makes them one of the toughest nuts to crack.
They’ve saved the best group until last. You won’t be able to keep your eyes off it.