Euro 2020: Denmark’s team ethic can help them top Group B ahead of ageing Belgium

Injury problems mounting for Martinez’s ‘Golden Generation’ and hard-to-beat Danes look well equipped to capitalise.

Best bets

Denmark to win the group

Denmark

Odds - Title: 33/1; To win group: 29/10; To qualify: 1/3

Best European Championship performance: Winners (1992)

How they qualified

Second, Group D - P8 W4 D4 L0 F23 A6 Pts16

Qualified unbeaten - one of only five teams to do so - but it was something of a struggle. They secured a top-two spot with a draw in Ireland in their final match, surviving a late onslaught from their hosts.

Their most impressive result was a 1-0 home win over eventual group winners Switzerland.

Post-qualifying form

Finished second in a difficult Nations League group containing Belgium and England. Lost twice to the Belgians but beat 10-man England at Wembley, albeit thanks to a controversial penalty.

Started their World Cup qualifying bid impressively in March with three successive wins, scoring 14 goals in the process. Moldova were thrashed 8-0 but the stand-out result was a 4-0 success in Austria which puts them firmly on the road to Qatar 2022.

The win in Vienna was their ninth in 10 games and, ignoring one game which was the subject of strike action from players, Denmark have now lost only twice in their last 45 matches.

Squad

The Danes have a pretty strong spine, starting in goal with Leicester stopper Kasper Schmeichel.

The experienced Simon Kjaer, now at AC Milan, will be playing his fifth tournament, lining up in defence alongside Chelsea's Andreas Christensen.

Denmark keeper Kasper Schmeichel with England boss Gareth Southgate
Denmark keeper Kasper Schmeichel with England boss Gareth Southgate

In midfield, Spurs' Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Thomas Delaney, of Dortmund, let Christian Eriksen off the leash to push forward as a 'number 10' and his goal record at international level shows it - 36 in 106 appearances. He's also on penalties.

Centre forward is arguably the weak area, although the Danes do boast a Barcelona player in their attack - Martin Braithwaite, once of Middlesbrough, now of Camp Nou, is set to start in a wider role.

For all their star names, this is a team in every sense of the word and success will only come via a collective effort.

Manager

Kasper Hjulmand - Took the reins at the start of this season. It has been a good start with every match won bar two defeats to the world's top-ranked side, Belgium.

Initial signs suggest a more positive approach - five of his eight competitive games have seen over 2.5 goals. Prior to his arrival, 11 of 16 had gone under that line.

Most of his coaching experience has come in his homeland, mainly with Nordsjaelland, who he guided to the Danish title. Also had a short, unsuccessful spell in charge of German side Mainz.

Finland

Odds - Title: 500/1; To win group: 33/1; To qualify: 5/2

Best European Championship performance: Debut

How they qualified

Second, Group J - P10 W6 D0 L4 F16 A10 Pts18

Four defeats couldn't prevent Finland from qualifying for their first major tournament. They were, however, the only team finishing in a top-two spot to lose that many games.

They were beaten twice by group winners Italy and also in Greece and Bosnia, but strong home form saw them over the line.

Post-qualifying form

Finland produced a decent Nations League campaign in the autumn, beating both the Republic of Ireland and Bulgaria twice. However, they also lost both games to eventual group winners Wales as they finished second in the pool.

Their bid to reach their first World Cup finals began with two draws in March - at home to Bosnia and away to Ukraine. Also lost 3-2 to fellow Euros qualifiers Switzerland in a friendly.

Squad

Teemu Pukki is Finland's talisman. The Norwich striker scored 10 of Finland's 16 goals in qualifying - one of only five players to hit double figures.

He's since netted all three World Cup qualifying goals to make it 18 in his last 24 internationals and move within two of Jari Litmanen's all-time national record.

Rangers and Finland's Glen Kamara
Rangers and Finland's Glen Kamara

Still, he's had support in recent times from Fredrik Jensen, who was his team's top scorer in this season's Nations League but has since struggled with injuries at Augsburg.

Also in midfield, Rangers star Glen Kamara is a key figure, while at the back, keeper Lukas Hradecky is a player of real quality - he is Bayer Leverkusen's first choice stopper in the Bundesliga.

Manager

Markku Kanerva - Has worked his way up through the ranks at the Finnish FA, initially managing the under-21 side before moving on to the assistant manager role with the senior team.

Was handed the reins in 2016 and has since ensured hero status by guiding the Finns to their first tournament.

As a player, Kanerva represented his country on 59 occasions and also played in the Champions League for HJK Helsinki.

Belgium

Odds - Title: 13/2; To win group: 5/6; To qualify: 1/16

Best European Championship performance: Runners-up (1980)

How they qualified

First, Group I - P10 W10 D0 L0 F40 A3 Pts30

FIFA's top-ranked side were the highest scorers in qualifying, averaging four per game as they strengthened their reputation for putting minnows to the sword. They won seven of their games by at least three clear goals.

They were one of only two sides to win all 10 games (the other being Italy), while they also had the joint-stingiest defence, conceding only three times (the same as Turkey).

Also the first team to qualify, it's hard to see what more the Red Devils could have done during their qualifying campaign.

Post-qualifying form

Despite a 2-1 defeat to England at Wembley, the Belgians moved into the Nations League Finals by winning five of their six group games. Again they were top scorers in the phase, banging in 16 goals.

Added another eight in their most recent World Cup qualifier - against Belarus - but that came after they could only draw away to the Czech Republic.

Squad

As you'd expect of FIFA's top-ranked team, the Belgian squad is overflowing with talent.

The 2019/20 PFA player of the year, Kevin de Bruyne, has just helped Manchester City to another Premier League title with his superb range of passing and while he tends to sit deeper for Belgium, he should still be able to create plenty of chances. That is, of course, provided he is fit following his Champions League final injury.

Romelu Lukaku will look to snap up those chances. He often does. He scored seven goals in qualifying and now has a remarkable 42 goals in his last 40 internationals. For good measure, the former Everton and Manchester United star arrives at this tournament off the back of a title-winning season in Italy with Inter Milan during which he scored 24 times.

A concern would be the injuries which have disrupted Eden Hazard's career. He was among the best players at the 2018 World Cup - where Belgium made the semis - but his body hasn't allowed him to produce his devastating best form at Real Madrid.

Belgium's Jeremy Doku
Belgium's Jeremy Doku

Perhaps that will open the door to rising star Jeremy Doku, of Rennes.

Further back, there's no longer Vincent Kompany to rely on and an ageing defence led by Toby Alderweireld may be considered the team's weakness.

Defensive-midfield shield Axel Witsel is only just back from an Achilles rupture which isn't ideal but Thibaut Courtois is a reliable man to have between the sticks.

Manager

Roberto Martinez - Eyebrows were raised when, less than three months after being sacked by Premier League Everton, Martinez was handed one of the most attractive jobs in international soccer.

He has since led a group of highly-talented players to 42 wins in 54 games, suffering only four defeats, the most important being the 1-0 defeat to France in the World Cup semi-finals.

His teams play an expansive passing style but he's been criticised for being inflexible with the way he sets his side up. Could that prove the difference in a huge game at the business end of Euro 2020?

Russia

Odds - Title: 125/1; To win group: 11/2; To qualify: 4/9

Best European Championship performance: Semi-finals (2008). Also, as part of Soviet Union: Winners (1960)

How they qualified

Second, Group I - P10 W8 D2 L0 F33 A8 Pts24

Won every game bar their two meetings with group winners Belgium to post the highest points tally of any group runner-up.

Won five of their games by four or more goals but, somewhat worryingly, were beaten 4-1 at home by the Belgians, and 3-1 away.

Their total of 33 goals scored was bettered by only three teams, although 14 of those did come against minnows San Marino.

Post-qualifying form

Endured a somewhat strange Nations League campaign, winning away to group winners Hungary but losing 5-0 in Serbia and 3-2 in Turkey, who were relegated. They eventually finished second in the pool and will stay in League B for the 2022/23 competition.

It was also an unconvincing start to World Cup qualifying with expected wins over Malta and Slovenia offset by defeat suffered in Slovakia.

Squad

Artem Dzyuba is captain and provides the main goal threat - he scored nine times in qualifying. He's back in favour after briefly being dropped for what we'll describe as an 'interesting' video going viral on social media.

Aleksandr Golovin is playmaker in chief, although his career hasn't progressed on the expected trajectory after he left CSKA Moscow for Monaco.

Veteran Russian wing-back Yuri Zhirkov
Veteran Russian wing-back Yuri Zhirkov

World Cup star Denis Cheryshev is another who plies his trade in western Europe, at Valencia, but the vast majority of this squad still compete on home soil, including an ageing back-line.

The fact that former Chelsea star Yuri Zhirkov, now 37, still regularly plays wing-back shows how this could be an area of weakness this summer.

Manager

Stanislav Cherchesov - A goalkeeper who played at Euro 96, Cherchesov galvanised a lowly-ranked side and led them to the quarter-finals of the 2018 World Cup on home soil in a run which saw them knock out Spain before losing to Croatia on penalties.

Had managed both Spartak and Dynamo Moscow, as well as taking jobs in Austria and Poland, before landing his current job in 2016.

Group verdict

Problems are beginning to mount for much-fancied Belgium and it looks like key men Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Axel Witsel will all head into the tournament below 100%.

They certainly don't look as well prepared as they did heading into the World Cup and their ageing squad has the pressure of knowing this may be the last shot at glory for this 'golden generation'.

Kevin De Bruyne is helped up after suffering a serious facial injury in the Champions League final
Kevin De Bruyne is helped up after suffering a serious facial injury in the Champions League final

Backing them to win the group at odds-on therefore looks fraught with danger, especially given they face 'proper' away games in both Denmark and Russia.

The Danes look a value alternative at 29/10 in this market.

Very difficult to beat - as two defeats in 45 games prove - they will play all three matches in front of their home fans which has to be a decent advantage in this pan-continental tournament.

They have a strong spine and a real team ethic. After a packed season, it may also help that some of their stars, such as Eriksen, Delaney and Braithwaite, have not been forced to run themselves into the ground for their clubs.

READ MORE: Lille trio can help Turkey run Italy close in Group A