Euro 2020: Flaky Netherlands may open up Group C for Shevchenko’s Ukraine

Odds-on Dutch hold little appeal to top the group, while North Macedonia shouldn’t be written off.

Best bets

Ukraine to win the group

Netherlands

Odds - Title: 14/1; To win group: 4/9; To qualify: 1/33

Best European Championship performance: Winners (1988)

How they qualified

Second, Group C - P8 W6 D1 L1 F24 A7 Pts19

Runners-up to Germany despite winning 4-2 in Hamburg. Even a 3-2 home loss to their great rivals would not have been enough to keep them off top spot had it not been for a goalless draw in Northern Ireland in their penultimate match.

Still, reaching the final stages will have come as a great relief to the Dutch given they had missed out on both Euro 2016 and World Cup 2018.

It was always likely given the paucity of quality in the group, the other sides being Belarus and Estonia.

Post-qualifying form

Finished second to Italy in their Nations League group earlier this season after another unexpected slip-up - a 0-0 draw away to Bosnia effectively cost them a place in the Finals.

In March, there was a shaky start to World Cup qualifying with a 4-2 beating in Turkey, although at least they then put points on the board with wins over Latvia and Gibraltar.

Squad

Had Euro 2020 taken place on time, Virgil van Dijk, the best player in the Premier League in 2019/20, would have been a leading light for the Dutch.

But his injury-enforced absence is instead a massive blow to a side returning to tournament soccer for the first time in seven years.

At least the boot is on the other foot for striker Memphis Depay - he was injured this time last year. Since being converted to a centre-forward by former boss Ronald Koeman, he's scored 18 goals in 31 games for the country. That said, he has been pushed wider again in recent games.

The Lyon man also finished the Ligue 1 season strongly, one which saw him finish with 20 goals to his name.

There's strong back-up for Depay too, with Wout Wieghorst also having netted 20 league goals this season - for Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga.

Netherlands midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum
Netherlands midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum

Departing Liverpool star Giorgino Wijnaldum is also a regular goal contributor for this team. Playing in a more advanced role than he does for his club, he netted eight times in qualifying.

There are plenty of other stars in this side too, including Barcelona's Frenkie de Jong and Juventus' Matthijs de Ligt. Of those less well known, many feel this could be a breakthrough tournament for Ajax teenager Ryan Gravenberch, who has impressed in a holding midfield role this term.

Boss Frank de Boer has, however, resisted the temptation to recall 37-year-old Arjen Robben, who recently returned to action for Groningen.

Manager

Frank de Boer - The latest Dutch playing legend to try his hand as manager of the national side. Having been appointed in September 2020, he followed in the footsteps of Ronald Koeman.

It has been an inauspicious start with De Boer becoming the first Dutch national team manager to fail to win any of his first four games in charge.

In club soccer, De Boer was a defender who enjoyed a successful career, most famously at Ajax and Barcelona. He then won four titles as manager of Ajax before unsuccessful stints in charge of Inter Milan and Crystal Palace.

Ukraine

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

Best European Championship performance: Group stage (2012, 2016). Also, as part of Soviet Union: Winners (1960)

How they qualified

First, Group B - P8 W6 D2 L0 F17 A4 Pts20

To finish top of a group containing the defending champions - Portugal - was impressive.

They were unbeaten across their eight games and beat Ronaldo and co 2-1 in Kiev. Only four other qualifiers did not lose.

A tight defence conceded only four times and suggests they will at least be able to compete at the Finals.

Post-qualifying form

Beat Spain in the Nations League but still ended up getting relegated from League A, albeit somewhat controversially. When some of their players returned positive COVID-19 tests, their crunch game with Switzerland was called off with the Swiss later awarded the points - a fact which made all the difference in the group.

World Cup qualification began positively with another eye-catching result - a 1-1 draw away to world champions France - but further draws at home to Finland and Kazakhstan were not so welcome.

Squad

Andriy Yarmolenko may not have been a regular in West Ham's Europa League-qualifying side this season but he'll still be expected to provide the forward drive in this team. He has 38 international goals from his wide role.

Manchester City's Oleksandr Zinchenko is another player who switches position for his national team - he'll play in central midfield this summer, as opposed to left-back, so has potential in the goalscoring markets.

Manchester City and Ukraine's Oleksandr Zinchenko
Manchester City and Ukraine's Oleksandr Zinchenko

Most of this squad is home-based but another who has gone further afield is Ruslan Malinovskyi, who has starred for Atalanta this season, scoring eight goals and making 12 assists. He also has six goals in his last 21 internationals.

He'll join Zinchenko in midfield. Notably, he also takes a mean free-kick.

Manager

Andriy Shevchenko - Having served as assistant manager at Euro 2016, Shevchenko was promoted to the top job following the tournament.

Ukraine failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup but Shevchenko's men eased to a spot in Euro 2020.

Shevchenko became an all-time great at Dynamo Kiev and AC Milan in his playing days, although, rather sadly, many English fans will best recall his ill-fated spell at Chelsea.

Austria

Odds - Title: 125/1; To win group: 6/1; To qualify: 2/5

Best European Championship performance: Group stage (2008, 2016)

How they qualified

Second, Group G - P10 W6 D1 L3 F19 A9 Pts19

There was little in Austria's qualifying campaign to suggest they will be able to go deep at the Finals.

A strong home record - four of five games won - was largely responsible for them finishing second to Poland in their group. However, on their travels they lost to both Israel and Latvia, the teams who finished in the bottom two positions.

Post-qualifying form

Austria will be buoyed by the fact they won promotion to the top tier of the Nations League in the autumn, edging out Norway in their group.

However, they were far from convincing and things also went their way. When the Norwegians were forced to forfeit a game due to COVID, Austria went into their final-day home clash with Norway only having to avoid a two-goal defeat. The visitors went 1-0 up and were pushing for the second late on when Austria hit them on the break to earn a draw.

World Cup qualifying did not start well in March with the Austrians losing 4-0 at home to Denmark and they already face an uphill struggle to top the group and secure an automatic place in the Finals.

Squad

Marko Arnautovic - remember him? - led the goalscoring charts for the Austrians in qualifying with six goals. The moody former Stoke and West Ham man is now plying his trade in China but much will be expected of him here.

The same goes for Marcel Sabitzer, the Red Bull Leipzig midfielder who will aim to support Arnautovic going forward.

Former West Ham striker Marko Arnautovic
Former West Ham striker Marko Arnautovic

David Alaba is another player of genuine quality, one of Austria's greatest. The Bayern Munich centre-back has just captured another Bundesliga title but probably won't play in his club position this summer.

Alaba has been regularly used by his country in midfield, often on the left-hand side, so is another who could be under-estimated in the goalscorer markets.

The defence is also very much German-based but could be more of a problem area. Martin Hinteregger, of Eintracht Frankfurt, will look to marshal the troops. He also scores the odd goal.

Manager

Franco Foda - The former West Germany international defender has been in his post since January 2018 having previously managed Austrian Bundesliga club Sturm Graz.

He has achieved his two main goals so far - Euros qualification and Nations League promotion - but there is a view in Austria that results have been better than performances and pressure remains on the boss.

North Macedonia

Odds - Title: 500/1; To win group: 40/1; To qualify: 11/4

Best European Championship performance: Debut. Also, as part of Yugoslavia: Runners-up (1960, 1968)

How they qualified

Via play-offs (Third, Group G - P10 W4 D2 L4 F12 A13 Pts14)

Macedonia were the big beneficiaries of a change in the European Championships qualifying format.

All 12 play-off places were awarded based on performance in the 2018/19 Nations League and, crucially, one Finals spot was reserved for each of that competition's four tiers.

That meant that despite playing in the bottom tier, the Macedonians were able to reach Euro 2020, beating both Kosovo and Georgia in the play-offs.

They took their place in the play-offs having failed to gain automatic qualification, finishing behind Poland and Austria in their group.

Post-qualifying form

North Macedonia's play-off campaign was interspersed by the autumn's Nations League matches.

Given the priority of the play-offs, it is perhaps understandable that they missed out on promotion, finishing second to Armenia after losing 1-0 to their rivals in the final match of the group.

However, the positivity of qualification continued into World Cup qualifying with the Macedonians recording their best result since the country's post-Yugoslavia formation - a 2-1 win in Germany, one which gives them real hope of adding a first World Cup finals appearance to their European Championship debut.

Squad

Twenty years after making his international debut, Goran Pandev gets an unexpected chance at a maiden tournament.

A Champions League winner in his days at Inter Milan, he has long been the star of this team - aside from a brief period in international exile - and it was fitting that he scored the play-off final winner which earned their Finals spot.

North Macedonia talisman Goran Pandev
North Macedonia talisman Goran Pandev

In a squad of few stars, Napoli youngster Elif Elmas is a notable name - he has six goals in his last 17 internationals - while Enis Bardhi will be a player to keep an eye on, having played a regular attacking-midfield role for Levante in La Liga this season. He's a danger on free-kicks too.

Further back, Leeds' tough-tackling Ezgjan Alioski is a key figure on the left of the defence. However, he is given plenty of licence to get forward, as figures of five goals and eight assists in his last 22 caps show.

Manager

Igor Angelovski - Took the national team reins in 2015 having previously led Rabotnicki to the Macedonian league and cup double.

Attracting Pandev back to the national set-up was his first big win and several years on, Angelovski is lauded as a national hero following his team's historic qualification for the Euros. Did it with an easy-on-the-eye style too.

Whether he will be able to play so expansively in the Finals is open to question.

Group verdict

The Dutch certainly have the ability to dominate this group but given their propensity to throw in an odd result, 4/9 about them winning it looks short enough, even with three home games in Amsterdam.

Ukraine are an interesting alternative.

They've also been prone to a bad performance now and then but they've shown their ability with wins over Portugal and Spain in recent times. They've also drawn away to world champions France.

Boasting a tight defence which conceded just four times in qualifying, they are 23/4 to win the group and the price differential between them and the favourites simply looks too big.

It's also worth considering minnows North Macedonia qualifying for the last 16 at 3/1.

They are fresh off a victory in Germany, suggesting they can compete at this level.

While they've spent much of their time playing against lowly-ranked sides in the Nations League over the past three years, they did beat both Slovenia and Israel in their qualifying group too.

Two teams progressed with three points in this tournament format in 2016 and I would certainly not rule out them edging to victory in one of their matches.

* Odds correct at time of publication

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

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