Euro 2020 preview: England worthy favourites to win Group D, while Croatia look worst of the lot

Bad travellers Croatia being priced up on history rather than their poor current form, while Three Lions have a habit of not winning their group.

Best bets

Croatia to finish bottom

England

Odds - Title: 11/2; To win group: 2/5; To qualify: 1/33

Best European Championship performance: Third (1968)

How they qualified

First, Group A - P8 W7 D0 L1 F37 A6 Pts21

Averaged more than 4.5 goals per game - the best of any team in qualifying - as they cruised through their group.

The one blip came away to the Czech Republic, who finished six points adrift in second. The home game, however, was won 5-0.

Post-qualifying form

The World Cup semi-finalists appeared to have added a greater attacking dimension during qualifying but the following Nations League campaign saw them take a step back.

They did beat the top-ranked side, Belgium, 2-1 at Wembley but a home loss to Denmark left them on the back foot and they failed to reach the Finals, finishing third in the group.

Started World Cup qualifying on a better note, winning all three games in March, including a 2-1 victory over main pool rivals Poland. Still, there was criticism of England's performance levels with concern about how they will cope against better quality opposition this summer.

Squad

England have a wealth of attacking talent, including the top scorer in the entire qualifying process, Harry Kane, who netted 12 times.

He's just finished as the Premier League's top scorer (again) and also weighed in with the most assists to boot. All this in a pretty average Tottenham side.

Phil Foden and Mason Mount have both enjoyed fine seasons, putting pressure on more senior colleagues, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford. There look sure to be good options off the bench.

Manchester City and England midfielder Phil Foden
Manchester City and England midfielder Phil Foden

Further back is where the concerns lie and it's also an area where injuries are threatening disruption.

Centre-back Harry Maguire has ended the season injured at Manchester United, while first-choice holding midfielder Jordan Henderson hasn't played since February.

With keeper Jordan Pickford having failed to convince at Everton this term, there's a suggestion that England won't be defensively strong enough to make home advantage (in six of their potential seven games) pay.

Manager

Gareth Southgate - Unexpectedly led England to the last four of the 2018 World Cup but in a bid to improve again duly ditched his 3-5-2 formation in favour of what was usually a 4-3-3 set-up.

The move produced a goal glut in qualifying but hasn't worked so well this season with Southgate having been criticised for not making the most of the young, attacking talent currently at his disposal.

He's spoken of the need for flexibility over formations ahead of this tournament, one he enters under great pressure to deliver with England among the favourites given a significant home advantage.

Croatia

Odds - Title: 40/1; To win group: 7/2; To qualify: 1/3

Best European Championship performance: Quarter-finals (1996, 2008). Also, as part of Yugoslavia: Runners-up (1960, 1968)

How they qualified

First, Group E - P8 W5 D2 L1 F17 A7 Pts17

The 2018 World Cup runners-up topped the most competitive group in qualifying, finishing ahead of Wales, Slovakia and Hungary. However, their points total - and points-per-game average - was the lowest of the 10 group winners.

Perhaps most worryingly in terms of this tournament, they managed to win only one away game and were the only team to drop points against Azerbaijan.

Post-qualifying form

Another nod that suggests Croatia may struggle this summer came from this season's Nations League campaign.

They managed to keep hold of their place in League A but only just as they conceded a whopping 16 times in losing five of their six matches (they let in at least two in five of the games).

Again, they struggled away, losing three out of three, while their problems on the road continued when World Cup qualifying began in March as they lost 1-0 in Slovenia.

Squad

The likes of Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Rakitic from Croatia's World Cup final team may have retired, but there's still plenty to like about the Croatian squad, at least on paper.

The 2018 Ballon d'Or winner Luka Modric is still making the game look easy in midfield, even at the age of 35, while Chelsea's Mateo Kovacic and Inter Milan's Marcelo Brozovic provide steel. Ivan Perisic, another Italian title-winner at Inter this season, also remains from Russia 2018.

Chelsea's Mateo Kovacic provides the steel for Croatia
Chelsea's Mateo Kovacic provides the steel for Croatia

Former Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren and ex-Leicester striker Andrej Kramaric may not have shone brightly in the Premier League but both are important members of this squad, Kramaric having continued his fine goalscoring record with 20 Bundesliga goals for Hoffenheim this season.

Then there's the new generation, including Everton flop Nikola Vlasic, now scoring regularly for CSKA Moscow, and Marseille defender Duje Caleta-Car.

Manager

Zlatko Dalic - After successful spells with a variety of clubs in the Middle East, Dalic took charge in 2017 with Croatia struggling to qualify for the World Cup.

He got them to Russia, via the play-offs, and once there they made it all the way to the final before losing 4-2 to France.

The credit for that superb run is running out, though, with poor results this season leading to calls for his head in his homeland.

Scotland

Odds - Title: 275/1; To win group: 16/1; To qualify: 6/4

Best European Championship performance: Group stage (1992, 1996)

How they qualified

Via play-offs (Third, Group I - P10 W5 D0 L5 F16 A19 Pts15)

Largely thanks to penalties. The Scots beat first Israel and then Serbia in a shoot-out to win their play-off path and reach their first tournament since the 1998 World Cup.

They had guaranteed at least a place in the play-offs by finishing top of their 2018/19 Nations League group, featuring Israel and Albania, and took it up after finishing a distance third behind Belgium and Russia in their qualifying group.

Post-qualifying form

Frankly made a bit of a hash of their Nations League campaign in the autumn. Having twice beaten the Czech Republic they still managed to finish behind them.

Needing just one win from their final two games to secure promotion to League A, Scotland lost away to both Israel and Slovakia - both matches coming in the afterglow of their play-off joy.

An unbeaten start to World Cup qualifying was made in March, including draws against Israel and Austria, but they are already well off the pace of leaders Denmark in a group from which only one nation will qualify automatically.

Squad

Happily for the Tartan Army, there are plenty of Scots regularly starting for English Premier League teams these days - a fact which has doubtless helped improve the national side.

Full-backs Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney are of such quality both will be shoe-horned into the starting XI, with boss Steve Clarke not afraid to ask players to do different jobs in his team.

Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay is another example. He has been asked to play as a ball-playing defender in recent times.

Further forward, Aston Villa's John McGinn has enjoyed a fine run of form both at club and international level. He scored seven times in qualifying.

Southampton striker Che Adams
Southampton striker Che Adams

Southampton striker Che Adams has been a notable recruit to the Scots' cause, while Celtic's Ryan Christie is one of the leading Scottish Premiership stars contributing significantly to the national team.

Clarke hasn't been afraid to blood youngsters either and Chelsea's uncapped midfielder Billy Gilmour is a notable inclusion in the squad, a player with potential to make an impact at this level.

Manager

Steve Clarke - Credited with making the Scots much harder to beat with players having also praised the atmosphere within the current set-up.

Has managed to set his team up in a way which gets his best players into the side - left-backs Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney - now both make the starting XI, for example.

Brings plenty of experience to the post having worked as assistant to both Jose Mourinho and Kenny Dalglish in the past. Also managed West Brom in the Premier League and Kilmarnock in the Scottish Premiership prior to his appointment by the SFA.

Czech Republic

Odds - Title: 150/1; To win group: 12/1; To qualify: evens

Best European Championship performance: Runners-up (1996). Also, as part of Czechoslovakia: Winners (1976)

How they qualified

Second, Group A - P8 W5 D0 L3 F13 A11 Pts15

Finished well adrift of group winners England despite handing them their only defeat of the campaign, 2-1 in Prague. Three away defeats almost proved costly but Kosovo were unable to take advantage.

Conceded 11 goals in eight games - the highest figure of the 20 automatic qualifiers. Scored only 13 too with only Wales scoring fewer of the sides who finished in a top-two position.

Post-qualifying form

Earlier this season, the Czechs won promotion to the top tier of the Nations League despite two defeats to Scotland.

There was then a mixed start to World Cup qualifying with hot group favourites Belgium held to a 1-1 draw before a 1-0 defeat to Wales, arguably their biggest rivals for second spot.

Squad

The West Ham pair of Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal have arguably been two of the Premier League's best signings in the past 18 months and both will play big parts for the Czechs this summer, getting up and down the pitch in the same vein as they do for the Hammers.

Vladimir Coufal is a major influence on the Czech team
Vladimir Coufal is a major influence on the Czech team

Bayer Leverkusen forward Patrik Schick has missed large parts of the season due to a thigh injury but it is hoped he will be firing - if he is, he brings much to the team. Burnley's Matej Vydra is a back-up option.

Captain Vladimir Darida, a star in the Bundesliga for Hertha Berlin, plays in behind the striker and will look to create the chances to get the Czechs out of the group.

At the back, Sevilla reserve keeper Tomas Vaclik is regarded as a safe pair of hands.

In front of him, the Czechs will not be able to call on Ondrej Kudela. He has been a key part of the rise of the country's top side, Slavia Prague, in recent years but is currently banned by UEFA after being found guilty of racially abusing Rangers' Glen Kamara.

Manager

Jaroslav Silhavy - Managed a host of Czech clubs, including Slovan Liberec and Slavia Prague, both of whom he won league titles with, before taking over the national set-up in 2018.

Likes to play a back four with two holding midfielders, allowing his full-backs to get forward with regularity.

Group verdict

England look worthy favourites here but anyone backing them to win the group at 1/2 should remember how they've regularly failed to finish first in the past.

They did use home advantage to finish top of their pool at Euro 96 but since then they've managed a first-place finish in the group stage just twice in 10 tournaments.

I'd prefer to seek out better value and that could come in backing Croatia to flop and finish last.

Defensively they've been poor this season and the World Cup finalists have struggled on their travels of late. That's notable given they'll have to play 'proper' away games in this group against both England and Scotland.

They've lost their last four away and haven't won in their last six on their travels. Opponents have included Azerbaijan and Slovenia.

And only this week they were held to a home draw by minnows Armenia.

They are being priced up on history at present but I'm not sure they are a great deal better than Scotland and the Czech Republic.

The fixtures haven't fallen great for them either - they face England first so there's a good chance they get off to a losing start which would really put them under pressure.

The Croatians not qualifying for the last 16 at around 11/4 is another option.

* Odds correct at time of publication

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