Group A preview
By Samuel Bailey
With all eyes on Group F as the ‘group of death’, Group A has gone under the radar in terms of how well matched the teams are. Italy should clinch first place, while the other three teams look set to scrap it out for 2nd – and 3rd, where it would still possible to progress with enough points. Great responsibility will fall on each team’s key players to see if they can shift the tide of fortune in their favour and captivate the hearts of their respective nations.
Head coach: Roberto Mancini
Captain: Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)
Key player: Nicolo Barella (Inter Milan)
Despite having failed to have won the European competition since 1968, the Italians are entering the tournament off the back of a 23-game undefeated streak which included a national record of 11 straight wins. Despite Mancini’s preference for possession football, he will look to Barella to transition defence into attack, having done so for Inter Milan this season and guiding them to their first league title since the 09/10 season. Italy’s only hindrance appears to be a striker shortage. With Moise Kean left out and the presence of Christian Vieri and Fillipo Inzaghi a distant memory, if an attacking injury crisis were to arise, Italy may find themselves compromised. Nonetheless, do not underestimate the ability of this Italian side and their readiness to compete. The combination of the battle-hardened veterans and youthful flair found in the squad should be key if Italy are to return to the top of the footballing world.
Head coach: Vladimir Petkovic
Captain: Granit Xhaka (Arsenal)
Key player: Stefan Seferovic (SL Benfica)
Switzerland make their way into the tournament with six wins out in their last six, and arguably their strongest team in recent years. Seferovic leads the line, narrowly missing out on the Primeira Liga golden boot by one goal. Alongside the strength, agility and raw power of Embolo, they look to surprise a few in the group stage. The Swiss are also partial to producing a shock result, holding both France and Brazil to a stalemate in EURO 2016 and the 2018 World Cup respectively. The team will look to Xhaka and Shaqiri to lift the squad and hopefully best their highest finish, where they reached the round of 16 in 2016.
Head coach: Senol Gunes
Captain: Burak Yilmaz (LOSC Lille)
Key player: Burak Yilmaz
The final verdict is still out on Turkey. Their recent national form can be compared to the absolute best. In the last year, their elder statesman Burak Yilmaz has netted a hattrick against the Netherlands in a 4-2 win, and lest we forget the 2-0 marquee win over the French to qualify for the tournament. Turkey will once again look to Yilmaz and fellow Ligue 1 winner Yazici to translate their domestic form onto the pages of Turkish history and beat their semi-final finish in 2008 with a first final appearance in 2021.
Head coach: Robert Page
Captain: Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)
Key player: Gareth Bale
Wales have successfully managed back-to-back appearances on the European stage. The Welsh camp will be hoping to capture the essence of Chris Coleman’s 2016 campaign, but they appear to have taken a few hits in the build-up to the tournament. The reins of the national squad were unexpectedly thrust upon Robert Page after Ryan Giggs became embroiled in criminal charges. Most notably, the exclusion of two-time 2016 match winner Hal-Robson Kanu has left some members of the Red Wall rattled. The usual suspects of Bale, Ramsey and Davies though will provide a much-needed nostalgia kick from the glory days of yesteryear. Make no mistake, the Welsh boys are the underdogs of the group, but as the quarter-final matchup from the last tournament has proven, people should not discount Wales just yet.
Group A fixtures
Friday 11th June
Turkey vs Italy, Rome
Saturday 12th June
Wales vs Switzerland, Baku
Wednesday 16th June
Italy vs Switzerland, Rome
Turkey vs Wales, Baku
Sunday 20th June
Italy vs Wales, Rome
Switzerland vs Turkey, Baku