Group B preview

Group B preview

By Jake Mathieson

Group B promises to be one of the most exciting, open and intriguing groups in the entire tournament. With a large variance in playing style, tournament experience and indeed expectation across the teams. All eyes will be on Belgium but with World Cup quarter-finalists Russia, newcomers Finland and possible surprise package Denmark, maybe the eyes should be looking elsewhere.

Belgium

Head coach: Roberto Martinez

Captain: Eden Hazard (Real Madrid)

Key player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City)

You’ll be hard placed to find a team with more pressure on them going into this summer’s tournament than the Red Devils. This group of players have been labelled with the infamous tag of being their country’s ‘golden generation’ and are looking to deliver on the promise on which they have yet to live up to. Managed by ex-Wigan boss Roberto Martinez, who’s been in charge since 2016, they’ll play an attacking brand of fluid football looking to use this as the best form of defence. However, this could leave an aging backline exposed against higher quality attackers in the more advanced rounds of the tournament. Fans will also be sweating on the fitness of notable stars such as Eden Hazard, Axel Witsel and Kevin De Bruyne, all whom bring vast experience and quality to the table. One player to watch out for is youngster Jeremy Doku: an electrifying winger with flair and skill in abundance, he is definitely one for the future, and quite possibly the present, too. With many of the players over, or on the cusp of turning 30, before the World Cup next year, this remains one of the last shots at glory for this obviously talented group of players. 

Denmark

Head coach: Kasper Hjulmand

Captain: Simon Kjaer

Key player: Christian Eriksen

Having not qualified for the previous tournament in France, it’s now the best part of a decade since the Danes have taken part in Europe’s elite international competition. Much like their Belgian counterparts, Denmark will look to play on the front foot, keeping possession and pushing their fullbacks on high. They have an excellent blend of high-quality players with experience at the top level and no one represents that better than Christian Eriksen. At the time of writing, Eriksen is his country’s third most-capped player, with 107 appearances and is going into his fourth tournament with the national side off a successful season with Inter Milan. However, the key to Denmark’s success could be behind Eriksen. The solid pairing of Delaney and Hojbjerg in the defensive midfield will be expected to progress the ball forward as well as protect a backline when the fullbacks push on. With the infamous Nicklas Bendter now retired, the no.9 spot is up for grabs. Competing for it will be Martin Braithwaite, Yussuf Poulsen and youngster Jonas Wind. All three will believe that they have a shot at delivering for their country when relied on most. Having shocked all in EURO 1992, they’ll be looking to repeat a similar upset this summer.

Finland

HeaHhead

Head coach: Markku Kanerva

Captain: Tim Sparv (AE Larisa)

Key player: Teemu Pukki (Norwich City)

Everyone loves a newcomer! After Iceland’s heroics in EURO 2016, the Fins will dream of emulating the success of their fellow Scandinavians. Unsurprisingly, they’ll play with a defence-first approach looking to stifle the opposition and relying on a solid structure to build on. As is the case with many teams who take this approach, the goalkeeper, in this case, Lukas Hradecky, will be key. With six consecutive seasons in the Bundesliga, the Bayer Leverkusen shotstopper is very consistent and can be relied on in a group where he will be tested heavily. Finnish fans will be hoping that star striker Teemu Pukki is fit as he is their only regular goalscorer- netting 67 goals in the last three seasons for Norwich City. If Finland are to progress, they’ll need to summon the resilience that has brought them to their first national tournament, at the same time being defensively solid and providing Teemu Pukki with chances to showcase his clinical edge.

Russia

Head coHead

Head coach: Stanislav Cherchesov

Captain: Artem Dzyuba (Zenit St. Petersburg)

Key player: Aleksandr Golovin (AS Monaco)

The 2018 World Cup was unexpected in many ways: Russia’s success on the pitch being one of them. The core of the squad, however, has changed in the three summers since, with veterans Igor Akinfeev and Sergei Ignashevich retiring from the national side after their quarter-final finish. The impact of the loss wasn’t felt in qualifying though as they reached the tournament with relative ease, winning eight out of ten and only losing to Group B opponents Belgium. Russia are likely to be very direct and play off Artem Dzyuba, with the likes of Golovin looking to collect second balls in-between the lines and create for a side that will rely on moments of clinical finishing for goals. In what will likely be his last international tournament, Yuri Zhirkov will be looking for a fairytale send off in what is an extremely open group where mental strength will be equally as important for the players- an area where this Russian squad could thrive.

Group B fixtures

Saturday 12th June

Belgium vs Russia, St. Petersburg

Denmark vs Finland, Copenhagen

Wednesday 16th June

Finland vs Russia, St. Petersburg

Thursday 17th June

Denmark vs Belgium, Copenhagen

Monday 21st June

FInland vs Belgium, St. Petersburg

Russia vs Denmark, Copenhagen