Group F preview

Group F preview

By Sam Feierabend

Group F has pitted 2018 World Cup winners France with the defending Euros champions Portugal, 2014 World Champions Germany and Hungary. For many, this is the ‘group of death’ and there is a strong possibility that one of the big three here could be eliminated at the group stage, given that only four teams of 6 who finish third progress to the last-16.

France

Head Coach: Didier Deschamps

Captain: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur)

Key player: Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)

France come into this tournament after winning the 2018 World Cup and looking to avenge their loss in the final of Euro 2016 on home soil. Many bookmakers have ‘Les Bleus’ as favourites for the tournament but they will have to overcome two of the best international teams in Europe to firstly get out of the group stage.

Headlines were made at the announcement of the 26 man squad with Didier Deschamps deciding to recall Karim Benzema to the national team after a six-year hiatus. Benzema could be France’s key player as the Real Madrid striker scored 30 goals and assisted a further 9 this season. The prospect of a strike partnership of him and Kylian Mbappe is a frightening one, with the PSG hotshot averaging a goal a game at club level and looking to add to an already impressive career. France’s squad is littered with world class players with a mix of youth and experience, including captain Hugo Lloris, newly-crowned Champions League winner N’golo Kante, and super sub Olivier Giroud. On paper, they have one of the strongest squads at the tournament with genuine quality throughout. Their only stand out weakness is in goal, where the ageing Hugo Lloris is prone to bad games, especially during the last season where his club Tottenham Hotspur struggled throughout.

It is expected that France will play 4-2-3-1 with Kingsley Coman and Kylian Mbappe on the flanks providing service to Karim Benzema. Coman will be the provider whilst Mbappe will look to make his famed runs in behind the defence. Their adaptability with their strength in depth is a scary prospect, with options outside their predicted starting 11 including Ousmane Dembele and Thomas Lemar meaning that they could easily adapt to a 4-3-3 or even bring on their second-highest all time goal scorer Olivier Giroud as a second striker.

The key match up for me is when they play Portugal on matchday 3 in Budapest. This could decide the winner of the group which is a favourable position to finish, given the winners of group F will play one of the best third placed finishers in the last 16. I expect France to win the group – just – and then progress deep into the tournament.

Portugal

Head coach: Fernando Santos

Captain: Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)

Key player: Cristiano Ronaldo

The defending champions come into this tournament arguably with a stronger squad than 2016. On their way to glory in Paris 5 years ago, they only won 1 game in 90 minutes, that being the semi-final victory against Wales. They drew all 3 of their group games, taking advantage of the best third placed qualifiers addition to the tournament and there is a chance that they will need this again. They qualified automatically through winning the inaugural Nations League tournament, but slipped up in their qualifying group, finishing second to Ukraine.

On paper, the Portugal squad is arguably one of the strongest at the tournament. Cristiano Ronaldo will once again lead the attack, but it is their defence that shows real star quality. Premier League winning duo of Joao Cancelo and Ruben Dias should start with a rejuvenated Jose Fonte (fresh off winning Ligue 1 with Lille) and Raphael Guerreiro which should mean they are more defensively stable than 2016 tournament where they conceded 5 goals on route to the title. Their attacking options have also improved since the last tournament, with Manchester United star Bruno Fernandes expected to pull the strings in midfield, with La Liga winner Joao Felix and Manchester City stalwart Bernardo Silva expected to run the wings and provide pace in attack. Fernando Santos has also included Diogo Jota and Andre Silva as back up, affirming the strength in depth Portugal have.

They will need options to overcome this group. It is vital that they hit the ground running against Hungary, an opponent who they drew 3-3 with in a thriller at Euro 2016 to ensure that three points are straight on the board. They should be strong enough to also overcome Germany, but will have to be on form to grab a result against France and seal their spot in the knockouts. Second place in this group will play the winner of group D, so will want to avoid a potential last 16 game against Croatia or England. I feel like it’ll be Portugal who finish second, but wouldn’t put it past them to go deep into the tournament and will certainly be in contention to retain their title.

Germany

Head coach: Joachim Low

Captain: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich)

Key player: Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City)

The past few years have been tough for the 2014 World Champions, with a shock group stage exit at the 2018 World Cup leading to struggles since then. Losses to Spain and Netherlands in the Nations League and an embarrassing loss to North Macedonia in their World Cup qualifying group have seen them drop to 12th in the world rankings. Long-serving manager Joachim Low has announced this tournament will be his last at the helm of Die Mannschaft to be replaced by Hansi Flick after impressing at Bayern Munich. Given the talent in the squads of France and Portugal, I feel Germany have gone a little under the radar in discussions about this group. Their squad is still strong, boasting one of the world’s best keepers in Manuel Neuer and talented midfield options in Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka. After a tough first season with Chelsea, Timo Werner will hope to regain some of his form that made him one of the hottest strikers in Europe during his RB Leipzig days. After an outstanding goalscoring season for Manchester City, Ilkay Gundogan will be a crucial part of the German midfield and attacking threat. Germany’s defence has leaked 10 goals in their last 6 international games, something that will have to be sorted given the attacking threat of France and Portugal. Their first game against France will be a good measure of where they’re at, if they pull off a result, then they could go all the way in the tournament. If they struggle, then it could be a difficult ask to even progress out of the group. Getting a good goal difference by putting a few past Hungary will ensure that if they finish third, they have a good chance of being one of the four best third-place finishers.

Hungary

Head coach: Marco Rossi

Captain: Adam Szalai (Mainz 05)

Key player: Peter Gulacsi (RB Leipzig)

Hungary come into this tournament as staunch underdogs in this group. Yet they come into the tournament in good form, having been unbeaten in 10 games at time of writing – stretching back to September 2020. Their form in qualifying during 2019 however, was not good, finishing 4th in their group behind Croatia, Wales and Slovakia – they qualified through the play offs after winning their Nations League group. They are well acquainted to Portugal in the Euros, having been in their group in 2016 and drawing 3-3 on their way to a last 16 place. Getting out of this group is a remarkably harder task, and will hope to catch the big guns by surprise.

Italian head coach Marco Rossi plays with a 3-5-2 formation, packing the midfield and using Bristol City midfielder Adam Nagy to control play  in front of the defence. Hungary probably won’t see much of the ball so will need to knuckle down and play on the counter. This will be made harder with star winger Dominik Szoboszlai being ruled out of the tournament through injury.

Experienced goalkeeper Peter Gulasci will be key for the Hungarians to keep organised in defence and hope that captain Adam Szalai can finish the little chances they can expect. If they catch Portugal by surprise again then there’s every chance a result can be stolen from Germany or France.

Group F fixtures

Tuesday 15th June

Germany vs France, Munich

Hungary vs Portugal, Budapest

Saturday 19th June

Portugal vs Germany, Munich

Hungary vs France, Budapest

Wednesday 23rd June

Germany vs Hungary, Munich

France vs Portugal, Budapest