Group C preview
By Alex Kurtis
Group C has the potential to be the sleeper group in this year’s Euros. At first. one could disregard the group as an easy route for the Netherlands and Austria to march through; on the other hand, I fully expect one of those teams to concede their position to one of the other competitors. Ukraine will definitely be looking to upset after an impressive qualification which saw them top their group over Portugal and achieve the sixth-best overall qualifying record. Furthermore, North Macedonia could prove problematic, playing with absolutely nothing to lose in their first major national tournament. In addition, the two group favourites may not be as dominant as expected; the Netherlands will be competing without their captain Virgil Van Dijk and Austria could struggle with their lack of a significant attacking presence.
Head coach: Franco Foda
Captain: Julian Baumgartlinger (Bayer Leverkusen)
Key player: Marcel Sabitzer (RB Leipzig)
After a disastrous EURO 2016, Austria will be looking to prove themselves this year. Undoubtedly they have their share of star players with David Alaba and Marcel Sabitzer, although one of the largest criticisms of the team has been their uninspiring play which has left fans far from enthused. Sabitzer in particular will be crucial as to whether Austria even progress from the group stage, as much of the offense will be run through him. Even with Stuttgart’s Kalajdzic having an impressive season this year in the Bundesliga, Austria are cursed with a lack of reliable attacking options. Foda may experiment with moving Alaba around the field; despite primarily operating as a defender at club level, few players possesses as much flair and creativity in this squad.
Due to their superstar players, Austria are favoured to progress from the group stages. On the other hand, the two underdogs of the group in Ukraine and North Macedonia have been seen to be incredibly well organised and opportunistic teams; if Austria are unable to create that final pass or make the right shot selections, they could be torn to pieces.
Head coach: Frank de Boer
Captain: Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool)
Key player: Memphis Depay (Olympique Lyonnais)
The Netherlands find themselves in a difficult predicament in this year’s Euros. The delay due to the pandemic meant they lost two incredibly key pieces in defender Virgil Van Dijk and manager Ronald Koeman. The rest of the squad still boasts elite players like Barcelona’s Frenkie De Jong and Juventus’s De Ligt, but many were puzzled after young stars like Justin Kluivert and Mohammed Ihattaren were left out of the final selection. Ultimately they are still heavy favourites to win Group C and Memphis Depay will be expected to be dangerous on the offensive end after a spectacular season at Lyon, which saw him make the Ligue 1 Team of the Year.
If there was one area however where the Netherlands could describe themselves as best in the world, it would be their centre-back pairing. Losing their captain will put massive pressure on their new back line to maintain the quality they are used to. Thankfully, Group C doesn’t contain many attacking superstars; De Boer needs to use the group stage to consolidate the defence before they have to face a Harry Kane or a Kylian Mbappe.
Head coach: Igor Angelovski
Captain: Goran Pandev (Genoa)
Key player: Goran Pandev
Throughout the group stage, there is a very real possibility that North Macedonia are steamrolled by their more experienced rival. But there is also hope that they may be one of the most entertaining teams to watch in this year’s tournament. Having already proven themselves against powerhouses like Germany, North Macedonia are a surprisingly strong team with a lot of spirit.
They typically play a defensive 3-5-2, with their disciplined defence proving difficult for many opponents. Enis Bardhi of Levante brings a good degree of creativity and attacking prowess to their midfield; he is also one of the best set piece specialists in La Liga. The most important piece to this North Macedonian side though is their veteran striker Goran Pandev. Much as many of the Ukrainian players are also older than their nation (both countries were formed in 1991), Pandev is essentially the entire history of the North Macedonian football team. As the country’s most capped player and all-time top goal scorer, his squad will look to him as the guiding hand to lead them through Group C and hopefully cause a few upsets on their way.
My wacky prediction stated that North Macedonia can make it out of the group stages; their road to the Euros was perhaps the hardest of all the teams and their appearance represents a huge success already. Yet this squad is still hungry. If any team they face brings less than 110 percent, North Macedonia will take everything they can get from them.
Head coach: Andriy Shevchenko
Captain: Andriy Pyatov (Shatkar Donetsk)
Key player: Oleksandr Zinchenko (Manchester City)
My selection for the tournament dark horses, Ukraine are an incredibly well-disciplined young squad who will be looking make history by reaching the knockout stages for the first time. Typically playing a 4-3-3 formation, Ukraine’s most exciting football will be played in the centre of the pitch, with the incredibly dynamic duo of Manchester City’s Zinchenko and Atalanta’s Malinovskyi.
Ukraine have faced a fair share of disappointments recently, failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and suffering relegation in the Nations League. Outside football, political tensions are rougher than ever (Yaroslav Rakitskyi was left out of the squad after joining Russian side Zenit), yet the surprising cohesion and strength of this Ukrainian side has restored much faith in the team and in superstar coach Shevchenko. With morale higher than ever, and several players coming off successful domestic seasons, Ukraine has the potential even to beat out the Netherlands to top Group C.
Group C fixtures
Sunday 13th June
Austria vs North Macedonia, Bucharest
Netherlands vs Ukraine, Amsterdam
Thursday 17th June
Ukraine vs North Macedonia, Bucharest
Netherlands vs Austria, Amsterdam
Saturday 19th June
North Macedonia vs Netherlands, Amsterdam
Ukraine vs Austria, Bucharest