Introduction—“Shimmering Northern Lights”(Denmark, Belgium, Russia, Finland)
Our second group proves an absolute joy to explore.
Group B contains everything football lovers and the casual fan could possibly want. The World’s #1 ranked footballing country, Roberto Martinez’s Belgium, seeks to live up to some seriously high expectations on what promises to be an arduously grueling schlep.
Denmark and Russia retain the hosting privileges here, meaning that the Belgians have to flit from St. Petersburg to Copenhagen and then back again. That’s one reason why we’re tipping the upset here and picking Denmark to finish first. Plenty of others can be found below.
Apart from the pressure on the country many will consider the favorites, in Finland we’ve also a country making its very first appearance in a national tournament of any sort. The Finns even receive a monster historic rivalry as part of their debutant package. Finland vs. Russia? Don’t consider missing out.
The two Ice Hockey Nations square off in the second round. Naturally, all of you know that your friendly bookie must broach one of his pet peeves. I trust all of you to correct those wiseasses you meet in bars who claim that this group features a “Scandinavian Rivalry”.
Set them straight. No it doesn’t. Finland isn’t Scandinavian. There’s a sliver of Swedish influence left in the North, but the Finns are mostly “Russo Nordic”. Christ it aggravates when even the most historically savvy people make this mistake.
With the old bete noir out of the way, it’s time to delve into Euro 2020’s Northern arc group. Whereas the first assemblage takes you on a southern trajectory from Rome to Baku, here we’re headed for the glistening warm glow of lights in more frigid territory.
There can be no better musical selection than Kraftwerk’s most soothing, angst-free song. This one’s significantly more relaxing than the ultra-rigid Krautness from the last post. Feel free to chill out with it.
So reassuring. Note to those who plan on keeping it on throughout the section: You may want to skip the opening part of the Russia section.
Time to dig up and dust off the old alliterative playbook. Every last football writer on this spinning blue orb does so when preparing a write-up on this team. Do you prefer "Danish Dynamite" or "Danish Delight"?
Perhaps you fancy the bookie's old pejorative classification from the days of a snarkier syndicate. "Pesky peninsulars" anyone?
The Danes have mostly supplied us with impressive defensive cohesion in the five syndicate chapters they've appeared in. The was true through the "Olsen's Eleven Era", spilling over to the curious (not to mentioned confused) Aga Hareide. Some will recall that they stumbled into the 2018 knockouts despite being one of the most woefully boring tournament sides ever.
Hareide's Rød-hvide earned multiple diatribes in the dailies for being about as offensively engaging as a night of cozy-fireplace "hygge". In the coach's defense, we were looking at a team in transition. Nicolai Jørgensen, Michael Krohn-Dehli, and Lasse Schöne were all still hanging around. The previous trainer's pre-tourney planning also relied heavily upon veterans William Kvist and Niklas Bendtner.
One could divine a great deal of disorientation in the hastily-cobbled together back-up strategies. The bookie himself screamed for the use of both Kasper Dolberg and Pione Sisto together up front. In the intervening years, it's become clearer why this wasn't used. What the team truly needed was a good housecleaning. Thankfully, the pay disputes involving both the men's and women's provided it.
Hareide commenced building a sleeker and more modern side. New head-coach Kasper Hjulmand, who actually wouldn't be in charge had Euro 2020 not been postponed, recalibrated it further. There's much to report. We nevertheless run the risk of treading too far into wonkish territory at this juncture. Hence, it's time for a visual break.
How about that, gentlemen? You get two legends for the price of one. This team's attacking firepower excites. Before getting to that, we'll need to note that keeper Kasper Schmeichel shall supply plenty of pyrotechnics between the posts. You'll mistake him for "Papa Peter". Mark the bookie's words. The Leicester City man has only gotten better.
Back to the more dweebish stuff. The Danish revival materialized from sources no football wonk expected. This team features no players from either championship side Brøndby IF or that stats-bomb-beset tyro giant FC Midtjylland. Instead, there's a trio of intriguing youngsters from the Serie A and this hitherto unknown kid from Copenhagen, Jonas Wind.
Wind, together with strikers Andreas Skov Olsen, Mikkel Damsgaard, and fullback Joakim Maehle, have tallied a combined ten times for country despite only having 21 caps between them. One can already tell that we'll be having very different discussions this Summer.
Rather than obsessing about the needs of Christian Eriksen or Kasper Dolberg, we'll be talking about how these cats redefined the overall character of the DFB-XI. This shall not be the Summer of old and tired alliterative headlines. Writers will pitch "Danish Dynamite" in favor of an "Earth, Wind, and Fire" motif.
Your friendly bookie confesses he doesn't quite know how Maehle, Skov Olsen, and Damsgaard will get incorporated into the whole thematic reporting concept, but I do know for sure that it's coming. The Danes are in for some gritty Norse elementalism; something befitting of their ancient heritage.
One foresees a fierce, warrior-like Viking side pillaging and plundering their way through opponents.
Okay. Maybe not something quite like this. If memory serves, I think both of these guys, along with most of the cast of "The Last Kingdom", are actually German. Whenever the BBC seeks to put together a historical piece requiring a cast with indeterminate ethnic accents, they usually draw from the 80-million-strong population of the Bundesrepublik.
That isn't to suggest that the more populous Germany should in any way be considered superior to their Northern neighbors of 5 million any way. Their football team, for example is deservedly ranked higher than ours despite having only 1/16 of the population.
Sigh. We'll get to that later. Everything in due course.
Projecting the Danish Lineup (4-3-3)
Much as was the case last tournament, this one necessitated a great deal of toying about. Hjulmand's roster, not unlike his predecessor's, is quite attack-heavy. One almost feels the pressure of the Danish manager when attempting to select the proper attacking cadre ahead of Eriksen. The last three years of the one-time-prodigy's career served to further underscore how variable the 29-year-old's productivity can be depending on who's stationed in front of him.
After driving myself batty with some of the alterations for hours, I finally opted to enlist some help from overseas. A simple player list sufficed to ultimately discover how it all fits together. We actually end up with something similar to Hareide's XI in the 2018 round-of-16. Martin Braithwaite and Yussuf Poulsen take up the same support slants and, contrary to your friendly bookie's innate caution, young Jonas Wind retains the lead-striker role.
Sorting out the defense became easy once I recalled that Daniel Wass could be be slotted back to the fullback position. His experience on the left then permits us to go bold with the surging Joakim Maehle on the right. Yes, yes. It all makes sense. The bookie confidently stands behind his pick.
The Talisman—Simon Kjaer
The former Wolfsburg mainstay emerged from a strong 2018 tournament with a decent shot at the permanent captaincy. Since then, he's turned in a string of beastly performances for his national side. Schmeichel enjoys the added benefit of having perhaps the tournament's strongest central defender ahead of him, at least as concerns consistent form on the international pitch.
At the age of 32, the well-traveled Kjaer seems to have matured into a player who picked up bits of football insight in all of the countries he's played club football in. Watching him leaves one with the feeling that there's wisdom from Denmark, Italy, Germany, France, Spain, and even Turkey in his stride.
Vicey's Bundesliga Buddy
Thomas Delaney, Borussia Dortmund
Actually a rather tough choice here as I’m a huge Yussuf Poulsen fan. The (grumble) RB Leipzig professional is a class act both on and of the pitch. The bookie also remains one of those ever-still convinced that Robert Skov, currently of Hoffenheim, will break through at some point. Note that I'll probably be saying that until 2029. Never back down from a hunch!
Anyway, Delaney is a very underrated defensive-minded midfielder who always brings out the best in his partners. This was true of Julian Weigl, Axel Witsel, Mahmoud Dahoud, and even Jude Bellingham. He's a tireless worker, often overlooked and overrated whilst playing alongside the more glamorous box-to-boxers.
Bremen were absolute fools to let him go. Had he been around to mentor some of the younger Hanseaten, Werder would likely still be in the Bundesliga.
"The Tranquil Rivalry"
Denmark's glory days obviously took place before there was such a thing as the syndicate. The most entertaining of Scandinavia's most intense footballing rivalry, a seven-goal aggregate thriller between Denmark and Sweden, took place outside the confines of the syndicate during the EM 2016 qualifying phase.
Belgium—“De Rode Duivels”
We arrive at the team tipped to capture the 2018 World Championship. At that time, the Walloon-Flemish hybrids weren't ranked number-one in the world. In point of fact, my country was.
Er...no. Sorry, but the bookie still smarts from that non-sensical 2018 semi-final lineup. I find myself burned, not to mention pissed. Martinez is a manager I've maintained enormous respect for ever since the Wigan Athletic days. He's also a first-rate commentator, as evidenced by his stateside work during the 2016 EM.
The 47-year-old, depending on the vocational charge, respects his players and his audience. Perhaps that's precisely the problem. He's the type of leader who calmly addresses the shortcomings of those he's tasked with managing with intelligent analytical calm. Having been this type of leader myself, I can tell you that it often backfires. Guess I've been burned in that sense too.
This team won't even top the group. We'll see some wonderfully intricate play and a few immaculately designed set pieces. After they beat Russia, Martinez will take all the lads out for ice cream and give out participation awards. Then the Danes will pummel them and everyone will be too confused to focus on the Finns.
That seems a realistic augury for the three fixtures ahead.
Projecting the Belgian Lineup (3-4-2-1)
Of course it's brimming with talent. Martinez barely has to think about how to make it work. The very same formation he relied upon last time, and has frequently used in the Nations League/WMQ matches just needs a little tweaking.
Dropping Eden Hazard back and deploying his brother just ahead of him constitutes the right response to each player's respective form. An inverted pivot for Thomas Vermaelen enhances the back-build potential for the coach's specific brand of Tiki-Taka.
Zack, zack, zack. It all falls into place. Martinez possesses a benevolent German mind not wholly dissimilar to the bookie's. That's what worries me. The intelligent and considerate managers rarely win. Something always goes wrong.
The Talisman, Romelu Lukaku
Three years ago Kevin de Bruyne served as our talisman. Matters cannot help but be different now as the man affectionately dubbed "the tank" now stands as a serious candidate for the world's best footballer. Sweet Jesus is he good.
Vicey's Bundesliga Buddy
Thorgan Hazard, Borussia Dortmund
A choice through which I actually surprised myself. Hazard's teammate Axel Witsel remains one of my personal faves and Hertha BSC captain Dedryck Boyata is, glibly stated, one of the most eminently likable heart-and-soul players in the Bundesliga.
Since neither one is anticipated to fit to contribute, we'll introduce some to Eden's often under appreciated younger bro. Thorgan himself has had his fair share of injury woes this season, but appears to be fit just in time to make an impact.
Bookie's been keeping close tabs on his recent form. He's looked very good in the league, the Pokal, and some of the national team's recent fixtures. He and Dortmund teammate Thomas Meunier put together a nice co-production in a March match.
Thorgan seems like a good breakout pick heading into this tourney.
This. Was. Unforgettable. Possibly standing in the way of my predictions, we have the deadly Belgian counterattack; on display throughout the 2018 WM.
While there were multiple instances of how clinically it worked, the one that will live in the minds of even the casual football fans forever is the one that sunk Japan in the first knockout match.
Well. The Golden Eagles and their ornately ostentatious crest are back. Russian fever, however, isn't The hosts of the last major international evoked some interesting emotions in us football lovers in 2018. The bookie feels more or less numb this time around.
Those of us who take time to remain geo-politically literate want nothing more than to pack the opinions away during the Summer internationals.
Moreover, we wish to see football continue its function as a safe outlet for nationalism; one that even enables distrustful citizens trapped in un-democratic societies a conduit to people of other cultures.
"Pussy riot" were so kind to remind us that this might very well be a quixotic fantasy.
Yeah. Though it may not have been the most coherently articulated point, the way in which governing bodies work with such regimes has to stop. We all praise UEFA for beating back the commercialized "Super League" last month. Then, they immediately turn around and around the 2025 Women's U17 Euro to Belarus.
It probably shouldn't be too much to ask of confederations to keep basic human rights standards in mind when rewarding hosting privileges. It's true "outrage culture" does a piss poor job of shallowly labelling who the good guys and bad guys are in a more blurry and nuanced world. We can still likely all agree that authoritarian governments intent on stifling dissent via poisoning and murder aren't worth dealing with.
Ach. This depressing conversation will eventually lead us to Qatar; a place football fans are, both literally and intellectually, loathe to go. Let's see if we can't turn the tone around with something a mite more cheerful.
Hell, for all I know, they might draft Sergei Ignashevic out of retirement at this point.
There are rumors that Sergei might have come close to cracking a smile off in seclusion somewhere recently. The same reports suggest that he might have dined on something other than iron and steel.
No independent corroboration exists yet.
Projecting the Russian Lineup (5-3-2)
Assuming that Cherchesov is done with the Rifat Zhemaletdinov experiment (and one sincerely hopes that he his), we need another service striker for Dzyuba. I'll take a wild guess and conjecture that Aleksandr Sobolev is here for that purpose.
The Talisman—Artem Dzyuba
The team's 2016 talisman initially took a back seat to Fyodor Smolov in 2018, but Cherchesov quickly figured out who his best striker was. He scored three goals in that tournament.
The veteran Dzyuba is unquestionably the leader of this crew now that Ingashevich and Akinfeev have retired. Whether they give him the armband for good isn't certain.
Vicey's Bundesliga Buddy
Stanislav Cherchesov, Dynamo Dresden
Seeing as how there isn't a current or even former Bundesliga player on the roster, we'll expend a few words on the coach. Cherchesov is known to German football fans after he spent the late stages of his career in Germany and Austria.
He's remembered as quite the wild one. In addition to being a real character, he did break some barriers as one of the first Soviet Bloc players to come to an East German club in the immediate unsteady aftermath of reunification.
Some of his heroic acrobatics kept Dynamo from getting relegated in the 1993/94 campaign. He did his part to unsuccessfully stave them off disaster in the subsequent season.
Incidentally, Dynamo happens to be one of the most passionately supported ex-DDR clubs. German neutrals generally like them.
“Hiddink's Hammer and Sickle”
While 2018 supplied us with some worthwhile memories, the Russian squad most football fanatics recall fondly was Gus Hiddink's Euro 2008 incarnation. The Roman Palyuchenko/Andrei Arashavin one for those who need a little memory jogging.
Fans supporting this team weren't quite yet sure which country they were supposed to be rooting for. Soviet flags were about as prevalent in the stands as the tricolor.
In the mood for a laugh after this unavoidably heavy section? Kick back, relax, and enjoy the "Where are they now?" retrospective put together by HITC sport in 2018.
Syndicate debutants arrive! It's the best part of the blog. Always a pleasure to welcome a nation we've never covered before in these nearly two decades. Since there may be one or two diehards who wish to bring up the point, yes we did give the "Helmarit" extensive attention back when covering the women's Euros in 2013.
But these are not the "Helmarit", gentlemen. Here we have the "Huukajat". For some reason, both of these Finnish words which are supposedly supposed to describe different colors of owls don't appear to have an identifiable declinative root. Not really into Uralistic structuralism, so I couldn't tell you why.
I'll try to convey the broad strokes about a football program that has never qualified for a major international tournament before. Hopefully, we can get through this section without mentioning Tuija Hyyrynen too much.
Ah yes. There she is. The girl that makes you want renounce your entire way of life and settle down for some quite, clean, country living on an obscure farm. Imagine waking up to this lass' smile every morning and cradling her in your arms every night. You'd do anything for her.
Back to the men's team, they earned their place in this competition through straight group qualifying. Impressive no? Head-coach Markku Kanerva did what the likes of Roy Hodgson and Stuart Baxter never could. They even gave the Italians quite the scare in one of the encounters.
Another interesting aspect about this team concerns the fact that.....
.............Okay, Tuija. Hi. Nice to see you again. It's been cool to watch you since your move to Juventus Femminile a few years back. While I certainly appreciate you popping back into my head, I really do have to get on with this section about the men's team.
We'll get to you next Summer when covering the women's Euros. Until then, ciao bella!
Ahem. As I was saying, this association stuck with their current trainer in spite of the fact that they slipped to something like 137th place in the FIFA rankings under his early stewardship. Kenerva recruited several domestic league players to the team and they began to rise.
Their performance in the inaugural UEFA nations league tournament was especially significant in that.......
......this is going to keep happening, isn't it?
Gentlemen, the scribe has been defeated. It's going to be Tuija and Percy Sledge all afternoon. Love is a horribly dangerous thing. It's the arch-nemesis of productivity.
We better get to the lineups.
Projecting the Finnish Lineup (5-3-2)
Yes, I know you guys want those jerseys. The blue ones with the white stripes are even cooler. I opted for the white because it's simply to early in this chapter to get deluged with Schwag Pack requests.
The neat little duo of Pyry Soiri and Joni Kauko play for Esbjerg in the Danish Superliga. Their practical coordination in midfield is one of Kanerva’s nice tactical touches. The lead striker gets his own section below.
Otherwise, you won’t be surprised to learn that this is a team built to park the bus. They work the collective. This year’s version of Iceland if you will.
The Talisman—Teemu Pukki
Yet another striker. He’s not exactly Jari Litmanen, but he’ll do. The man making a serious entry for the tournament’s coolest name (and the tournament’s most inspiring lumberjack beard) broke through Brøndby before heading over to Carrow Road to help newly promoted Norwich in the EPL circa 2019.
He had stints at Schalke and Celtic during his younger years.
While he, and others, haven’t been able to help the Canaries from yo-yoing about he’s been a profilic scorer during the club’s two years in the EFL Championship.
For the national team, he always delivers. No one else came close to his ten goals in qualifying. They’ll need to feed him constantly here.
Vicey's Bundesliga Buddy
Lukas Hradecky, Bayer 04 Leverkusen
A very competent keeper to tell you about here. His Leverkusen teammate Joel Pohjanpalo, who just completed a very productive season on loan over at 1. FC Union Berlin, is no slouch either.
In the bookie’s humble opinion, he belongs in the same class with Peter Gulacsi, Gregor Kobel, and Florian Müller. No one really knows what class Manuel Neuer is in at the moment, so we’ll keep him separate.
"More from the Helmarit"
Since we’re dealing with syndicate debutants, we’ll give this one to the ladies as well.
Not quite sure UEFA made the right call postponing the Women’s Euros to next Summer after the pandemic.
For a time, there was some talk of allowing both tournaments to proceed this year. How cool would that have been for the women’s game?
Euro-fever might have carried over to the awesome sport too few make time for. Alas, it wasn’t to be.
Vicey’s Fearless Group Prediction (3 to 1 Odds for Bookie)
Overall Championship Odds
Denmark (Straight Up)
Belgium (Straight Up)
Russia (12 to 1)
Finland (16 to 1)
Round of 16 Odds
Denmark (NO BETS)
Belgium (NO BETS)
Russia (Straight Up)
Finland (Straight Up)
Denmark (NO BETS)
Belgium (NO BETS)
Russia (4 to 1)
Finland (6 to 1)
Denmark (Straight Up)
Belgium (Straight Up)
Russia (6 to 1)
Finland (8 to 1)