Top 5 Dark Horses in UEFA Euro 2020 (2021)

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Since the commencement of the European Championships in 1960, 10 different nations have gone on to win it. Among these ten are a good number of surprises, including the Soviet Union (1960), Czechoslovakia (1976), Greece (2004), and perhaps best of all, Denmark (1992), who were drafted into the competition at the last minute when Yugoslavia was forced to withdraw due to the ongoing civil war. What’s to say Euro 2020 won’t produce another shock winner?

So here’s a list of the Top 5 Dark Horses at the Euros this year.

5. Denmark

Will we see the renaissance of Danish football this year? The 1992 European champions missed out on qualification for the Euro 2016 but navigated through the qualifying campaign for the latest Euros unbeaten. Denmark also impressed in the UEFA Nations League, finishing above England in second place behind Belgium.

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Serie A winner Christian Eriksen is the face of Denmark but it would be foolish of the opposition to discount other world-class names in the squad. Denmark’s defense boasts of Leicester City keeper Kasper Schmeichel, and big club defenders such as Simon Kjær (AC Milan), Andreas Christensen (Chelsea), and Jannik Vestergaard (Southampton). A menacing strike force of Martin Braithwaite (Barcelona), Yussuf Poulsen (RB Leipzig), and Robert Skov (1899 Hoffenheim) will all jostle for places in the XI.

Denmark shares a tough Euro 2020 group with Belgium, Russia, and Finland, but has the home advantage with all three of their matches scheduled in Copenhagen. 

4. Sweden

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This is the sixth straight European Championship Sweden has qualified for, however, their best-ever finish still came in their first Euro in 1992, where they finished third. Four times out of the last five campaigns they’ve bowed out of the group stage, it might not be the same this time. 

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been ruled out of the competition this year with an injury, yet, the Blagult have a talented enough squad that no one should take lightly. In an almost flawless qualification, they lost just once during the qualifiers and outscored 47 out of 55 sides participating. The Nordic outfit has some talented young players in Aleksander Isak, Dejan Kulusevski, and Mattias Svanberg, while old guards such as Sebastian Larsson, Emil Forsberg, Robin Quaison, and Marcus Berg will bring their wealth of experience.

Janne Andersson’s squad has been drawn in a fairly competitive group alongside Poland, Spain, and Slovakia. 

3. Russia

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Apart from an out-of-the-blue third-place finish in 2008, Russia hasn’t been able to make it out of the European group stages since 1988.

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However, Russia’s road to the Euros has been clinical as they finished second in Group I to an accomplished Belgium squad. Russia racked up eight wins from a possible ten and their rigid defense consisting of veterans like Yuri Zhirkov, Fyodor Kudryashov, and Mario Fernandes conceded only one goal in those victories. At the other end of the field, Dzyuba’s towering presence scored nine goals in ten starts, while Denis Cheryshev (Valencia CF) picked up five goals and three assists in only five appearances, and Alexsandr Golovin (AS Monaco) contributed one goal and two assists in a 4-0 thrashing of Scotland.

In combination with this impressive statistical form, the unbelievable 2018 World Cup run serves as a recent memory that must not be allowed to fade. Looking ahead to the competition, Russia is placed in Group B with Belgium, Denmark, and Finland. Denmark and Finland have never managed to come out on top against Russia in their past meetings, so that is a huge boost for the Russian side

2. Turkey

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Euro 2020 marks only the fifth time Turkey has qualified for the tournament, having done so previously in 1996, 2000, 2008, and 2016. Their best ever international performance was in the 2002 World Cup: they made it to the semi-final, only to be beaten by eventual winners, Brazil. In the Euros, it was a third-place finish in 2008.

This year, Turkey has players in all of Europe’s top five leagues, veteran striker Burak Yilmaz, with Zeki Çelik and Yusuf Yazici at Lille, have won the Ligue 1, while Çağlar Söyüncü and Cengiz Ünder have just won the FA Cup with Leicester. Four more players have played Champions League football this season, including Liverpool’s Ozan Kabak. According to Varsity, Turkey’s manager, “Şenol Güneş, also has a successful background, having played 424 games and won six Super Ligs with Trabzonspor as a goalkeeper, resulting in in them naming the stadium after him. Furthermore, it was Güneş who managed Turkey to their historic World Cup Semi-Final in 2002.”  Free-kick specialist Hakan Çalhanoglu will also be part of the squad.

Turkey sits in Group A with Italy, Switzerland, and Wales, none of whom should be impossible to beat.

1. Ukraine

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With Ukraine’s history of finishing third in the group stage of Euro 2012 and last in Euro 2016 would make it an unorthodox number one choice, however, their qualifying run for Euro 2020 was extremely difficult to ignore. Ukraine finished first in a group that contained defending champions Portugal and Serbia. Remarkably, they went unbeaten, conceding just four goals in the process.

Ukrainian legend Andriy Shevchenko replaced Mykhaylo Fomenko as manager after their Euro 2016 disappointment. Granted, they failed to qualify for Russia 2018, as well as finishing bottom of their Nations League group, but both in attack and defense, they have shown signs of being a genuine threat. 

A clear-out of veterans like Artem Fedetskyi and Yevhen Seleznyov has allowed for the utilization of younger talents such as full-back Vitaliy Mykolenko and striker Roman Yaremchuk. According to Varsity, “Ukraine under Shevchenko combine fast pressing with expansive wide forward play, relying on full-backs to push forward and whip crosses in.” However, the final piece of the puzzle is yet to fully fall into place: Ukraine does not have a Harry Kane or a Robert Lewandowski that they can rely on to consistently score.

Some known names that will feature for Ukraine include Oleksandr Zinchenko (Manchester City), Andriy Yarmolenko (West Ham), Yevhen Konoplyanka (formerly of Sevilla and Schalke 04, now playing for Shakhtar Donetsk), and Ruslan Malinovskyi (Atalanta) 

For two scheduled friendlies in March (both of which were canceled), thirteen of the squad played for either Shakhtar Donetsk or Dynamo Kyiv. The cohesion of the players is seen on the pitch as much of the team plays together for the same clubs.

In terms of their prospects at Euro 2020, they’ve been given a relatively kind draw in Group C with the Netherlands, Austria, and North Macedonia.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Netherlands are one of the dark horses as well, a very well rounded squad, a good keeper, a solid Defence and a dream midfield, and a front line which on its day could wreck havoc. Under Ronald Koeman, they did make huge strides, but after taking two steps ahead they’ve been pushed one step behind after the appointment of Frank De Boer, and the loss of Van Dijk, not only for his footballing abilities, but because of the role he’s had in the revival might prove a little too costly for them.

    • Yes, I had read about Netherlands’ resurgence but didn’t include them because I wanted to keep the list for smaller names. Countries that most people wouldn’t know a lot about…

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