Euro 2020 Group A: Resurgent Italy's to lose?

Mancini's men are one of the dark horses after a stunning turnaround of being unbeaten in 26 games in a run since 2018


AFP June 01, 2021

PARIS:

Group A kicks off Euro 2020 on June 11 with one its host nations, Italy, beginning their bid to return to international football's top table with a new generation of promising young talent.

Here AFP Sport casts its eye over the four teams trying to reach the knockout stage.

A team reborn since Roberto Mancini took over in May 2018, Italy are one of the dark horses for the Euro after a stunning turnaround under the former Manchester City and Inter Milan boss.

Unbeaten in 26 matches in a run stretching back to late 2018, Italy have shaken off the humiliation of missing out on the last World Cup by bringing in young talent like midfielder Nicolo Barella and goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Mancini has got his team playing an expansive passing game that goes against Italy's traditionally conservative style and will be aiming for a deep run in the tournament to restore some pride to a wounded football giant.

As a host nation they will also benefit from playing all three group games in front of home fans at Rome's Stadio Olimpico.

With Paris Saint-Germain's Marco Verratti likely to be out for at least the group stage with a knee injury, Barella will be charged with leading Italy's midfield with the same dynamism with which he helped propel Inter Milan to the Serie A title.

The Swiss have been high up the FIFA world rankings in recent years but haven't won a knockout match at a major tournament since before the Second World War.

Capable of causing the big guns difficulty -- such as in recent draws with Spain and Germany -- Vladmir Petkovic's team blow too hot and cold for a confident prediction of how they might fare.

However they have some intriguing players who, if they click, could cause a shock, such as captain Granit Xhaka, Liverpool's Xherdan Shaqiri, Atalanta's Remo Freuler and striker Haris Seferovic.

The 29-year-old is a frustratingly inconsistent presence in the Switzerland front line, but he scored 22 times in 31 league appearances for Benfica this past season, and if the 'Nati' are to improve on their last-16 showing from Euro 2016 they will need him to provide a consistent goal threat.

Turkey showed they were an outfit to be taken seriously when they took four points from world champions France in qualifying.

Led by forward Burak Yilmaz, who recently completed a magnificent French title-winning season with Lille, Senol Guenes' team could upset Europe's more illustrious names.

Turkey also pose a threat through Yilmaz's Lille teammate Yusuf Yazici and AC Milan's attacking midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu, as their recent 4-2 World Cup qualifying win over the Netherlands showed.

'King Burak' comes into the Euro fresh from leading Lille to their fourth league title in an amazing first season in France, top-scoring for his new club with 16 goals and providing a wealth of attacking experience to a young team. He is as reliable a captain as it's possible to be and Turkey's main goal threat.

Behind-the-scenes turbulence will accompany Wales to the Euro as they aim to repeat the memorable run to the semi-finals of five years ago.

With head coach Ryan Giggs absent due to a trial for alleged violence against two women, caretaker Rob Page will take charge of a young team that will be the group's underdogs.

However, Wales possess attacking punch with Gareth Bale and Manchester United forward Daniel James providing the sort of pace and dynamism that can trouble most defences.

Wales' star player has had a so-so season despite a loan to Tottenham Hotspur which promised an end to his Real Madrid torment.

However the 31-year-old is a different player for his country and despite rumours in Spain that he is planning to retire and focus on playing golf, expect Bale to be at full throttle at the Euro.

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