Euro 2020 Group C preview: How will Netherlands fare without van Dijk?

Netherlands' Memphis Depay, celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the international friendly soccer match between the Netherlands and Scotland at the Algarve stadium outside Faro, Portugal, Wednesday June 2, 2021. (Miguel Morenatti/AP)

Prior to the 2020-21 season, many would've favoured the Netherlands to win Euro 2020 this summer. But following an injury to Virgil van Dijk, the hiring of Frank de Boer as coach in September and presumptive No. 1 goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen contracting COVID-19, those hopes are fading.

The randomness of a knockout-style tournament always leads to surprises, but a tricky group will put the Dutch's issues to the test right away. An experienced Austrian side, an upstart Ukrainian squad and North Macedonia, who qualified for its first major tournament, will do everything possible to capitalize on those doubts.

Here's everything you need to know about each team in Group C.

THE NETHERLANDS

Coach: Frank de Boer

Roster:

Possible starting XI:

4-3-3: (GK) Krul – (D) Dumfries, de Ligt, Blind, Wijndal – (M) F. de Jong, Wijnaldum, Klaassen – (F) Berghuis, L. de Jong, Depay

SCHEDULE

June 13, 3 p.m. ET: vs. Ukraine
June 17, 3 p.m. ET: vs. Austria
June 21, 12 p.m. ET: vs. North Macedonia

ODDS

To win group: -240
To win tournament: +1200

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Most important player: Frenkie de Jong. He's still 24, yet de Jong is the Dutch's engine in midfield. His ability to play through pressure, defensive acumen and tendency to progress the ball will be key.

Breakout player to watch: Ryan Gravenberch. If he sees minutes, then Gravenberch could be a game-changer. The 19-year-old was a revelation for Ajax this season as a box-to-box midfielder, especially when dribbling forward and combining in the attack.

Biggest strength: Midfield. There's a wealth of talent both youthful and experienced. Even the likes of Gravenberch and Donny van de Beek, who likely won't start, can cause damage in the final third as super subs.

Biggest weakness: Defence. The loss of Virgil van Dijk forced Frank de Boer to slot in utility man Daley Blind next to Matthijs de Ligt and results have been mixed. The Netherlands' two recent competitive games against Gibraltar and Latvia yielded clean sheets, but the back line struggled to end 2020 so that's why it's a concern heading into the tournament.

Burning question: Can the Dutch overcome all their question marks? On paper, the squad's still strong, but ever since Frank de Boer was hired, there've been concerns about the passive attacking buildup and the centre-back partnership, which could affect this team's performance.

UKRAINE

Coach: Andriy Shevchenko

Roster: Click here to view the full roster.

Possible starting XI:

4-3-3: (GK) Pyatov – (D) Karavaev, Kryvtsov, Matviyenko, Mykolenko – (M) Shaparenko, Stepanenko, Zinchenko – (F) Malinovskyi, Yaremchuk, Marlos

SCHEDULE

June 13, 3 p.m. ET: vs. Netherlands
June 17, 9 a.m. ET: vs. North Macedonia
June 21, 12 p.m. ET: vs. Austria

ODDS

To win group: +450
To win tournament: +10000

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Most important player: Ruslan Malinovskyi. The 28-year-old is a threat in both open play and set pieces with his clever movement, vision and powerful shot.

Breakout player to watch: Mykola Shaparenko. The Dynamo Kyiv midfielder could be one of the most underrated youngsters at the Euros. His attacking flair and vision are two qualities that'll be on full display.

Biggest strength: Midfield. This might be a running theme for this group because like their opponents, Ukraine has a wealth of options, many of whom are entering the tournament in great form with their clubs.

Biggest weakness: Goalkeeper. Andriy Pyatov has become error prone in his advanced age, especially with the ball at his feet or when claiming crosses under pressure. He may not even be the No. 1 if Andriy Shevchenko's recent selection in friendlies is any evidence.

Burning question: Who'll start in attack? The projected starters could easily make way for the likes of Roman Bezus, Viktor Tsyhankov and Artem Besyedin, which is also dependent on Andriy Shevchenko sticking to a 4-3-3. He's experimented with 4-1-4-1 and a back three in the last 12 months, so there is the potential of Shevchenko mixing it up.

AUSTRIA

Coach: Franco Foda

Roster:

Possible starting XI:

4-2-3-1: (GK) Pervan – (D) Lainer, Dragovic, Hinteregger, Ulmer – (DM) Grillitsch, Alaba – (AM) Schaub, Sabitzer, Baumgartner – (F) Kalajdzic

SCHEDULE

June 13, 12 p.m. ET: vs. North Macedonia
June 17, 3 p.m. ET: vs. Netherlands
June 21, 12 p.m. ET: vs. Ukraine

ODDS

To win group: +500
To win tournament: +12500

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Most important player: David Alaba. There's no other way to describe how complete Alaba is besides "he can play three positions at a world-class level." At Euro 2020, it'll be in midfield so expect him to orchestrate and control most games Austria plays.

Breakout player to watch: Sasa Kalajdzic. The young striker has recently cracked the starting lineup and has scored three goals in five caps. Should he retain his place, Kalajdzic might be the answer to Austria's only potential weak area.

Biggest strength: Squad depth. Most of Austria's players finished their domestic seasons in top form and there are several options to choose from across the pitch. That could be crucial in a tournament with quick turnarounds between games after a gruelling club campaign as well.

Biggest weakness: Striker. Outside of Kalajdzic, who had a tremendous debut season in the Bundesliga with 15 goals in 30 games for Stuttgart, no other No. 9 has played to that same level. Austria's options off the bench don't inspire confidence if it requires a goal.

Burning question: Is Austria a dark-horse candidate? Given that there was essentially 12 months of nonstop action in Europe, national teams who have chemistry, contain in-form players and have the depth to rotate could reign supreme. Austria ticks all of those boxes.

NORTH MACEDONIA

Coach: Igor Angelovski

Roster: Click here to view the full roster.

Possible starting XI:

3-4-1-2: (GK) Dimitrievski – (D) Bejtulai, Velkovski, Musliu – (M) Ristovski, Bardi, Ademi, Alioski – (AM) Elmas – (F) Pandev, Trajkovski

SCHEDULE

June 13, 12 p.m. ET: vs. Austria
June 17, 9 a.m. ET: vs. Ukraine
June 21, 12 p.m. ET: vs. Netherlands

ODDS

To win group: +2500
To win tournament: +50000

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Most important player: Goran Pandev. Having won almost everything at club level, the 37-year-old will finally play at an international tournament and you can bet he'll be motivated.

Breakout player to watch: Eljif Elmas. Now a permanent starter at Napoli, the 21-year-old midfielder can be deployed as a box-to-box midfielder with his defensive qualities and vision, or further up the pitch as a No. 10 to utilize his creativity.

Biggest strength: Chance creation. Thanks to a couple of technically gifted midfielders, combined with Pandev's and Aleksandar Trajkovski's finishing, North Macedonia is a surprisingly potent side. The other three sides in Group C should be on high alert.

Biggest weakness: Defence. Igor Angelovski has experimented with a few different formations but he might opt for a 3-5-2 or 3-4-1-2 due to the squad's defensive deficiencies. They've conceded 1.25 expected goals per 90 minutes over the last calendar year, and they haven't faced many traditional giants in that span.

Burning question: Can North Macedonia do the unthinkable? The debutants have the longest odds of both winning the tournament and to win Group C, but who's to say it can't advance as one of the best third-place sides, especially with some of their players entering the tournament on a high.

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