Euro 2020 Group A preview: Italy faces stiff tests in competitive group

Italy's Leonardo Bonucci, centre reacts after scoring against Greece, during the Euro 2020 group J qualifying soccer match between Greece and Italy at Olympic stadium in Athens, Saturday, June 8, 2019. (Yorgos Karahalis/AP)

With three teams in the top 20 in the current FIFA world rankings – Italy (No. 7), Switzerland (No. 13) and Wales (No. 17) – and featuring a dark horse contender in Turkey (No. 29), Group A figures to be one of the most intriguing and balanced first-round groups at Euro 2020.

The Azzurri have a major advantage, as they’ll play their opening-round games in Rome, and are the only team in Group A that will enjoy home comforts. But the Swiss, Welsh and Turks aren’t pushovers, and all three should give the Italians very stiff tests in what promises to be an ultra-competitive group.

Group A also features a number of marquee players with a point to prove following lacklustre campaigns at club level, with Wales’ Gareth Bale and Granit Xhaka of Switzerland topping the list.


Coach: Roberto Mancini


Possible starting XI:

4-3-3 – (GK) Donnarumma – (D) Emerson, Chiellini, Bonucci, Florenzi – (M) Locatelli, Verratti, Pellegrini – (F) Insigne, Berardi, Immobile


June 11, 3 p.m. ET: vs. Turkey
June 16, 3 p.m. ET: vs. Switzerland
June 20, 12 p.m. ET: vs. Wales


To win group: -180
To win tournament: +950


Most important player: Lazio’s Ciro Immobile is coming off an impressive 20-goal campaign in Serie A, after winning the European Golden Shoe in 2019-20 as the leading scorer in all of European club soccer with 36 goals. Although primarily a striker, Immobile can be deployed anywhere across the front line, and is known for his work off the ball to get into dangerous scoring positions, as well as his finishing ability in front of goal.

Breakout player to watch: Manuel Locatelli is truly an unheralded midfielder, one of Italy’s under-appreciated gems, and a key figure for a Sassuolo side that has punched above its weight in Serie A. Elegant in possession and a sublime deep-lying playmaker, the 23-year-old is keen to make a big impression in his first major tournament for the Azzurri.

Biggest strength: Italy is historically known for its defence, and that remains the case with Roberto Mancini’s squad, who conceded just four goals and registered six clean sheets in 10 qualifying matches. With experienced defenders such as Juventus's duo Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini and Rafael Tolói of Atalanta, Italy will prove to be very difficult for their opponents to break down.

Biggest weakness: It’s not like Italy can’t score goals, because it can, as evidenced by the 37 it bagged in 10 qualifying games. But Italy’s group of veteran forwards has underwhelmed when called up for national team duty, raising concerns about who will be the main reference point in attack and provide the goals at Euro 2020.

Burning question: Who will lead the attacking charge for Italy? While Immobile is a proven goal-scorer at club level for Lazio, he’s been far less prolific for Italy. The same goes for Lorenzo Insigne of Napoli and Torino’s Andrea Belotti, so it’ll be interesting to see if Italy’s under-performing attackers can come good this summer.


Coach: Vladimir Petković

Roster: Click here to view full roster.

Possible starting XI:

3-4-3 – (GK) Sommer – (D) Elvedi, Akanji, Rodriguez – (M) Widmer, Freuler, Xhaka, Vargas – (F) Shaqiri, Seferović, Embolo


June 12, 9 a.m. ET: vs. Wales
June 16, 3 p.m. ET: vs. Italy
June 20, 12 p.m. ET: vs. Turkey


To win group: +450
To win tournament: +8000


Most important player: Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka is the glue that holds together the Swiss midfield with his consistency, stability and strength. Technically gifted and a veteran leader, it’ll be up to him to inspire and guide the Swiss team’s younger players.

Breakout player to watch: Ruben Vargas, 22, is a promising Swiss prospect who has enjoyed a pair of successful seasons in the Bundesliga with FC Augsburg. Adept at playing on either flank, he can also be deployed as a forward, and is easily Switzerland's most exciting attacker.

Biggest strength: Far from flashy, the Swiss find a way to grind out results. Vladimir Petković’s team was far from all-conquering during the qualifiers, but they topped a difficult group that included Denmark and Ireland – and they did it without Xherdan Shaqiri, who missed the qualifying campaign through injury.

Biggest weakness: In a word, depth. Looking past the starting 11, there isn’t a great number of quality players waiting to come off the bench. Even a regular starter such as Shaqiri can blow hot and cold, especially after barely featuring for Liverpool the last two Premier League seasons.

Burning question: Much has been expected of Petković since he took over seven years ago, but he’s only managed the team to a pair of unflattering round-of-16 exits at Euro 2016 and the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Can he finally lead the Rossocrociati through to the next stage at a major tournament?


Coach: Şenol Güneş

Roster: Click here to view full roster.

Possible starting XI:

4-5-1 – (GK) Çakır – (D) Meraş, Söyüncü, Kabak, Çelik – (M) Yokuşlu, Tufan, Çalhanoğlu, Antalyalı, Ünder – (F) Tosun


June 11, 3 p.m. ET: vs. Italy
June 16, 12 p.m. ET: vs. Wales
June 20, 12 p.m. ET: vs. Switzerland


To win group: +600
To win tournament: +6000


Most important player: Chisel-jawed centre back Çağlar Söyüncü is the unheralded quarterback of Turkey’s stout four-man backline. He’s not only strong in the air, but he’s also comfortable in possession and can effectively distribute the ball out from the back.

Breakout player to watch: Cengiz Ünder, a 24-year-old winger, is a dynamic player who is quick on the dribble and can unbalance defenders with his quickness and acceleration.

Biggest strength: With only three goals against, Turkey boasted the best defensive record (tied with Belgium) of the Euro qualifiers. They posted eight clean sheets in 10 games, including an impressive home win over France, the reigning World champions. This is a stingy Turkish side that makes opponents work hard for their goals.

Biggest weakness: Turkey’s goalkeeping situation doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Starter Uğurcan Çakır only has a handful of caps to his credit and isn’t terribly experienced at club level, either.

Burning question: Şenol Güneş became a national icon when he steered Turkey to third place at the 2002 World Cup. That side is remembered as the golden generation, but can he do it again with what on paper looks to be an equally talented Turkish team?


Coach: Rob Page


Possible starting XI:

3-4-3 – (GK) Ward – (D) Rodon, Lawrence, Mepham – (M) N. Williams, Ampadu, Allen, C. Roberts – (F) Bale, James, Wilson


June 12, 9 a.m. ET: vs. Switzerland
June 16, 12 p.m. ET: vs. Turkey
June 20, 12 p.m. ET: vs. Italy


To win group: +650
To win tournament: +15000


Most important player: Gareth Bale is one of Wales’ most experienced veterans, and with 33 international goals to his credit, he’s the team’s best scoring threat by quite some distance. After a mediocre season at Tottenham, he’ll be anxious to prove he can still produce at the highest level this summer.

Breakout player to watch: At 28, Kieffer Moore isn’t your normal “breakout” player candidate. But he just had a 20-goal season for Cardiff City in the English Championship, easily his best campaign as a pro. Moore only debuted for Wales two years ago, but he made up for lost time by scoring twice during the qualifiers, tied for the team lead with Bale and Aaron Ramsey.

Biggest strength: This is a young and energetic Welsh side that uses its pace to explosive effect on the counter-attack. There’s also a fearlessness about them – Wales doesn’t sit back, but rather, it runs right at opponents and tries to play the game on its terms.

Biggest weakness: Key players such as Bale (at Tottenham) and Ramsey (with Juventus) are coming off club seasons in which they weren’t at top form. If two of its most important players can’t produce, Wales is going to be in big trouble at the Euros.

Burning question: Manager Ryan Giggs successfully guided Wales through the qualifiers, but his arrest on assault charges last year means caretaker boss Robert Page will lead the team into battle at Euro. Can the Welsh team overcome the distraction of the Giggs situation and come together under their inexperienced, interim manager?

John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for a number of media outlets, including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. To check out TFC Republic, CLICK HERE.

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