Beginning with Italy-Turkey on Friday, 24 teams will compete in 11 cities across Europe. Who will win the Golden Boot? What should we expect from the “group of death”? The Ringer staff makes picks for that and more.
1. What group-stage match are you most excited to watch?
Michael Baumann: Everyone’s going to pick France-Germany, so I want to take something else, but choosing any other matchup feels overly cute. So France-Germany.
Steve Ceruti: Portugal vs. France. You have the defending World Cup champions, France, taking on the defending European champions, Portugal. These are two of the most talented teams in the world, they have serious attacking firepower, and they join Germany in the tournament’s “group of death.” They’ll meet in the final group-stage match, and chances are both will need a result to improve their chances at reaching the knockout stage.
Kevin Clark: I’m a sucker for a good England-Scotland game, so I’m excited for that, but I’m most intrigued by France-Germany. I need a vibe check on Germany, who have one of the deepest squads in the world but have been in the wilderness for a few years. Going against France early will probably spell out where they are quite clearly.
Ryan Hunn: Portugal vs. France. A repeat of the 2016 final, and with Germany in the group, too, it could be crucial.
Aric Jenkins: England vs. Scotland. Sure, any of the matches from the aforementioned Group F will have even higher stakes than usual, but we generally expect the heavyweights to encounter each other as the tournament progresses. In the meantime, we should embrace the group stage’s opportunities to explore unique matchups beyond each team’s footballing aptitude. England and Scotland have at least 700 years of beef with each other yet somehow are part of the same country, a fact that a significant portion of the Scottish population resents! Another fact: England vs. Scotland is the oldest international fixture in the world, dating back to 1872. Add in the narrative of Scotland’s first Euros qualification in 25 years, England’s long-term desire to bring football home, and the match being played in London, and we’ve got a cauldron of nationalism ready to bubble all over the pitch.
Kaelen Jones: Portugal vs. France. A healthy Cristiano Ronaldo, João Félix, N’Golo Kanté, Karim Benzema, and Kylian Mbappé could make this even more fun than when these teams met in the 2016 final.
Musa Okwonga: France-Portugal. The world champions and finalists last time around against the defending champions and one of the most resilient sides in the game. An intriguing early bout.
Brian Phillips: England vs. Scotland, because I enjoy a friendly sporting rivalry between allies with no bad blood or historical resentment at all.
2. If you were creating a starting 11 and had your choice of any player in the Euros, who would it be?
Baumann: N’Golo Kanté, France. Best work rate in the tournament, even better vibes.
Ceruti: Give me N’Golo Kanté. Playing with Kanté is like playing with 12 guys out there. He might be the most uniquely valuable player in the world and covers up so many problems. I’d argue he’s more valuable to France than Mbappé (who’d be my second pick) and he doesn’t need service to impact a game like Cristiano Ronaldo or Robert Lewandowski. Give me Kanté and I’ll add attacking players later in this hypothetical fantasy draft.
Clark: If it’s just for these Euros, I would pick Kylian Mbappé. Still only 22, he’s capable of things on the pitch no one else is. Erling Haaland not being in the tournament makes this one an easy decision for me.
Hunn: N’Golo Kanté. Few sides have a more complete or crucial midfielder.
Jenkins: Harry Kane, England. The only other thing as critical as scoring goals is making them, and Kane led the league this past season in both, nabbing the Premier League’s Golden Boot and Playmaker Award with 23 goals and 14 assists.
Jones: There are a handful of brilliant attackers I’d be content with later on. There’s only one N’Golo Kanté. (Sorry, Mbappé.)
Okwonga: Kylian Mbappé. His form has been patchy at times this season, but he can elevate his game like few others, and he seems to love doing so for France.
Phillips: I’m taking Robert Lewandowski and his 143 goals in 134 games for Bayern. Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player ever to feature in this tournament, a past winner, and not that far off his prime; Kylian Mbappé is literally a laser beam; and Lewandowski hasn’t exactly torn up the last couple of international tournaments he’s played in (though he was playing for Poland, and in this thought exercise he’s playing for my cool bespoke mystery team that will be custom drafted to complement his skill set). Still, nobody scores more goals. Let’s not overthink this.
3. Pick an underdog to make a deep run.
Baumann: Denmark. Really solid midfield with one elite string-puller in Christian Eriksen. Three home games in an easy group—if they don’t get at least four points off Finland and Russia I’d be shocked—and a draw that lets them avoid a group winner even if they finish second in Group B.
Ceruti: I really like Denmark on paper. They’re stacked at center back and have Leicester City’s Kasper Schmeichel in goal. They’re not deep in the midfield but have two really good players in Eriksen and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. My only concern is whether they’ll be able to score goals consistently enough, but they have some underrated attacking talent. I think they get out of their group and become a sneakily dangerous team in a knockout matchup.
Clark: This tournament seems primed for an underdog run: Talent-stacked Group F (Germany, Portugal, and France) could result in big teams getting unfavorable paths in the knockout stages or getting eliminated early. The lack of a true host means things might get a little weird as far as home-field advantage goes. I’m intrigued. If I had to pick a sleeper to make a little run, it’s Denmark, a team with some really interesting talent: Christian Eriksen, Kasper Schmeichel, Andreas Christensen, and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, among many others. I like teams without many holes and with a lot of depth, and Denmark has that. I’m in. Denmark are around +2500 at most sportsbooks, which is among the best odds after the traditional European powers, so this isn’t exactly Leicester City in 2016. I don’t think they are on many radars for a deep run. They should be.
Jenkins: I like Turkey. Their group is totally up for grabs, with Italy being the favorite—but what does that mean if the Italians didn’t even qualify for the last World Cup? Wales had a miracle run at the last Euros, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to bet on that again. And my feelings on Switzerland’s chances are just like its historic diplomatic policy: extremely neutral. Turkey, meanwhile, has a quietly impressive squad that went on a fine run of form in the months preceding the tournament: just one loss in the last 10 matches, with a statement 4-2 win over Holland in World Cup qualifying. Key man Burak Yilmaz scored a hat trick in that game; the man is 35, yet absolutely balling out at Lille, scoring 16 goals for the team that shocked PSG to claim the Ligue 1 title. On the right side, Mehmet Zeki Celik (full back) and Yusuf Yazici (winger) were also important components of Lille’s title victory and will hope to carry that form into the national team. Turkey’s highest-profile star is probably center back Caglar Soyuncu, who’s impressed at Leicester City for the past couple seasons now. Don’t rule out the Crescent Stars!
Jones: Croatia (+4000).
Okwonga: Finland. Every tournament has an unfancied team with just enough firepower and nous to get out of the group, so I am rooting for Teemu Pukki and Co.
Phillips: Italy seems like a weird underdog pick, but the Azzurri are a strong team, enter the tournament with a 22-match unbeaten run behind them, and are playing in a fairly manageable group with Turkey, Switzerland, and Wales. Don’t sleep on Italy! Soccer is big there, I’ve heard.
4. Pick a young player (21 or younger) that will make an impact.
Baumann: Jude Bellingham, England. Jordan Henderson is washed. Let the kid cook.
Ceruti: Even though I think his team is a little overhyped, I’m really excited to see what Phil Foden does for England. They have a lot of young players who get a ton of hype (Jadon Sancho, Mason Mount, Declan Rice, and Bellingham, to name a few) but I think Foden is head and shoulders above the rest. He proved this season at Manchester City that he’s a real talent capable of performing on the big stage at just 20—let’s see if he can do it for the Three Lions as well.
Clark: One of the major changes in the past decade or so is that smarter scouting, and the internet, has made it less likely that a young player will emerge from nowhere in an international tournament and become a star. A player like Pedri, Phil Foden, or Jadon Sancho is already playing significant roles for huge clubs, and a major tournament will not be their star turn. However, I do think it’s possible we see a player like Sweden’s Alexander Isak break onto the world stage by banging in a few goals. The 21-year-old is not obscure by any means—Dortmund signed him at age 17, paying the largest fee for any player from the Swedish league. He didn’t settle at Dortmund and transferred to Real Sociedad in 2019, and he scored 17 goals in 34 appearances this season. He’s been linked to a move to a handful of bigger clubs after the tournament, and it’s highly possible his price might be going up in a month’s time.
Hunn: Bellingham. He’s played way more than expected in his first year at Borussia Dortmund and passed every test he’s faced. If he plays, I think he will pass this one, too.
Jenkins: Foden just started in the Champions League final for an obscenely stacked Manchester City squad, so I’m gonna guess he’ll have no problem getting into the England 11. Regardless of the loss to Chelsea, the kid is really good.
Jones: Ferran Torres, Spain.
Okwonga: João Félix, Portugal. Sublimely skilled speedster who will be playing with the hand brake off.
5. Who will be the biggest disappointment?
Baumann: Italy. Old-ass backline, three group-stage opponents with a pulse, and it’s going to be too hot in Rome for Roberto Mancini to wear a scarf during the group stage.
Ceruti: England are cofavorites with France to win the whole thing. Hasn’t history taught us anything? This is not a team you trust in major tournaments! Sure they’re talented, but I don’t think they know what their best formation is to utilize all that talent and I’m not sold on Gareth Southgate as the manager. Plus if they win their group, they’ll likely have to play one of France, Germany, or Portugal in the Round of 16. I don’t see them improving upon their semifinal finish at the 2018 World Cup.
Clark: England are not going to win this tournament—in fact, when looking at the brutal bracket they’re in, they could lose in the first knockout round. If they win Group D, a route that would see them playing their first knockout game in London, they’d likely have to face one of France, Germany, or Portugal in the first knockout game. Barring any major upsets, Spain would be waiting for them after that if they advanced. England is a young team with a good future: Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho, and a handful of others will be legitimate stars for the team in the years to come, but I simply think there are better teams in this tournament and England’s draw will send them straight at those teams.
Jenkins: Holland. Frank de Boer has no idea what he’s doing, does he? Granted they’ll get out of their group, because it has the likes of North Macedonia in it, but expect them to promptly crash out in the knockouts. Germany going out in the Group of Death (that’s my pick, anyway) would be a more honorable achievement.
Jones: Timo Werner in prime scoring position.
Okwonga: Germany. This could be a disastrous prediction, but every list of predictions must have at least one hot take and this is mine. They have the talent to win it all and so anything less than a semifinal spot will be a disappointment.
Phillips: Let’s break this down from a few angles.
A. The English media, despite being famously gun-shy, has decided that England is the favorite to win the tournament.
B. English soccer culture famously overreacts to every single thing that happens.
C. It is statistically pretty unlikely that England will win the tournament, even if it is the favorite, which is … debatable.
D. If England loses in, say, the quarterfinals, after weeks of foaming-at-the-mouth hype, I can’t even imagine how the country would react. It might overthrow the government. It might try to stage a Brexit from itself.
E. Considering all these factors, and also the fact that the best way to prevent an outcome from happening is to predict it too confidently, it seems crystal clear to me that the biggest disappointment in this tournament will be Switzerland.
6. Who has the best kit?
Baumann: The best individual look is Finland’s home kit. Just wear the flag. Wales has the best overall set, home and away.
Ceruti: Admittedly, I’m a bit of a Nike homer. I just think they make the cleanest kits with the best designs, which is why I’m picking Portugal. Both kits are great but I particularly love the light teal away kit with the black, red, and green horizontal stripes. It helps that Cristiano Ronaldo is wearing it too. Honorable mention goes to Finland’s white home kit.
Clark: If I supported Portugal I may never take off their away kit.
Hunn: Portugal away, Sweden home, and France home. All beautiful.
Jenkins: Having looked at all 48 (home and away) kits I can confidently state that the Russia away kit is CLEAN AF and I would gladly rock it to any event barring my own wedding. Baby showers are totally fair game, though.
Okwonga: Belgium. It’s so smart, you’d look like an ambassador wearing that.
Phillips: Honestly I think it’s a down year for kits overall—every country seems to want to do that tone-on-tone subtly-shining-leaves-on-the-forest-floor pattern-effect thing on their chests, which to my eye makes the kits look like somebody accidentally ran silk sheets through the wash—but the all-black Germany kit is kind of stunning. I wouldn’t, like, wear it on my body, but if I were an opposing player, and I was out there doing my little pre-match warmup in my subtly glittery off-red jersey with smart green stripes, and the opposite tunnel suddenly disgorged this phalanx of sporty Sith lords in Yohji Yamamoto x the Grim Reaper kits of doom, I would be terrified.
7. Who’s your Golden Boot pick?
Baumann: I think Memphis Depay puts five past North Macedonia and the Dutch stay in the tournament just long enough for him to hold off anyone who goes deeper.
Ceruti: Give me Romelu Lukaku. He’s in the form of his life right now. Belgium is clearly the best team in its group, so Lukaku should be able to rack up some goals there, and they’re probably looking at a deep run as one of the most talented teams in the tournament.
Clark: I suppose this would have to go to the best volume scorer on a team that I think will go far. That means Belgium’s star, Romelu Lukaku, who I think will probably be scoring goals into the semifinals or so. Lukaku had 24 goals in 36 Serie A appearances this season and, unbelievably, has scored 39 goals in his last 35 appearances with Belgium dating back to 2018. There are better forwards in this tournament, but Lukaku seems most set up for goals. Add in Kevin De Bruyne’s recent injury and the Belgian squad might need Lukaku more than ever.
Hunn: Karim Benzema, if France makes a deep run.
Jenkins: I’m gonna go with Lukaku. The man is in the form of his life and just brought home the Serie A title to Inter for the first time in more than a decade. It’s the perfect conditions for one to be feeling himself, and everyone knows strikers thrive off of feeling themselves. Also, he’s surrounded by Kevin De Bruyne (if he’s healthy) and Eden Hazard. The Belgium squad is easily good enough to go deep into the tournament, and hence provide Lukaku with more games to score in.
Jones: Kylian Mbappé.
Okwonga: Romelu Lukaku. I can see him taking his superb Serie A form right into this tournament.
Phillips: Timo Werner? If you believe in regression to the mean, after the season he’s had, he should score 400 goals in this tournament.
8. Which two teams will make the final and who will win?
Baumann: France over England … (looks around and tugs collar) … on penalties.
Ceruti: In a rematch from 2016, France gets their revenge and beats Portugal 3-1 in an all-Group F final. Too much talent and too much depth from this French team.
Clark: I have a rematch of a group game and a rematch of the last final. Same result, too. Portugal over France.
Hunn: France vs. Spain, with France winning.
Jenkins: Let me just first say there is a very specific format to how the knockout rounds will be seeded, adding in the new third-place qualifier as well group runner-ups and so on—it’s a lot to predict! So just off the basis of strength alone, even if it’s not actually possible for the matchup to play out … I’ll go with France vs. Portugal, a rematch of the Group of Death. The game goes to penalties and Ronaldo misses his, only for France to botch a couple and for Bruno Fernandes to score the winner, cementing him as the penalty-god heir to CR7 and bringing back-to-back Euro titles to Portugal.
Jones: France beats Portugal, 3-2.
Okwonga: France-Turkey; France wins. Turkey are canny as hell, have experience and swagger to burn, and exude extreme dark-horse energy. But I think that France will win this arm wrestle.
Phillips: England will definitely not lose to Germany en route to the final—it absolutely will not happen—so I’ll say France-England, with France winning on penalties, just like in the Hundred Years’ War.