UEFA Euro 2020 Group C preview: Why there’s reason to have doubts about Netherlands

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It may not be stocked with tournament favorites but Group C offers an intriguing blend of teams familiar and fresh to Euro 2020, from debutants North Macedonia to a Netherlands side that have the talent to overcome the doubts many have over their ability to perform this summer. Here’s all you need to know on this group:

Fixtures and how to watch

(All times U.S./Eastern. Stream every game on fuboTV — Try for free)

Sunday, June 13
Austria vs. North Macedonia (Arena Nationala, Bucharest, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Netherlands vs. Ukraine (Johan Cruyff Arena, Amsterdam, 3p.m. ET, ESPN)

Thursday, June 17
Ukraine vs. North Macedonia (Arena Nationala, Bucharest, 9 a.m. ET, ESPN)
Netherlands vs. Austria (Johan Cruyff Arena, Amsterdam, 3p.m. ET, ESPN)

Monday, June 21
North Macedonia vs. Netherlands (Johan Cruyff Arena, Amsterdam, 12p.m. ET, ESPN)
Ukraine vs. Austria (Arena Nationala, Bucharest, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Group favorites

Perhaps more so than any other group this is tough to call though oddsmakers have Netherlands as strong frontrunners for Group C. On paper there should be no reason to doubt that; even without Virgil van Dijk a defense that includes the likes of Matthijs de Ligt, Daley Blind and Stefan de Vrij should be able to hold firm while further forward Frenkie De Jong, Georginio Wijnaldum and Lyon forward Memphis Depay offer an impressive range of skills.

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The reason for doubts are twofold. Firstly that this young Dutch squad that has missed so many tournaments is neither experienced enough to make a major leap at Euro 2020 nor stocked with quality in every position, for instance in terms of full-backs and game changers off the bench. Then there is the coach. The harsh reality is Frank de Boer has not been a positive managerial force for most of the teams he has managed in recent years. The same is true of the Netherlands, a job he was parachuted into after Ronald Koeman’s abrupt departure to Barcelona. They faltered in the Nations League, have already lost to Turkey in World Cup qualifying and twice had to come back against Scotland in a pre-tournament friendly.

If a team is to pip them to first spot it might be Ukraine. Unlike the Dutch they are settled in the dugout, where Andriy Shevchenko is greatly admired for the progress his side made in European Championships qualifying and there is quality in abundance across the midfield and wide areas. Atlanta’s Ruslan Malinovskyi, Oleksandr Zinchenko from Manchester City and winger Viktor Tsygankov are among those who could do damage to Dutch hopes. If Roman Yarenchuk hits scoring form then they may yet claim Group C.

In the mix

It is a little hard to get excited about Austria. A talented group of players who spent most of their pre-tournament friendly against England trying to kick their opponents out of the game, they have the look of a team that will be a hard out for opponents but may not really cause a host of upsets. Still there is quality in key areas, not least soon-to-be Real Madrid defender David Alaba and Red Bull Leipzig’s excellent Marcel Sabitzer.

David Alaba has played his final match for Bayern Munich before moving to Real Madrid this summer
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Franco Foda also has one new addition to his squad who will doubtless have been delighted by the tournament’s 12 month delay. A year ago Sasa Kalajdzic had not even made his debut for Das Team but his outstanding form in the Bundesliga with Stuttgart means he should lead an attack that with Sabitzer and Marko Arnautovic in support may yet be able to weigh in with plenty of goals.

Outsiders

It is rarely a wise move to entirely write off nations that have reached the European Championships thanks to intangible qualities such as work rate, unity and a tight bond. The likes of Iceland, Greece and Wales have shown in past tournaments that it can take you a long way even without experience. North Macedonia will be hoping to follow in their footsteps in their first ever international tournament.

There is quality in Igor Angelovski’s side, who made it to the competition by virtue of their performance in the bottom tier of the Nations League and a playoff, not least the great veteran Goran Pandev. Add in the likes of Elif Elmas and Ezgjan Alioksi and there are match winners that could make them contenders for third place but they will be hard pushed to go much beyond that.

Game to watch

Austria vs. North Macedonia, Sunday, June 13: If only because it is their first ever appearance on the big stage and that might bring with it the greatest chance of an upset, it would be a shame to miss North Macedonia’s bow at the European Championships, particularly in a group with few really exciting contests.

Star players

Ukraine, Oleksandr Zinchenko: Deployed at left back for Manchester City, Zinchenko tends to slot into his natural midfield role for Ukraine where his education under Pep Guardiola allows him to dictate the more adventurous style of play Shevchenko’s team strive for. 

Netherlands, Memphis Depay: Whether questions over a future move to Barcelona will cloud his tournament remain unknowable for now but Depay at least looks to have shaken them off beforehand. He was exceptional in scoring the goals in a 2-2 draw with Scotland, his fourth and fifth in five games for the national team this year. Indeed since the start of 2018 his 30 caps have brought 18 goals.

Austria, David Alaba: Such is Alaba’s quality Austrian managers have on occasion felt compelled to try him elsewhere with the sense that left back hardly offers the perfect canvas for a player of such multi-faceted skills. Even if he does play there he will doubtless be able to have a major impact on his side’s performance if he finds his best form.

North Macedonia, Goran Pandev: At 37 he is older than the country he represents but he is still making major contributions for the cause, not least one of the two goals scored in a win over Germany in Duisburg and the strike in a playoff against Georgia that sent them to the finals. He says this tournament will “probably” be where his career ends. Pandev will be desperate to say farewell on a high noted.

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