Monthly Archives: June 2021

UEFA EURO 2020: Group Stage With One Game To Go

To be among the 16 to qualify, it takes two wins to guarantee. The only way it could ever be possible for a team with two wins not qualifying is if all six groups had three teams with two wins and a loss. And that’s extremely unlikely. Whatever the situation, all four teams of each of the six groups have played two games and there are a lot of telling stats. Three have qualified already while twenty others still have the last game as one last chance, and only one is officially out. Here’s how the groups look so far. Those who have already qualified are bolded:

GROUP A:

Italy came to Euro 2020 with the hope of redeeming their reputation in the football world. They delivered 3-0 wins against Turkey and Switzerland to guarantee themselves qualification for the Round of 16. Wales’ 2-0 win over Turkey and 1-1 draw against Switzerland put them in very good chances of qualifying.

For the next game, Italy could lose to Wales and they’d still qualify, but I’m sure they’d want to win or at least draw so that they can keep their #1 status. Wales’ chances of qualifying are healthy, but they would have to win to take the lead in Group A, draw to guarantee 2nd place, or rely on their game stats and goal differentials if they were to lose to Italy. Switzerland will have to win over Turkey if they want to qualify. A draw won’t cut it as game stats and goal differentials decide the four third-placers that qualify. And Turkey will need nothing less than a win for them to have a chance. They’ve lost to Italy and Wales. Only a win against Switzerland will do if they are to have any chance of qualifying.

GROUP B

Many touted Belgium as the team most likely to win Group B based on their third-place finish at the 2018 World Cup. With two wins, they’ve already guaranteed a qualification no matter how bad their game against Finland goes. They haven’t completely guaranteed the #1 spot. If Finland beats Belgium they will be the #1 team as a result of head-to-head play.

With Russia and Finland having a win under their belts, drawing can guarantee a 2nd place for Russia and a 3rd-place for Finland which would have to rely on their wildcard stats to qualify. However I’m sure Neither of the teams simply want to draw in their last matches on Monday. Denmark is in the uncomfortable position that they will need to win against Russia if they are to have any chance to qualify. It would not surprise me if the Danish team has been shaken since the collapse of Christian Eriksen. That’s a shocker he was dead for five minutes. It’s very good fortune that the first aid on the field did all the right stuff to resuscitate him and have him taken to a hospital. Actually since Eriksen’s cardiac arrest, it’s a reminder to us all that living is more important than winning.

GROUP C

Most groups would normally have a simple qualifier if they have two wins by now. Group C has an official first-place with the Netherlands! It was their two wins and big goal differential that did it! And I doubt if they will want to lose to North Macedonia in their last game!

The game of Ukraine vs. Austria will be the game for second-place in the group. If there’s a draw, Ukraine will have the advantage because of bigger scoring. Austria could qualify due to the combination of game results and goal differentials. If both qualify for the Round of 16, or either one, it will be their first time ever at the Euro that they do. As for North Macedonia, they have the misfortune of being the first team eliminated. Even if they win against the Netherlands and by a big margin, it won’t matter because of their head-to-head losses to Ukraine and Austria.

GROUP D

Interesting that Groups A to C already have a qualifier guaranteed while Groups D to F don’t have anything decided and it will take Matchday 3 to not just decide it all but decide anything. If if any team in those groups is guaranteed a Top 3 finish, that still doesn’t completely guarantee them qualification. Focusing on Group D, Both first-matches for the group’s teams resulted in wins, but both second-matches on Friday resulted in draws. That means with two teams having a win and a draw and two teams with a loss and a draw, none of the four have secured qualification and all four still have a chance in their third-matches on Tuesday.

In the match of the Czech Republic vs. England, the winner will naturally claim the #1 spot of Group D. If there’s a draw, the Czech Republic has the advantage with better goal differentials. However I’m sure both teams want to win. Croatia and Scotland both have a win and a draw. Croatia leads because of goal differentials and a draw would solidify Croatia to finish in third place, but that most likely won’t be enough to qualify. The six third-place teams will be ranked by game stats and goal differentials. Only the top four will qualify for the Round of 16, and two draws and a loss will most likely make Croatia one of the two third-place packing sooner than they hoped. So either Croatia or Scotland will have to win and nothing less if they want to secure qualification.

GROUP E

Like Group D, Group E has the difficulty of two draws causing the statistics to remain completely undecided for who will qualify. One thing that is certain is that all four still have chances to qualify and it’s up to Matchday 3 to decide it. Sweden has the best luck so far with a 1-0 win over Slovakia despite their scoreless draw against Spain. Despite the loss, Slovakia is second in ranks thanks to their 2-1 win over Poland. Spain, normally a powerhouse, has just two draws while Poland looks like their still waiting to deliver. They’re lucky they saved themselves against Spain 1-1.

Sweden has the luxury that they can qualify simply by drawing, but I doubt if they want a simple draw. Especially since Poland will be hungry for the win. The winner of Slovakia vs Spain will definitely qualify, but Slovakia will have better qualifying chances if they lose because of their win over Poland. You can be sure Spain want to win this. Attempting to qualify on a wildcard with three draws is pushing it. Possible, but pushing it. Also Poland requires nothing less than a win if they want to qualify. Two draws and a loss has very low chances of cutting it. Plus they’d have the added bonus that is they win over Sweden, they’d overtake Sweden in standings because of the head-to-head result!

GROUP F

Group F looked to be the Group Of Death. However a lot of lopsided play has turned a lot of things around unexpectedly. France is one team that has underperformed. One would usually expect a lot of big play from the team that are the reigning World Cup holders. However their 1-0 win over Germany came thanks to an own-goal from Germany’s Hummels and they drew 1-1 to Hungary. Drawing against Portugal will guarantee them qualification, but they will have to win if they want to prove themselves a worthy winner. Isn’t that something? A rematch of the Euro 2016 final happening in group play?

Germany has had it most interesting. They got a loss to France because of an own-goal, but a 4-2 win over Portugal thanks to two own-goals from the Portuguese! A draw against Hungary will guarantee them qualification, but Hungary won’t make it easy as they will want to win. Despite the loss, Portugal are still in good contention after their 3-0 win over Hungary. They can still qualify if they lose to France, but they would have to rely on goal differentials to see if their stats are good enough for the wildcard berth. Finally Hungary proved themselves strong players by drawing 1-1 against France, but they need nothing less than a win against Germany if they want to qualify. That’s how it is for them with just a loss and a draw.

And there you go. This is how things look right now with the teams of Euro 2020 with only one game to go. Matchday Three will finalize everything to decide the thirteen others who will advance and the seven others who will be packing for home sooner than they hoped. Looking forward to it!

UEFA EURO 2020: Group E and Group F Review

Interesting to note for this year’s qualifying teams, there are only two new teams competing this year: Finland and North Macedonia. Also this year are nine of the ten countries that have one at least one Euro title. Greece is the only former winner that didn’t qualify. The funny thing about football is that any team can win the Euro. There have been surprise victories before when the underdog came out the winner like Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004. It’s very possible a country that has never won a Euro before can win here.

Continuing on with my group reviews, I focus on Group E and Group F today.

GROUP E

For this group, this looks to be the most unpredictable. This group consists of two teams that are known for great play, but frequently fall short. It also has two teams that can go further than most people expect them to.

Spain (6) – La Furia Roja are an enigma. For so long they had been known as football’s greatest underachievers. However that all changed around the time of the late-noughts, early-2010’s. During that time, Spain won two straight Euros (2008 and 2012) and finally clinched the World Cup in 2010. After that, Spain lost their winning edge. They were stopped in the Group Stage of the 2014 World Cup and since then it’s been the Round of 16 at both Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.

Spain have been in a struggle to get their winning ways back. The current team has an all-Spanish team of coaches. Most of the players play for La Liga with six playing in England’s Premier League teams. Since the start of 2020, they’ve only had a single loss, to Ukraine. They would also beat Ukraine in that time as well as Germany, Switzerland and Lithuania. They also had draws against Greece and Portugal. Chances are Euro 2020 could be the domain for Spain to redeem itself.

Sweden (18) – One thing about football is never underestimate the Blågult. After a disappointing Group Stage ouster at Euro 2016, they came back with a World Cup qualifying surprise against Italy in the playoff round and would then go on to finish in the quarterfinals of the Cup. And this is after superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic retired from the national team!

You can thank coach Janne Andersson for the turnaround. Team Sweden’s players play for various leagues around Europe. They arrive at the Euro competition with a set of mixed results since the beginning of 2020. They’ve had losses to France, Portugal and Denmark, but they’ve also had wins against Russia, Croatia and Denmark. Whatever Sweden does here in Euro 2020, they have what it takes to deliver the unexpected.

Poland (21) – Making it to the quarterfinals of Euro 2016 has been Poland’s biggest Euro success ever. This is a team that has finished as high as third at two World Cups and three Olympic medals including gold in 1972. Unfortunately Poland didn’t get the breakthrough they were hoping for at the 2018 World Cup as they were out in the Group Stage. Robert Lewandowski didn’t even score a goal.

The current Polish team consists of players who mostly belong to teams in England’s Premier League and Italy’s Serie A. Poland has had mixed results in its play since the beginning of 2020. They’ve won against Bosnia, Finland and Ukraine, both also lost to England, Italy and the Netherlands. The Euro 2020 arena will be another chance for Poland to prove itself and what it’s made of.

Slovakia (36) – Slovakia is a team that is constantly under low expectations, but will surprise many of their naysayers. They’ve only qualified for a single World Cup back in 2010 and their first-ever Euro was the Euro 2016. In both cases, they progressed past the Group Stage into the Round of 16.

Here in Euro 2020, The Falcons hope to do much better. Their coaching staff is completely of Slovakian coaches and the players play for a wide variety of leagues throughout Europe. Slovakia have had a mixed set of results since the beginning of 2020. They’ve won over Russia, Scotland and Northern Ireland, drawn against Cyprus and R. O. Ireland, and lost to Israel and the Czech Republic. Anything can happen in Euro 2020 and the Slovaks have what it takes to pull a surprise.

My Prediction: For this group, I anticipate that Spain will top it and Sweden will come in second. I have a feeling Poland will come in third but may not have enough to earn the wildcard qualifying berth.

GROUP F

Of all the groups in Euro, this is the group most deserving of the title the Group Of Death. Two of them have won the World Cup in the past ten years, one is the defending Euro champion and the other is a former great looking to reclaim its greatness.

Hungary (37) – The Magyars have been hoping to regain the success their team used to have from the 1930’s to the 1960’s that carried them to two World Cup finals and three Olympic gold medals. For those that don’t know, the Euro began in 1960 and Hungary’s best-ever result is a third back in 1964. For a long time it seemed like their era was long over. However Euro 2016 showed signs of a comeback as the team qualified for the first time since 1972 and made the Round of 16.

The head coach is Italian Marco Rossi whose been hired since the 2018 World Cup. A majority of the players play for teams in the Hungarian league. Since 2020, they’ve only had a single loss to Russia, a single draw to Poland, and wins against Iceland, Serbia and Turkey. Not much is expected of Hungary here but they have what it takes to pull an upset in Euro 2020.

Portugal (5) – Portugal comes to Euro 2020 as the defending champions. They started the Group Stage with straight draws but came on in the knockout round winning all their games en route to the win. Unfortunately, they followed it up at the 2018 World Cup with an ouster in the Round of 16.

Fernando Santos, who coached them at Euro 2016 is still their head coach. Cristiano Ronaldo is their captain, but they also have a lot of other greats with the team like Pepe, Joao Moutinho and Rui Patricio. Since the start of 2020, they’ve only had a single loss, to France. They’ve had draws to Spain and Serbia, and wins against Croatia, Sweden and Israel. Portugal has made it as far as the semi-finals in four of the last five Euros. It’s highly likely the magic of the Navigators will be back in Euro 2020.

France (2) – France is a case of a success story that rose over time. They started after humiliation at the 2010 World Cup. Then became slow-and-steady progression with a quarterfinal finish at the 2014 World Cup to becoming runners-up at Euro 2016 to winning the World Cup in 2018.

Les Bleus is still coached by Didier DesChamps who has coached them since the 2012 Euro. Ironically there are more players on France’s team that play for Spain’s La Liga and England’s Premier League than in France’s Ligue 1! Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who is the team captain, plays for Tottenham Hotspur! For play, France has only had a single loss since the beginning of 2020, to Finland. They’ve won against Croatia, Sweden and Wales, but also had both a win and a draw against both Portugal and Ukraine. Euro 2020 could be the stage where France can claim their third title.

Germany (12) – The Mannschaft have always been known as a top contender in football, whether it be the World Cup or the Euro. Their win at the 2014 World Cup kept their reputation of consistency alive. However their reputation took a severe beating at the 2018 World Cup when they were ousted in the Group Stage. That made it the first World Cup in 80 years Germany failed to progress past the opening round. Some say it was because of a team that wasn’t together. Some even say it’s the ‘curse’ of the defending World Cup champion. Germany’s disappointment would continue as they struggled during the first year of the UEFA Nation’s League.

Despite the setbacks, Joachim Low is still the national coach. The current team features some of the 2014 World Cup alumni but mostly consists of a lot of new younger players. A majority of players play for Germany’s Bundesliga. Since the beginning of 2020, Germany have only had two losses: to Spain and North Macedonia. They’ve also drawn against Spain as well as Switzerland and Denmark and they’ve achieved wins over Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Iceland. A recent 7-1 win over Latvia shows the Mannschaft have something to prove. Euro 2020 could prove to be the domain for Germany to redeem themselves.

My Prediction: This is a tough one as even the best teams have shown some visible weaknesses. I predict Spain to top the group with Portugal second and Germany third, but with enough game stats to qualify as a wildcard.

And there you have it. That’s the last of my predictions for Euro 2020. Sure, a lot could be told. However we should remember that lots have changed since the pandemic and that could also mean the prowess of some teams. Those expected to fare well might now here. That’s why whenever I make my predictions, I tell people not to use them for gambling bets! Anyways this should be an exciting month with a lot of exciting play.

UEFA EURO 2020: Group C and Group D Review

Some people are surprised to see me do two Euro 2020 groups in a single post. I admit it’s a break from my usual tradition of doing a single blog per group. I’ve been busy with courses and getting used to new work at my job. Nevertheless it won’t stop me from doing my traditional football blogging. Euro 2020 is an event worth looking forward to. This time I will be blogging about groups C and D

GROUP C

Interesting this is the one group full of teams that failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Hard to believe that the 2022 World Cup is just a year away. Hard to believe qualifying matches have already been played and Euro hasn’t even started!

Netherlands (14) – All too often in a World Cup, there’s a semi-finalist that usually struggles to qualify for the next World Cup. Netherlands finished 3rd at the 2014, but the team had been lackluster since. For qualifying for Euro 2016, they fell prey to the Czechs, Turks and Icelandics. For World Cup qualification, they were shut out by France and Sweden.

Since their demise in 2018, they’ve hired a new coach Ronald Koeman, They’ve brought in a lot of new young talent to the team. Most of the players are from Dutch clubs. They’ve been successful in qualifying for this Euro. They’ve however had a mixed bag of results. They’ve won against Germany and Poland, drawn against Spain and Scotland, and lost to Italy, Mexico and Turkey. Whatever the situation, Euro 2020 will be a chance for the Netherlands to showcase their new team. A brand new Oranje!

Ukraine (24) – Ukraine is a team that struggles to define itself. It amazed the world when it got as far as the quarterfinals at the 2006 World Cup. However that’s been its only World Cup appearance. As far as Euros go, out in the Group Stage the two previous times. Their only win was against Sweden on home soil in 2012. 2016 was a disaster with losing all three of their matches.

Since 2016, the team has been coached by the legendary Andriy Shevchenko. Most of the players play for team sin the Ukrainian Premier League with four members playing with Belgian teams and two playing with teams in England’s Premier League. They were successful in qualifying for Euro, but their games since have shown them struggle. They’ve had wins against Switzerland and Northern Ireland, draws against Finland and France, and losses to Spain, France and Germany. They’ve been without a loss in 2020. Anything can happen in Euro 2020 for Ukraine.

Austria (23) – Austria is one team that used to do well in decades past, but struggles now. Their third-place at the 1954 World Cup is just a memory now. Actually the last World Cup they competed in was 1998. They came to Euro 2016 hoping to do better than the showing they did in Euro 2018 when they hosted, but they failed to muster a win there.

The current team hope to finally achieve their first-ever Euro win, and hopefully take it even further. Nineteen players play in Germany’s Bundesliga. Austria has an impressive record since the start of 2020. They’ve won against Norway, Greece, Northern Ireland and Romania, but they’ve also had a loss to Romania as well as losses to Denmark and England. Euro 2020 is another chance for Austria to show the football world what they’re capable of.

North Macedonia (62) – Just being at Euro 2020 should be enough to excite the fans of North Macedonia. This is the first time North Macedonia ever qualified for a major football tournament. The new format of the Euro qualifying which would allow for teams of smaller-populated countries to contend added to North Macedonia’s boost and allowed them to qualify. for those curious, their nickname is ‘Lavovi’ (The Lions).

North Macedonia’s players are in various clubs in Europe with most in Croatia, Italy, Spain and Cyprus. Since the start of 2020, they’ve had losses to Armenia and Romania, draws against Georgia, Estonia and Slovenia, and wins against Kazakhstan and Germany. Euro 2020 can be the ideal arena for North Macedonia to be the Cinderella team of the tournament.

My Prediction: I predict the Netherlands to top it with Austria in second and North Macedonia to come in third and advance as a wildcard.

GROUP D

The four teams of Group D really make for a lot of variety in terms of playing style and in terms of past achievements. Two of them even met during a World Cup semi-final! I’m saving the term the ‘group of death’ for another Euro group, but here It’s possible any two or three of the teams can qualify and go far.

England (4) – Team unity has normally been England’s biggest weakness. The Three Lions did the smart thing after Euro 2016 by ditching Roy Hodgson as coach and hiring Gareth Southgate. In two short years, England went to becoming a new team at the 2018 World Cup where they went as far as the semi-finals, had the best goal scorer with Harry Kane, and even won a World Cup match on penalty kicks for the first time ever!

England is hoping this success will continue on into Euro 2020. since the beginning of the year 2020 they’ve had a lot of excellent wins to Iceland, Republic of Ireland, Poland and Belgium, but they also had a loss to Belgium and lost to Denmark too. The furthest England has even gone in a Euro is the semifinals and England is hoping to make this their best Euro ever. This could very well be it.

Croatia (14) – Croatia come to this Euro looking to shed the bad memories of the fan disturbances during Euro 2016. They also come after their brilliant performance at the 2018 World Cup where Vatreni surprised everyone by making it to the World Cup final! They became the first nation with a population of under 5,000,000 to qualify for the World Cup final since 1950.

Zlatko Dalic is still coach of The Blazers. Since the start of 2020, they’ve struggled in play. They’ve had wins against Sweden and Switzerland and a draw against Turkey, but they’ve also had losses to Portugal, France and Belgium. One thing Croatia hopes to do at the very least during Euro is win their first-ever knockout match. Whatever the situation, Euro 2020 is the ideal arena for Vatreni to pull another surprise.

Scotland (44) – Euro 2020 marks the first time since 1996 Scotland qualified for the Euro. Scotland have been known to be a sentimental favorite that just can’t seem to edge itself out of group play, whether it be either the World Cup or the Euro. With the recent creation of the UEFA’s Nation’s League, Scotland got a boost when the upgraded themselves from the Division C to Division B with brilliant play.

Most of the players play for either England’s Premier League or the Scottish Premiership. Since the start of 2020, they’ve won against Slovakia and the Czech Republic twice. However they’ve had draws against Serbia and Austria and had three draws and a loss to Israel. Euro 2020 can be the chance for Scotland to finally prove to its naysayers, that they have finally arrived.

Czech Republic (40) – Ever since Czechoslovakia split up in 1992, the Czech Republic has struggled to prove its football greatness. The team would always have great stellar players, but they would frequently struggle as a team. They’ve qualified for every Euro since 1996 and even made it into the semifinal round twice, but only qualified for one World Cup and only got as far as the Group Stage.

Most of the players play for teams in the Czech First League. Since 2020, the Czechs have had a mixed bag of play. They’ve won against, Slovakia, Israel and Estonia, and drawn against Belgium, but lost to Germany, Italy and twice to Scotland. Euro 2020 is another proving point for the Czech team and they just could prove themselves to be a better team than most people first estimated.

My Prediction: I will pick Croatia to lead the group with England second and Scotland third with enough game cred to qualify as a wildcard.

And there you have it! Those are my predictions for Group C and Group D of Euro 2020. Hard to believe it just starts in two days. Yes, we’ve all waited long enough for this!

UEFA EURO 2020: Intro and Group A and Group B Focus

Euro 2020 which starts on Friday the 11th will be a multi-nation event contested in eleven stadiums in eleven countries.

The 2020 UEFA European Football Championships, or Euro 2020, were one of many big sporting events of 2020 that had to be cancelled out because of the pandemic. The Euro was relocated to 2021 in hopes that conditions would improve and that the tournament would be contested. The UEFA Euro will take place in 2021, with the first game to start on Friday, June 11th, but will still keep its original name Euro 2020.

For the 2020 tournament, Michel Platini intended back in 2012 not to have a single host-nation for the tournament’s 60th anniversary. Instead he decided to have multiple host stadiums in multiple nations as a ‘romantic’ one-off event to celebrate the tournament’s anniversary. The event was originally planned for 13 stadiums in 13 nations. It eventually was reduced to 11 stadiums in 11 nations.

The 2020 Euro is the first major multi-nation sporting event to take place since the pandemic started. UEFA wants crowds for the tournament, but is well aware of the precautions they will need to take during this pandemic. This is what led to Aviva Stadium in Dublin to withdraw from the tournament as they couldn’t guarantee spectators could attend. Spain also relocated their site from Bilbao to Seville as there was a bigger guarantee there spectators could attend matches. Also worth noting is that this is the first Euro in which VAR (Video-Assisted Referee) technology will be included.

All stadiums except Puskas Arena will have limited crowd sizes to prevent the spread of the pandemic. However Puskas Arena organizers say it will maintain stadium entrance requirements. One note about the stadiums is that the host country of the stadium would not guarantee their national team’s qualification. Nine of the eleven nations hosting games were successful in qualifying their team for the tournament. Here’s a list of the stadiums for the tournament. Asterisk (*) denoted national team did not qualify:

Final, Semi-Finals, Round of 16 Matches and Group Matches
Wembley Stadium – London, England
Quarterfinal and Group Matches
Baku Olympic Stadium – Baku, Azerbaijan*
Stadio Olimpico – Rome, Italy
Allianz Arena – Munich, Germany
Krestovsky Stadium – St. Petersburg, Russia
Round of 16 Match and Group Matches
Parken Stadium – Copenhagen, Denmark
Puskas Arena – Budapest, Hungary
Johan Cruyff Arena – Amsterdam, Netherlands
Arena Nationala – Bucharest, Romania*
Hampden Park – Glasgow, Scotland
La Cartuja Stadium – Seville, Spain
Group Matches
Friends Arena – Stockholm, Sweden
Millennium Stadium – Cardiff, Wales

And now to get with my common tradition every World Cup or Euro, my group-by-group review of the teams competing at the Euro. For my blogging, I decided to review two groups in each post. Note that this might be harder than in most years: both blogging two groups and making predictions altogether. It’s quite possible the pandemic may have changed a lot of team statures. It’s quite possible teams that didn’t have such a high expectation the first time around could be better this time or teams with a high standing before the pandemic can end up being worse. Anyways here’s my review and prediction with the most recent FIFA ranking in brackets:

GROUP A

Overall Group A is a mixed bag. They have a traditional powerhouse in Italy and three teams that could pull a surprise. It can go any which way.

Turkey (29) – Turkey is a nation with a proud football legacy. They have a third-place finish at both a World Cup and a Euro as their best-ever results. Their current roster is full of good players. Four play for England’s Premier League, four for French teams, four for Italian and one each in Spanish and German leagues. However Turkey’s success has been known to have a yo-yo effect. They do very well in the years leading up to the Euro but struggle during the year before the World Cup. That may explain why they’ve only qualified for three World Cups.

These past two years, Turkey has played very well only losing to Hungary. They’ve drawn against top-ranked teams like Germany and Croatia and even won against the Netherlands in World Cup qualifying. Chances look good that the Crescent-Stars could defy all expectations this Euro and come out better than most expected.

Italy (7) – The Azzurri have normally been one of the most admired and most feared football teams in the world. Their reputation took a beating during the 2018 World Cup qualifying when they failed to qualify for the tournament. Russia 2018 was only the third World Cup ever where Italy was not present! The coach was subsequently fired and the President of the Italian Football Federation resigned in response.

Here in Euro 2020, the Azzurri come as a team with a lot to prove. All was not lost to Italy in 2017. The same year they failed to qualify for the World Cup, Italy’s under-20 men’s team finished third at the Under-20 World Cup. Their last loss came to Portugal in September 2018. Italy had an excellent 2019 in Euro qualifying winning all of their games. Their biggest win was 9-1 over Armenia. They’ve also proven themselves with wins over teams like the Netherland, Poland and the Czech Republic in recent years. Italy knows it has a lot to prove and Euro 2020 is the perfect domain for the new Italian team to prove itself.

Wales (17) – Many people the success of team Wales due to Gareth Bale. However the success is a team effort. In fact Bale isn’t the most capped member of the current Welsh team. Defender Chris Gunter is. Also goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey has more caps than Bale. Eighteen players play for the Premier League and one plays for Juventus. Back at the last Euro, The Dragons surprised everybody when they became semifinalists. And that was their first-ever Euro! However their prowess at the Euro didn’t carry over for World Cup qualification.

It’s interesting Cardiff is one of the Euro 2020 venues but team Wales won’t play any of their Group games there! Recently Wales has shown a mixed bag of results in terms of their play. They’ve achieved wins over Mexico and the Czech Republic. However they’ve also had losses to England, Belgium and France. This group looks to be a good group for Wales to play in and their chances to advance are good. Euro 2020 will give them the chance to prove themselves again.

Switzerland (13) – Switzerland has always been a team that is full of talent but doesn’t seem to reach high. These last twenty years, they qualified for the last four World Cups, but the furthest they ever got was the Round of 16. 2016 was the first Euro Switzerland made it past the Group Stage, but it ended at the Round of 16 match against Poland there.

Switzerland’s play since World Cup 2018 has been mostly up and down. They’ve had wins against Iceland and Belgium, but they’ve had losses against England, Portugal, Spain and 2022 World Cup host nation Qatar. They have had a great 2021 winning all five of their pre-Euro matches. Euro 2020 can be an exciting time for team Switzerland to prove what they have.

My Prediction: Judging how things look, I predict Italy to top the group with Wales coming in second. I anticipate Turkey to be third and to be a wildcard qualifier.

GROUP B

It’s easy to assume certain teams of Group B will do better than others, but don’t be too fooled. Surprises could come and the big favorites may not come out on top.

Denmark (10) – Denmark is known for mixed success. One quadrennial, they’re there. Another quadrennial, they’re in a slump. They failed to qualify for Euro 2016 but they were successful in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup where they made the Round of 16. The current team consists of six members in the Premier League, seven players in Italy’s league and four in Germany’s Bundesliga.

Since 2020, Denmark’s only lost games came to Belgium. They’ve won against England and Sweden and even drew against Germany. Their biggest win was 8-0 over Moldova. Chances look good for The Red And White to be able to prove themselves. They may not have the same form as they did when they won in 1992 but Denmark could have their best result since.

Finland (54) – Many regard Finland as one of the least successful football teams in all of Europe. Finland is the biggest European nation never to qualify for a World Cup. This will be the very first Euro Finland has ever qualified for. The players play for various leagues throughout Europe and in the MLS.

The current Finnish team will surprise you. Since the start of 2020, they’ve had wins against Greece, Sweden and France. 2021 however has been a difficult year for them. They haven’t had a single win and have lost to Switzerland, Finland and Estonia. Finland comes to Euro 2020 as possibly the biggest underdog. However anything can happen during the total 270 minutes of Group Stage play.

Belgium (1) – Possibly the biggest change of football in the last ten years has to be the mega-success of team Belgium. The 2010’s saw a turnabout where The Red Devils went from delivering substandard play to suddenly performing as one of the best team units in the world. With players like Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Vincent Kompany, Belgium wen from underachievers to a third-place finish at the 2018.

As for Euro, Belgium’s best result is runners-up in 1980. Belgium definitely want to do better than the quarterfinal finish they had at the last Euro. Belgium have continued their winning ways since the World Cup. They’ve had wins over teams like Switzerland, Russia and England. England is also the only team they lost to, during a Nation’s League match in October 2020. Euro 2020 is a good chance for Belgium to show Europe what they’re made of. Possibly even clinch their first-ever win.

Russia (38) – Russia’s abilities and prowess as a team was always very questionable leading up to the 2018 World Cup which they were host nation. During the World Cup, Russia sent a message to the world just how good their team really is by finishing in the quarterfinals. All but four of the team’s current players play in the Russian Premier League. The other four play in leagues in France, Spain, Italy and Turkey.

Since 2020, Russia has had a mixed bag of results. They’ve won against Serbia and Hungary. However they’ve also endured losses to Sweden, Serbia and Slovakia as well as draws to Turkey and Poland. In football anything can happen. And Russia could just end up going further in Euro 2020 than most people expected.

My Prediction: I’m tempted to say Belgium will top this group with Denmark being second. I expect Russia to be third, but I don’t know if their stats will hold up for their qualification.

And there you have it. That’s my first review of the groups for Euro 2020. More reviews of the groups coming your way. Remember that the tournament is just three days from starting!

Eurovision Song Contest Held During The Pandemic

In the middle of May 2021, the Eurovision Song Contest took place while the COVID pandemic was still happening. In addition, it allowed seating capacity for thousands of spectators. One would consider this to be a very dangerous move as the world is trying to recover from a world wide pandemic. Few know that this is an event to test whether it’s possible to hold a concert during a pandemic.

EUROVISION 2020 CANCELLED

2020 started like any other year. If there was COVID happening, it was half a world away and showed no real signs of crossing any borders. The Rotterdam Ahoy arena looked like it had plans to be made ready to stage the Eurovision 2020 while national TV networks were getting their performers and songs ready, whether by internal selection or by hosting national finals. Then the pandemic crossed borders. The news got more frightening every day as cases were starting to crop up from country to country. Sports events like the PGA golf series, MLB and NFL football had to cancel their seasons, the Olympics had to postpone to the following year. Then in mid-March Eurovision 2020 had to cancel because of the pandemic. That was just after all 41 competing nations had already submitted their entries and songs.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam.

With no Song Contest happening and it being hugely complicated, if not impossible, for people to meet up, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) decided to have all the entered songs recognized for the participation. There would still be a set of Eurovision shows during the days the Song Contest was originally intended to take place. The Tuesday and the Thursday which were originally supposed to have the semi-finals contested had the Eurovision Song Celebration which paid tribute to the songs and performers of that year and during what was to be their respective semi-final performance. Even before the Song Celebration, the Eurovision Youtube channel had the artists of 2020 perform ‘home concerts’ to keep people’s spirits up.

On the Saturday that was to have the Grand Final held, May 16, 2020, there was Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light. It was a two-hour show which paid tribute to the 41 songs and performers who were to be participating that year. A piece of the video of their song was played followed by a message of well-wishes during this pandemic from the respective entered act remotely from their home country. The show was held with a central location of Studio 21 in Hilversum instead of an arena. Past Eurovision entries gave their wishes to all during this time. There were additional performances from past Eurovision entries singing past Eurovision songs with encouraging messages like ‘Ein Bisschen Frieden,’ ‘Molitva,’ and ‘What’s Another Year.‘ Italian entry Diodato performed ‘Volare‘ live from Milan as well as showcased his song ‘Fai Rumore‘ from an empty arena in Verona. Singers of the two most recent winning songs, Israel’s Netta and the Netherlands’ Duncan Laurence, performed original songs about the frustration of loneliness one receives during the time we all have to isolate ourselves to prevent contagion. Israel’s Gali Atari performed her 1979 winning song ‘Hallelujah‘ with Dutch Junior Eurovision contestants (and Junior Songfestival entries) from past years. It was done as a Zoom-style ensemble. The show ended with all the 41 contestants singing a piece of the 1997 winning song ‘Love Shine A Light‘ with the song ending with all of them singing together as a Zoom-style choir with Katrina Leskanich, formerly of Katrina and the Waves, to sing the last part.

There were also two noteworthy announcements that happened during the show. The first announcement came during the part when they were with the 2019 Junior Eurovision winner Viki Gabor from Poland. From her home in Poland, she announced that the Junior Eurovision Song Contest will be taking place in Warsaw on November 29, 2020. The second announcement came from the hosts of Europe Shine A Light. It was announced that the Eurovision Song Contest will be taking place in May 2021 in Rotterdam.

CONSIDERING OPTIONS FOR EUROVISION 2021

The announcements of a Junior Eurovision in six months time and a Eurovision in a year’s time seemed like far-fetched things at the time. Nobody knew what the pandemic would be like over time. Rates were increasing at frightening rates, people were still in lockdowns and a vaccine of any kind had not been discovered. Nevertheless it was something still worth pursuing. Twelve months since the ill-fated 2020 Contest is enough time for the pandemic to either subside or for preventative measures like vaccinations to be in effect. Countries were already announcing their intention to compete in 2021. Many even announced their intended 2020 entry would be their performer for 2021. However staging the Contest would be difficult. Possible, but difficult. The EBU had four scenarios to deal with. Each of the scenarios would involve the holding of shows, presence or non-presence of performers, number of spectators, side events and the media press:

  • Scenario A (normal): This would almost be as if the pandemic never happened. All shows from Ahoy Arena, all the participants in Rotterdam to perform, arena filled to 100% capacity, side events happening throughout Rotterdam the Press Centre would have all 1,500 anticipated press people on site.
  • Scenario B (1.5 metre social distancing): All shows would be from Ahoy, but only performers who are COVID-negative could perform on stage. Since there would still be no guarantee that the performers would all be COVID-negative on the day of the show, they would all do taped back-up performances that would act as their Contest submission in case. Those whose country was still under lockdown because of travel restrictions could have a taped performance recorded by their network. Arena audience could be anywhere from 0% to 80%, side-events would have to be adapted virtually, and the 1500 press people would be limited to 500 on site and 1000 virtually.
  • Scenario C (Travel-restrictive): All shows would still be from Ahoy and the arena would still have a capacity of spectators anywhere from 0 to 80%, but participants would all do their performances in their home country. There would still be adapted side performances, but greatly reduced and all 1,500 press people would conduct interview questions virtually.
  • Scenario D (lockdown): Even with a lockdown mode, there would still be a show from Ahoy arena as there was a show from a studio during 2020’s lockdown in the Netherlands as well as most of Europe. The arena however would only be empty of spectators, consisting only of show and network personnel. There would be no side-events, performers would do their performance in their home country and again all 1,500 press people would conduct interview questions virtually.

JUNIOR EUROVISION 2020: THE FIRST TEST EVENT

Six months in between the intended Eurovision Song Contest 2020 and the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2020 was enough time to get a good sense of how to conduct business and events during the pandemic. The 2020 Eurovision Contest couldn’t be held because everything happened all of a sudden and it was too sudden to plan an alternate for holding a Contest. However the EBU was well-aware statistics and restrictions would change by the time Junior Eurovision, the song contest for performers aged 9 to 14, would come around on November 29, 2020. Some would be for the better, some worse. It was decided that the Junior Eurovision would be held in a situation close to that of Scenario D. I will get to the specifics in the next three paragraphs.

The 2020 Junior Eurovision Song Contest held in November that year was a trial of Eurovision Scenario D consisting strictly of studio performances.

Over time, seven nations that competed at the 2019 JESC such as Australia, Italy, North Macedonia, Ireland and Portugal would not participate because of the COVID situations in their country. Armenia intended to compete, but the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that happened a month before Junior Eurovision was about to start led to their withdrawal. In the end, twelve countries, the lowest since 2013, chose to compete. Germany was one country that would make their Junior Eurovision debut. The Contest organizers were sensitive to the pandemic and announced that the Contest would be restricted to studio performances. They gave two options where the performers could do their performances in Warsaw in the studio of the host network TVP (Telewisja Polska) or in the studio of their respective nation’s network. I believe it was a case of three performances could be done and the best of the three was chosen as the performance for the competition. Only performers from four nations — Poland, Malta, Ukraine and Serbia — were willing to do their performances in Warsaw. Performers form the other eight countries stuck to doing their performances in the studio of their respective nation’s network. Also performances and parts from the Common Song — a song performed by each nation’s singing entries as an ensemble onstage — had to be recorded from whichever studio they performed at beforehand.

Junior Eurovision 2020 was finally held on November 29 inside the TVP headquarters in Warsaw. There was an audience but it was restricted to network organizers and their families. The show began with a performance from last year’s winner Viki Gabor performing her winning song from that year ‘Superheroes.’ Back-up dancers were present during the performance. For the remainder of the show, the chosen performances from the studios were the competitive performances the juries judged on and the home audiences would vote for online. Instead of the Green Room where the competing performers would normally sit, dring and mingle in, the performers and their assistants were in a special room in their respective network studio. It was also live broadcast from the room where interviews were conducted and their reactions to the scoring would take place.

For the Interval Acts after all the competitive performances were shown and viewers voted, the Common Song was shown as if all the performers gathered together as one. It was actually created through hologram technology. Another hologram performance was the performance of the 2019 Eurovision-winning song ‘Arcade’ by winner Duncan Laurence and Poland’s two Junior Eurovision winners Viki Gabor and Roksana Wegiel. Viki and Roksana performed together, but Laurence’s part was done in an NPO Zapp studio in the Netherlands. The winning song — “J’Imagine” by singer Valentina from France — was a song whose submitted performance was taped one month earlier in a France 2 studio in Paris. There was not the usual Winner’s Reprise where the act of the winning song traditionally goes back on stage, accepts the award and gives and encore performance of their winning song. Instead Valentina and her team celebrated in the France 2 studio and a replay of the submitted competitive performance was done instead of the Winner’s Reprise.

EUROVISION 2021 PLANNING

In all honesty, that year’s Junior Eurovision did feel like a constricted event with all the performers limited to taped performances in a studio, hologram performances of most interval acts, and studio rooms instead of a green room. It didn’t have the same look and feel as if the performers were performing in from of a live audience full of excitement or the same celebratory feel of the performers all getting together in the green room having their post-performance fun. What it did do is that it showed that a Eurovision contest was possible. It would be very limited but very possible. Also on an optimistic note, that year’s Junior Eurovision’s online voting had the most online votes totalling 4,500,000! That showed the pandemic can’t stop the Eurovision excitement. For the organizers of Eurovision 2021, this Contest served as an example on how to do a Eurovision if it does come down to a Scenario D situation. Of course they would want to do the Contest with a bigger stage, as many performances on that stage as possible, and with a live audience full of excitement. It would be dependent on time and the situation involving the pandemic as they got closer and closer to Contest time. This would be dependent on statistics of numbers of cases, possible other COVID variants and their effects, the potential for vaccines to be distributed, the efficiency of testing, and the latest studies in COVID prevention.

As time passed, it was announced all 41 nations that entered in the 2020 Contest intended to participate in the 2021 Contest. Many nations intended to enter their entry from 2020 into the 2021, but a new song had to be created in order to keep within the rules. Some nations stuck to having their usual national contests to have the performer and song selected, but said their respective 2020 entry can participate without having to audition. As for the pandemic, there would be a lot of changes over time in terms of the pandemic. The statistics would yield differing results, but vaccinations would also begin to take place en masse in the countries and many travel restrictions would be lifted. This would allow for the ability for performers to travel to the Netherlands to perform and even foreign visitors to come. The one thing the vaccinations and eased restrictions did not do over the time is decrease the potential contagion of COVID significantly nor the disease’s effects on those that caught it. The organizers in the end decided to do the Contest via Scenario B. There would be live performances for all six live rehearsals and three live shows, and the Dutch Cabinet approved a live performance one month before the Contest. Concert crowds would be a limited number and there would be no spectators standing on the arena floor level. More details on the concert crowds in the Handling Of Ticket Holders section. Side events would be impacted such as the ‘Turquoise Carpet’ being the only in-person side-event to take place normally, the Opening Ceremony not held, the Eurovision Village to be held only as an online event and the EuroClub cancelled completely.

The 2021 Eurovision Song Contest was allowed to take place in Rotterdam’s Ahoy arena with spectators. The event was under strict preventative regulations for performers and spectators alike.

Safety Measures For Performers

None of the nations from 2020 that intended to compete in 2021 cancelled out because of COVID-related reasons, but two nations did withdraw. Armenia withdrew because of political unrest from after the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Belarus withdrew because their entry for this year had a political message, which is against the EBU rules for the Contest, and would not submit a replacement song. Thirty-nine nations did compete in the Contest. Twenty-six of those nations had the act that was intended for the 2020 Contest as their entry for 2021.

The COVID pandemic was just as real of a threat in the performers’ home countries as it was if they were in Rotterdam. The EBU knew this. They were still aiming for live performances for rehearsals, jury performances and live Contest performances. They still wanted to make sure the performers didn’t endanger themselves or others. In addition, not all travel restrictions had been lifted for the participating countries. The EBU gave the entries the obligation to record back-up performances on video for in case they could not perform their song live on stage whether it be the semifinal, final, or even rehearsals because of travel restrictions. Rules for back-up performances were the artists were each given an hour and during that hour, they were allowed to give performances three times. At the end of taping, the delegation would decide which one of the three performances they were most satisfied of. The choice would be the entry’s official back-up submission.

There was also the possibility that some performers would test negative while in their home country, but end up testing positive or being a high-risk group any time while they were in Rotterdam. It could happen anytime, whether it be after the first rehearsal, but before the jury performance or even the live performances. Performers had the option to use their best rehearsal performance or even a jury performance, whichever they were happiest with, as their back-up performance for the Contest. There could even be stand-ins for the rehearsals should one test positive and have to sit the rehearsals or performances out. There were times when these regulations for this year’s Contest were very helpful for all thirty-nine to have a performance worthy of submission for the Contest:

  • Australia was still unter travel restrictions. Montaigne could not travel to Rotterdam to do her performance of her song ‘Technicolor‘ so the chosen back-up performance acted as the entered song. Audiences both in the arena and through television would see the performance on the LED.
  • Kateryna Pavlenko, lead singer of the Ukrainian band Go_A, reported feeling ill before the performance of their song ‘Shum’ for the second rehearsal just before the first semifinal. Rules were that anyone reporting feeling ill before performing no matter what had to miss because of a precaution. All other band members tested negative for COVID-19. The band continued with their performance as a Dutch singer, Emmie van Stijn, acted as the stand-in. Pavlenko soon after took a COVID test and the results were negative. Pavlenko was able to continue performing for the remainder of the competition. The band was so impressed with van Stijn’s singing and diction of the Ukrainian language, they had her sit with them in the green room during the semifinal as a thank-you!
  • All six members of the Icelandic entry Daði og Gagnamagnið were COVID-negative when they arrived in Rotterdam. Their performance of their song ’10 Years’ went as normal during the first and second rehearsals. However one of the members tested positive for COVID. They had a rule that they would all perform as a band on the Eurovision stage. They opted to miss out from further performances. Their performance from the second rehearsal was their chosen submission for the jury performances and live shows.
  • 2019 winner Duncan Laurence was slated to reprise his winning song ‘Arcade‘ and perform his new song ‘Stars‘ as part of the interval act of the Grand Final. Laurence opened the first semifinal with the song ‘Feel Something,’ but tested positive for COVID shortly after. Duncan had to miss performing live in the Grand Final, but he did deliver a message of well-wishes on the LED screen and pre-recorded performances of ‘Arcade‘ and ‘Stars‘ were used instead.

Handling Of Ticket Holders And Rapid Testing

It was decided by Dutch Parliament in less than three weeks before the start of the Contest that the event would be open to spectators. Organizers set the limit to the number of performances accessible to public audiences to be nine: all jury shows, family shows and live shows of the two semi-finals and Grand Final. The number of spectators per show was set to a limit of 3,500. Now I know a lot of people would be freaking out over live crowds occurring during a pandemic, but there were rules and regulations regarding spectators for the Contest. In fact the Contest was a pilot event event under FieldLab Concerts. Rules included:

Ticket holders had to personalize their tickets, undergo COVID tests within the day of their event, and show up at the Ahoy entrance during their allotted time-slot.
  • High-risk groups as defined by the Netherlands’ National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (such as those 70 years or older) cannot purchase tickets.
  • Those attending the events couldn’t just simply purchase tickets. All sold tickets had to be personalized and registered. Meaning only the specific person is allowed to use the ticket. There are to be no ticket exchanges. Part of the personalization includes ticketholders to download the Close app and CoronaCheck app.
  • Just after purchasing the ticket, the Eurovision Contest Shop will bring ticketholders to a webpage to personalize the tickets. The ticket will be accessible for the Close app.
  • Ticketholders will need to take COVID tests the day of the ticketed event. Maximum 24 hours before the event’s anticipated end. Showing a card that confirms COVID vaccination is not enough. Appointments for COVID testing would have to be made through the Dutch ‘Testen Voor Toegang’ website which assists in setting appointments for rapid COVID testing throughout the Netherlands. Even attendees coming from other countries will have to be tested in the Netherlands. Test results can be made available as soon as an hour after they’re taken. Tests done through Testen Voor Toegang appointments are the only valid COVID tests for the Contest.
  • Results of the COVID test will be made available through the CoronaCheck app. Those that test negative are allowed to attend their ticketed event. Those that test positive are not allowed and they do not receive a refund.
  • All spectators who test negative can’t simply arrive at the Ahoy Arena anytime. In their Close app, they are given an entrance time-slot for them to show up at the entrance to their ticketed event and do their airport-style security check.
  • At their entrance, they are required to show both their ticket and their negative COVID test result in order to be admitted.
  • As far as face masks go, attendees are allowed to take off their face masks when they’re inside the actual arena seating. Spectators are allowed to eat and drink inside the arena seating.
  • Spectators will have to put their face masks back on once they leave the arena seating area. That includes in areas of the Ahoy Arena such as concession lobbies or the washrooms. Arena seating is the only mask-free area for Contest spectators.
  • Once spectators are outside the Ahoy Arena building, all mask-wearing regulations made by the Dutch government apply.

Also worth taking note is that all spectators had to be in seated areas. In fact the green room took up the whole arena floor area outside of the stage to ensure no spectators on floor level and the performers’ own social distancing. This is arguably the first big event with large spectators to be held during the pandemic so it’s obvious strict regulations would be required. Since the Contest has been completed, there has been no news of massive positive tests from spectator attendance. It so far has proven to be an excellent success, if not a flawless success, that a concert can still take place during the latter period of a pandemic and make progress to more back-to-live performances. Even spokespeople throughout the Contest were speaking their delight and approval of the Contest getting back to live performances and celebrative spirits. Also for those who want to know who the winner is, but don’t know, it’s Italy’s glam-rock band Måneskin who won with the song ‘Zitti e Buoni.’

This year’s Eurovision Song Cotest proved that live performances with spectators can happen during a time of a pandemic. Mesures in terms of ticket holders and performers had to be strict and within government regulations, but it all turned out to be successful in the end.

WORKS CITED

WIKIPEDIA: Eurovision Song Contest 2020. Wikipedia.com. 2021. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurovision_Song_Contest_2020>
WIKIPEDIA: Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light. Wikipedia.com. 2021. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurovision:_Europe_Shine_a_Light>
WIKIPEDIA: Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2020. Wikipedia.com. 2021. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junior_Eurovision_Song_Contest_2020>
WIKIPEDIA: Eurovision Song Contest 2021. Wikipedia.com. 2021. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurovision_Song_Contest_2021>
Tickets For Eurovision. EBU 2002-2021. Website by SCRN. <https://eurovision.tv/tickets>