When the Greece team bus left after their incredible 1-0 win in Lisbon, a slogan printed on it read as follows, “Ancient Greece had 12 gods. Modern Greece has 11.”
I’m talking of Euro Championship 2004.
The Greece national team had achieved the impossible under the guidance of German tactician Otto Rehhagel.
A side that could never win a single game in a major tournament previously had managed to emerge victorious over teams like France, Czech Republic, and Portugal in their quest to win the competition itself.
Although they received a lot of hatred for their seemingly boring and negative style of play, one cannot deny that its stories like these that make the beautiful game so special.
Was it really an anti-football approach? Did it actually damage the spirit of the sport? Well, I am not going to dive into the details as it entirely depends on your perception of the game; however, the chances are that we might get to witness another such stunning story in the next thirty days.
If you are a neutral football fan, an underdog story would definitely excite you, and in that case, we have got you covered. With the opening match just a few hours away, we present you with three teams that might turn out to be the Greece of 2004. This is a preview of Euro 2020‘s ultimate underdogs.
Preview of Euro 2020’s Ultimate Underdogs
For a nation that once boasted of an impeccable track record – 2006 World Cup winners and European Championship finalists on two out of four occasions – things came to a standstill when they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
However, things have taken a new turn since Roberto Mancini’s appointment. It’s a new era for the Italian national team as only three of their squad members have started more than one match at an international tournament before.
While the lack of experience might be a point of concern for the fans, one cannot deny that the former Manchester City boss has been working wonders with the present batch of players, and the result speaks for itself – with the Azzurri heading into the tournament on the back of 27 straight unbeaten games.
The brilliant run includes a perfect qualifying campaign in which they won all ten matches. Moreover, they go into the tournament on the back of eight consecutive victories, having scored 11 goals without reply.
Having been placed in a relatively easy group (Turkey, Wales and Switzerland), one would expect them to qualify for the knockout stages. Much similar to Portugal’s Euro-winning 2016 side, they are a team to keep an eye on this year.
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Donnarumma (Milan), Alex Meret (Napoli), Salvatore Sirigu (Torino)
Defenders: Francesco Acerbi (Lazio), Alessandro Bastoni (Inter), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Giovanni Di Lorenzo (Napoli), Emerson Palmieri (Chelsea), Alessandro Florenzi (Paris Saint-Germain), Leonardo Spinazzola (Roma), Rafael Toloi (Atalanta)
Midfielders: Nicolo Barella (Inter), Bryan Cristante (Roma), Jorginho (Chelsea), Manuel Locatelli (Sassuolo), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma), Matteo Pessina (Atalanta), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain)
Forwards: Andrea Belotti (Torino), Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), Federico Bernardeschi (Juventus), Federico Chiesa (Juventus), Ciro Immobile (Lazio), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Giacomo Raspadori (Sassuolo).
Yet another team from Group A, Turkey, are arguably the most exciting underdogs of the tournament, who boast an incredibly solid defence and an extraordinary playmaker in Hakan Calhanoglu.
Turkey head into the tournament on the back of six unbeaten games, and they are definitely going to upset a few favourites this time around. It would be fair to expect them to play on the counter-attack, but the team does have the quality that is capable of terrifying the toughest of opponents.
Moving from Besiktas to Lille in 2020, 35-year-old striker Burak Yilmaz enjoyed an incredible season with Ligue 1 side Lille as he bagged 23 goal contributions in 33 games to help his side dethrone Paris Saint-Germain and win the Ligue 1 title. It goes without saying that he’ll be their key man throughout the tournament.
Added to this, Turkey have a proven coach in Senol Gunes, who took the national team to an unexpected third-place finish in the 2002 World Cup. Besides, he has won two Super Lig titles with Besiktas.
Goalkeepers: Altay Bayındır (Fenerbahçe), Uğurcan Çakır (Trabzonspor), Mert Günok (İstanbul Başakşehir)
Defenders: Kaan Ayhan (Sassuolo), Zeki Çelik (LOSC Lille), Merih Demiral (Juventus), Ozan Kabak (Liverpool), Umut Meraş (Le Havre), Mert Müldür (Sassuolo), Çağlar Söyüncü (Leicester), Rıdvan Yılmaz (Beşiktaş)
Midfielders: Taylan Antalyalı (Galatasaray), Hakan Çalhanoğlu (AC Milan), Halil Dervişoğlu (Brentford), İrfan Can Kahveci (Fenerbahçe), Orkun Kökçü (Feyenoord), Abdülkadir Ömür (Trabzonspor), Dorukhan Toköz (Beşiktaş), Ozan Tufan (Fenerbahçe), Okay Yokuşlu (West Brom)
Forwards: M. Kerem Aktürkoğlu (Galatasaray), Kenan Karaman (Fortuna Düsseldorf), Enes Ünal (Getafe), Cengiz Ünder (Leicester), Yusuf Yazıcı (LOSC Lille), Burak Yılmaz (LOSC Lille)
Do they have exceptionally talented players? No.
Do they have a highly experienced coach? Negative.
Then what is it that makes them so special?
Well, you’ll be surprised to know that Denmark wouldn’t have been in the competition if it was held at its scheduled time, i.e. last year. New coach Kasper Hjulmand managed to impart a new style of play in his players in a very short span of time, and now they would look to build upon that as a united force.
Greece 2004 vibes, eh?
However, they could win only four of their eight qualifying matches as they dropped points to relatively weaker sides like Ireland and Georgia – which is indeed concerning.
Inter Milan star Christian Eriksen is expected to be at the heart of everything that goes around – carrying most of the creative and goal-scoring duties for his side while players like Thomas Delaney and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg will be hoping to dominate the midfield proceedings. Besides, stars like Martin Braithwaite, Kasper Dolberg, and Yussef Poulsen will provide Hjulmand with a variety of options in the final third.
While a single name from this squad might not be a household name, when you start grouping this set of players together, somewhere or the other, it makes you believe that they are capable of punching above their weight.
Denmark finds itself in a tricky group (Group-B, Belgium, Russia, Finland), but they should be able to secure the second position.
Goalkeepers: Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester), Jonas Lossl (FC Midtjylland), Frederik Ronnow (Schalke)
Defenders: Simon Kjaer (AC Milan), Andreas Christensen (Chelsea), Jannik Vestergaard (Southampton), Joachim Andersen (Fulham), Mathias Jorgensen (Copenhagen), Daniel Wass (Valencia), Jens Stryger Larsen (Udinese), Joakim Maehle (Atalanta), Nicolai Boilesen (Copenhagen)
Midfielders: Christian Eriksen (Inter Milan), Thomas Delaney (Borussia Dortmund), Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Tottenham), Mathias Jensen, Christian Norgaard (both Brentford), Anders Christiansen (Malmo)
Forwards: Kasper Dolberg (Nice), Jonas Wind (Copenhagen), Andreas Cornelius (Parma), Martin Braithwaite (Barcelona), Robert Skov (Hoffenheim), Mikkel Damsgaard (Sampdoria), Yussuf Poulsen (Leipzig), Andreas Skov Olsen (Bologna)
Let us know what you think of my selection of teams for the preview of Euro 2020’s ultimate underdogs in the comment section below.