Euro 2020 draw: Who are the favourites, who are the no-hopers?
The draw for the 2020 European Championship finals is on Saturday (watch live on ESPNEWS and ESPN3 from noon ET in the U.S.). There are 20 teams who have secured their place in the draw, with another four spots yet to be decided via playoffs.
Here we look at the contenders, outsiders, wild cards and no-hopers for next summer's continent-spanning tournament, which will be broadcast live across ESPN networks from June 12-July 12.
Much like in 2000, you could make an argument that world champions France are entering the European Championship in even better shape than the previous World Cup. But that could depend on injuries: If Hugo Lloris, Aymeric Laporte and Paul Pogba are all fit, they should in theory be too strong for anyone else. But if they aren't, the field could open up.
To someone like Belgium, for example. Might this be the last chance for this great generation? Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Dries Mertens, Vincent Kompany and Axel Witsel are all in their 30s and, while Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne will still be going strong in 2022, the heart of their side will almost certainly be weakened. Will the imperative drive them on to tangible success?
England are arguably the wild card of the whole tournament, mainly because they probably have the best forward line but a defence that often doesn't seem to know which way is left or right. They might have to bank on Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford to bail out the back line by sheer weight of goals.
Spain and Germany are two great sides who have undergone existential crises since the World Cup. Jogi Low is rebuilding his side after the catastrophe in Russia, with Serge Gnabry and Kai Havertz among those representing a new generation, although the absence of Niklas Sule with a cruciate ligament injury will be a major blow. Meanwhile, Spain qualified handily enough. But how will they react to the clumsily handled re-appointment of Luis Enrique, whose return has led to a bitter and public row between him and the former assistant who temporarily took charge?
Netherlands might be the most interesting team in the competition and could quite easily count themselves among the genuine contenders, but there are enough doubts about their candidacy to rank them slightly lower. The patchy form at Juventus of Matthijs de Ligt, for one, or perhaps a lack of consistent genuine international class in attack. They feel like one of those teams that could just as easily win the whole thing as they could go out in the first round.
File Italy under that category, too. Embarrassingly absent from the World Cup, they breezed through an admittedly moderate qualifying group, winning all 10 of their games with a goal difference of plus-33. A young side with confidence restored by Roberto Mancini, this Italy don't have the big names of yore but have the vitality to potentially challenge.
Then we have the defending champions Portugal, who were surprise winners four years ago and would be surprise winners again. Just as you never write off the Germans, you never write off a team with Cristiano Ronaldo in it, plus they have newly crowned Golden Boy Joao Felix and an improved Bernardo Silva.
Croatia also come into this tournament after reaching a major final, but it feels like their cycle is closer to its end (Mario Mandzukic has retired, for one), and they laboured a little more in qualifying.
It feels like a long time ago that Russia were widely hailed as one of the worst-ever teams to host a World Cup. Having reached the quarterfinals two years ago, they were one of the most impressive qualifiers, winning all of their games apart from the two against Belgium. They're just the sort of team that could make some of the big boys look silly.
Wales, too. Led by Gareth Bale but with a coterie of young talent supporting him, they reached the semifinals four years ago and probably have a better team now, although plenty will rest on the fitness or otherwise of Aaron Ramsey.
Poland could be dangerous, given they have Robert Lewandowski in the form of his life backed up by an impressive supporting cast, but it would still be a turn-up if they went deep into the tournament.
If you follow the FIFA world ranking, then Switzerland should really be among the contenders, rated as they are the 12th-best side in the world. But given the talent available and the rough domestic season players like Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri have endured, it's tough to see them making much of an impact.
Denmark could leverage home advantage, as their three group games will be in Copenhagen, but weren't massively impressive in qualifying and will have to face Belgium and Russia in the first phase, which could prove tricky.
Sweden lost only once in qualifying so have some pedigree, and Alexander Isak could be a good shout for young star of the tournament, while Turkey have an exciting young set of players (only two of their previous squad were 28 or older), but this tournament could be a little too soon for them. Ukraine won their group, but with such a low-key set of players will be lucky to progress.
Is it unfair to label teams who have sweated and toiled and qualified without need for the playoffs "no-hopers" already? Well, yes, probably -- but we're going to do it anyway. Finland will be the story of the tournament simply because this is their first major competition, but you could think their first priority will be not to lose all three of their group games.
Czech Republic beat England in the qualifiers but also lost to Kosovo and a rotten Bulgaria side, so they remain a modest force and shouldn't trouble the latter stages, while Austria lost to Israel and Latvia in qualifying, which doesn't exactly fill you with confidence that they won't be home early.