EURO 2020 is finally upon us. As we eagerly await the tournament’s kickoff, we take a look at some of the hungriest European fanbases most desperate for a major trophy.
Later this week, the world will get to witness the long-awaited UEFA EURO 2020 tournament. It’s been almost a year since the original starting date got pushed back due to concerns with COVID-19, but there’s no better way to kick off this summer than with one of the biggest and most prestigious tournaments in European soccer.
A lot has happened since EURO 2016, a tournament that saw multiple underdogs like Iceland, Wales, and Ireland make runs into the knockout phase, while Portugal won their first title over host and projected winner France.
While the Portuguese faithful rejoiced as Cristiano Ronaldo lifted his first major international trophy, plenty of other fans mourned after disappointing results and wasted chances. Today, we’ll be looking at some of the teams and their respective fanbases that are perhaps in need of a EURO 2020 victory more than anyone based on their past experiences in the tournament, as well as their team’s expectations going into the tournament.
Kicking off the list, we have a Belgium team with the talent to win the whole thing, but a history of disappointment in the EUROs.
Despite boasting a roster with mainstays like Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, and Romelu Lukaku, it’s understandable for supporters to be a bit wary of Belgium’s performance in this year’s tournament. After all, the Belgians have a fairly rough history in the EUROs since their first appearance in 1972.
In their five previous appearances, two of which they either hosted or co-hosted, Belgium boasts a second-place and third-place finish, though their runner-up finish in the 1980 EUROs is one of the most heartbreaking in the history of the tournament. In that final, the Belgians suffered a brutal 2-1 defeat at the hands of Germany after Horst Hrubesch’s brace and 88th-minute header catapulted the Germans to glory.
In the 2016 EUROs, expectations with a promising “golden age” core of young stars were shattered despite a dominant group stage, after Belgium missed a potential semifinal matchup with eventual-winner Portugal when they got outplayed by Wales in a 3-1 loss.
This year, they’ll be hoping to turn some of their fortunes around and finally deliver on the hype surrounding their stacked starting Xl. Now 30 years old, Belgian captain Hazard has battled multiple injuries the last couple seasons, but has an opportunity to leave that all in the rearview mirror with a good performance and a strong result with his fellow countrymen.
While the Netherlands have a more favorable history in the EUROs compared to Belgium, including four third-place finishes and a championship in the ’88 edition, their recent string of performances in the tournament have been anything but pretty. In fact, they’ve been downright awful.
Not only did the Dutch not qualify for EURO 2016, but they also suffered one of the most embarrassing group stages of a top-tier squad in recent memory after failing to register a single point in EURO 2012 — a tournament that saw the Oranje suffer three consecutive one-goal defeats to Denmark, Germany, and Portugal. Considering the team was just two years removed from being on the doorstep of World Cup glory in 2010 and trotting out a roster with Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie, and Wesley Sneijder all in their primes, it’s still insane to think just how badly that team performed.
The Dutch media was understandably harsh towards the team, with newspaper de Volkskrant famously writing the headline “Holland are a joke” to perfectly punctuate the embarrassment the team had suffered.
This year, the Netherlands have a chance to change that narrative, with a team captained by Georginio Wijnaldum that possesses a talented blend of veterans and youth alike. Despite missing Virgil van Dijk due to injury, the Oranje still possess a handful of players that are poised for a deep tournament run. Guys like Daley Blind, Frenkie de Jong, and Memphis Depay all could be key for manager Frank de Boer’s side. Considering they’ve been put in a favorable group with Austria, Ukraine, and North Macedonia, this could be the year the Dutch truly turn things around.
The fan expectation with England is just on a different level than other teams. A lot of it has to do with the team’s storied history and legendary performers, but some of it simply deals with the performances of their current star players. This team has been undeniably stacked for a very long time, but finishing fourth in the 2018 World Cup and being knocked out in the Round of 16 in EURO 2016 have not been good enough for the nation’s fans.
It’s also how they’ve lost these games. The 109th-minute stunner from Mario Mandžukić to push Croatia past England in the 2018 World Cup semifinals are sure to still linger in the minds of fans, but it’s their upset at the hands of Iceland in the last EUROs that will surely be revisited as the English look to exorcise these demons.
Lucky for them, they’ll be as talented as ever, with Harry Kane, Mason Mount, and Kyle Walker being just a few of the big names in this stacked squad. One deep run is all it takes to change the perception about England not living up to expectations on the international stage, and perhaps this year’s team has what it takes to kill that narrative off.
Unlike the previous teams mentioned on this list, the Welsh are coming off their deepest-ever run in the EUROs. In fact, it was their only run in team history. EURO 2016 was a historic tournament for many reasons, but maybe none more interesting than the run to the semifinals by Wales, who bested Northern Ireland, Belgium, and Russia on their way to their final matchup with Portugal. The Welsh were carried by the dominant performances of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey as they were on the doorstep of history, but qualifying in this year’s tournament could be an even bigger stepping stone for the team and their fanbase.
Bale and Ramsey will still be in tow for this upcoming EUROs which bodes well for the team’s chances at rediscovering that golden touch that put them forward in 2016, but they’ll need to get some help from fellow countrymen like Ben Davies, Daniel James, and Joe Allen. An interesting thing to watch will be how the team will fare without Hal Robson-Kanu, who was left off this year’s squad in favor of 19-year-old Rubin Colwill.
If the Welsh can make another deep run, it would cast out any belief in their previous run being a fluke, while giving fans a team with legitimate potential to perhaps compete beyond the EUROs.
Anyone we miss? Let us know who you think needs a big EURO 2020 run in the comments below.