England open against Croatia at Wembley before North Macedonia make their finals debut against Austria and the Netherlands host Ukraine in Amsterdam.
England and Croatia replay their FIFA World Cup semi-final to begin Sunday’s UEFA EURO 2020 action before North Macedonia make their major tournament bow against Austria and the Netherlands face Ukraine.
Prepare for subplots galore at Wembley, but it will be particularly fascinating to see Mason Mount up against Luka Modrić. Mount spoke on Friday of his admiration for a player with whom he swapped shirts during Chelsea’s semi-final defeat of Real Madrid in this season’s UEFA Champions League. “It helps being a fan of a player and then playing against him because you know what he likes to do,” said Mount. Knowing and doing are two very different things, of course, but it gives England hope that they can avoid a repeat of their 2018 FIFA World Cup semi-final loss, when Croatia controlled the centre of the park.
Key stat: Their extra-time triumph over England three summers ago in Russia was one of only three Croatian wins against the Three Lions from ten meetings overall. Moreover, since that World Cup, Croatia coach Zlatko Dalić has been able to name an unchanged line-up on just one occasion out of 29 matches.
Austria beat North Macedonia twice in qualifying for this tournament, winning 4-1 in Skopje and 2-1 in Vienna. That latter match was in November 2019, though, and Igor Angelovski’s team are a different animal now, having enjoyed an eight-game unbeaten run that straddled 2019 and 2020 before they raised confidence levels further with a stunning European Qualifiers win in Germany in March. If their remit here is to prove that their major finals debut is no fluke, Austria’s must surely be to secure a long-awaited first victory at a EURO – in what will be Das Nationalteam’s third EURO finals.
Key stat: North Macedonia are the 35th and most recent country to have qualified for a UEFA European Championship, and together with Finland (the 34th new entry) are one of two debutant nations appearing at this event.
This opening fixture really does present a fresh horizon for the Netherlands and Ukraine, given these teams have never before crossed swords in a competitive context. There’s also the possibility that both sides will field a 5-3-2 formation – the system favoured by Oranje coach Frank de Boer, perhaps against Dutch convention, and also deployed by Ukraine when the Synio-Zhovti drew their March European Qualifier with France at Saint-Denis. Volume 0% Meet the teams: Netherlands
Curiously, Andriy Shevchenko himself is a fan of the Dutch-style 4-3-3, yet the more cautious approach could well prevail. “We may play 4-3-3 or 3-5-2, but our principles will not change,” explained the Ukraine coach. Meanwhile, the centre of the Netherlands’ defensive quintet could feature a 19-year-old, Jurriën Timber, in front of a 38-year-old goalkeeper, Maarten Stekelenburg.
Key stat: This is the Netherlands’ first big tournament since coming third at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the Oranje having missed out on UEFA EURO 2016 and Russia 2018. The last time the Dutch emerged from a similar footballing hibernation, they scooped their only international prize at EURO ’88 – following an eight-year absence spanning three major showpiece events.