Clockwise from top left: Eljif Elmas of North Macedonia, Lorenzo Insigne of Italy, Billy Gilmour of Scotland, Antoine Griezmann of France and England’s Jude Bellingham. Composite: EPA, Getty, Shutterstock
France to win, Turkey to spring a surprise and Jude Bellingham to make his mark but Covid disruption is also a worry
The Guardian-Guardian sport
Which two teams will reach the final – and who will win?
Nick Ames France and England, although that eventuality may depend on the latter winning their group and navigating a fiendish last-16 tie against Germany or Portugal.
Paul Doyle France to beat Portugal in a reversal of the Euro 2016 final. The option to make five substitutes per match favours the nation with the deepest squad.
Ben Fisher France v Italy, and I fancy France.
Andy Hunter France and Portugal, with the world champions avenging their defeat in the 2016 final.
David Hytner France; rich talent allied to knowhow. Them to beat Spain in the final.
Jamie Jackson Italy and France. Italy to be champs.
Jonathan Liew France to beat the Netherlands in the final. Don’t ask me why. Call it a hunch. Nobody knows anything.
Sid Lowe Have you seen France’s team? Rest of them might as well not turn up … which probably means they won’t win after all. But: France-Italy final with France winning.
Ewan Murray Belgium and the Netherlands. Belgium – De Bruyne depending – to go where their great teams of the past could not and win the tournament.
Jacob Steinberg A repeat of Euro 2000, with France to edge out Italy again.
Barney Ronay France and Portugal, and France will win. Or alternatively they won’t. Belgium are also good, but maybe too much like England. Actually, England are good too. Basically, I don’t know.
Louise Taylor France and Turkey, with France to win. Senol Gunes coached Turkey to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup during his first stint in charge and they have gifted forwards in Hakan Calhanoglu and Burak Yilmaz. They beat France in qualifying but will not repeat that feat in the final.
Jonathan Wilson France to beat Spain. France have the deepest and best squad in the tournament; after the chaos of the World Cup Spain are building again and have the benefit of a relatively kind draw.
Who will win the Golden Boot?
NA I can’t decide between Romelu Lukaku and Harry Kane – so let’s go with Karim Benzema, which would make some storyline in itself.
PD Ferran Torres, although Spain will not go very far.
AH Spain’s Gerard Moreno. Had a fantastic season with Villarreal and has the players around him to maintain that form through the tournament.
DH Lukaku is an excellent bet because Belgium have a favourable run to the quarter-finals. He can do his damage by then.
JJ Kane – to follow his 2018 World Cup performance.
JL Ferran Torres has the feel of a player who could burgle four goals against Slovakia and then spend the rest of the tournament on the bench.
SL You’d say Kylian Mbappé but the difficulty of France’s group might reduce his chances. Oh go on then, Kane.
JS On the basis that Belgium have an inviting group, Lukaku.
BR Mbappé. Fit (just about) and an irresistible force right now.
LT Kane. He’s world class and will prove it.
JW Mbappé – got four goals at the World Cup and even better now; he’s a lot more than just his pace, but that can devastate sides, especially if they leave space behind them chasing games.
Who will be the surprise team of the tournament?
NA North Macedonia go in as outsiders but can call upon star quality from the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and a fine Dinamo Zagreb side. They are also relatively fresh from an eye-catching World Cup qualifying win in Germany.
PD Denmark, if reaching the quarter-finals counts as a surprise.
BF Denmark. Kasper Schmeichel, Simon Kjær, Christian Eriksen and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg suggest they have a strong spine. Turkey also seem to have the ingredients to spring a surprise.
AH Would Italy count as a surprise given their pedigree in the competition and form under Roberto Mancini? For the purposes of this answer, yes.
DH Switzerland are good enough to reach the quarter-finals and maybe even the semis.
JL Poland seem to have gone under the radar a bit. But they’ve improved appreciably over the last few years and have a good draw.
SL If we knew, it wouldn’t be a surprise would it? Sorry. Finland would be very nice.
EM It seems odd to throw the Dutch into this category but they have not qualified for the last two tournaments. If they win Group C – and they should – the route towards the final could be favourable. Memphis Depay’s international exploits speak for themselves.
JS There won’t be a lot of expectation around Italy after their failure to reach the last World Cup but they look strong under Roberto Mancini. A recent 4-0 win over the Czech Republic felt ominous.
LT Denmark. Aside from Turkey, Denmark look eminently capable of ruffling a few exalted feathers.
JW Denmark – very solid with just enough creativity to capitalise, plus a fairly straightforward draw could get them to the last eight.
Who will be the breakthrough player of the tournament?
NA If Jude Bellingham gets his chance for England he will seize it and, quite possibly, be impossible to dislodge from the midfield over the next decade. Elsewhere, the North Macedonia playmaker Elif Elmas has had an up-and-down time at Napoli but, at 21, remains a sumptuous talent and tends to turn on the style for his country.
PD Timothy Castagne should shine in his first big international tournament.
BF Bellingham looks destined to play minutes pending Jordan Henderson’s inevitable fitness struggles and, with my Wales head on, Daniel James has become an increasingly important threat and could take the onus off Gareth Bale. Diogo Jota could also thrive for Portugal.
AH Hopefully Pedri will get the opportunities to showcase his Barcelona form on the international stage for the first time.
DH Watch out for Jurriën Timber, the 19-year-old Netherlands centre-half – technically sound, composed on the ball, a true Ajax player.
JJ If Phil Foden starts regularly, watch him fly.
JL Federico Chiesa is one of those players who you want to see on the ball. Drives games forward, drives defences back. This could be his coming of age.
SL Alexander Isak.
EM Expect Jules Koundé to do his bit for sub-6ft centre-backs everywhere.
JS I’m looking forward to seeing Alex Kral. The Czech Republic midfielder is highly rated and could leave Spartak Moscow this summer.
BR Goran Pandev. Failing that, Billy Gilmour.
LT Mikkel Damsgaard. The 20-year-old Danish midfielder is a gamechanger.
JW Roman Yaremchuk – 25 now, and has been slowly improving, got 23 goals for Gent last season and is essentially the only goal threat for Ukraine, who are probably in the weakest group.
How far will England, Scotland and Wales get?
NA England seem a little undercooked but should win their group. Then it looks like either the second round or a place at the top table. There is some surprise-package potential in Scotland and I would not put a last-16 place past them, perhaps even as group runners-up. I fear for Wales in a tough group.
PD England and Scotland to fall in the last 16. Wales to go home after group stage.
BF England to top their group, Wales to squeeze through as runners-up to Italy. Scotland to finish behind England and Croatia.
AH Quarter-finals for England (but last 16 if they win Group D and face France, Portugal or Germany). Group-stage exits for Scotland and Wales.
DH Anything could happen with England; there is so much pre-tournament uncertainty. Quarter-finals, though, as the minimum. The ability is there. Scotland and Wales to reach the last 16.
JJ England: semi-finals. Scotland: out in the group stages. Wales: Same as Scotland.
JL Quarter-finals for England; I think they’ll get past Germany or Portugal in the last 16, but the effort will empty them. Scotland last 16; Wales group phase.
SL England: semi-finals. Scotland: second round. Wales: second round.
EM Despite home advantage, expect England to hit non-negotiable traffic around the quarter-finals due to their lack of options at centre-back and in goal. Wales and Scotland should both be aiming for the last 16.
JS I worry for England if they win their group and end up facing one of France, Germany or Portugal in the last 16. I don’t want to say that Scotland and Wales will go out in the first round, but they’re in difficult groups. Perhaps Scotland could cause a surprise, though. Steve Clarke has them playing well. Last 16!
BR England: quarter-finals; Scotland: group stages; Wales: last 16.
LT England will make the semi-finals and Scotland the round of 16. Wales will struggle to escape their group.
JW Last 16, last 16, out in group. England and Scotland have a tough second-round draw but home advantage should carry them through; Wales have a brutal group with a consistent Italy, a young and improving Turkey and the ever-dogged Swiss.
What are you most looking forward to, on or off the pitch?
NA The joyful fact of a major international tournament, even if its disparate nature dilutes the carnival factor: it has been a long time and these occasions become valuable markers in your life. Hopefully it passes without major hitches and becomes a sign that the world is on a path back towards normality.
PD The simple pleasure of beautiful goals.
BF The end of painfully subdued atmospheres at grounds. Even a few thousand will make a good racket.
AH Being among an almost full-capacity crowd in Budapest, especially when France and Portugal meet in their final group game. Hopefully with a lot at stake for both teams.
DH The FA Cup final gave us a glimpse of the kind of atmosphere that 21,000 fans can create inside Wembley. It was excellent and it should be replicated, and then some, for England’s matches there.
JJ A classic upset.
JL Tournament football. Packed pubs. The sound of Clive Tyldesley wafting through open windows. Football-hating friends getting into it. Last-16 permutations. Above all the sense of congregation, the sense of event, the sense that Something Big is happening.
SL The thing that normally makes a tournament so much fun isn’t happening this time. So the other thing that makes tournaments good, even if it doesn’t happen as often any more: discovery. There’s a player somewhere that you don’t know now but you will soon – and for the rest of your life.
EM How the wily Steve Clarke swats aside epic noise around the England v Scotland group stage tie. Clarke treats hubris with utter contempt; his role in this scene should be highly amusing.
JS England defying the knuckleheads by continuing to take the knee.
BR Friendly interaction with diverse humans from other sectors of infection (previously known as “countries”). It’s been a while.
LT Being at Hampden Park to watch Scotland in their first tournament since France 1998, listening to televised match analysis from Karen Carney as well as Emma Hayes’s studio punditry.
JW Potentially a symbolic beginning of the end of the Covid crisis with happy fans in sun-drenched stadiums.
What are you most concerned about, on or off the pitch?
NA There is always the fear that a Covid outbreak, even in one side, could cause ripples far into the tournament and lay bare the illogicality of its cross-continental structuring. Fingers crossed it does not, and let’s hope too that the footballers feel fit and ready to perform at their best after a packed, enervating schedule over the past 12 months.
BF Crossing the main drag on Baku’s promenade, home to the Formula One Grand Prix, to hop into a stuffy taxi in time for the big kick-off.
AH Being among an almost full-capacity crowd in Budapest.
DH That England’s yearning for a repeat of the much romanticised summer of 1996 falls flat; that the collective dream – after the year we have all had – weighs too heavily.
JJ A continuation of the racist abuse that players have sadly become targets of.
JL England fans deface a statue of Nelson Mandela in London and we spend a really fun week arguing about whether or not he was a Marxist.
How do I sign up for sport breaking news alerts?
EM There has to be a live danger of severe Covid disruption among squads, given the necessity for close-knit grouping and country-to-country travel. At a certain point, the tournament narrative could be dominated by such situations and the outcome overshadowed.
JS The reaction from the knuckleheads when England take a knee.
BR Civil unrest.
LT Covid-related bureaucracy at stadiums. Failing to fill in the Uefa online pre-match epidemiology form correctly and being refused entry. And pointless Covid theatre – do they really need to keep sanitising the crossbars at half-time?
JW The potential for Covid outbreaks, and the booing of taking a knee – which quite beyond its basic offensiveness could easily lead to violence in stadiums between those for and against it.