Euro 2020: Turkey, Croatia, Denmark and Poland are dark horses looking to spring a surprise

It’s clear the Euro 2020 favourites will be the usual suspects. World champions France will be backed by the bookmakers with England, Belgium and Germany all viewed as potential winners.

But the European Championship has a long tradition of teams upsetting the established order and even going all the way – Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004 won the tournament, while the unfancied Czech Republic reached the final in 1996.

So who will follow in their footsteps this time? We take a look at the nations who could spring a surprise on the favourites and get to the business end of the Euros.

Euro 2020 gets underway on Friday and there will be plenty of underdogs looking to surprise

Euro 2020 gets underway on Friday and there will be plenty of underdogs looking to surprise 

TURKEY

It’s fair to say Turkey blow hot and cold at tournaments. They reached the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup and also Euro 2008 but were also dire at Euro 2016 and failed to exit the group stage.

This time, they undoubtedly have dark horse potential. Not only is the coach who guided them to that 2002 success, Senol Gunes, back at the helm, but many of their players come into the tournament in great form.

Gunes has made clear his ambition to top Group A ahead of Italy, Wales and Switzerland, which would be an achievement.

Turkey striker Burak Yilmaz (left) celebrates one of his three goals against Holland in March

Turkey striker Burak Yilmaz (left) celebrates one of his three goals against Holland in March

Turkey striker Burak Yilmaz (left) celebrates one of his three goals against Holland in March

But nobody will faze this Turkish side after some eye-catching results in recent times. They duffed Holland 4-2 in World Cup qualifying in March with the evergreen 35-year-old striker Burak Yilmaz scoring a hat-trick.

They also took four points off France in qualifying for this tournament and it was only dropped points against Iceland that prevented them pipping the world champions to top spot.

There are faces familiar to English-based fans, not least the Leicester City defender Caglar Soyuncu and Liverpool’s Ozan Kabak, who has overcome the injury that curtailed his Anfield loan.

Senol Gunes was the man who guided Turkey to the World Cup semi-finals back in 2002

Senol Gunes was the man who guided Turkey to the World Cup semi-finals back in 2002

Senol Gunes was the man who guided Turkey to the World Cup semi-finals back in 2002

The Juventus man mountain Merit Demiral will likely partner Soyuncu at the heart of defence and a bit more resilience is required after they leaked too many goals in the autumn internationals.

At least Demiral and Kabak will be there – had the tournament been staged when it was supposed to be 12 months ago, they’d both have been sidelined through injury.

Turkey actually have the youngest average age of any of the 24 nations – about 25 years – and even that’s skewed by the presence of Yilmaz.

The veteran is in sensational form after his 16 goals and five assists guided Lille to a stunning Ligue 1 title win.

Leicester's Caglar Soyuncu will be marshalling the Turkey defence during the tournament

Leicester's Caglar Soyuncu will be marshalling the Turkey defence during the tournament

Leicester’s Caglar Soyuncu will be marshalling the Turkey defence during the tournament 

Turkey sides are usually entertaining to watch and this one won’t be any exception. Hakan Calhanoglu of AC Milan created more chances than anyone else in Serie A last season and is an accomplished set-piece taker.

Then there’s Yusuf Yazici, also of Lille, who scored 14 times from midfield in their title-winning campaign.

With Gunes dreaming of a rerun of 2002, Turkey will certainly offer entertainment if nothing else.

Hakan Calhanoglu was a chance creator supreme for AC Milan during the Italian season

Hakan Calhanoglu was a chance creator supreme for AC Milan during the Italian season

Hakan Calhanoglu was a chance creator supreme for AC Milan during the Italian season

POLAND

None of the tournament favourites can boast Europe’s deadliest striker in their ranks. Poland can.

Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski, off the back of beating Gerd Muller’s 40-goal Bundesliga goalscoring record, could not be in better form ahead of the Euros.

The man named FIFA’s best player last year ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi has never really delivered in a tournament (just one goal in his last 10 World Cup or Euro outings) but Poland’s hopes revolve around him.

Poland's Robert Lewandowski comes into Euro 2020 as the most in-form striker in Europe

Poland's Robert Lewandowski comes into Euro 2020 as the most in-form striker in Europe

Poland’s Robert Lewandowski comes into Euro 2020 as the most in-form striker in Europe 

Their coach, the Portuguese Paulo Sousa, certainly isn’t daft. ‘The absolutely basic element of our game in the attack must be to feed Lewandowski,’ he said recently.

At least Sousa, late of QPR, Swansea and Leicester, has restored a certain flair to Poland’s play after his predecessor Jerzy Brzeczek was fired earlier this year after guiding them to a comfortable qualification six points ahead of Austria.

Stuttering performances under Brzeczek have been upgraded to greater fluidity under Sousa, who has introduced a flexible three/five-man defence depending on whether they have possession.

Portuguese coach Paulo Sousa has transformed the team and made them far more watchable

Portuguese coach Paulo Sousa has transformed the team and made them far more watchable

Portuguese coach Paulo Sousa has transformed the team and made them far more watchable

Arkadiusz Milik won’t be at the final because of injury but the likes of Mateusz Klich of Leeds, Jakub Moder of Brighton and the Lokomotiv Moscow duo Grzegorz Krychowiak and Maciej Rybus will hope to run the show (and feed Lewandowski).

At Euro 2016, Poland never trailed at any point and felt themselves unfortunate to lose to eventual champions Portugal in the quarter-finals.

Drawn into Group E, it’s likely to be a case of fighting Sweden and Slovakia to finish second behind Spain. Achieve that and they could go a bit further if Lewandowski continues a dazzling few months.

Mateusz Klich (left) and Jan Bednarek (right) share a joke during a Poland training session

Mateusz Klich (left) and Jan Bednarek (right) share a joke during a Poland training session

Mateusz Klich (left) and Jan Bednarek (right) share a joke during a Poland training session

CROATIA

Is there any more to come from Croatia’s most talented generation? Or did they peak in reaching the final of the 2018 World Cup?

For starters, some of those involved in that tournament, which culminated with a 4-2 defeat to France in Moscow, have retired. There’s no more Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic or Daniel Subasic.

But others are still going strong – Ivan Perisic, Sime Vrsaljko, Marcelo Brozovic, Ante Rebic and, of course, Luka Modric – are all in this summer’s squad.

Modric is 35 and probably only has a couple of tournaments left but everything still revolves around his enduring class in the heart of midfield.

Luka Modric, at 35, remains central to Croatia's hopes of success at the upcoming Euros

Luka Modric, at 35, remains central to Croatia's hopes of success at the upcoming Euros

Luka Modric, at 35, remains central to Croatia’s hopes of success at the upcoming Euros

Real Madrid didn’t have the best of seasons but Modric still ended up with six goals and six assists, a springboard into the tournament.

Everything will have to click again as it did at the Russia World Cup three summers ago because Croatia haven’t been in the greatest of form.

They qualified comfortably enough but were pretty dreadful in the UEFA Nations League, lost their opening World Cup qualifier to Slovenia and could only draw with Armenia in a recent friendly.

Croatia were beaten by France in the World Cup final in 2018 and will hope to go one better

Croatia were beaten by France in the World Cup final in 2018 and will hope to go one better

Croatia were beaten by France in the World Cup final in 2018 and will hope to go one better

There have been calls to refresh a creaking defence that includes ex-Liverpool man Dejan Lovren, 31, with younger players and Vrsaljko’s knee injury precluded him from most of Atletico Madrid’s title-winning campaign.

Croatia start with a stern test against England, who have home advantage at Wembley, but will be fancied to get out of Group D ahead of Scotland and the Czech Republic.

After that, it’s a case of rediscovering the combination of fortune and talent from 2018 that took them past Denmark and Russia on penalties before they came from behind to sink England in the semis.

Sime Vrsaljko comes into the tournament off the back of an injury-hit campaign at Atletico

Sime Vrsaljko comes into the tournament off the back of an injury-hit campaign at Atletico

Sime Vrsaljko comes into the tournament off the back of an injury-hit campaign at Atletico

DENMARK

Denmark dreams of a repeat of 1992, when their squad were packing for their summer holidays when learning they were to replace the expelled Yugoslavia in the tournament.

Remarkably, they went on to win the tournament but living up to that golden group has proved exceedingly difficult since. Indeed, Denmark didn’t even appear at the last Euros.

But Kasper Hjulmand’s team arrive in pretty good form. They made a perfect start to their World Cup qualifying campaign, including a 4-0 thrashing of Austria in Vienna, and recently held Germany to a 1-1 draw.

Danish dynamo Christian Eriksen on the ball during one of their recent matches

Danish dynamo Christian Eriksen on the ball during one of their recent matches

Danish dynamo Christian Eriksen on the ball during one of their recent matches 

The challenge now is to take another step up and perform well consistently against the top teams. They lost twice against Belgium, for example, in the Nations League last autumn but beat England at Wembley.

They have been paired with Belgium, Russia and Finland in Group B and Denmark have the luxury of home advantage in Copenhagen for all three of those games.

Many in the Danish squad need little introduction to an English audience, with Leicester’s FA Cup winner Kasper Schmeichel in goal, Andreas Christensen of Chelsea in fine fettle and Tottenham midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg all likely starters.

Expect them to be functional and hard-working. The back line, also including Simon Kjaer and Daniel Wass, will be tough for any opponent to break down. Hojbjerg will play in midfield next to Borussia Dortmund’s Thomas Delaney.

Denmark will have the vastly experienced Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel

Denmark will have the vastly experienced Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel

Denmark will have the vastly experienced Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel 

Then Christian Eriksen – in much better form than 12 months ago – will be the magic-maker from what is a non-fixed station in attacking midfield.

Eriksen has been linked with moves away from Inter Milan at various points but ended the season as a league title winner and will shoulder the burden of expectation for his team once more.

Even more so as one of their main strikers, Martin Braithwaite, didn’t get a run of regular football for Barcelona.

Andreas Christensen has just won the Champions League with Chelsea after a great season

Andreas Christensen has just won the Champions League with Chelsea after a great season

Andreas Christensen has just won the Champions League with Chelsea after a great season

You’d expect Denmark to have enough to finish above Russia and Finland to make the last-16 with Belgium.

As is the case with a lot of the contenders, it isn’t imperative everything clicks right away in the group stages. With the original 24 whittled down to 16 in time for the knockout stages, just three or four points might be enough to get through.

It’s a time for building up some steam before ambushing some of the bigger names feeling the pressure in the knockout rounds.

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