English club football is the best in the world. That’s now a statement beyond debate, or at least an extremely-solid argument.
Despite club teams of Europe such as Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain “gaming” their domestic leagues to collect a hoard of wonderful talent and produce dominating W-T-L records with minimal fatigue, the English Premier League has broken through in UEFA competition, with EPL representatives playing “intramural” finals against each other in the Champions League or Europa League in 2 of the past 3 cycles.
The phenomenal depth of quality in the United Kingdom is another topic. Premier League caboose Watford defeated Liverpool 3-0 in February of 2020 to ruin a potential “invincible” campaign for Reds. Liverpool’s season, like every sports club’s season around the globe, was delayed, truncated, and twisted around by COVID-19 precautions. Still, the outcome remains a stunning one. Imagine the 20th-ranked team in Spain, France, or Portugal whipping a 1st-place Paris or Barca 3-0 to ruin an undefeated season. Many UEFA supporters couldn’t even identify the 20th-ranked clubs in those nations. In England, the football ranks are so deep that clubs from lower-tier leagues can contend to win the FA Cup, even as the EPL becomes a worldwide cash-cow of epic proportions.
As international sports handicappers know, it’s easy to tout a national team as a favorite when it hails from the country with the best pro leagues. However, the circumstances are different in every arena. England deals with the same basic lineup issue as Brazil, Germany, and other FIFA aristocrats in that only 11 footballers are allowed on the pitch, despite the fact that you could put 5 or 6 quality teams together from each nation’s representatives in European club football. Three Lions also has the disadvantage of many of the “English” Premier League’s leading annual superstars hailing from elsewhere, like Mohamad Salah. Salah can’t represent Egypt under the UEFA banner, but other top-shelf talents like Man City’s Benjamin Mendy and Kevin de Bruyne will be working to defeat England’s national squad at Euro 2020.
Like the inevitable rise of American soccer promised by the presence of Christian Pulisic and other young Yankee stars, we know that the amazing depth and variety of English talent will eventually change the paradigm for handicapping Three Lions outcomes. It’s a question of when, and how. Typically, the advancement of a national team comes in unpredictable fits and starts, with only the fact that the squad’s FIFA or UEFA ranking is improving over time as a point of macro-analysis to cling to.
For the short term, most of the sport’s finest strikers and brilliant attackers don’t represent England, and many don’t face Premier League representatives quite often enough to be familiar targets. Goalkeeping and defending are the guideposts of any England National Team’s path to a tournament final, and yet Jordan Pickford is just 1 of many options in goal who’s run afoul of supporters and scouts at times. Three Lions could conceivably dominate at Euro 2020, but only if the team’s form is as perfect as the circumstances. Competition is too fierce for an explosion of Group Stage goals and easy victories like Man City marauding through a domestic tournament…or Man United against the Europa League.
England is a short but not prohibitive favorite to win Group D and enjoy a nice seeding at Euro 2020 with a (-275) line at Bovada Sportsbook. Croatia is considered the sole “live” underdog to upset England (or find another path to the top of the table) and win Group D, at just fatter-than 3/1 odds. Still, we’ve seen less optimistic underdog odds-to-win Group Stage than Scotland’s 16/1 or the 12-to-1 line on the Czech Republic.
Here’s a look at championship futures odds for every Euro 2020 contender, with Group D nations in bold.
UEFA Euro 2020: Outright Winner Odds and Recommended Futures Picks
(Odds courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook)
France : +470
England : +500
Belgium : +650
Spain : +750
Italy : +750
Germany : +800
Portugal : +900
Netherlands : +1300
Denmark : +2500
Croatia : +3200
Poland : +5500
Turkey : +5500
Russia : +6000
Switzerland : +6000
Sweden : +7500
Ukraine : +7500
Austria : +9500
Wales : +10000
Scotland : +10000
Slovakia : +10000
Hungary : +10000
Czech Republic : +10000
Finland : +10000
North Macedonia : +10000
England’s unbeaten and undrawn in friendlies this year, but had a sour showing in Nations League round-robin matches late in 2020, failing to beat Denmark in consecutive tries and losing 0-2 to Belgium. It helps that all healthy hands will be on-deck for Euro 2020, though 24 y/o Dean Henderson’s presence means that any Pickford howlers in Group Stage could drive the squad to distraction as supporters call for a change.
Pickford and Henderson aren’t wanting for back-line assistance. The Three Lions are blessed with a foundation-stone on the depth chart in the form of a who’s-who of Man City and Man United defenders. Backs like Tyrone Miggs from stubborn Aston Villa round-out the reserves. England’s midfield is of a similar cream-crop makeup, though the 2021 unit could be pegged for its inexperience in spots, outside of the excellent Jordan Henderson of Liverpool.
Will Marcus Rashford provide the spark and dynamism on the attack that Three Lions has sometimes lacked in big international matches? France’s ascendance to the top of FIFA football has shown that when rising superstars in their 20s are combined on forward lines and in midfield, the dangerous ensemble-cast allows each individual to flourish more by-turns as opponents don’t know who to focus on defending. Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, and Raheem Sterling could combine for a deadly front-line attack. Phil Foden provides another set of useful, young legs.
Croatia’s game plan for Sunday’s opening Group Stage match against England almost writes itself. “The Checkered Ones” cannot compete in a straight-ahead match or a match of wide-open, competing counters. Rather, the Croatians must employ a grizzled set of midfielders, led by Luka Modrić of Real Madrid, to attack Three Lions at its weakest and win the football near the center stripe, leading to pesky offense for the underdogs and a lack of possession-time for the English.
So is Team Croatia the obvious pick for low-risk Group Stage bets, and even a better wager than England in gold-medal futures due to the early “spoiler” factor? Not so fast. WagerBop’s going in another direction, due to the negatives we’ll discuss in the England vs Croatia preview on scroll.
Scotland is a superior Group Stage underdog pick due in-part to the fact that less risk is necessary to earn a decent payoff if the Scots prevail, in addition to a wealth of Premiership talent on the back line and in midfield that could quietly be poised to accomplish Croatia’s ill-fated designs on limiting Three Lions ball-possession, or at least help forge a stalemate and a flaky outcome of some sort at Wembley Stadium. Scotland hosts 2 other Group D fixtures and opens with a winnable match vs the Czechs.
England (UEFA Euro 2020 Outright Winner) (2 unit bet)
Scotland (Group D Winner) (1/2 or 1 unit bet)
Euro 2020 Group Stage: Group D Match Previews, Odds, and Predictions
England vs Croatia
England is (-140) to defeat Croatia just like Belgium is a (-140) Group Stage bet to win its maiden Euro 2020 match vs Russia. Even though WagerBop is touting Red Devils to beat the Russians in Group B, it appears that Three Lions could be an even-safer pick at the same price to win its opening Group D match against Croatia. Problems in Group Stage could come later for a favorite that’s gotten better at the 1 thing Croatia has clung-to in matches against England – the oldest sport.
No, not wrestling. Running! England’s team speed wasn’t bad in the 2018 World Cup, but the Croatians were able to play just as speedily on the pitch against Three Lions while looking like a set of slow-motion holograms against France in the final. We shouldn’t expect Team England to show up to Euro 2020 moving its feet (or the football) quite as fast as Les Bleus, but the presence of youth in midfield and an athletically mature group of elite strikers will ensure that England can play at a quicker pace successfully in the European championship.
What that means for Croatia is that even if the visiting midfielders at Wembley Stadium can put a cork in England’s transition passing with a “corker” of a performance, Three Lions will always be a threat to counter and run up the pitch with speed that out-flanks Croatia’s backs. We could see a match in which the underdog sees surprisingly large amounts of possession time in the 1st half, only for England to break things wide open with a counterattacking goal early in the 2nd half.
That makes a savvy live-wager potentially more profitable than any moneyline, spread, or Handicap Draw found in Bovada or FanDuel Sportsbook’s other England vs Croatia markets.
WagerBop’s Picks: England (-140) + “Over” in-play on any 0-0 or 1-1 halftime score
Scotland vs Czech Republic
Monday’s pairing from Group D is a lot more evenly-handicapped, with Scotland a (+190) “underdog” on a Bovada “Game Odds” board that also includes CZE at (+175) and a Draw line of (+190).
If there are questions about Scotland’s goalkeeping, there should be concern about Lokomotiva between the posts. Czech Republic mainstay Tomáš Vaclík is being phased-out at Sevilla at age 32, while Jiří Pavlenka is a 2nd-tier league goalkeeper in Germany. Over (2) is a surprising low risk gamble for 2 upstart teams that preach defending, but Scotland at 2/1 payoff is undoubtedly the sweetest-available wager in Group D.
WagerBop’s Picks: Scotland (+190) + Over (2) goals
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.