Country: Belgium

Manager: Roberto Martinez

Captain: Eden Hazard

Star man: Kevin De Bruyne

Best European Championship performance: Runners-up 1980


12 June: Russia @ St Petersberg Stadium, 8pm

17 June: Denmark @ Parken Stadium, 5pm

21 June: Finland @ St Petersberg Stadium, 8pm

After a third-place finish in the World Cup, Belgium go into this tournament as a leading contender. Their last European Championships ended in real disappointment with a quarter-final exit to Wales.

The "golden generation" is now at the peak of their powers. With nine players playing in the Premier League, and almost similar who previously plied their trade in England, the squad is a very familiar one to football fans in Ireland.

Thibaut Courtois will be in goals and there is huge experience with Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen in defence. Star man Kevin De Bruyne had an operation on the facial injury he sustained in the Champions League final. That caused some stressful days for Belgium and he may miss the opening match of the group stage. However a recovered and fresh Manchester City man will be more than sufficient with harder games to come after the group phase.

Belgium should be relatively comfortable in this group, even if they play two "away" games.

They will begin in Russia and also face a trip to Denmark. However, with the quality they possess It would be a major shock if they don't top this Group B.

Their real asset is the attacking option. Romelu Lukaku, who is still just 28, had enjoyed a good season in Serie A, while back-up man Christian Benteke finished strongly with Crystal Palace late in the campaign. There are question marks over Eden Hazard having failed to produce any real consistency at Real Madrid, while Michy Batshhuayi also finds his best football when wearing the red of Belgium with 22 goals in 34 games. There’s also Dries Mertens who could win his 100th cap in this tournament and throw in exciting teenage talent Jeremy Doku of Rennes as a surprise package.

Belgium face Russia in that first game and it is a familiar opponent, having come up against them in the qualifying stages. The games resulted in 3-1 and 4-1 wins for Belgium in a flawless journey qualify for the tournament. They won 10 matches out of 10 and only conceded one goal outside of the two consolations to Russia. In the end their scoring difference was +37, a reminder of just how potent they can be in attack.

Many doubted the appointment of manager Roberto Martinez, but there can be no doubting his record so far. Finishing third at the World Cup and reaching this tournament with such ease has been impressive. However, this is the defining tournament for the side. Much will be expected and you can be certain it will be fun to watch.

Country: Denmark

Manager: Kasper Hjulmand

Captain: Simon Kjær

Star man: Christian Eriksen

Best European Championship performance: Winners in 1992


12 June: Finland @ Parken Stadium, 5pm

17 June: Belgium @ Parken Stadum, 5pm

21 June: Russia, Parken Stadium, 8pm

While even the mention of the country may send a shudder down your back, we might as well get it out of the way that progression from this group could see the Danes face Switzerland. Now that we dwelt on the heartache of the Irish Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, we can almost move on.

There is one more correlation from an Irish point of view. Age Hareide was due to bow out from his position as Danish manager at the end of Euro 2020, before the pandemic struck.

Rather than see it through, Kasper Hjulmand stepped in as planned. He has made a decent start, with a win over England in the Nations League the highlight.

Again the Danish team brings some well-known names. Kasper Schmeichel Pierre-Emile Højbjer, Andreas Christensen and Christian Eriksen have been prominent Premier League players. Martin Braithwaite (Barcelona), Simon Kjær (AC Milan) and Yussuf Poulsen (RB Leipzig) bring more big game experience.

That is a factor that must be considered with Denmark.

FC Copenhagen youngster Jonas Wind has emerged as an option up front for Denmark.

Braithwaite and Poulsen would be more likely contenders but Wind, who has the wonderful middle name 'Older’, notched 15 in 28 games in the Danish Superliga as well as three goals in Europe.

Braithwaite found the net in their final friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Hjulmand may have to use various different options to find a potent scoring outlet. If he does, then Denmark could enjoy a good tournament.

Again, they will enjoy the home comforts of Copenhagen in all three matches so it will be an exciting time for a team rich in experience.

Belgium had two wins over the Danes in the Nations League but a last-16 place will be more than fancied with all that is in their favour.

Eriksen's performances will have a big say as usual.

Country: Russia

Manager: Stanislav Cherchesov

Captain: Artem Dzyuba

Star man: Aleksandr Golovin

Best European Championship performance: Winner 1960


12 June: Belgium @ St Petersberg Stadium, 5pm

16 June: Finland @ St Petersberg Stadium, 2pm

21 June: Denmark @ Parken Stadium, 8pm

The first reason for watching Russia is the large crowds which will be in attendance. They will have the largest group games attendance due to a 50% capacity decision by the Russian authorities.

They play two matches at home before a trip to Denmark so it’s fair to say that the opening game is going to be a big one.

They face Finland in the second game knowing it is the best opportunity to try to seal a last-16 place with home support as well as more tournament nous than their opposition. The opening clash is with Belgium where a draw would be a bonus.

The 2018 World Cup was a success for Russia in reaching the quarter-finals on home soil. Since that they have tried to freshen up the squad but to varying success.

The squad is very much Russia based. Monaco’s Aleksandr Golovin carries the hopes of the nation. Denis Cheryshev of Valencia brings plenty of experience, while Atalanta’s Aleksei Miranchuk and Antalyaspor’s Fyodor Kudryashov are the only other two players not competing in the Russian Premier League.

Golovin coped with the limelight at the World Cup, including scoring a goal, and he will be key to their success. Injuries restricted him to just 21 appearances in Ligue 1 this season but he is fit and ready to go here.

Artem Dzyuba will be the target man. It’s three years since Russia failed to win a game in which he scored. Indeed his country has only lose one game in which he found the net.

He has a better than one in two record with 29 in 52 matches and you can be absolutely certain that everything will go towards the 6ft 6inch striker.

Dzyuba was inspirational for Zenit St Petersberg in landing a third league crown in a row. If you’re looking for an outside contender for top scorer, you could do worse than look at Dzyuba.

Goalkeeping is an issue. Igor Akinfeev has turned down the chance to return to the side and it’s hard to blame him after being a hero of the 2018 home tournament against Spain. His replacements have failed to fire with Anton Shunin set to get the nod.

The squad is somewhat limited and you’d expect it to be a direct match between Russia and Finland to grab third place.

Country: Finland

Manager: Markku Kanerva

Captain: Tim Sparv

Star man: Teemu Pukki

Best European Championship performance: First appearance


12 June: Denmark @ Parken Stadium, 5pm

16 June: Russia @ St Petersberg Stadium, 2pm

21 June: Belgium @ St Petersberg Stadium, 8pm

You hope someone in Helsinki is going to sell fast food from a van and make a fortune, such is the romance of the story of Finland reaching the tournament for the first time. Perhaps our affection for them can be quenched slightly by wins last year against Stephen Kenny’s Ireland, but alas this Finnish team is something unique.

The squad is a wonderful mix of leagues and different divisions. From two players at Minnesota United, to Italy, Sweden, Greece, Scotland, Germany, Norway, Cyprus, the list goes on and on.

Star names, there aren’t many. Teemu Pukki has already secured legendary status. He scored 10 of their 16 goals in qualifying and 20 in the last four years. Remarkable he only struck 10 in the previous nine years. The dramatic improvement has been in line with Finland’s performance

So who got them there?

Markku Kanerva has been working in the international section of Finnish football for 17 years, from Under-21 to assistant boss. Since he took over as manager in 2016, his record is 19 wins from 35 matches.

They also have a competent goalkeeper. Lukas Hradecky plays for Bayer Leverkusen and while it was not a fantastic season, he is a very solid option for their first major tournament.

Joona Toivio is a veteran of the team and has played in several different leagues across Europe. Glen Kamara was a big part of Rangers' success this year since his switch from Dundee two and a half years ago.

Tim Sparv is lovely part of the Finland tale. He failed to make it at Southampton and like Toivio has moved across several clubs made an impact. Indeed he has just left in AEL in Greece. But international level is where he has made the biggest impact in his career. With 80 caps to his name, this is a fitting reward for over a decade of service and six years as captain.

Robin Lod has been one of the stars of the MLS this year. He can play wide or behind the striker and has been contributing multiple assists and goals. He could be the man to provide Pukki the service.

The Finns may not have tournament experience, but this is well-travelled and coached team. Pukki is nursing an ankle problem and it's vital he is ready to go. Their reliance on the Norwich City man cannot be understated.

The match will Russia, away from home, is the one to pinpoint. There is no doubt Finland are up against it but of all the countries part of the competition, they have the least to lose.

A win in a group game and these history-makers could be scaling even greater heights.

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