The past year has been a tumultuous one, with this pandemic changing the lives of everyone in the world. Just like all other aspects of our daily lives, the world of sports was also heavily affected. As for international football, things are starting to look upwards as of now, with all of the other major leagues already underway with some even finishing the season.
But as we approach the middle of the summer, the postponement of each country’s domestic league means that all the international tournaments set for the summer of 2020 had to be pushed back a year. If not for the pandemic, this past week would have seen the final of both Copa America 2020, cohosted in Argentina and Colombia, and Euro 2020, hosted in 12 nations across Europe. A few weeks ago, we looked at what could have happened if the Champions Final was never postponed. So this time, in a hypothetical alternative universe where the pandemic never occurred, and the tournaments went on as usual, let’s go through what would have been my predictions for both Euro 2020 and the Copa America 2020.
Copa America 2020
There really is no way around it. Brazil are no doubt the best team in South America, and possibly even the best team in the world right now. Arguably the best manager in Brazilian football, Tite, is at the helm, and he was able to give a strong defensive spine to the team, allowing the flair players to perform their Joga Bonito tricks and resulting in a very well-balanced and resolute system. Not to mention that Brazil seemingly have a world-class player in every position. While there are definitely other great teams in South America, Brazil are simply head and shoulders above everyone else, even if they aren’t at the great heights of the 2002-2006 squad. Last summer, Brazil dominated the 2019 Copa America, and despite them not being on home soil anymore, I can see them doing that again.
The one possible issue that may arise is the Neymar factor. For years in the past, the Brazilian team on occasion has relied too heavily on Neymar. Interestingly, last summer, Neymar was injured and missed the Copa America despite Brazil going on to win it, leading to some believing Brazil is better off without Neymar. However, you can also look at it differently and say that with Neymar in the squad, Brazil has the third best player in the world at their disposal — not to mention that this Brazilian squad is good enough to not need to rely on Neymar.
Last summer, Colombia was arguably the best team in the group stage, despite exiting rather meekly against Chile in the quarterfinals on penalties. The team under Carlos Queiroz has a new defensive solidity, all while still retaining the attacking talents of James Rodriguez, Radamel Falcao and Juan Cuadrado. I believe that Colombia will be able to build upon their performance last year and play more consistently. Also, being cohosts of the tournament and having the home fans behind the team will greatly help. As evidence: the last time Colombia hosted the Copa America in 2001, they were champions. Will that be enough to topple Brazil, however? I don’t think so.
3rd Place: Argentina
Just as with Colombia, being a host nation and having the home fans behind you greatly helps. Argentina is a tricky team to predict, as they have world-class players up top and the best player in the world right now in Lionel Messi, but their midfield and defense are nowhere near as strong. And even more damaging, the Argentine FA is incredibly incompetent and famously corrupt. That being said, Argentina were able to find a good system and sustain a string of good performances at the end of the last Copa America, and I think that they be able to utilize it much more this summer.
4th Place: Paraguay
Last summer, Paraguay played very well and surprised many people. While far from perfect, this was the best form Paraguay was in since 2011 when they reached the final. Possessing a good attack all centered around Miguel Almiron, I believe Paraguay is set for an even better summer in 2020 than they were in 2019. Their weaker defense will hold them back, but an amazing tournament from Almiron will carry them to great heights.
Top Scorer: Lautaro Martínez
Out of all the world-class strikers that Argentina possess at the moment, Lautaro Martinez is the one who performs the most consistently over the short amount of time he’s been with the National Team. I expect him to continue that trend, especially since this current Argentine team directly benefits his style of play. Not to mention that Argentina has been drawn into a group that will see plenty of goals. Close runners up will be Gabriel Jesus of Brazil, Josef Martinez of Venezuela and Almoez Ali of Qatar.
Best Player: Miguel Almiron
As mentioned before, both Paraguay and Miguel Almiron are destined for great things this summer. Coming off a great season with Newcastle, Almiron is an explosive player with a lot of talent. This tournament will be where he announces himself on the big stage internationally. Other players worthy of mention will be James Rodriguez of Colombia, Marquinhos of Brazil and, of course, Lionel Messi of Argentina.
Best Goalkeeper: Alisson Becker
Just like last tournament, in which Brazil had the best defense in the tournament, I expect the same to occur. This environment will allow Becker to thrive, showing why he is the best goalkeeper on the continent and in contention for best in the world. Other players worth a mention are David Ospina of Colombia and Wuilker Farinez of Venezuela.
Biggest Surprise Team: Paraguay
As I said before, this will be a tournament to remember for Paraguay. Every tournament sees a team surprise the world and make a great run; last summer it was Peru, and this time it will be Paraguay. A team that has a good mixture of young players and veterans, Paraguay will hit the right form at the right time. Other teams that could do better than expected are Qatar and Venezuela.
Biggest Flop Team: Peru
Speaking of Peru, as well as they did last time — making it to the final and valiantly standing up to Brazil — I don’t think they will be able to replicate that form this time around. A majority of the best players in this team, such as Paolo Guerrero, Pedro Gallese and Jefferson Farfan, are all in their thirties. For a Peruvian generation who did great things over the past few years, this will be the beginning of their decline. Other teams who may potentially disappoint are Chile and Uruguay.
Many people forget that Portugal have conquered Europe twice in the past two tournaments, winning both Euro 2016 and the 2019 UEFA Nations League. This team is one of the best in the world at the moment and have all the tools to climb to the top of the pile. While Portugal were definitely lucky to win Euro 2016, the team are far better now than they were four years ago. Of course, they still have one of the greatest players of all time, Cristiano Ronaldo, but they no longer have to solely rely on Ronaldo as Portugal now possess an array of bright young stars.
But along with those flourishing talents, they still retain a lot of experienced veterans from that squad that won the Euros in 2016, creating one of the most balanced teams in the world. Not to mention that they still have manager Fernando Santos, who, while not the most well-known, is no doubt a top-class manager and tactician. And of course, there is the Ronaldo factor. Just like with Argentina and Messi, even if the team doesn’t play to its potential, there always is the possibility that Ronaldo takes the tournament by storm and wins it for Portugal himself. The difference between Ronaldo and Messi is that Ronaldo has the more competent supporting cast.
Just like Portugal, England are far better than they were in the past few years, despite already achieving great things. After finishing fourth at the World Cup and making the semifinals in the Nations League, this English generation has progressed even farther when looking at player quality. Players like Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson, who were very good, are now world-class, and there are also newer additions to the first team such as Jadon Sancho and Trent Alexander-Arnold. While I don’t see them eclipsing Portugal, this will could be the best showing England has had at a major tournament in a very long time.
Semifinals: Netherlands and Italy
Akin to both Portugal and England, the Netherlands — and Italy, for the matter — have squads littered with great young talent that they did not have in previous years. The Netherlands possess possibly the strongest starting backline in the world, with Virgil van Dijk, Matthijs de Ligt, Stefan de Vrij and many other talented players throughout the team. However, while they do have a great squad, it isn’t strong enough to top Portugal and England, nor do the Netherlands have a proper striker.
Italy is in the same boat. In terms of young players, they arguably have the most exciting midfield in the world, with Stefano Sensi, Federico Chiesa and Nicolo Zaniolo, along with established players, like Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Insigne. However, while they have an arsenal of youth players, there exists an absence of veterans, and this lack of experience will bar Italy from reaching higher heights.
Top Scorer: Memphis Depay
In a team without a designated striker, a lot of pressure will be Memphis Depay to be the primary goal-scorer — pressure that he has thrived on in the past. With a strong team behind him, including a particularly formidable midfield, Memphis will be the sole focal point of all of the Dutch attacks. Not to mention that the Netherlands have been drawn into a group with teams who do not have the best defenses. Other players who will score high will be Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Ciro Immobile of Italy.
Best Player: Cristiano Ronaldo
I predict Portugal to win Euro 2020, and no one embodies the Portuguese National Team more than Cristiano Ronaldo. Not only does he chip in with goals and assists, but his role in the team as a leader and captain makes him so important. Even off the pitch, his presence in the locker room is essential, as was evident in the Euro 2016 Final, when he was injured yet still motivated his team from the touchline and pushed them to victory. If Portugal do as well as I think they will, Ronaldo will have a major part to play, with goals or otherwise. Other individual players who will do very well are Bernardo Silva (also of Portugal), Raheem Sterling of England, Christian Eriksen of Denmark and Virgil van Dijk of the Netherlands.
Best Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Donnarumma
One of the most promising young goalkeepers right now, Euro 2020 will be the tournament that Gianluigi Donnarumma announces himself to the world as a top-class goalkeeper. Only 21 years of age yet already Italy’s starting goalie, Donnarumma will benefit greatly from Italy’s strong defensive system and show up greatly when his team needs him. Other notable keepers will be Rui Patricio of Portugal and Sinan Bolat of Turkey.
Biggest Surprise Team: Turkey
Turkey is a team with all the tools to be a potential dark horse. Despite having a squad of relatively unknown players, the squad has a lot of talent. In Caglar Soyuncu, they have arguably the best defender in the Premier League of this season, as well as a plethora of underrated attackers, such as Cengiz Under, Cenk Tosun, Hakan Calhanoglu and Enes Unal. Other potential dark horse teams are Denmark and possibly Ukraine.
Biggest Flop Team: Croatia
Unfortunately for Croatia, I do not think they will be able to replicate their wonderful run to the World Cup Final two years ago. Much of the strong spine that made up the team is either no longer there or below where they were at the World Cup. Veterans like Mario Mandzukic, Danijel Subasic and Vedran Corluka have retired, while stars Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic are nowhere near as good as they were in 2018. As sad as it is to see, Croatia’s Golden Generation has passed, and their younger players are simply not good enough to replace them. Other teams who have a big chance to disappoint are Belgium, France and Russia.