Group A gives us the first game of the delayed Euro 2020 in the shape of Turkey v Italy and also offers one of the most finely balanced groups in the competition.
All four teams will go into the group with a reasonable expectation of progressing and the opening round of fixtures will be crucial.
Italy are the favourites to progress and should do so, but Wales will be hoping to rekindle their run of 2016, Switzerland got to the knockout stage of both Euro 2016 and World Cup 2018, while Turkey appear to be hitting form at just the right time.
Manager: Roberto Mancini
Captain: Giorgio Chiellini
Player to watch: Giacomo Raspadori
Best European Championship performance: Winners 1968
Fixtures: 11 June: Turkey @ Stadio Olimpico, 8pm
16 June: Switzerland @ Stadio Olimpico, 8pm
20 June: Wales @ Stadio Olimpico, 5pm
Italy come into the tournament as one of the form teams in international football. With a perfect qualifying record and an unbeaten streak that now stretches to 27 games, expectations are justifiably high.
Under manager Roberto Mancini the Azzurri have evolved into an aggressive side with a real attacking mindset, far removed from the defence-first Italy sides of old.
Mancini employs a 4-3-3 formation which is often more like a 3-2-5 in possession with a full-back and a midfielder joining in with the front line. The midfield solidity of Jorginho and Marco Verratti helps to cover the gaps and as a result of their aggressive approach, Italy averaged close to four goals a game in qualifying.
Verratti has been a key player for Mancini, so much so that the Italian boss included him in his final squad despite major doubts over his fitness. The midfielder suffered knee ligament damage last month and has been training away from the Italian squad as he completes his rehabilitation.
The Paris St Germain player is not expected to be feature in the group opener against Turkey and could struggle to be involved in any group game. His inclusion is a risk, as would be dropping him in at the deep end during the knock-out phase should it come to that.
Elsewhere, Mancini has been able to blend real experience with youth, as the likes of Sassuolo duo Manuel Locatelli, who looks set to replace Verratti in the group games, and Giacomo Raspadori have been able to force their way into the final squad.
Indeed Raspadori was included in the squad despite never being capped at senior level. The 21-year-old striker only became available for selection when the Italian side went out of the Under-21 Euros but went on to make his international bow against the Czech Republic last Friday, coming off the bench to replace Ciro Immobile.
Mancini looks likely to give Raspadori further chances to impress as a substitute and he could be set for a breakout tournament.
The Italians will have the considerable advantage of playing all of their group games at the Stadio Olimpico and even though they didn’t need it, that boost is likely to help them on their way to topping the group.
Manager: Vladimir Petkovic
Captain: Granit Xhaka
Player to watch: Breel Embolo
Best European Championship performance: Round of 16, 2016
Fixtures: 12 June: Wales @ Baku Olimpiya Stadionu, 2pm
16 June: Italy @ Stadio Olimpico, 8pm
20 June: Turkey @ Stadio Olimpico, 8pm
Republic of Ireland fans know all about Switzerland, having watched Vladimir Petkovic’s side top their Euro 2020 qualifying group but while the Swiss are up against a different standard of opposition here, they do so with some very fresh key players.
Given the hectic nature of soccer during the pandemic, some countries are patching up wearing stars to get through another month of football but Petkovic is in the fortunate position of being able to call upon experienced players who are desperate for minutes.
None more so than key playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri who has found game time difficult to come by at Liverpool, but who remains essential to the way the Swiss play, sitting in behind the front two and pulling the strings.
Likewise, Newcastle centre-back Fabian Schar missed most of the club season through injury but is now fit and raring to go, along with Eintracht Frankfurt’s Steven Zuber, who also didn’t rack up many miles on the body this season.
Under normal circumstances, having so many key players come into the tournament without enough playing time at club level could be a concern but they’re all established players under Petkovic who know exactly what the manager wants and exactly what their role will be. Settling back in will not be an issue and nor will fatigue.
This is Petkovic’s third successive international tournament, having brought the Swiss to the 2016 Euros and 2018 World Cup and he was able to lead his side out of the group stage on both occasions.
Petkovic likes to set-up in a 3-4-1-2 formation with two wing-backs and Shaqiri playing in the hole behind Embolo and Haris Seferovic, who Ireland fans will remember for Switzerland’s 2-0 qualifying victory back in 2019.
The manager has pinpointed the opening game against Wales as the most important in the group and should Switzerland emerge victorious, they would hope to move on into the last 16 for the third tournament in a row.
Manager: Senol Gunes
Captain: Burak Yilmaz
Player to watch: Yusuf Yazici
Best European Championship performance: Semi-finalists 2008
11 June: Ital y@ Stadio Olimpico, 8pm
16 June: Wales @ Baku Olimpiya Stadionu, 5pm
20 June: Switzerland @ Baku Olimpiya Stadionu, 5pm
Of all the teams to qualify for Euro 2020, Turkey have perhaps benefitted the most from the year-long delay.
Having impressed mightily during qualifying where they took four points from France and only missed out on top spot in Group D thanks to a surprise defeat to Iceland, the Turks were facing into an injury crisis ahead of the tournament.
Ozan Kabak, Yusuf Yazici, Merih Demiral and Cenk Tosun were all injured and all poised to miss the tournament and while Tosun is again ruled out through injury, Turkey welcome back the three other key players, who have returned to fitness and who have all enjoyed an impressive season.
Senol Gunes’ side are also finding form at just the right time. A poor Nations League campaign where they were relegated to the C league as they won just one game from six has quickly been banished from the memory with recent displays against Germany and the Netherlands and there’s the sense that the Turks are again back to their best.
Like their qualifying success, Turkey’s recent notable wins have been built on the back of a solid defence. Gunes has a wealth of options at the back but is likely to pair either Kabak or Juve’s Merih Demiral with Leicester’s Caglar Soyuncu together at centre-back with Mehmet Zeki Celik on the right and Ridvan Yilmaz on the left.
Much of Turkey’s woes during the Nations League came due to experimentation with formations from Gunes but he has now appeared to have settled on a 4-2-3-1 approach, with veteran striker and inspirational captain Burak Yılmaz leading the line, in front of an attacking trio of Kenan Karaman, AC Milan star Hakan Calhanoglu and Lille’s Yusuf Yazici behind him.
Both Calhanoglu and Yazici are in the form of their careers after outstanding club campaigns and if the 35-year-old Yılmaz is able to pull one big swansong performance out of what is likely to be his final major tournament, Turkey could be one of the dark horses of the tournament.
Solid at the back and dangerous in attack is usually enough is tournament football and that’s exactly what Turkey are.
Manager: Robert Page
Captain: Gareth Bale
Player to watch: Harry Wilson
Best European Championship performance: Semi-finalists 2016
Fixtures: 12 June: Switzerland@ Baku Olimpiya Stadionu, 2pm
16 June: Turkey@Baku Olimpiya Stadionu, 8pm
22 June: Italy@Stadio Olimpico, 5pm
Five years on and memories of Wales’ stunning 2016 campaign still feel fresh in the mind.
Under then manager Chris Coleman, the Welsh were the story of 2016 as the nations Golden Generation, a tag which Coleman encouraged, stunned everybody by topping their group and then progressing all the way to the semi-finals in France.
Five years on and things are slightly less hopeful. Qualifying with the lowest points total of any team, Wales have struggled to maintain any kind of form in recent times. Comprehensive defeats to France and Belgium aren’t necessarily reasons for concern but their most recent game, a scoreless draw with Albania with their near first-choice eleven is.
Wales main problem is obvious – their key players are the wrong side of 30 and the supporting cast aren’t up to their level.
Gareth Bale, so long the driving force and main attacking threat for the Welsh, appears to be sauntering towards retirement and his loan move from Real Madrid to Tottenham did not spark the career revival that many hoped it would.
Meanwhile the likes of Joe Allen and Chris Gunter, who were at their peak in 2016, are not the players they were, while Aaron Ramsey has endured a couple a seasons tormented by injury. Other heroes of 2016 such as Ashley Williams have retired or been left out of the squad in the case of Hal Robson-Kanu.
Then there’s the matter of the manager. Coleman had created a huge sense of unity and pride for the Welsh team, surfing a wave of good will and optimism after leading his country to their first tournament in 58 years. This time around Robert Page is in charge, still on a temporary basis, following Ryan Giggs’ November arrest on suspicion of assault
It’s not all bad news for Welsh fans however. They have some very promising young players, with the likes of Ethan Ampadu, Joe Rodon, Neco Williams, Harry Wilson and Daniel James all in their early 20s and all likely to feature prominently at this tournament.
Of that quintet, James will be the player that Page relies on most. While the Manchester United star has struggled at times to force himself into Ole Gunnar’s Solskjaer’s thoughts at club level, he has become indispensable for Wales.
James has developed a fine understanding with Bale up front for the Welsh and his absence through sickness for their recent 0-0 draw with Albania was keenly felt. Expect to see that duo play in behind Cardiff City targetman Kieffer Moore for the opening game against the Swiss.