Since the format of the European Championships was changed to include 24 teams rather than 16, there have been opportunities for some lower ranked national teams to enjoy the glamour of a major international tournament. Euro 2016 saw the likes of Albania, Northern Ireland and Hungary compete, with the latter two both reaching the knockout stages.
This year, the European Championships will feature two debutants, and a few other sides who will be seeking to spring a surprise by defying the Euros winner odds, as the likes of Greece have done in the past. Let’s zero in on three low-ranked teams.
With a FIFA World Ranking of 62, North Macedonia are comfortably the lowest ranked team at this summer’s European Championships, but they’ll be brimming with confidence ahead of their maiden appearance at a major international tournament. Having finished third in their qualification group behind Poland and Austria, they secured their place in the finals through the play-off path, defeating Kosovo and Georgia to get there.
Now, they can bask in the glory of a major tournament, and you feel the main aim for North Macedonia will be to simply enjoy it. Having said that, they may just fancy their chances of getting out of Group C, where they’ll face the Netherlands, Ukraine and Austria. You’d expect the Dutch to qualify as group winners, but with the potential to qualify for the last 16 as one of the best third-placed teams, North Macedonia can’t be ruled out entirely.
Also making their debut at the European Championships are Finland. After an impressive qualification campaign, where they finished second in their group ahead of Greece and Bosnia and Herzegovina, they’ll be raring to go at the finals, where they have been drawn in Group B along with Belgium, Denmark and Russia.
They’ll be feeling confident of their chances in that group, and if star striker Teemu Pukki can find his scoring boots, they’ll take some stopping. The Norwich man bagged 10 goals in qualifying, and could be an outside bet for the Golden Boot. Coach Markku Kanerva has done an incredible job in guiding the team to a major finals, and as a unit Finland will be eager to make the most of the opportunity.
For Scotland, it’s a first appearance at a major tournament since the 1998 World Cup, where they exited at the group stage. It took a colossal effort from Steve Clarke and his players to secure qualification for Euro 2020, advancing via the play-off route by beating Israel and Serbia, both on penalties.
The last decade or so has been a tale of heartbreak and disappointment for Scotland on the international scene, but now they have their moment in the sun, and the players will be relishing their first taste of tournament football.
As fate would have it, they’ve been drawn in the same group as England, just as they were in their last appearance at the European Championships in 1996, and they’ll be out for revenge on their old rivals. The other teams in Group D are Croatia and the Czech Republic, and it’ll be tough for Scotland, but having finally made it back to the big time, they won’t go down without a fight.