Euro 2020: Group B Odds
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Group B might not have a “traditional” power among its four teams for the Euro 2020 tournament.
However, it featured the top team in FIFA world rankings in Belgium and the seventh-highest ranked team on the continent in Denmark, making it a more difficult group than it looks to be at first glance.
Throw in Denmark playing every game in Copenhagen and Russia contesting two of three matches in Saint Petersburg, and there’s plenty of reason for excitement within this group.
Unless, perhaps, you’re Finland.
Powerful Belgium Earns Deserved Favorite Status
Belgium has been the world’s No. 1-ranked team since October of 2018, plus it has been hovering at or near the top far longer. Yet, this golden generation is still looking for major silverware to solidify its legacy after finishing third at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
In countries with a more successful football history, that might ratchet up the pressure. However, it’s actually fifth-year manager Roberto Martinez often pushing both his side and its fans to dream bigger.
That said, now would be the time to do so. Belgium earned a perfect 30 points in its Group I qualification, including a pair of wins over group foe Russia by a combined five-goal margin. Romelu Lukaku tied for second in the group with seven goals, and Eden Hazard tied for third with five goals.
The Red Devils followed that up by taking seven points from nine so far in UEFA qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, with their lone blemish coming via a 1-1 away draw against the Czech Republic.
Belgium does have a few injury concerns, though.
Attacking midfielder Kevin De Bruyne (facial fractures) is questionable for Belgium’s opening match after sustaining facial injuries in Manchester City’s UEFA Champions League final defeat.
Defensive midfielder Axel Witsel has joined full-team training after months recovering from an Achilles injury, but likely can’t handle a typical workload.
Sleeper Watch: Denmark Poised to Ruffle Foes’ Feathers
The Danes are the original Euro sleepers, having come from seemingly nowhere to win the 1992 European championship.
And currently, they sit 10th in the FIFA rankings after reaching the round of 16 in the 2018 World Cup and going unbeaten (four wins and four draws) in Euro qualifying action.
Yet, Denmark finds itself in transition after swapping managers following the aforementioned qualifying round. Manager Kasper Hjulmand took over last year after Åge Hareide’s contract expired. Fortunately for the Danes, the results have been excellent. They have taken three wins in three tries, with a plus-14 goal differential in World Cup qualifying.
If there’s a criticism, it’s the nation’s inability to turn its domination of minnows into success against the elite. Most recently, Denmark lost two matches against Belgium in UEFA Nations League A competition, though it also earned a 1-0 win and scoreless draw against England.
Attacking midfielder Christian Eriksen scored three goals in Inter Milan’s Serie A title-winning campaign. Forwards Martin Brathwaite (Barcelona) and Yussuf Poulsen (RB Leipzig) have only 13 combined goals over the past two league campaigns.
More Home Cooking for Russia?
After a far-better-than-expected performance while hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Russia will be looking for a repeat while playing two of its three group matches in Saint Petersburg.
It’s fair to question if its squad is capable of that.
The quality at manager Stanislav Cherchesov’s disposal is clearly off the pace of Belgium and Denmark. All but four of his players are based in the Russian Premier League, which is ranked sixth in the world by Kick Algorithm.
Elsewhere in Europe, midfielder Aleksandr Golovin is coming off his most productive season at Monaco with five goals and nine assists in 21 appearances. Aleksei Miranchuk scored four goals in 25 games via mostly a substitute role in his first season with Serie A power Atalanta.
Russia’s defense has conceded 12 goals over its last five competitive matches between Nations League and World Cup Qualifying play.
More Analysis, Thoughts From Group B Competition
With apologies to a Finland side competing in its first major tournament finals, the story for me is whether Belgium’s quality can rise above its two opponents’ home-field advantages.
Hosting has proven less advantageous in recent years. Between 1980 and 2004, only one host nation failed to progress past the group stage — Belgium in 2000. Since then, four of the last five hosts have failed to reach the knockout phase of the tournament.
It’s still a clear edge to Denmark and Russia when they face Belgium before partial capacity crowds. And it’s imperative to factor in when evaluating the Red Devils (-139 odds) and a 58.2% implied probability to win the group.
On the other hand, the defenses could be key to Lukaku’s Golden Boot bid. He’s already in form, nearing career bests by scoring 24 goals to help Inter Milan win the Scudetto and averaging 0.75 goals per 90 minutes.
Internationally, the numbers are even more impressive. Lukaku has 14 goals in his 12 competitive appearances, and 1.22 goals per 90 minutes. Belgium has already scored 13 times in its last four combined matches against Russia and Denmark. The other opponent in the group is the weakest.
Lukaku is the second favorite in the Golden Boot futures market at +700 odds, with an 12.5% implied probability. Yet, he still might be undervalued.
Best Bets for Group B:
- Group Winner — Denmark (+260): I wouldn’t favor Danes to win the group per se, but they’re clearly closer to Belgium in caliber when compared to Russia or Finland, plus they get to play every game in Copenhagen. A 27.8% implied probability of a mild surprise is low to me.
- Golden Boot — Romelu Lukaku (+700): Harry Kane’s England gets Croatia and the Czech Republic. France’s Kylian Mbappe faces Portugal and Germany. Lukaku clearly has the easier opportunity to rack up some early goals.
- Double Chance — Finland or Draw vs. Russia (+110): A feel play based on the enormous geopolitical implications. Finland could earn only one point this tournament. If it comes against Russia, it returns home national heroes.
- Belgium vs. Russia — Total Over 3.5 Goals (+255): This is an aging Russian defense going against an in-its-prime Belgian attack. If the hosts are going to earn a result, it’s unlikely to be a 0-0 or 1-1 draw. The total went over 3.5 goals in both these teams’ qualifiers, with Belgium scoring seven times in total.