Cold War National Teams in 2019: UEFA Euro 2020

So, here we are, everyone. After hours of gruelling research that has forever made me not want to set foot in the Eastern side of Germany, here we are. The five teams from the Cold War era have been constructed and now it’s time to test them on the international stage. Hypothetically.

In this scenario where the East still runs red with glorious Soviet pride, the 39 nations of Europe will be competing for a spot at UEFA Euro 2020, and the 5 Cold War teams will compete against the other existing football nations of the continent to make it to the finals. For logistical purposes, I’m sticking with the tournament being pan-continental, so that all teams will have an equal shot at qualifying, and we don’t have to decide on a team to be given the benefit of automatic qualification because of their hosting duties. However, given the amount of eligible teams has gone down from 55 to 39, the tournament will go back to being a 16-team tournament, the way it should be. The teams will be drawn into eight groups of 5 (with one group of 4), and the top 2 from each will advance to the finals. None of this Nations League-based play-off nonsense, that’s a topic for another day. 

As a very picky aside, I also doubt there would be 12 separate host venues; in this scenario, there will be a total of 7 host cities, and matches will be hosted in a format that makes actual sense. Each of the 4 groups has their own host city, which will have 2 stadiums to host matches in. The quarter-finals will have two different host cities hosting 2 games in one stadium each before the semis and final are held in the same city. Also, none of this home advantage in groups nonsense, unless the team gets drawn into that group. You get what you get. So, my ideal host cities would be; London, Madrid, Belgrade and Moscow for the groups, Paris and Munich for the quarter-finals, and the semis and final being held in Rome, because that’s where all roads supposedly lead. None of this unnecessary continent-hopping, just a straight-forward road to Rome. UEFA, take note.

Any excuse to have the Emirates as a host stadium tbh

Anyway, without much further ado, let’s get cracking.

Qualification

The 5 pots each team were drawn into are based on the team’s UEFA Nations League ranking at the time of the actual Euro 2020 qualifying draw. To be clear, I don’t have anything against using the Nations League to determine draw rankings, but the play-off system is utter nonsense and will be disregarded for this draw. But again, that’s a topic for another day. 

The pots, therefore, look like this:

Given the quality of their players to work with, Yugoslavia and West Germany can consider themselves unfortunate not to be drawn into the top pot, Pot A. The USSR are also solid Pot B material, as the majority of their players I would say are solid and capable, if not world-beaters. The distinctly average combined talents of the Czechoslovakian team mean they are placed respectably in Pot C, whilst East Germany find themselves in the barren wastelands of Pot D, because despite having Toni Kroos running the midfield, half of their team is apparently not even good enough for the second tier of German football. Complain all you want, argue that the East German doping policy would have spread into football at this hypothetical point in time, but that’s where they’re going. Pot E remains unaffected by the continuation of socialism.

The draw was carried out in a professional environment that definitely wasn’t just my living room, and was hosted by a footballing celebrity in the vein of Gary Lineker, and definitely not by me in a suit making two of my very confused friends draw names out of a saucepan. If you need any evidence of this, the highlight reel is below.

Told you. And as you can see, we handled ourselves very professionally. 

Here’s a reminder of the results of our qualifying draw:

I know, some intriguing draws thrown in there. England were this close to having to play both West Germany and Scotland, and it looks as though there’s going to be an awesome battle for second place in every group. In deciding the top two, I could have gone through the hassle of modding all of these national teams on FIFA 20, but I don’t have the time, patience, or a copy of FIFA 20 to achieve this with. As a purely face value tournament with a mind of its own, anything could happen. But here’s what think would happen if these groups became a reality.

Group A

Kicking things off with Group A, first and last place are pretty much a formality. You’re going to see that a lot here. Unfortunately for Andorra, they’re going to be holding up the rest of the pack, but I’m sure they’ll score at least one goal along the way. And despite being more than underwhelming at recent major tournaments, Italy won every game they played in 2019 and boast a ferocious amount of talent, especially going forwards. They sit comfortably atop Group A, leaving Austria, Wales and East Germany to fight it out for second spot. Well, East Germany are looking to consolidate fourth place more than anything, most likely getting 2 wins over Andorra but struggling against the others, so I don’t think we’ll be seeing Toni Kroos at this tournament any time soon.

So, if we were to leave Austria and Wales to fight it out on the hallowed green turf, who do I think would win? Honestly, I’m going with Wales. Sure, Austria qualified pretty comfortably for the coming Euros, and have some talented players in David Alaba, Marcel Sabitzer and Marko Arnautović, but they only came second in easily the weakest group of the qualifiers, and they don’t really have much quality anywhere else in their team. Admittedly the same could be said of a Wales side that really only boasts Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and David Brooks in terms of real class, but this Welsh side punched well above their weight in 2016 and I wouldn’t be surprised if they do it again in 2020. I can imagine a draw in Vienna and a narrow win in the return fixture between these two seeing Wales narrowly into the final tournament.

The two are actually playing each other in a friendly this coming March, so we can decide then whether or not I’m a complete nutter for thinking Wales are the better team.

Qualified: Italy & Wales

Google “Italy vs Wales football” and this is the first thing that comes up

Group B

Moving on to Group B, it’s a similar story for first and last. In fairness to Luxembourg, they actually had a relatively decent qualifying campaign this year (by their standards at least), notching up a win and a draw against Lithuania to ensure they didn’t come last in their group. That doesn’t change the fact they’re coming last here though. And France are coasting through in top spot as reigning world champions with a ridiculous amount of talent at their disposal.

They got pretty lucky with a relatively easy draw, but their other opponents will also be locked in a tight battle to claim second spot. Israel could certainly make life difficult for Denmark and Norway, but I don’t see them doing enough to finish above one of the Scandinavians here. Also I’m still bitter about them winning Eurovision in 2018 with a piece of lyrical garbage, so that doesn’t help proceedings. Now, I’m aware that Denmark have already qualified for the Euros and certainly have a better team than the Norwegians do, but, and this is the only time I’m going to do this (hopefully), Norway are qualifying here. We needed at least one sort-of upset here, and here we have it. With Erling Braut Håland leading the line and Martin Ødegaard actually playing football, Norway stun the Danish and clinch second spot in Group B. I may regret this decision later, but it’s what I’m going with.

Qualified: France & Norway

Championnes, Championnes, allez allez allez

Group C

Group C looks even more a foregone conclusion than the previous two groups did, so I’ll make things quick here. Malta, as they usually do, bring up the rear, most likely with 0 points. Cyprus take fourth place, unspectacularly picking up a win and a draw or two along the way. And in third place, as much as I wish we could have Teemu Pukki at these hypothetical finals, Finland sadly miss out and have to settle for third place. 

The only thing up for debate here is with regards as to who finishes top between Portugal and Yugoslavia. Both teams possess undisputed quality, but I can easily see Ronaldo, João Felix and Bernardo Silva getting through a weak Yugoslav backline and securing 2 vital wins to take them through in top spot. Yugoslavia are comfortably second, though.

Qualified: Portugal & Yugoslavia

Watch out, watch out, there’s the Socialist Republic of Croatia, a federated state of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia about

Group D

As with Group C, I wish I could provide some optimism for the people of Northern Ireland, Greece and Liechtenstein, but I’m afraid we won’t be seeing your teams tearing things up across Europe next summer. Trust me, I’m as disappointed as you are. Liechtenstein bottom, Greece fourth and the Northern Irish third, but I can possibly see them getting a respectable draw at home to Poland in the process.  

As for the top two, it goes without saying that Spain will finish in top spot, with Poland squeezing in just behind them. They may not be the team they were at the start of the 2010’s, but Spain have a squad stacked with talent and it’s pretty much a formality they’ll be coming top here. Poland won’t make things easy, however; they do have Robert Lewandowski up front after all. They have enough to see them through in second.

Qualified: Spain & Poland

There were so many possible image choices so here’s an old picture of David Villa

Group E

As we cross the halfway point for the qualifiers, it is my honour to tell you that Belgium will be sitting firmly at the top of Group E and the Faroe Islands will be comfortably at the bottom of it. I don’t really think I need to explain why. Nor do I need to explain that Bulgaria will be milling about in fourth spot, not really giving either Sweden or Turkey much of a bother.

It was actually a pretty tough decision between the Swedes and the Turks, as both are of a similar quality with very similar qualification records. I decided to go with Sweden in the end, however. Despite no longer boasting Zlatan up front, it’s the likes of Victor Lindelöf, Marcus Berg and Emil Forsberg starring for the national team, all the while along to the soundtrack from Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again. Turkey will push them close, of course, with Cenk Tosun and Hakan Çalhanoglu knocking in a goal or two, but I’m giving Sweden the edge here.

Qualified: Belgium & Sweden

Thank you Forsberg music

Group F

Another formality occurring in Group F I’m afraid, as the Netherlands comfortably head through in first place. They may have failed to qualify for the last two major tournaments, but they have blistering pace up front, a dynamic midfield and a centre-back pairing for the ages in Matthijs de Ligt and Virgil van Dijk, meaning they’re easy winners of this group. Languishing at the other end of the table is Gibraltar, most likely with a respectable goal difference of about -37.

Things do get a bit tricky in the hunt for second place, though. However, it’s pretty clear that Romania aren’t the force of European football they once were, and they’re going to struggle here. Into fourth place they go. So it’s left to the two I-land nations to fight it out, and, if it were up to me (as it is here), I would pick Iceland. The plucky underdogs who love to cause an upset or two, it’ll be great to see Gylfi Sigurdsson rip things up on the big stage yet again. Usually you’d think Ireland were the obvious choice for second spot, but a painfully mediocre squad (they just called Troy Parrott up to the senior team for crying out loud) and recent qualifying campaign mean the tenacious Scandinavians take their place in the final tournament. 

Qualified: Netherlands & Iceland

SQWARK NOT GOING TO THE EUROS SQWARK

Group G

Look! An upset! At last! We needed one of them to come along sooner or later. My sincere apologies to the people of Switzerland, but you were up against it in this group and to be quite honest I don’t know how you’ve managed to secure a top seeding when you still have Stephan Lichtsteiner as your captain. I needed to do something to spice this tournament up a bit, so you’ll have to be a noble sacrifice I’m afraid. I’d also extend this apology to the people of Albania and San Marino, but let’s face it, you guys never stood a chance here to begin with.

Instead, we have West Germany going through in top spot with Czechoslovakia following them in second place. Yes, the Germans have had it rough recently but it looks as though they’re back to their near best and ready to make their mark at the Euros this summer, with Serge Gnabry, Marco Reus and Timo Werner being a menace to defences all summer long. And while it may seem controversial at first glance, I think the combined Czechoslovak talents would be able to take down the Swiss team when put head-to-head, especially since half the squad are in the form of their lives right now. See you in six months, lads.

Qualified: West Germany & Czechoslovakia

this aged well

Group H

And so, on to the final group we go, arguably the toughest with only four sides competing. It’s disappointingly obvious that Scotland and Hungary won’t be making it any further though, sorry guys. I’m sure the England-Scotland games will have given us some great entertainment but there’s no looking past England sitting pretty at the top of the group with the USSR finishing in second place. If you know anything about the current England team, and if you’ve read my post about a modern-day Soviet team (which I’m sure is the reason you’re currently here), then you’ll understand why.

Qualified: England & USSR

Even in my own reality I can’t get Balázs Dzsudzsák to the Euros this summer

Final Tournament

So that’s how qualifying panned out, in my own sick and twisted imagination at least. Don’t say I don’t provide you folks with surprises whenever I can. 

We now have sixteen teams ready to battle it out across the continent and claim the coveted Pointless trop- I mean European Championship title. That one. For each group, the teams were divided into 4 pots of 4 based on their hypothetical performances during qualification; in other words, the 4 best-performing teams go into Pot 1, the next best 4 into Pot 2, et cetera, et cetera.

Here are the pots for the final tournament:

Controversial, I know. Complain all you want but I’m afraid it’s too late now, the pots have been locked and loaded for some time and well, the draw’s already been done. Did I conduct another draw for the finals? 

You bet I did, and you can watch the best of the action below.

Boy, if that doesn’t pass for entertainment these days then I don’t know what will. So, for yet another recap, your final groups look like this:

I think we can all agree there are some mouth-watering ties in there, and this is shaping up to be one heck of a tournament. For those of you are annoyed I didn’t draw out the little placement cards to assign each team a position in the group due to lack of pots, the fixtures will work like this:

Team 1 vs. Team 3; Team 2 vs. Team 4

Team 1 vs. Team 4; Team 3 vs. Team 2

Team 2 vs. Team 1; Team 4 vs. Team 3

And thus, your tournament schedule is as follows:

All clear? Smashing. Again, for a less biased opinion on how this tournament would pan out, I could have put these teams on FIFA 20 and simmed and simmed the whole thing, but I think I’ve already put enough effort into this pointless endeavour as it is. If you want to do it then go ahead, be my guest, and put my service to the test.

Anyway, let’s crack on with the tournament and see how I think the countries behind the Iron Curtain would get on in this socialist extravaganza.

Group A

We start things off in merry ol’ England, where we’ve been telling ourselves that it’s coming home for over fifty years now and we’re still no closer to “it” coming. Well, in this scenario the capital city, London, is playing host to probably the least entertaining group, but it sure throws up the biggest shock. That’s right, folks, right here, right now, I’m calling that Wales will finish above Italy and claim second spot. The never-say-die attitude that got them to the semi-finals in 2016 is on display again and Italy’s post-2006 World Cup hangover extends into its 14th barren year. Again, we need to keep things interesting somehow. I’m seeing Spain rolling their way past all in sight, with Wales grabbing a stunning late win over the Italians and then seeing off Sweden, who promptly pack their bags to go home without having done a whole lot. So it’s Spain and Wales who march on to Paris.

Group B

Group B really is the place to be (heh heh), as I’m predicting it to rain goals here in Madrid, with it staying firmly off the plane and sticking firmly to the back of the net. Sadly, there aren’t any shocks to accompany the 27 goals scored across the six games, but there sure will be a lot of entertainment. The Netherlands and Portugal battle it out for top spot, with the former clinching it due to a superior goal difference. I know I bigged up the Dutch defence previously, but anything goes in this competition. Hopefully they’ll get it together for the knockout phase. 

This also means we wave goodbye to the first of our socialist contenders, as the USSR bow out of the competition with a win over Norway, who didn’t win a game themselves but their patented brand of trying to outscore the opposition won the hearts of many. At least that’s how I see it.

Group C

This group intrigued me when it was drawn. Two of the best national teams in world football in Belgium and England, the perennial rabbit-out-of-hat pullers that are Iceland, and the formidable midfield of Yugoslavia playing on their own patch. Could that be the all-important factor in Yugoslavia getting out of the group?

No, no it isn’t. Obviously if these games were to actually happen I don’t think anyone could confidently predict the exact outcome, so I’m just going to say that Iceland will be the unfortunate whipping boys of the group, Belgium will move on to Munich with maximum points in top spot, and Yugoslavia’s shaky back four will catch up with them and allow England to sneak through on goal difference, but they give it a good shot nonetheless. Another socialist state bites the dust.

Group D

So all of the East’s hopes rest on the shoulders of Czechoslovakia, and Poland for that matter, they’d probably still be dripping red as well. But seeing as they’re in a group with France and West Germany, I think it’s safe to assume that they wouldn’t stand a chance from the start. Yes, in another reality West Germany could falter and struggle the same way they did at the World Cup, but on paper both the French and the Germans have too much quality for the Czechs and Poles to handle. My condolences to the workers and the masses, but it’s France who top the group and West Germany follow them to play on home soil in Munich in the quarter-finals.

Shout out to Czechoslovakia for winning a game and Poland for holding West Germany to a draw.

Quarter-Finals

Welp, there go the Communists. We started this adventure to see how well they would fare and not one made it out of the group stage. Not even Yugoslavia’s home advantage could be of help. Yes, we still have West Germany, but come on, that’s just regular Germany with more capitalism slapped across it. 

So the premise of this tournament has now been fulfilled, but we’ve come this far so we may as well see it out. We know that Italy won’t be playing for the trophy in their own back yard, wasting their opportunity for success at the hands of the Welsh. So it’ll be them, or one of seven other nations who take home the title. Here’s how they line-up for the quarter-finals, and how I think that’d go.

That’s right, lads. It’s coming home. England stun the footballing world by knocking reigning world champions France out on penalties to book a ticket to Italy. Absolute scenes. Don’t lie, you can see it happening; a goalless first half, but on the 58-minute mark Paul Pogba rifles in from the edge of the box to give France the lead. Pickford makes a wonder save to deny Mbappé one-on-one, and then we have the moment. Trent Alexander-Arnold whips the ball in from a free kick, Harry Maguire nods it in in the 80thminute for 1-1. The crowd goes wild, extra-time brings nothing of note, it goes to penalties. It’s 4-4 and N’Golo Kanté steps up for France. Pickford turns it onto the post. All Jordan Henderson needs to do is score and England are through. He puts the ball on the spot. He steps up. Bottom-right corner, sends Lloris the wrong way. The crowd can’t believe it, Gareth Southgate can’t believe it, England can’t believe it. They’ve knocked out France at the Allianz Arena and they’re going through.

Anyway enough of me fantasizing about how glorious that scenario would be, and on with the other quarter-finals. Holders Portugal are knocked out by Spain, as goals from Dani Ceballos and Paco Alcácer see them through at the expense of Ronaldo and his band of misfits. They’ll be facing West Germany, who made good use of their home advantage (eventually), coming back from two goals down to beat Belgium, who again fail to deliver when it really matters. And there’s late heartbreak for Wales as Donyell Malen scores a late winner for the Netherlands to send them into the semi-finals to face England.

Semi-Finals

Boy, that was a rollercoaster. We’re down to our final four teams, the four who’ll be battling it out at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome for a place in the final. It’s Spain against West Germany and the Netherlands against England. Two match-ups for the ages. How did they go? Find out below.

I’m sorry guys, but it’s not coming home. Yet. England’s fairytale run comes to an end as they bow out in respectable fashion to the Dutch, with Frenkie de Jong scoring a 25-yard belter that no-one could do anything about. It’s been a tournament to remember, though. 

In the other semi-final, West Germany put Spain to the sword as Timo Werner bags two goals to help them into the final. 

Final

And so, on the 2nd of July 2020 at 19:45 BST, in the sweltering heat at the Stadio Olimpico, this glorious summer football festival draws to a close. Manuel Neuer and Virgil van Dijk meet in the centre circle for the coin toss after two gloriously rousing renditions of the teams’ respective national anthems. The referee blows their whistle. Let’s get this show on the road.

It starts out as a cagey affair, but after 8 minutes Ilkay Gündogan pings a delicious ball over the top of the Dutch defence for Serge Gnabry, who takes a touch and volleys it square onto Timo Werner’s head, and the ball goes into the bottom corner for the first goal of the game. The Dutch are stunned, but they get back into it after 33 minutes, some patient passing around the edge of the German penalty area eventually sees the ball ricochet off Frenkie de Jong from Niklas Süle’s tackle and straight to the feet of Memphis Depay, who can’t miss. It ends 1-1 at the break.

Both teams appear fired up for the second half, and the Netherlands take the lead after 49 minutes. A corner is swung in and strikes the left arm of Joshua Kimmich as he attempts to head it away. After a lengthy VAR check, the penalty is given, and Donyell Malen slots in his seventh goal of the tournament, cementing his status as top goalscorer. The Germans regroup and spend the rest of the second half peppering the Dutch goal, and they eventually get their equalizer on 82 minutes as Gnabry jinks his way past 2 defenders and slots the ball underneath Jasper Cillessen. Into extra time we go.

It looks as though we’re heading for penalties, but, in the 115th minute, Justin Kluivert, on as a substitute for Quincy Promes, meets a Depay cross as the back post and taps in from the edge of the six-yard box. Off goes the shirt, cue the knee slide in front of the ecstatic Dutch fans, the entire team runs over to pile on top of him, and Patrick van Aanholt screams in jubilation down the camera.

The Dutch see it out. They are the new European champions.

And about time too

And so the Netherlands take the crown. They didn’t even qualify for the 2018 World Cup, a truly remarkable achievement for them to have pulled off, and a sign of how far they’ve come.

Well everyone, that truly was an experience. I know that everything I just wrote is down to a matter of hypotheticals and opinions, but it has been an honour to share this little project with you all. My thanks must go out to Evan and Louisa, who at the time of writing, are alive and well. I don’t understand their motivation for agreeing to help me with conducting an alternate Euro 2020 draw but the fact they did it regardless is true testament to the popularity of socialism. That and they’re just good friends I guess.

I hope you’ve all enjoyed pondering the possibility of what Euro 2020 would be like if the Cold War was ongoing, even if it proved that not a whole lot would change and the western teams would still be dominant, but there’s every possibility that one of the teams could trigger an upset or two. Those Yugoslavs have got stacks for days in that midfield. 

If you did like what you read over the course of the last 5 articles, you needn’t worry, there’s plenty more similar content coming very soon. But for now, thank you all so much for reading, and I wish you all a very pleasant ebening. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s