The Euros kick off today in what is a bit of a strange tournament. Gone are the days of Spain’s dominance and Germany’s solid team seemed fragile in qualifying, so who’s going to win the tournament? Most are looking towards the hosts France who seem to have found their feet after years of disappointment in tournaments, not making it past the quarter finals of a tournament since their appearance in the World Cup final ten years ago. With players like Giroud, Payet and Pogba firing on all cylinders coming into the tournament it seems that they are the favourites. But who else has a shot? And who can we expect the unexpected from? Here’s a run-down of some of the teams to look out for in the tournament.
It’s always easy to pick the hosts as one of the favourites to win the tournament, but they really are a close to complete team. As mentioned above, France seem to have discovered form at the right time and this has only been backed up by the talent in their squad. Deschamps says he doesn’t feel like they are the favourites, but acknowledges that the home advantage will boost the squad – and I think that home advantage will take them all the way.
Regardless of whether or not they will play well, Italy are always amongst the favourites to win tournaments. Their name always appears amongst the contenders and that’s because their squads have so much depth. Some of the old stars like Andrea Pirlo will be missing as Antonio Conte is definitely taking some risks, but if he’s leaving out one of the greatest midfielders of the past ten years, he’s got to be confident with what he’s picked. Some of those new players replacing those great names include Simone Zaza, Stephan El Shaarawy and Mattia De Sciglio looking to take over as the stars of the side.
When you look at teams who turn up every time at major tournaments, you can’t look much further than Germany. Current World Cup holders and Euro 2008 finalists is enough to show how strong they are. They would strong favourites if qualifying was easy, but it wasn’t the cleanest. Defeats to Poland and Ireland as well as close matches with Scotland and Georgia could raise doubts, but they will still one of the top teams. A mix of veterans like Schweinsteiger and Podolski will ensure experience along with the current stars Ozil and Muller being major threats in attack. But they have also taken a punt on a few wonderkids such as Joshua Kimmich and Jonathan Tah who will benefit from this experience in future tournaments.
In the late 90’s, Belgium decided to invest heavily in a new generation of stars to boost their national side’s hopes of qualifying for major tournaments and performing adequately. In 2016, the investment seems to have paid off. In their Euro team, there are only three players who are 30 or over and only one of them (Thomas Vermaelen) is a first team regular. Joining Vermaelen in defence is Toby Alderweireld who has been a rock this season who will compensate for what is arguably the weakest part of the team in terms of overall quality. Their midfield needs no introduction to show its quality: Witsel, Nainggolan, Fellaini, De Bruyne, Dembele, Hazard. Finally, up front they have Benteke, Batshuayi, Origi and of course, the darling of the team, Romelu Lukaku who will be determined to show his worth after Everton’s poor season. This is the tournament where Belgium can show how lethal they can be.
For a side that don’t have a lot of star power (well, besides Lewandowski) Poland have shown a lot of promise in qualifying. Shocking Germany and nearly winning the group, the Poles showed they could hang with the big guys. The one thing holding them back is their horrendous form in tournaments since their football renaissance in 2002 where they have failed to get out of the group stages every time. Still, their form in the past two years is enough to consider them a wild card for the trophy – after all Greece have won it.
This prediction is based more on their star power – Cristiano Ronaldo. Arguably the most in-form player in the world at the moment, he elevates average teams into competitive ones. However, the elephant in the room with this team is their inconsistency. They have slayed Belgium not so long ago, but days before were defeated by Bulgaria and many of their qualifying matches were won by a single goal – something that can go against them. But if they play the way they did against the likes of Belgium, they are potential contenders for that final.
Wales have surprised many with the way they played in qualifying. For years they were happy with third place in a qualifying group as they would often find themselves whipping boys to everyone minus the micro-states. Now, they look like a side who could upset a few giants with a team built around Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale. Chris Coleman’s side are essentially the Leicester of this tournament – not because they are complete outsiders (they are actually a fair bit off the bottom with the bookies) but because their team doesn’t really have stars (minus Bale) but they play superbly. You never know what they might do.
Now many people were surprised that they took the group in qualifying including pundits but they kept consistent form when critics expected them to fall every time they played a match. Their reward? A bloody difficult group at Euro 2016. Like Wales, there really isn’t any big star power here (Jonny Evans anyone?) but they have slayed the Netherlands already so Germany should be a piece of cake I guess?
Out of the three selected surprise outfits, they have the best chance. Another side who haven’t succeeded in recent years has a chance to raise a few eyebrows. They are in the group of opportunity with Portugal, Iceland and Hungary so their side will look to take the group and put themselves in the best position possible. Their defence is where their strengths lie with Dragovic and Wimmer backed up by Prodl and Leicester defender Christian Fuchs. Elsewhere, David Alaba will be the go-to guy, with Stoke’s Marko Arnautovic leading the front line, an always reliable striker who offers something different.
Let’s start with some of those who are among the favourites, but may struggle. England may have won all of their matches in qualifying, but don’t expect their form to be the same in the tournament. England always go into the tournaments as one of the favourites and they currently sit fourth amongst the bookies, but they haven’t made the semi-final of a major tournament in 20 years (Euro 1996). Roy Hodgson’s selection policy also seems to be based on favourites rather than form so it could be a poor campaign for them. Spain are also one of the favourites and Euro 16 will be a real test of what way the national side are going. The previous World Cup was a disaster for the reigning champions, but it’s out with the old and in with the new. I won’t be surprised to see them in the final, but at the same time, don’t be shocked to see them out by the quarters.
Croatia always turn up at major tournaments, so a strong showing in France is expected. Another consistent performer is Switzerland who have one of the most exciting young prospects in their team in the form of Breel Embolo.
Looking at the other end of the groups, let’s look at the outsiders. With the new 24-team tournament, it has allowed new teams to get the opportunity to compete and some of these newbies include Slovakia, Albania and Iceland. All three of these teams will be happy enough with qualifying from their groups with Iceland having the best chance of that as they come up against Portugal, Hungary and Austria. Albania were drawn with France so may find it a tough task. Hungary are another side who may struggle, but they’ve been gifted an open group which could see them sneak a third place spot.
Then we have our middle of the pack teams: Russia, Sweden, Czech Republic, Republic of Ireland, Turkey, Ukraine and Romania. Starting with some of the stronger sides, Turkey are looking competitive with an open group comprising of Spain, Croatia and Czech Republic, with the latter looking like their best in a decade. Ukraine find themselves in a tough Group C along with Germany, Poland and Northern Ireland with a side that primarily play in their native country, but that is not necessarily a bad thing, with most players coming from their big two – Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk. Also finding themselves in a difficult group are Republic of Ireland and Sweden who will square off as both hope to qualify for the last 16 with Italy and Belgium looking to take the automatic spots. Russia look set for the last 16 and possibly the last eight, whilst Romania have their work cut out as they start their campaign against the hosts.
The final looks set to be France against Italy, with semi-final appearances from Poland and Germany and the quarter-finals will be the end for Belgium, Spain, England and Croatia.
Who do you think will win the tournament? Who will be the surprise package? Who will flop when it matters? Please leave a comment and like/share this post.