Just when you were mourning the end of the proper footballing season, the Euro Championship spring forward to save the day! A whole month of delicious international football, where 24 of the mightiest European nations battle it out to be crowned the best team in Europe.
Sadly Scotland didn’t make the final twenty four…still haven’t made a finals since 1998, which is a shame for me and the country, especially when all the other British isles countries have made it. Sad to see that the Dutch aren’t going to be there also (or the Danes), their fans will be missed, however how all three of the teams managed to miss out in a 24 team Euros is surprising.
Group A consists of France, Switzerland, Romania and Albania, which ranks out as 3rd, 5th, 4th and 5th respectively.
France have a really good young side coming into this Euros and they’ve been handed a really favourable group to go along with it. There will be a lot of expectations on France; the question will be whether or not they can handle the pressure. It’s an easy group though and it will allow France to get comfortable before the more difficult parts of the tournament, they’ve got a good chance.
The rest of the group is pretty much up in the air, Switzerland will probably squeeze through due to their big tournament experience, however it wouldn’t shock me if they didn’t finish in the top two. With potentially three teams going through, anything could happen, so it should be interesting.
Group B has England, Russia, Slovakia and Wales, which ranks out at 5th, 4th, 6th and 3rd respectively.
Another not so great group, but all teams involved will be fairly pleased with the draw. England are obviously the big hitters here and I expect them to finish at worst second, they aren’t a great team and have gaps at vital positions (centre back and centre midfield), if the group was tougher I’d maybe have a different opinion. I don’t see England really doing anything in the tournament overall.
I expect Wales to actually do ok here too, they might even fancy themselves to finish top. The thing for Wales will be being able to keep their first eleven fit, if they do that then you never know, rotation could be a big issue. Russia aren’t overly great just now, they’re a bit of an unknown, I think they’ll probably get through, either in 2nd or 3rd. Slovakia will be the whipping boys I’m afraid.
Group C consists of Germany, Ukraine, Poland and Northern Ireland, which ranks at 1st, 6th, 1st and 4th respectively.
Germany and Poland are a class apart in this group and will take the top two positions. Germany have the best squad in the tournament and the defending world champions will be looking to add a European title to their trophy haul. As much as I think they are the best team, I don’t think they will win the Euros. Since winning the World Cup Germany have been incredibly sluggish (natural after achieving the biggest title in football and losing vital leaders), to be fair to the Germans they do tend to make an arse of qualifying and they always show up in the actual tournament, they will go deep but ultimately come up short. Poland are a really good outside shout for a deep run in the competition, they have a sneaky good team and know how to get the job done.
Ukraine and Northern Ireland will be battling it out for the third place position, in the hope that they are able to qualify for the knockout stages. With four of the six 3rds going through, you never know, but they would be one of the weakest sides in the knockout rounds.
Group D contains Spain, Croatia, Czech Republic and Turkey, which ranks out 2nd, 3rd, 2nd and 1st respectively.
Easily the hardest group in this year’s Euros, four teams who would all be good enough to play in the knockouts and would probably fancy their chances; drawn together where at best three can go through. The biggest issue here being that they might take the results off of each other, essentially cancelling each other out, which would be a shame.
Spain should win the group; they have the second best squad in the tournament and are the two time defending champions. They look like a tired team in the last World Cup; however the shock of the failure will likely mean that it is unlikely to happen again. They haven’t been given an easy path though and will have to tread carefully if they want to defend their title. I doubt they will win the tournament again, because to win three Euros in a row is quite unthinkable and would be one of the greatest international footballing achievements ever, dominance for eight solid years.
It’s a toss-up between the rest of the teams; you could make a good argument for any of them. I have a sneaky suspicion that the Czech’s might actually be pretty good and sneak in front of the other two. Croatia are the obvious choice for second because they have a lot of players who are playing at a high level and I think they will get through as well, whether it will be second or third I do not know. I feel that Turkey will be the odd man out; it’s a shame for them because I think they are the best of the 4th seeded teams, yet they managed to get drawn into a very competitive group. Much like Poland, if the draw falls well for the Czech’s or Croatia (in particular Croatia) then they could make a deep run.
Group E has Belgium, Italy, Sweden and Ireland, ranking at 4th, 1st, 3rd and 6th respectively.
Everyone has been tipping Belgium for a few years to do something, however they have always had a young team, this is the tournament where this team has finally come of age and those expectations must now be paid back. They got unlucky because they’ve landed in a group with Italy who are inexplicably a 2nd seed and Sweden who will be tricky. Belgium will get through but I don’t think they win the group; they will need to be careful against Sweden (who they play in the third round of matches) as it could be the difference between 2nd and 3rd. This is basically a home tournament for the Belgians, there are no excuses for them doing anything but running deep into this competition.
I think Italy have a really good team, much like Spain they had an embarrassing exit in the World Cup, and much like Spain I expect them to fix that in this Euros. Conte is a good manager and they have a squad which has the perfect mix of youth, experience and peak players, they could be a real danger to win the whole thing, however first they have to get out of this tricky group.
Sweden will probably finish 3rd in this group, they don’t have a particularly good team and their only player of real note is Ibrahimovic, who in my opinion is one of the most over rated players of all time. They’ll probably go through gut I don’t see them doing anything beyond that.
Sadly I feel like Ireland (the team I’m supporting) are the worst team in the competition, they could make sneak a point but if they got any more I’d sort of be surprised, if they made it out of the group it would be a great achievement.
Group F consists of Portugal, Austria, Hungary and Iceland, which ranks at 6th, 2nd, 5th and 2nd respectively.
Portugal are a team in transition, however when you have the best European player and he’s in his early thirties, transition isn’t really good enough. It would be nice to see Portugal win something, because Ronaldo’s career deserves it. Sadly for Ronaldo the rest of the team isn’t really up to scratch, they’ll probably do ok but I don’t see them taking it all.
Austria are this year’s dark horse, they romped qualifying and have a sneaky good team, they are my personal outsiders for the tournament. Naturally I think if Austria is to the competition, then they will need a fairly decent draw in the knockouts, but watch out for them in a year where the biggest teams aren’t up to scratch, a team of Austria’s ability may just sneak in under the radar.
I think that everyone would like to see Iceland do well in the competition and I think they could get into one of the third place finishes. In my opinion they are better than Hungary, the team is greater than the sum of its parts but whatever they are doing is obviously working great. Getting to the Euros is as good as it gets for Hungary I’m afraid, they’ve got unlucky with the draw and are probably going home early.
Round of 16
This is where it gets really damn complicated. Four of the six 3rd placed teams will progress to the last 16, however they play someone different depending on how many points they finish on…I think… Basically impossible to predict, because it isn’t who are the bets four teams, it is who gets the most points. So bear with me because this might not actually be right, as teams may be in the wrong place, so I’m going to do my best. I may add I don’t think this is particularly fair, as some group winners play runners up, whereas other play teams who finished third.
Switzerland v Poland
Spain v Iceland
England v Croatia
Austria v Belgium
Germany v Russia
Italy v Czech Republic
France v Sweden
Wales v Portugal
I know there is some criticism of expanding the Euros because it dilutes the tournament, however look at this last 16! I don’t think there is a single bad game in there; it’s full of absolute doosies! Obviously the chances of me getting this right are slim, especially with the way the third places are decided, however I don’t think it will be far off. The hardest matches to predict here are Austria-Belgium and England-Croatia, both could arguably go either way. The great thing about big tournaments like this is that I can predict all the way to the final, so the fun doesn’t stop here!
Poland v Spain
Croatia v Austria
Germany v Italy
France v Portugal
Again four excellent match ups, which would be good enough for any tournament in the world. I have England and Belgium crashing out at the last 16 in two potential shocks, but I think every other match will go to script.
Spain v Austria
Italy v France
It’s really hard to decide who’s going to make the semis, however as I said earlier I really like Austria and think they are the best outside bet in the competition. I have Italy putting Germany out in a bit of a shock too, although it could really go either way. I also think that both of these semis could go either way, it should be very interesting. If I were to pick three teams to tip for this tournament it would be France, Italy and Austria (as the outside bet).
France v Austria
I had written in Spain and then took it out because I just have that weird hunch. I don’t know if it’s the Leicester City effect or if I’ve just went a bit crazy, but I truly believe that there will be a bit of a shock in this year’s Euros. I have France just edging out Italy in a closely fought victory and taking the home nation to the final, where they will play in front of a very expectant home crowd.
France tend to do well when competitions are played in France, this is a really good young team and they have one of the softer runs to the finals. They will be playing in their handpicked stadiums too and the crowds will be raucous in their favour. I think the final could be too much for Austria, it would still be an incredibly achievement if they made it there. There is a lot of quality in this France squad and they have the perfect mix of youth and experience, there is depth in every position. I would put France as one of the favourites if it wasn’t in France, in France I think they’re the favourites and are the most likely winners from Euro 2016.
It is always very hard to predict things like this, all it takes is a couple of teams to finish in a different position and all of a sudden I have a different opinion. I think that you could make an argument that ten teams could have a chance of winning the competition, realistically I think that comes down to seven, however in a tournament with only 24 teams, seven potential winners is still pretty damn good. I don’t think your traditionally big nations are at their best just now and the Euros have a tendency of throwing up odd winners, 12 years ago it was Greece, 12 years before that it was Denmark and 16 years before that it was the Czechs, it’s been 12 years since Greece won it…
So leave a comment of what you think about Euro 2016. Will France be a good host? Is this the year where England finally win it? Should I lay of the sherbets with my prediction of Austria making the final? Well leave a comment and share those thoughts!