Thursday, June 09, 2016

Euro 2016 - Part Two: A Short and Concise Preview

Group D

My Predicted Group finish:

1. Spain 2. Croatia 3. Turkey 4. Czech Republic


There was a time when it looked as if Spain would dominate international football forever more!
Yet the defending European champions are currently in a state of uncertainty. David Villa, Xavi and Xabi Alonso have retired from international football. There are doubts over who will start in goal – Del Bosque remains loyal to captain Casillas in spite of David de Gea’s consistent excellence for Manchester United – and there’s no obvious candidate to be the third midfielder alongside Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta.

For all this, however, Spain were dominant in qualifying, and despite losing friendlies to the French, Germans and Dutch since the summer of 2014, they have arguably Euro 2016’s most talented squad. If it clicks, they’re a difficult side to stop.

Group D isn’t the worst, but Turkey, Croatia and the Czech Republic are no mugs. Spain must avoid finishing second, which would mean a last 16 tie with the Group E winners – likely to be Italy or Belgium. Still, they’re good enough to reach the final.

Opening fixture: 13-06-2016 v Czech Rep - Toulouse, 2pm kick-off (UK time)

Key players: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), David Silva (Manchester City) and Nolito (Celta Vigo)

World ranking: 6

Odds of winning Euro 2016: 11/2 (Skybet)


A lot of the attention falls on the midfield and understandably so! The depth and variety in those positions is impressive with Modric and Rakitic. In defence, Croatia have excellent full-backs. Darijo Srna is a great leader. Sime Vrsaljko is one of the best crossers in Serie A. Up front, Mario Mandzukic has had a fine season at Juventus and Ivan Perisic offers width and goals.

But the question marks come at centre-back! Dejan Lovren has been left out amid differences with coach Ante Cacic. Confidence in Cacic is not the greatest, however if Cacic gets the balance right, this team has what it takes to do very well.

Opening fixture: 12-06-2016 v Turkey - Paris, 2pm kick-off

Key players: Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Luka Modric (Real Madrid) and Mario Mandzukic (Juventus)

World ranking: 27

Odds of winning Euro 2016: 25/1 (Skybet)

Czech Republic

Gone are the days when the Czechs were part of football’s elite.
The Czechs won their group but conceded 14 goals in qualifying, more than any other side to qualify for Euro 2016.

Still, coach Pavel Vrba has created a side that aren’t easy on the eye but aren’t easy to beat, either. They won’t fear anyone, even in a tough group, but the Czechs could be heading straight home or get as far as the last 16. A leaky defence makes the former a more likely outcome.

Opening fixture: 13-06-2016 v Spain - Toulouse, 2pm kick-off

Key players: Petr Cech (Arsenal), Vladimir Darida (Hertha Berlin) and Tomáš Rosický (Arsenal)

World ranking: 30

Odds of winning Euro 2016: 100/1 (Skybet)


Returning to the Euros for the first time since 2008, Turkey didn't need a play-off to book their place in France - they qualified as the best third-placed team behind the Czech Rep and Iceland and ahead of the Netherlands. They were undefeated in 13 games until their recent defeat to England in a friendly in Manchester in May.

Opening fixture: 12-06-2016 v Croatia - Paris, 2pm kick-off

Key players: Arda Turan (Barcelona), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Selçuk İnan (Galatasaray)

World ranking: 18

Odds of winning Euro 2016: 66/1 (Skybet)

Group E

My Predicted Group finish:

1. Belgium 2. Italy 3. Republic of Ireland 4. Sweden

Republic of Ireland

Ireland made the Championships by defeating Bosnia in a play-off after finishing third in their tough qualifying group behind Germany and Poland. They only lost two of their 10 qualifying games, conceding just seven goals, and they took four points from world champions Germany, drawing 1-1 in Gelsenkirchen and winning 1-0 in Dublin.

The Irish didn't get any luck when the draw was made! In probably the strongest group in the competition, Ireland's biggest game is likely to be their opener against Sweden. The loser of that game will surely be going home early. Any improvement on their performance at Euro 2012, along with a little luck could potentially see them sneak into the second round as one of the best third-placed teams. Much will depend on the fitness of captain Robbie Keane.

Opening fixture: 13-06-2016 v Sweden - Paris, 5pm kick-off

Key players: Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Shane Long (Southampton) and Jon Walters (Stoke)

World ranking: 33

Odds of winning Euro 2016: 100/1 (Skybet)


Outgoing manager Antonio Conte would dearly like to sign off with success before he leaves for Chelsea, but that's easier said than done for Italy. After a disastrous World Cup campaign that saw the Azzurri eliminated at the group stage – just as they were in South Africa four years previously – Italy needed to shake things up and Conte was brought in.

Italy comfortably won their qualifying campaign in what was ultimately a weak group, which included the likes of Azerbaijan, Bulgaria and Malta. They finished unbeaten but were far from convincing, scoring only 16 times in 10 games and only managing to grind out 1-0 victories both home and away to Malta, currently ranked 165th in the world.

Group E is one of Euro 2016’s toughest, and while Italy’s defence can keep the very best teams quiet, their lack of attacking threat will likely see them fail to make it much further than the last eight.

Opening fixture: 13-06-2016 v Belgium - Lyon, 8pm kick-off

Key players: Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Graziano Pelle (Southampton), Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus) and Daniele De Rossi (Roma)

World ranking: 12

Odds of winning Euro 2016: 16/1 (Skybet)


Will Zlatan Ibrahimovic alone be enough to savevic alone be enough to save Sweden! The Swedes only qualified via a play-off win against neighbouring Denmark, after finishing behind Russia and Austria in a weak group that included Montenegro, Liechtenstein and Moldova. Ibrahimovic is in the form of his life right now and he will have to hit the ground running, because without him the Swedes look very ordinary. They have recorded just one win in their last six games, so the omens aren't good for coach Erik Hamren's side.

if Sweden manage to get through the group they are likely to play France, Spain or Austria in the round of 16 and that can only mean a ticket back home.

Opening fixture: 13-06-2016 v Rep of Ireland - Paris, 5pm kick-off

Key players: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Paris Saint-Germain)

World ranking: 35

Odds of winning Euro 2016: 66/1 (Skybet)


Belgium lived up to their status as group favourites, finishing top despite dropping five points to Wales. But their build up to these Championships has seen them lose several players to injury. However they have enough quality among their ranks to overcome their injury woes to at least reach the final of this year's tournament. Although to do so they will have to dispose of World Champions Germany in the quarter-finals, if results goes to plan.

Opening fixture: 13-06-2016 v Italy - Lyon, 8pm kick-off

Key players: Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City), Yannick Ferreira Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham) and Romelu Lukaku (Everton)

World ranking: 2

Odds of winning Euro 2016: 11/1 (Skybet)

Group F

My Predicted Group finish:

1. Austria 2. Iceland 3. Portugal 4. Hungary


This is the first time Iceland have qualified for a major tournament, and they are the smallest nation ever to qualify for the European Championship, but they're by no means the weakest. They only lost twice in their qualifying group, a group which included the Czech Republic, Turkey as well as the Netherlands, who they beat both home and away. They also kept six clean sheets in their 10 games.

I think they will qualify as runners-up, then see how they fare against Slovakia or Wales – both beatable – in the last 16.

Opening fixture: 14-06-2016 v Portugal - Saint-Étienne, 8pm kick-off

Key players: Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea), Kolbeinn Sigthorsson (Nantes), Arnor Ingvi Traustason (Rapid Vienna) and Aron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City)

World ranking: 34

Odds of winning Euro 2016: 100/1 (Skybet)


Austria will be competing in their first European Championship finals after they won their qualifying group comfortably - following an unbeaten campaign, winning nine of their ten games and conceding just 5 goals.

They could be the dark horses of the tournament. They're a hard-working, quick-countering side and can be absolutely ruthless on the break. Expect Austria to win their group and to face either Italy or Republic of Ireland in the last 16. If they finish 2nd in their group they will be paired with the winners of Group B, possibly England.

Opening fixture: 14-06-2016 v Hungary - Bordeaux, 5pm kick-off

Key players: Marko Arnautovic (Stoke), Marc Janko (Basel), David Alaba (Bayern Munich) and Aleksandar Dragovic (Dynamo Kiev)

World ranking: 10

Odds of winning Euro 2016: 40/1 (Skybet)


Portugal topped their qualifying group, with seven wins out of eight, but scored just 11 goals in those 8 games.

So much depends on the condition of Cristiano Ronaldo. The Real Madrid star looked well short of fitness in the Champions League final and manager Fernando Santos will be praying that he recovers in time. Without him, Portugal are worryingly light on goals.

With arguably the tournament’s best player in their ranks, plus a healthy mix of experienced campaigners and bright new talent, hopes are high within the Portuguese camp that they can continue their impressive Euros record. In six appearances, they have reached the semi-finals on four occasions, going on to contest the final on home turf in 2004, and they have never failed to successfully negotiate the group phase.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that Portugal’s recurrent problem of having no high-quality striker is again evident. Eder may lead the line, but one goal in 23 Portugal appearances is not a record that will have opposition defenders quaking in their boots.

I expect Portugal to struggle in this group, and victory in their opening fixture against Iceland in Saint-Étienne is crucial, if they are to progress. Even if they do reach the knockout phase I can't see them progressing beyond the last 16.

Opening fixture: 14-06-2016 v Iceland - Saint-Étienne, 8pm kick-off

Key players: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Renato Sanches (Benfica) and Ricardo Carvalho (AS Monaco)

World ranking: 8

Odds of winning Euro 2016: 20/1 (Skybet)


Hungary's qualification wasn't exactly straight-forward and sadly there's little to suggest that their stay in France will be a long one. They made it through to the finals via a play-off win versus Norway, after finishing as the third best placed team in their group, behind Northern Ireland and Romania, scoring only eleven goals in their ten qualifying games. They will need to bring their very best to this tournament if they're to avoid finishing last in Group F.

Opening fixture: 14-06-2016 v Austria - Bordeaux, 5pm kick-off

Key players: Tamas Priskin (Slovan Bratislava), Zoltan Gera and Ádám Nagy (both Ferencváros)

World ranking: 20

Odds of winning Euro 2016: 200/1 (Skybet)

# All tournament betting odds correct at time of writing.
## All kick-offs indicated are in United Kingdom time.

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