24 teams.554 players.15th edition of the highest pride of international men’s football in Europe. Just look at the 24 teams and I am sure you won’t be able to pick a single favorite or a dark horse. France will open U.E.F.A. Euro 2016 against Romania in St-Denis on 10 June while Spain start their defense versus the Czech Republic three days later after the match schedule was confirmed.
GROUP A: ALLEGED CAKEWALK
This group has come clear winners on paper with France pitted to come on top and Switzerland following them. Albania can be a threat, playing at their first major tournament. The team rely on a stubborn back four and apply a high pressing game to try to force opponents into making mistakes but have to find their scoring boots. Hosts France have arguably the best and most dynamic midfield in Europe with players such as Paul Pogba, Matuidi and Dmitri Payet but their above-30 back four can open door for trouble.
Romania under Anghel Iordanescu’s guidance have conceded only twice in 10 euro qualifiers. Good at counterattack, they can cause trouble for the big names if their midfield comprising young talent Nicolae Stanciu is able to find magic. Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri up-field are a great combination of old and new for Switzerland.With Stephan Lichtsteiner and keeper Yann Sommer protecting the net, Swiss can afford to bat an eye at the title.
GROUP B: AS GOOD AS IT GETS
This group will have dream matches and interesting results as every game will be a death match. England need to win a major trophy now and this is their chance. Vardy, Rooney and Kane along with Rashford will form a bolstering attack with a creative midfield. Only problem lies in their defense and the fact that England choke when they are called favorites. Russia will be in a good mood after giving up on Fabio Capello last year. Great options like Kerzhakov, Artyom Dzyuba and Fyodor Smolovup upfront, their trouble lies in defense.
Slovakia surprised everyone by beating Spain to qualify, relying heavily on Hamsik which can be troublesome as they don’t have options. Wales led by Gareth Bale and midfielder Ramsey won’t be taken lightly with Ashley Williams and Chris Gunter at the back.
GROUP C: WHO WILL GRAB THE SECOND SPOT
Germany are clear favourites in this group thanks to Manuel Neuer, Jérôme Boateng, Kroos and Müller. There is an abundance of attacking midfielders to call upon for the world champions to conquer Europe this time. Northern Ireland may not be easy to break down, having topped their qualifying group. However, they don’t have many options after losing Chris Brunt to injury.
Lewandowski after winning the double for Bayern, will be looking to partner with Arkadiusz Milik to grab the second spot for Poland. Injuries have deprived them of good players which could hurt in France. Ukraine can give tough competition to Poland and Ireland for the second position with their well organised defense and wingers, Yarmolenko and Konoplyanka.
GROUP D: (UN)DECIDED
Spain & Croatia seem to be the clear qualifiers in this group. Spain is characterized by abundant options, envious organization, winning mentality and finesse. However, we can’t forget their debacle in 2014 world cup when they played as false 9. It’s time to bounce back for them. Turkey is another force in this group fighting for the qualifying spot where players such as Arda Turan, Hakan Calhanoglu, Oguzhan Ozyakup and Yunus Malli are all options.
The pure quality of the central midfielders Luka Modric (Real Madrid) and Ivan Rakitic may be enough to take Croatia out of the group. Czech Republic, being too reliant on the veteran Tomas Rosicky, can fail to break down teams in his absence (although they lost only one of five qualifiers without him).
GROUP E: BLACK DEATH
Belgium is bursting with young, attacking talent due to the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Divock Origi and Yannick Carrasco being options for the front four positions. Marc Wilmots has a problem of choice here and supposedly the best squad in the tournament.
What Belgium lacks is experience. This is where Conte’s Italy come in. The meanest defence in the tournament containing the Juve block of Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Berzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chielleni will not be easy to break down.
Ireland are the dark horses of the group whose hardwork and Shane Long’s athleticism have helped them to qualify .It’s not very useful to highlight Sweden’s strength as we all know that Zlatan can turn a match around in one minute. Whatever happens won’t happen without drama and mind games in this group.
GROUP F: BEST FROM THE WORST
Don’t be shocked to see Portugal struggle (even) in this group. CR7 & Jao Moutinho have to step up to get goals for the team while Pepe and Bruno Alves have to be their stubborn selves at the back. Iceland, Hungary & Austria will try not to lose to Portugal .David Alaba is the star man for Austria while Gylfi Sigurdsson is the alibi for Iceland.
Whatever happens, won’t happen without fireworks in this Euro. Captains will need to step up, young talents will have to repay the trust bestowed on them and managers will have to organize tactics as every match will be a do or die. Get ready for new heroes, bigger upsets and beautiful football, starting 10th June.
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Views presented in the article are those of the author and not of ED.