This weekend saw the much anticipated draw for the UEFA European Championships 2016, to be held in France. It’s the biggest Euros in history, now featuring 23 qualified Nations, plus the hosts France themselves. A few big names are missing, a few new names have made it, and the excitement is building as we anticipate what next summer will bring.
I am joined by Andrew Doulton today, as we both give our early predictions as to how the groups will shape up, plus who we feel will be the top players and of course the victorious nation when the dust has settled.
GROUP A (FRANCE, ROMANIA, ALBANIA, SWITZERLAND)
TL: This is a fairly easy group to call a winner in, France were very fortunate in the teams that they drew, Switzerland perhaps providing the biggest challenge. Xhaka and Shaqiri will be vital for them, but France have strength and quality in every position and can use the group games to prepare themselves for the tougher games to come. There will be the added pressure of being host nation, so the opener against Romania will be key, get a victory there and qualification is almost secured.
Romania themselves will be interesting to watch and there is a chance that they can cause the Swiss a few problems on their day, sadly for Albania I feel they will just be making up the numbers here, although for them to qualify for the tournament was a huge success in itself.
I’m going for France to win Group A, with Switzerland just edging Romania out to claim second position.
AD: Looking at this group it is difficult to see past the French winning this Group. Not only do I believe they have one of the best groups in the tournament, they also have the luxury of being the home nation. The biggest risk to the French domination of this group could be the exclusion of Benezma who is one of the top strikers in the world. However I really cannot see past the quality that the French, the difference maker could be the Pogba in the French Midfield. As for second place this really could be anybody’s place on the day,
Albania are tricky side and are more than capable of picking up some points, the Swiss have some very talented players in their ranks as well and will be more than capable of taking the runners up spot. But I am going to go for Romania to finish second in the group, this is purely down to the fact they remained undefeated during the qualifiers, although I think they will loose their opening game against France.
I’m going for France winner, Romania runner up, Albania third and Switzerland finishing bottom.
GROUP B (ENGLAND, RUSSIA, WALES, SLOVAKIA)
TL: On paper this looks a fairly comfortable group for England, a statement made before that ended in failure, but I believe England will win this group with relative ease. Wales of course can provide a stern test, but their reliance on Bale and Ramsey can be countered tactically.
Russia are an interesting opponent, Fabio Capello and his negative approach has gone, and in the likes of Kokorin, Cheryshev and Dzagoev they have players capable of causing a shock or two. Slovakia on the other hand, despite a famous win against Spain in qualifying, do not really have the squad beyond Hamsik to make it out of Group B.
England, in my opinion, will win the group, second place could come down to the final fixture between Wales and Russia. That could almost act as a knockout game within a group and I’m backing the Russians to break Welsh hearts and take a close victory, with the Slovakians completing the group in fourth place.
AD: A soon as the group B draw was drawn, I could not believe how fortunate England were. I believe they will qualify from this group with maximum points and also have the bragging rights after beating Wales on the way. England had a very good qualifying campaign, which saw them go unbeaten and score more than any other team. If England managed to get most of their injured players back then they could be a real force. England have good players all over the pitch, but it is on the wings where England pace could be devastating with the likes of Walcott and Sterling.
As for the rest of the group it will be very close. I feel each of the teams have their own strengths, which will result in each of the teams taking points of each other. I believe a lot of people will have Russia down to qualify with England, but I believe there ageing defence will prove there downfall when coming up against players with pace such as Gareth Bale. Wales could also have a very tough tournament if they were to lose either Ramsey or Bale to injury. As for Slovakia, their biggest challenge will be if their ageing strike force will be able to break down some of the bigger teams in the tournament.
My prediction is for England to win the group, Wales will just manage to beat Slovakia in the Second and Russia to finish the group bottom.
GROUP C (GERMANY, UKRAINE, POLAND, NORTHERN IRELAND)
TL: Group C could result in being one of those closest groups of all, many will pick the Germans to run away with it, but I believe it’ll be a lot tougher than that. Germany were not overly convincing during qualification, and lost in Poland 2-0 as they were run close by both the Poles and the Irish. Poland showed they can be a real force on their day, and with Lewandowski and Milik upfront, they have a goal scoring threat to be taken very seriously.
Ukraine also are no pushover, Konoplyanka of Sevilla can provide unpredictability and quality, and with a number of young players pushing through the age groups it’ll be interesting to see how Ukraine go in the tournament itself.
Northern Ireland can count themselves very unlucky with the draw, it’s brilliant to see them back in a major football tournament, but I fear their journey ends at the group stage.
In a three-way dance at the top of Group C, I think Germany will edge it, Poland picking up second and Ukraine ultimately ending in third spot, Northern Ireland coming home in fourth.
AD: You had to feel for Northern Ireland getting drawn against Germany, Poland and Ukraine after such a good qualifying campaign. My opinion is that this group will be a two horse race between Germany and Poland. When I look at these two teams there are plenty of goals, strong defensive qualities and also good keepers who should be able to keep the goals conceded down to a minimum. As much as I would like Northern Ireland to qualify, I just feel that they will struggle to keep the likes of Muller and Lewandowski out.
As for the Ukraine, I am just not sure if they have the quality to stop Germany and Poland. I can see Poland and Germany cancelling each other out, but Poland being more ruthless in front of goal in the other matches, which both Germany and Poland will win. I believe the game between N Ireland and Ukraine will be the only opportunity the for points which will result in a bore draw leaving the bottom of the group kept apart by goal difference.
I am going for Poland to win the group, Germany second, Ukraine and Northern Ireland finishing bottom separated by goal difference.
GROUP D (SPAIN, CZECH REPUBLIC, TURKEY, CROATIA)
TL: After a horrendous World Cup for the current champions, I fully expect Spain to come back in 2016 and show their true class. The likes of Isco, Morata, Alcácer and Thiago are now regulars in the squad, and despite a qualifying tournament that saw them lose early to Slovakia, and with the International retirement of the legendary Xavi, they are a team to be feared.
The Czech Republic and Turkey were both qualifiers from the group which saw the, much fancied, Netherlands eliminated and it’ll be interesting to see how both fare in the pressure cooker of tournament football. Croatia complete the group, bringing with them the class of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Kovacic and Mandzukic, the Croats will probably be many peoples dark horses to go far in Euro 2016.
For me though I see them just falling short, as good as Croatia are, and as strong as their midfield in particular is, I fancy Turkey to raise a few eyebrows in this tournament and gain the second automatic place in the group. The Czechs, although strong qualifiers, in my opinion don’t have as many match winners as their opponents and will have to settle for fourth spot. So to recap, Spain top, then Turkey, followed by Croatia and the Czech Republic.
AD: When you look at this group you see four teams who are capable of going through. The stand out team is obviously Spain, who has some fresh new additions to the successful Spain of the past. Their midfield still has the quality of past but with the addition of younger players, there will be a fresh impetus to this Spanish side.
The Czech Republic had a very efficient qualifying campaign, finishing top of a group that contained fellow group D member Turkey, a well performing Iceland and an under performing Holland which failed to qualify.
Overall I think this group will be very close with Spain edging it and Croatia just having that extra quality to follow them through in second place. This has to be expected with a midfield that boasts players from Real Madrid, Barcelona and Inter Milan. Additionally I feel that the strikers that Croatia have at their disposal will give them an advantage over the chasing pack. As for the other two it could go any way but I believe the Czech Republic will have the psychological edge over Turkey following the qualifying campaign.
So I am going to for Spain to win, Croatia Second, Czech Republic Third and Turkey Bottom.
GROUP E (BELGIUM, ITALY, REPUBLIC OF IRELAND, SWEDEN)
TL: What is currently being called the ‘group of death’, or at least for the Irish fans anyway, Group E introduces the FIFA ranked best team in the World, Belgium, the Italians who found themselves in pot 2, Ireland and a Sweden team that has a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic in their attack. I guess you can kind of see where the Irish are coming from.
Although personally I do not believe Belgium are the top team in the World, they do have some fantastic talent at their disposal, and I fancy Eden Hazard to take them far in the tournament, probably not all the way, but definitely to the latter stages.
Italy are a conundrum, in Marco Verratti they have an exceptional youngster, and he’ll need to play beyond his years if Italy are to succeed, the Azzurri do still lack forward options which could limit their progress and they’ll be in need of a good performance in their opener against the Belgians if they are to get out of Group E.
Ireland do not have star power in their squad, but they bring a resoluteness and desire that sees them pull results out when they didn’t seem possible, in the tournament itself they will probably have to be a little more offensive than usual, but with the Irish fans out in force you can never write them off. Sweden with Ibrahimovic on form are capable of anything, on his day the enigmatic striker can perform the impossible, but when his is not on form, Sweden are a much easier team to play.
So as far as Group E goes, I will go for Belgium to finish top, then Italy, Ireland and Sweden all trading points with each other to leave Italy second, Sweden third and the Irish an unlucky fourth.
AD: Now this is a group that truly anybody could escape from. You have Italy who have a very good record at International Tournaments, you have Belgium who are currently world number 1 due to there impressive form, then there is Ireland who seem capable of pulling a result out when it matters and finally there is Sweden who have one man that is quite capable of carrying his team in to the next round.
Lets start with Italy, now I believe that this is not a great Italy side, in fact I have not seen a great Italy side since I was kid watching the likes of Maldini, Baggio, Baresi and Vialli at Italy 90. But concentrating on the now, this Italian has side qualified without losing a game, My main concern for Italy, is where is the world class player who can change a game, I am not sure that they have that at this tournament.
Now with the Belgians, they are currently World number 1 through winning games over a large period of time and they also won their qualification group. I will be perfectly honest do I think they are world number 1? No! Do I think they very good squad? Yes! Looking at their squad it has players that are scattered all over the top-flight leagues in Europe. I personally believe that this is a stronger Belgium side to the one, which was raved about over the previous two tournaments. They have a good keeper and defence but it is however in the Midfield and Strikers that Belgium will excel. With the likes of Hazard, Witsel, De Bruyne and a very inform Lukaku I believe they will go very far.
Then there is Ireland, they always seem to up there game when it matters, I believe this has allot to do with the crowd that seems to support them where ever they go. Unfortunately with out a top star and being in such a good group I think this will be tough for them.
Finally there is Sweden, now do not get me wrong a football team is made up of 11 players and it is not one player who wins a game. However if you took that man out of the Sweden team I do worry how they will manage. Obviously the man I talking about is Ibrahimović, who at 34 I am sure he will want to leave an impression on this tournament.
So my predictions for this group are as follows, Belgium to win the group, Sweden second due to an Ibrahimović master class, Italy a disappointing third and Ireland unfortunately finishing bottom. Obviously if Ibrahimović does not travel this would change the group dramatically.
GROUP F (PORTUGAL, ICELAND, AUSTRIA, HUNGARY)
TL: Austria were sensational during the qualifying campaign, with David Alaba always bringing reliable quality and the emergence of young Marcel Sabitzer, I expect them to make it out of their group and run the Portuguese close to top spot.
Iceland and Hungary are both capable of pulling out surprise results, but I can’t see either side breaking out of the bottom two. I believe this could also end up being the final international tournament for Cristiano Ronaldo, and he’ll be looking to make a serious impact in France.
So my top two will be Portugal, from Austria, then Hungary just pipping Iceland to third place in the final standings.
AD: When this group was drawn it was again clear that any team could progress. With the exception of Portugal, none of the other teams has a world class player who can dominate and change games in an instance.
After watching Iceland coming through there group I was really impressed at how the manager had managed to this Iceland side playing and this showed with there qualification. It was also pleasing to see a nation like Hungary qualify for the tournament, but I just feel that this will be a tough tournament for them.
Austria really did have a solid qualification for this tournament remaining undefeated against a group which contains the likes of Russia and Sweden. The absence of a big star may eventually be their downfall, but I believe they will come out of this group,
This group has proved very beneficial for Portugal and there key man Cristiano Ronaldo. He really could get some goals in this group which could help him being top goal scorer and even the next Ballon d'Or. Although they have exceptional flair on the offensive parts of the pitch I believe it will be the defending that will let them down and prevent there team progressing much further than the group stages.
My predictions are Portugal, Austria, Iceland and then Hungary finishing the group bottom.
WHO WILL WIN
TL: If you believe in fate, then the final of the tournament would surely see France up against Germany in Saint-Denis, Paris. The same fixture, at the same stadium that was at the centre of the horrific Paris terror attacks in November 2015. The fairy-tale script would see France lifting the trophy after a thrilling game, football being the winner and the sounds of ‘La Marseillaise’ filling the Paris night sky.
I’m not convinced that dream scenario, for neutrals at least, will be the end result though. The draw seems to have France and Germany set to meet in the semi-finals, and I’m not totally convinced the Germans will be able to follow up their World Cup triumph of 2014.
I do see France winning the tournament, a squad full of exciting talent, home advantage and the emotion of all that has happened recently will give them enough to collect the prize, instead of Germany though I see Spain as the losing finalists.
AD: Well now this is the big question! I am going to call out four teams that I believe have four teams that I can see winning the tournament. Now I realise a lot of people will call out France, and there is no doubt that they tremendous ability. However I believe the decision to drop Benzema will come back to haunt Les Bleus.
I believe that you will have Belgium will meet in the Semi Finals with the hosts France just showing enough to reach the final. In the other Semi I can see Germany coming up against England and just having far to much in the team for the three Lions.
So I can see Germany coming up and against Belgium in the Final. It is at that this stage I can see Germany being to strong for the talented Belgians. Any other team I believe Belgium would cause plenty of problems, however I just feel that the one team who have the strength, experience and quality to beat the Belgians. So I am going for a Germany victory.
THE TOP 3 PLAYERS
TL: I’m backing the French to win it, and they’ll need their big players to perform for them to do so, for that reason I’m backing both Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann to have big tournaments. I also expect Eden Hazard, Marco Verratti and Joe Hart to shine, but I’m picking Thiago of Spain as my third star player. He has the ability to turn a game, and for Spain to really go far they’ll need those qualities to break through the opposition.
So my top 3 players are Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and Thiago Alcántara.
AD: The first player I am going to call out is Paul Pogba, I have lost count how many times I have seen clips of him showing amazing technique and scoring wonder goals over the past two season and I believe he will continue this form in to the tournament. As for my under two I am going to call out the two Strikers who will lead their clubs to the finals. The second player I am going to single out is Lukaku, who’s strength and pace will enable him to tournament some of the defences that he will face in the tournament. My final player to call out will be the ever-reliable Thomas Muller, who always performs on the big stage and will be responsible for leading the German attack.
So I will be calling out Paul Pogba, Romalu Lukaku and Thomas Muller.
3 BREAKOUT YOUNG STARS
TL: Well this is a hard one to pick, many different young stars could make the final groups, depending on how they finish their club seasons. I know the likes of Deulofeu and Max Meyer could shine on a stage like this but I’m not completely sure either will get the nod from Vicente del Bosque or Joachim Löw respectively.
So I’m going to pick John Stones, Gonçalo Guedes and Hakan Calhanoglu as my three breakout stars. Stones is already proving to be a marvellous defender, and his class could really turn a few heads on the big stage, particularly if England find themselves on the back foot. Calhanoglu is already performing brilliantly for Leverkusen both in the Bundesliga and Champions League, if Turkey do well it will be because both he and Arda Turan raised their game.
Gonçalo Guedes is a relatively new name on the block, pushing his way both into the Benfica team and the Portuguese squad, when Ronaldo is gone it’ll be Guedes the Country turns to and this tournament could be where the baton is passed. A special mention to Viktor Kovalenko of Ukraine too, he has proven at youth tournaments that he has all the talent required, however I’m not convinced at how far Ukraine will go this time around.
AD: It is difficult to pick players break out players so far in advance of the tournament but here goes. Firstly I have to go with Stones, now I know is already a centre back for a good side in the Premier League, but if it is either before the tournament starts or after it finished I can see John Stones lining up in one of the best teams in Europe. At the tournament itself he will add some much needed composure to the England defence, he also adds good pace and shows very good leadership attributes for somebody of his age, I believe he will be very influential in the England defence.
The second player I am going to call out is Paco Alcácer. Now anybody who watches La Liga will already know the wonderful talent that Alcácer possesses. But I feel this is the tournament where he will stake his claim in the Spanish team for years to come. He has already 6 goals in 11 games for Spain which is a much more efficient goal ration than the other forwards in the Spanish national side.
My third choice will be Lucus Digne who is currently playing for Roma. With the current crop of French full backs nearing retirement Digne is ideally placed to nail down his place in the French national team. Digne already has 10 caps to his name and this will be his chance to showcase his ability on the world stage.
So my three are Stones, Alcácer and Digne.
HOW ABOUT ENGLAND
TL: I see England making it to the quarter finals, the group shouldn’t be too much of a problem for them to navigate and if victorious they are lined up to face a 3rd place team in the last 16. However, the quarter finals could see them matched up against the likes of Belgium, Italy or Portugal and I think Roy Hodgson’s team would need a bit of luck to go much further.
I hope they don’t play too negatively in the tournament, it seems to be the stock tactic against strong opposition, it’s not exciting for the fan and doesn’t get the most out of our attacking players.
AD: I do not normally have too much faith in England going in to a tournament, however at full strength they should be able to trouble any team. Unfortunately for England there always seems to be a mentality that sees them under unnecessary pressure, which in turn tends to lead to great disappointment. With the way the draws work I can still see them making it to the Semi’s, but then being dispatched by a quality German Side. But I would happily be wrong with all my predictions should England win the tournament! Mince Pie Sausage Role, Come on England give us a goal!
Of course these are all only early predictions, the squads are far from finalised and a lot can happen in the intervening months. Closer to the tournament we will revisit our early thoughts and provide a full preview as to what we expect, who are the players to focus on and whether or not our early impressions still hold up. The competition itself kicks off with the opening fixture 10th June 2016, the final exactly a month later on the 10th July 2016, both those games at St-Denis.
What are your thoughts on the Euro draw, who do you think will be victorious, let us know in the comments section below.