With the UEFA European Championships kicking off tomorrow in France, here are my predictions on what I think will go down in France this summer:
1st – France
2nd – Switzerland
3rd – Romania
4th – Albania
Starting with Group A and France, the hosts and favorites to lift the trophy on Sunday 10th June. Coach Didier Deschamps will lead out a talented squad with quality in defence, midfield as well attack. I suppose you to could highlight the absence of Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema for reasons I won’t get into, however I can’t see that being too much of an issue when France have likes of Giroud, Lloris, Matudi and Paul Pogba as well as players like Payet, Kante and Griezmenn who have had incredible seasons with their clubs.
France’s class should outshine the other three sides and in my opinion they will quite easily top the group.
Star Player: Paul Pogba
Romania, Best known for their gloriously attacking 1994 World Cup quarterfinal side, Romania haven’t played like that in some time. Romania are a great side defensively, they conceded the fewest goals in qualifying – two goals in 10 games – but the question is will they be able to keep out both France and Switzerland? I think the new system which allows 4 out of 6 3rd placed teams to qualify out of their groups will do Romania a massive favour as I can see Anghel Iordănescu’s side coming third in this group, sneaking a victory against Albania and qualifying for the knock-out stage.
Star Player: Vlad Chiriches
Firstly, what an achievement for Albania just to reach this stage and it’d be the cherry on the top of the cake if they were to get out their group. However, I can’t see that happening! From what I’ve seen and heard, they play some nice football and Elseid Hysaj their Right back who plays his football for Napoli is one to watch!
Upon qualification, during which they beat group winners Portugal, the entire team was awarded Albania’s highest civilian award, the Honour of National Order. Who knows what they’ll be awarded if they can get a victory aganist the hosts France!
Having said all that, Albania to finish bottom of the group in my opinion
Star Player: Elseid Hysaj
Euro 2008’s co-hosts benefit from a youth development program that has produced a steady stream of promising players, many of them from immigrant backgrounds, such as Stoke’s Xherdan Shaqiri, who is of Kosovar extraction, as is new Arsenal midfield signing Granit Xhaka. England made rather pretty work of them in qualifying in beating them home and away, and it required a rescue job from coach Vladimir Petkovic to haul the Swiss through to the final. Like I said early, Group A looks ready made for the French to make easy, untroubled progress to the round of 16, but who wins the fight to finish second is much more difficult to predict. Each of Switzerland, Romania and Albania – none of them poor sides but definitely not world-beaters but the Swiss will fancy trying to land second or even third place, which might still be enough. The Swiss as well as having a very good midfield and defence, have a highly rated Goalkeeper called Yann Sommer who currently plays his football in Germany, don’t be surprised if he pulls some great performances out of the bag for Switzerland and gets a big money move during the Summer!
Star Player: Xherdan Shaqiri
1st – England
2nd – Wales
3rd – Russia
4th – Slovakia
Group B, England’s group!
They won all of their qualifying matches, yet the us fans are still unconvinced by the team, especially after a disastrous 2014 World Cup. Manager Roy Hodgson will have a young squad, much changed from two years ago and including 18-year-old Marcus Rashford, Delli Alli, Eric Dier, Danny Rose, Harry Kane and many more!
England will be rather more confident of escaping this group than they were in Brazil in 2014 after Italy and Uruguay were pulled from that draw, but each opponent presents difficulty, and especially that opening match against the Welsh. A defeat there could make life hard for Hodgson, whose in-game management in Brazil was found badly wanting.
I highly expect us to top the group, whether that’s with the full 9 points or 7 points, I’m yet to decide that!
Star Player: Harry Kane
The Russian qualifying campaign veered toward disaster, and it required the removal of coach Fabio Capello to pull them through, with CSKA Moscow coach Leonid Slutsky called in last June to rescue the campaign while continuing to coach at his club. Slutsky presided over victory in the rest of Russia’s matches, but faces the same problems Capello openly complained about.
Russia have a lot of talent in their side, but reports of a number of their midfielder’s missing out on the tournament through injury have dented their chances of competiting with England for 1st place as well as 2nd due to Chris Coleman’s Wales side looking in great shape! Artem Dzyuba up front for Russia can do the business for them so don’t count out this Russian side just yet!
I suspect Russia to finish 3rd and be one of the four 3rd placed teams to qualify out of their group.
Star Player: Artem Dzyuba
Wales and England in the same group, how fantastic!
Having made their first finals tournament since 1958, Chris Coleman’s Welsh team are determined to prove that reaching Euro 2016 is not the end of the journey, even if France will be the trip of a lifetime for long-suffering Welsh football fans. The team is set up to serve one man above all, Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale, whose deluge of goals and assists fired them through qualifying; his nation will be hoping he can retain that level of inspiration, even if he is bound to be a marked man. Making the second round would be a considerable but wholly possible achievement.
But it won’t be just Gareth Bale, Wales will look to rely on throughout the tounrtment, the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Ashley Williams, Ben Davies and Robson-Kanu have all had impressive season and that is why I’m confident in the Welsh and think they will finish 2nd in Group B.
Star Player: Gareth Bale
Little is expected of Slovakia in only their second international tournament, but very little was expected in their first — the 2010 World Cup — and they ended up knocking Italy out and progressing to the Round of 16. Jan Kozak’s side went off like a firework in their qualifying campaign by beating Ukraine away from home, stunning Spain and, in all, claiming wins in their first six games. Of more recent concern was the way Slovakia then went three games without even scoring and only confirmed qualification with a nervy win over Luxembourg. But don’t write them off. They’re tactically versatile, can adapt their shape to suit any situation, and they pose a big threat with Napoli star Marek Hamsik in their ranks.
With Russia’s injures, Slovakia could sneak in at third but I think they’ll finish 4th.
Star Player: Marek Hamsik
1st – Germany
2nd – Poland
3rd – Ukraine
4th – Northern Ireland
Winning back-to-back trophies is the measure of a great team. France followed up the World Cup in 1998 with the European Championship in the Netherlands and Belgium 2000. But can Germany now repeat the feat?
Joachim Low has an abundance of talent available to him; a new generation is coming through to suggest the future is very bright for Die Mannschaft. Even so, Low’s selection decisions have raised a few eyebrows, particularly the inclusion of Andre Schurrle and Lukas Podolski at the expense of Julian Brandt and Karim Bellarabi. You also feel for Dortmund winger Marco Reus who will miss consecutive major tournaments through injury. Germany topped their group in qualifying. However, they have struggled in recent friendlies. Having said that, Germany seem to always turn up when the tournament rolls around despite their form in friendlies.
Thomas Muller is an all round player, he seems to have skills in almost everything and more importantly he knows how to find the back of the net.
I expect Germany to win all their games and top the group comfortably.
Star Player: Thomas Muller
If Ukraine catch a member of the elite on a bad day there is a sense that they have the ability to do damage. Few countries are able to count on the attacking width like Ukraine can.
Out on the left, Ukraine boast Yevhen Konoplyanka, a member of Sevilla’s Europa League winning squad. Out on the right is Andriy Yarmalenko who inspired Dynamo Kyiv to the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time since 1999 and also scored in both legs in Ukraine’s playoff against Slovenia. Taras Stepanenko made of habit of releasing Ukraine’s flying wingers in qualifying, while the dynamism in midfield tends to come from Denys Garmash. Other than that, Ukraine are quite limited. The goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov is error prone and the defence is unremarkable. A bust up between Stepanenko and Yarmolenko during a heated clash between Shakhtar and Dynamo Kyiv has also put squad harmony in jeopardy.
I think Ukraine will finsih 3rd and most probably do enough to mean they qualify out of their group.
Star Player: Yevhen Konoplyanka
Poland have Robert Lewandowski who is arguably the best centre-forward in the competition. Comparisons with Marco van Basten for his elegance and technique are by no means sacrilegious. Top scorer throughout all of qualifying, Lewandowski found the net 42 times for Bayern this season in all competitions, while his partner at international level, Arkadiusz Milik, hit 21 in the Eredivisie for Ajax. No attack was as lethal as theirs in qualifying and, as a whole, the team is well-balanced. Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny has a mistake in him but can look unbeatable on his day; Kamil Glik is a dependable centre-back and a threat from set-pieces; Kuba Blaszczykowski is spirited and offers great endeavour; while Grzegorz Krychowiak has been the heartbeat of a Sevilla midfield that has won the Europa League three years in a row. Dark horses, Poland could be set for their best major tournament finish since the World Cup in 1982.
I’m confident in Poland finishing 2nd in this group.
Star Player: Robert Lewandowski
The lowest seeded team ever to win their group, Northern Ireland ended a 30-year wait to appear at the European Championship. Astonishingly, Michael O’Neill’s side would have clinched a place in France even under the old 16-team format and have come a long way since losing to Luxembourg in September 2013. Undefeated for more than a year, spirits are high and the dream is to emulate the 1958 and 1982 World Cup sides that got through their groups. To do so would be to upset the odds all over again.
We’ve upsets all over the shop this season but I think Northern Ireland will struggle in this group and finish rock bottom.
Star Player: Steven Davis
1st – Spain
2nd – Croatia
3rd – Turkey
4th – Czech Republic
Reigning champs Spain were stunned 5-1 by Netherlands at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where they abdicated their throne earlier than expected, Spain have lost their aura but remain among the favourites for the Euros, as nine wins out of 10 through qualifying suggest. They are not to be underestimated. Spain can become the first team to three-peat in this competition, and with the tournament experience and depth they have in midfield, it wouldn’t come as a surprise. Still, Vicente Del Bosque does have issues between the sticks where David De Gea must surely be picked ahead of the veteran Iker Casillas. Then there is the small matter of who to go with up front given Diego Costa was not picked, Alvaro Morata’s big-game reputation and Nolito’s fine form. Planning to retire after the tournament, might Del Bosque, one of the game’s true gents, go out on a high?
Tough group but Spain will finish 1st.
Star Player: David De Gea
Can’t see the Czech’s getting out this group even if they did win their qualifying group in decent style. Aside from captain and veteran goalkeeper Petr Cech, they no longer feature a host of names from the Premier League, La Liga or Serie A. Pavel Vrba’s big decision was whether to include Tomas Rosicky or not. The team has guile in midfield; Vladimir Darida has impressed at Hertha this season and Borek Dockal is a late bloomer. The Czechs also have goal-scorers:David Lafata is a four-time top scorer at home but hasn’t been able to translate his prolific nature at international level; Bursaspor’s Tomas Necid offers more height. They both scored as the Czechs warmed up with a 6-0 win against Malta and Milan Skoda also gives Vrba another option.
Like I said earlier I can’t see Czech Republic doing much and I think they’ll finish 4th in Group D.
Star Player: Petr Cech
Back in the Euros for the first time since 2008, we can only hope Turkey are as thrilling this summer as they were then when they reached the semifinals in style. Fatih Terim was in charge at the time and is again now. Turkey didn’t need a playoff to book their place in France; they qualified as the best third-placed team and were undefeated in 13 games until their defeat to England in Manchester in May. Technically accomplished, a midfield comprising one of the world’s best free kick takers, Hakan Calhanoglu; the Barcelona winger Arda Turan; and deep-lying playmaker Selcuk Inan makes the midfield makes them a nice side to watch. Terim is optimistic of making the knockout stages and so he should, I fancy their chances!
It’s a toss up between Croatia and Turkey for 2nd but I think Croatia will just pinch 2nd, I filly expect Turkey to still get out the group when finishing 3rd.
Star Player: Arda Turan
If Croatia come together as a team, then there is no reason why they can’t match their achievements in 1996 and 2008 and reach the last eight. A lot of the attention falls on the midfield and understandably so. Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic play for Real Madrid; Ivan Rakitic is a regular for Barcelona. The depth and variety in those positions is impressive too. 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 is a warrior and has had a fine season at Juventus; Ivan Perisic offers width and goals. But the question marks come at centre-back as Dejan Lovren has been left out amid differences with coach Ante Cacic. Confidence in Cacic in general is not the greatest, however if he gets the balance right, this team has what it takes to do very well.
With the likes of Modric and Rakitic pulling the strings in midfield I can easily see Croatia sailing out this group in 2nd.
Star Player: Luka Modric
1st – Belgium
2nd – Italy
3rd – Republic of Ireland
4th – Sweden
A lot is being made of this very talented Belgium side, manager Marc Wilmots has been beset by bad luck. First, he lost captain Vincent Kompany to injury. Then, one by one, Nicolas Lombaerts, Dedryck Boyata and Bjorn Engels all went the same way. It could be worse. They still have Toby Alderweireld and Thomas Vermaelen, who paired up at the back in the 2-1 victory over Switzerland last week. And Jan Vertonghen, generally used as a left-back, is still standing too. Of course, any team that boasts the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard has to fancy its chances.
They should finish first ahead of Italy. But they can’t afford any more injuries.
Star Player: Kevin De Bruyne
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. They were the runners-up in 2012, but are not the force they once were, as two calamitous group stage exits from the last two World Cups prove. Italy scored only 16 goals in 10 games in qualifying and were obliterated by Germany in March. A workmanlike 1-0 victory over Scotland offered evidence of their solidity, but only one player in the squad, Daniele De Rossi, has scored double figures for the Azzurri, and he might not make the cut. Nevertheless, they should be confident of making the knockout stages.
Like I said, I think Belgium will beat Italy to 1st but Italy will have no problem finishing in 2nd.
Star Player: Gianluigi Buffon
Republic of Ireland
Ordinarily, Ireland would take confidence from a 1-1 draw with Netherlands on the eve of an international tournament. Sadly, it’s no great signifier of anything these days as the Dutch failed to even make that tournament. What is significant is that Ireland only conceded seven goals in qualifying and that they took four points from world champions Germany. Much will depend on the fitness of captain Robbie Keane and, as manager Martin O’Neill has admitted, their success at set-pieces at both ends. Their first game, against Sweden in Paris, will be absolutely crucial to who can possibly sneak out of the group in third place.
I think Republic Ireland will get the better of Sweden and finish 3rd in Group E.
Star Player: Shane Long
Will Zlatan Ibrahimovic be fit enough to save Sweden? The 34-year-old enigma wasn’t able to help his nation past the group stages of the last two European Championships and wasn’t fit enough to take part in Sweden’s 0-0 draw with Slovenia on Monday. Without him, the Swedes look pretty ordinary. He’ll have to hit the ground running because with just one win in their past six games, the omens aren’t good for Eric Hamren’s side.
Even with Zlatan, Sweden don’t feel be with a lot of confidence and I think they’ll finish in 4th.
Star Player: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
1st – Portugal
2nd – Austria
3rd – Iceland
4th – Hungary
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, though a 3-0 victory over Norway will settle a few nerves on that front. But this will probably be the 30-year-old Ronaldo’s last tournament at the peak of his powers, so don’t expect him to offer any less than everything he has. And that should be enough to see off this group.
Austria and Iceland look good but Portugal should have to win this group!
Star Player: Cristano Ronaldo
One of the many Cinderella stories of this tournament, Iceland are the smallest nation ever to qualify for the European Championship, but they’re by no means the weakest. They beat Netherlands home and away in qualifying, for whatever that’s worth these days, and they kept six clean sheets in their 10 games. Joint-managers Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson have forged a settled, cohesive squad with enough quality in every department to make the second phase. Defeat to Denmark and a scare against Greece in the March friendlies will cause concerns, but Iceland should take a strong third place.
Third place will be enough to see Iceland progress to the next round I think.
Star Player: Gylfi Sigurdsson
If Portugal slip up, I expect Austria to fill the gap. In fact, they could be the dark horses of the tournament, provided they avoid any embarrassing moments like David Alaba’s own goal against Malta. They’re a hard-working, quick-countering side and can be absolutely ruthless on the break. After drawing their first qualifying game against Sweden, they won every other game and stormed Group G. Look out for well-travelled striker Marc Janko. At 6-foot-5, he looks awkward, but he usually gets the job done.
I’m looking forward to seeing what Austria can provide in this tournament, I am expecting good things and think they’ll finish 2nd in Group F
Star Player: David Alaba
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. Once the greatest team in the world, these have been hard times for the once magical Magyars of the ’50s. Indeed, this is their first tournament since the 1986 World Cup. They worked their way through three managers in qualifying, scored more than one goal in only two of 10 matches and somehow managed to lose to free-falling Greece. They will need to bring their very best to this tournament if they’re to avoid finishing last.
The fact that Hungary have used to most players in their qualification campaign just shows they are unaware of their best starting XI, I expect them to struggle and finish 4th in Group F.
Star Player: Balazs Dzsudzsak
EURO 2016 Winner: Germany
Golden Boot: Antoine Greizmenn
How I think England will get on?: Semi Final’s
Player of the Tournament: Thomas Muller
Amount of Goals: 76
Amount of Cards: 34
Surprise Team I think will shine: Croatia
Surprise moment I predict to happen: Two Red Cards in one match